Whether it inspired them to enlist, or kept them entertained while serving downrange, there are certain movies that all soldiers know and love.
Super quotable lines, great stories, or intense combat scenes are just some of the reasons why we picked the following nine films as “must-watch” for soldiers.
These are our picks:
1. To Hell and Back (1955)
Plot: The true WWII story of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. Based on the autobiography of Audie Murphy who stars as himself in the film.
Reason to watch: Instead of settling for actors trying to recreate battlefield heroics, why not watch the real-life soldier do it? That’s what you’ll see in “To Hell and Back,” the film that follows the life of Audie Murphy, the most-decorated soldier of World War II. Murphy stars as himself in this film, which kicked off a 21-year acting career after his Army service.
2. The Longest Day (1962)
Plot: The events of D-Day, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view.
Reason to watch: “The Longest Day” is an epic film, and one of IMDB’s 100 greatest war films. It also stars John Wayne, need we say more? Although it’s not perfect, the film gives insight into the incredible events of Operation Overlord, from all sides of the battle.
3. Patton (1970)
Plot: The World War II phase of the career of the controversial American general, George S. Patton.
Reason to watch: George C. Scott gives a masterful portrayal of the controversial Army general during World War II. The opening speech alone is worth watching, with Patton giving a rousing speech to troops that opens with the line, “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
4. Glory (1989)
Plot: Robert Gould Shaw leads the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of both his own Union army and the Confederates.
Reason to watch: Matthew Broderick plays Col. Robert Gould Shaw in this real-life tale of the first company of all-black soldiers in the Civil War. The film, which won three Oscars, also has memorable performances from Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. It explores themes that all soldiers can learn from: Courage, honor, and doing the right thing, even if it’s the unpopular decision.
5. Hamburger Hill (1987)
Plot: A very realistic interpretation of one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.
Reason to watch: Somewhat overshadowed by Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” this film follows the lives of one squad of Airborne soldiers during a battle to take Hill 937 in Vietnam — an unremarkable piece of real estate that became known as “Hamburger Hill” after casualties mounted in multiple assaults. The film realistically depicts soldiers at war in Vietnam, the dynamic between soldiers in battle, and the heroism some soldiers display in such extreme circumstances.
6. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Plot: A U.S. Army Major is assigned a dozen convicted murderers to train and lead them into a mass assassination mission of German officers in World War II.
Reason to watch: Another classic World War II film, “The Dirty Dozen” hosted an incredible cast of stars: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, and many more. Unlike other World War II flicks that often followed real-life events, this movie had an interesting premise: An Army major recruits 12 felons for a suicide mission behind enemy lines, and if they succeed, they will have their sentences reduced.
7. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Plot: A historical telling of the failed attempt to capture several bridges on a road to Germany in World War II, in a campaign called Operation Market-Garden.
Reason to watch: The film recounts the unsuccessful allied Operation Market Garden, which was the largest airborne operation at the time during World War II. Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan (who also wrote “The Longest Day”), the film is loaded with big-name stars. Though the film is a bit long (nearly 3 hours), it shows an allied battle that unfortunately did not end with “the good guys winning.”
8. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Plot: 123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
Reason to watch: Based on the book by journalist Mark Bowden (which is an absolute must-read), “Black Hawk Down” details the failed attempt to capture a Somali warlord — an operation that should have lasted 15 minutes — that unfortunately does not go according to plan. After two helicopters are shot down, soldiers are shown reacting and adapting to the changing events, often in heroic fashion. From depicting soldiers preparing for a mission, how they respond to irregular warfare, and the actions of Medal of Honor recipients Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, this film is a must-see.
9. Saving Private Ryan
Plot: Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Reason to watch: Just the first ten minutes with the film’s incredible depiction of the Normandy landings on D-Day in 1944 make this a must-watch. After this sequence, however, there is plenty to stick around for: Tom Hanks wonderful portrayal of Capt. Miller, the banter of soldiers as they search the French countryside, and the heroic “last stand” at a bridge the troops need to keep the Germans away from.
10. Platoon (1986)
Plot: A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.
Reason to watch: Told from the perspective of Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen), “Platoon” gives an inside look at what it was like for a grunt on the ground in Vietnam. Besides showing infantry life and all its hardships, the film also boasts incredible performances from Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias, and Tom Berenger as Staff Sgt. Barnes. It’s also worth noting that this film had an extra level of realism to it, with its director (Oliver Stone) and military technical advisor (Dale Dye) both having served in Vietnam.
11. We Were Soldiers (2002)
Plot: The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it.
Reason to watch: Mel Gibson brilliantly portrays then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore as he leads his unit in the first major battle of the Vietnam war. But there are so many great performances in this film (based on the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” which opens by saying that “every damn Hollywood movie got it wrong.” From the portrayal of the gruff combat veteran Sgt. Maj. Plumley and pilot and Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Crandall, to the hardship endured at home by the Army wives, this film gets it right.