I feel that movies about military life can be among the most dramatic of all films and can reveal much about the human condition as it is framed by politics and society. To honor all veterans of the U.S. armed forces, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite military-themed movies available on DVD.
In Steven Spielberg's tribute to American World War II soldiers, an elderly man visits a military cemetery in Normandy, and his thoughts drift back to June 6, 1944. In one of the greatest combat sequences I know of, the film shows the massive D-Day landing. Captain Miller survives the landing and leads a mission to rescue Private Ryan, whose brothers have been killed in combat.
This is a violent, disorienting, brutally realistic depiction of war's horror. Narrator Private Chris Taylor is a patriotic young man who volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War. But all he knew and believed in before coming to Vietnam is challenged. The story is from a grunt's point of view, adding to the film's power. I feel this is Oliver Stone's most personal, moving film.
Set on the eve of World War II, this story of American Army life for soldiers stationed in Hawaii tells the tale of the accidental death of a talented misfit. There's also a pair of stories about doomed love, including the scene where waves break over Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach. The Japanese attack on Oahu on December 7, 1941, leads to a dramatic, moving ending.
In this film set during the U.S. Civil War, the 54th Infantry Regiment, a unit made up of black enlisted men, leads a larger force against a Confederate fort. The regiments discipline and bravery pave the way for 180,000 blacks to serve in the Union army. I especially like the performances in this movie, particularly those of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
This four-and-one-half-hour Civil War epic chronicles the 1863 battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in which 50,000 Americans were killed or wounded. Starring Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Jeff Daniels, the film was shot at Gettysburg National Park using thousands of Civil War reenactment enthusiasts. The movie deepened my appreciation of a defining moment in American history.
Gary Cooper is memorable as the title character in this biopic about America's best-known World War I hero. York, a pacifist from backwoods Tennessee, requests conscientious objector status, but his request is denied. Thrust into combat, York sees many of his fellow soldiers killed, and he fights valiantly to try to save the rest.
We Were Soldiers
preserves the elegiac tone of Lieutenant General Harold G. Moores (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway's book. This is an emotionally engaging military action movie that centers around a historic Vietnam War battle. The film is loaded with exciting combat footage, but what I like best about it is Mel Gibson's portrayal of real-life career Army officer Hal Moore.