Military movies are a lot of fun, and the Department of Defense loves how they prime plenty of young folks to join the service. But while military service and military movies are both great, there’s a huge gap between how military life is portrayed and how it actually works. So, here are nine scenes from military movies that are fun to watch but few troops ever get the chance to do:
Buzzing the deck or tower
Yeah! “Top Gun!” And not the beach scene that makes our sisters act weird for 20 minutes afterward! But if you’re thinking about joining naval aviation in order to fly super fast past control towers on ship and shore, you should probably know that the beach scene is more likely to happen (but much less sexy) than “buzzing the tower” against orders.
See, F-14 Tomcats cost about $38 million each. So, pilots taking dangerous risks with their birds weren’t told off by an angry commander, they were investigated and had their wings taken away. And “Top Gun” is a school, and the commander definitely should’ve had some pilots ready to go to school besides the one who keeps taking unnecessary gambles with aircraft.
Hunt for lost technology with sexy archaeologists
In “The Mummy,” another awesome Tom Cruise flick, the hero is an elite soldier who, after a series of illegal mishaps, finds himself searching a tomb with a sexy archaeologist. The Nazi soldiers in “Indiana Jones” also spend a lot of time in ruins with sexy archaeologists (I’m talking about Dr. Elsa Schneider, but if you’re into Dr. René Emile Belloq, go for it).
But actually, modern military weapons typically come from laboratories, not ancient ruins. And the number of entombed monsters the Air Force is sent to re-secure like in “The Mummy” is also shockingly low. You’ll spend much more time in smelly port-a-johns with a smartphone than you will in Egypt with models.
Tell off scientists for being too science-y
But about that weapons-coming-out-of-labs thing from the last paragraph — plenty of movies also show soldiers running into academics and being all superior because the soldiers are brave and covered in muscles and the scientists are pencil necks. For those of you lucky enough to have forgotten the 1998 “Godzilla,” the military ignores about 30 warnings that Godzilla may have laid eggs.
But scientists aren’t actually assigned to combat units very often. And the few scientists who do end up with military units aren’t typically biologists tracking the local zombie outbreaks that you can laugh off until you get bit. They’re usually anthropologists telling you that the local Afghans don’t like you much, mostly because of all the shooting. Thanks, scientists!
We loved “Independence Day” and hated “Battlefield: LA” as much as the next guy but, and brace yourselves here, aliens have never invaded Earth, and that’s not what the Space Force is for. Offensive wars against aliens don’t happen much either. We won’t be mining unobtanium from Pandora.
I know, big shocker. You might get to work against the “immigrant” form of aliens, but that’s mostly putting up barbed wire and providing medical aid while you sit in the middle of the desert during Christmas. So, I guess what we’re saying is: weigh your options.
Slaughtering bug armies
The best kinds of armies, alien or otherwise, to kill are easily bug armies and zombies. So much killing, so much gore, so little moral squeamishness. No one worries much about the bugs in “Starship Troopers,” even when heroes are climbing on top of them, shooting a hole through their exoskeletons, and then throwing a grenade inside of them.
Sigh. Unfortunately for die-hard action fans, American forces actually spend most of their time fighting other humans. While this is often necessary (looking at you, Hitler), it also means a lot of real people just swept up in the currents of their times are killed (looking at you, all of the Wehrmacht who weren’t dedicated Nazis). Not nearly as much fun as killing the bugs.
Survive bomb after bomb, grenade after grenade
Also, you’re not nearly as survivable in future combat as movies and video games would have you think. Bombs, artillery fire, grenades, and even bullets can kill you very easily. You’re basically a big bag of soup with a little brain pushing it around the world, and wars are filled with all sorts of flying metal that can shred your bag.
Defeat the enemy thanks to their one critical weakness
Luckily, your enemies will usually have the same weakness. Unfortunately, they won’t also have one big weakness that can be exploited by some savvy Jeff Goldblum type saying, “I gave it a cold. I gave it a virus, a computer virus.” Instead, when the British start rolling the first tanks against your lines, you just have to hit them with artillery and hope they get caught in the mud.
And you press every weapon in your arsenal against the new threat. Turns out, machine guns could break off rivets inside early tanks and injure or kill the crew. High-powered rifles would split the armor and send shards into the crew. Incendiary devices could set off gas and force the crew to evacuate. So, German soldiers used all of these things.
Retrain in four jobs before the final credits roll
Remember when Jake Sully in “Avatar” took over his brother’s job as a scientist and pseudo-alien, then became a spy for the human military, then became a pilot for the alien resistance, then a small strike team leader? Those are all still different jobs, right?
In reality, most soldiers spend weeks or months learning their first job, and they can only switch jobs with more weeks or months of training. Any movie realistically showing them moving from job to job would need to be a biopic with a story spanning years of the soldier’s life.
Fun fact: There’s only been one documented underwater submarine battle in history. And that was an exchange between two submarines in World War II. But that hasn’t stopped movie after movie that showed submarines hitting each other or even divers fighting to the death under the waves.
It is exciting, exciting stuff — I’m partial to the underwater spear gunfight in “Thunderball” — but actual underwater fighting is super rare since almost no military forces specialize in it or want to fight in the water. Even SEALs generally fight above the waves.