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Top 7 films written by military veterans

Joel Searls Avatar

Screenwriting is a difficult art that requires patience, flexibility and some natural raw talent. These screenplays were written by some of the best screenwriters of all time who served their country as well. Maybe some of those rare writing skills were learned while in service.

Here are the top 7 films written by military veterans

Tie for 1 & 2: The Godfather and The Godfather II by Mario Puzo.

The Godfather:

Logline: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty in postwar New York City transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant youngest son.

Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo adapted Puzo’s book The Godfather for the silver screen and cinema have never been the same. The film ran into outside forces focused on halting the production and casting an unknown at the time, Al Pacino, in the lead role. Puzo, a veteran of World War II of the US Army Air Forces, started his career writing short stories, which progressed to his seminal novel and then to working with Coppola. Coppola’s direction tied with Brando, Caan, Pacino, Keaton, Duvall and Cazale’s acting makes for historic cinema. The film is one of the greatest of all time, winning three Oscars, with performances that still impact cinema and the world of acting to this day.

the godfather is one of the top films written by military veterans
Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part II.

The Godfather II

Logline: The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York City is portrayed, while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on the family crime syndicate.

We get a further look into the world of the Corleones in this sequel that easily rivals the initial entry into The Godfather trilogy. Pacino and Keaton are at their best, as is Duvall and even ole Fredo himself portrayed by Cazale. We are introduced to another newcomer in the film with Robert De Niro playing a young Vito Corleone in 1920’s New York City. We would have to wait a bit until De Niro and Pacino sat across from each other in Heat for another such team-up. The film earned six Oscars out of the eleven which for it was nominated.

3. All The President’s Men by William Goldman.

all the president's men
Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in All the President’s Men.

Logline: “The Washington Post” reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Goldman’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s book of the same name highlights a significant time during our nation’s history. Redford and Hoffman are in top form as Berstein and Woodward. They make us believe we are watching a story unfold for the first time on screen, when the real events, which had already come to the public’s attention, occurred years earlier. Worth a watch or even rewatch.

Goldman served in the US Army during the Korean War at the Pentagon in the early 1950s.

4. Apollo 13 by William Broyles, Jr.

apollo 13 is one of the top films written by military veterans
Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13. (Universal Pictures)

Logline: NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy.

Broyles and Reinert’s wonderful script integrating the story of the astronauts and the technology behind the space program is a harrowing tale of what went wrong and right during the Apollo 13 mission. We may know the ending, but we are still watching. Ron Howard’s direction coupled with strong performances from the cast makes this a patriotic and enduring film for the ages.

Broyles served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1971 and received the Bronze Star for his service.

5. Lawrence of Arabia by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson.

lawrence of arabia
Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.

Logline: The story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks.

David Lean’s legendary classic is about the real-life British military officer T.E. Lawrence and is based on Lawrence’s experiences, which include his book the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The screenplay is brought to life by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. The vast epic is presented in two parts which come in at 227 minutes in total. Any frame of the film is so well shot it could be framed as a picture on the wall. A film that influenced many of today’s greats including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Bolt served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and then the British Army until 1947. Wilson served in the Marine Corps during World War II.

6. Citizen Kane by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.

citizen kane is one of the top films written by military veterans
Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.

Logline: Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his final utterance: ‘Rosebud.’

Orson Welles’s film defines a generation and his greatest work. The film is written by the gifted Mankiewicz and Welles, which is covered in the recent film Mank, and is one of Mank’s greatest achievements. Welles is imposing as he is electric on-screen and the cinematography is highly memorable.

Mankiewicz served in the Marines in World War I with the Corps and the American Expeditionary Force.

7. The Graduate by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham.

the graduate is one of the top films written by military veterans
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

Logline: A disillusioned college graduate finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.

Director Mike Nichols makes this romantic comedy enduring for many generations as the tale is simple, one person caught in a nearly inescapable love triangle. Calder Willingham and Buck Henry breathe life into the script which takes us on an escapade and love story that is not easily forgotten. This should be required viewing for college-age audience members.

Henry served in the US Army during the Korean War as a helicopter mechanic stationed in West Germany.