The Best and Worst War Movies About the Marine Corp

The Marines.  The Few.  The Proud.  The Brave.

Devil Dogs.  Jarheads.  

Marines have a special pride in being Marines.  They have a pride in being Marines because Marines are synonymous with toughness.  You say someone's a Marine and that instantly means something.  It's the reason that when we were choosing a branch of service to join, we chose the Army (We figured the Navy and the Air Force were a bit too unimposing, and the Marines were too imposing, and the Army was about just right.)

The war movie loves Marines.  Marines are repeatedly decorated and honored in war movies, because of their heroic derring-do. 

Here are the Best and the Worst War Movies about the United States Marine Corps.

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The Pacific (2010)

The Pacific movie

The HBO mini-series The Pacific, about the Marine assault through the Pacific islands towards Japan in the second World War, is the definitive narrative of the Pacific theatre.  Just take a look at that picture that accompanies this entry:  Marines stuck in the mud, fighting in a charred wasteland that's been devastated by mortar attacks.  (By comparison, the U.S. Army seems to have had it relatively light in western Europe where they got to fight in quaint French villages!)  The battles that occur in this mini-series, in Guadacanal, in Iwo Jima, are the very definition of hell on Earth:  Men just tossed into the war machine, charging fortified machine gun bunkers, fighting and dying for every inch of land.  That's not a job the U.S. Army could handle.  That's a job only the Marines could handle.

of 08

Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge movie poster
 Warner Brothers Films

In Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood plays Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, perhaps his most iconic role, and a role which defines the proto-typical Marine:  Bad mannered, profane, and tough as nails.  The film opens with Sergeant Highway in a jail cell from a bar fight the previous night, the other prisoners all gathered around him as he colorfully relates war stories.  When the jail's resident tough guy decides to take Sergeant Highway down a peg or two, Sergeant Highway shows him you don't mess with Marines.  The film has Eastwood entering a gentrified Marine Corps as he has to whip a misfit platoon into shape right before they're called on to invade Grenada.  In this film, Eastwood is the Marine Corps.

of 08

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Flag raising at Iwo Jima statue
  joeravi / Getty images

In Flags From Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood directs the story of the flag raising over Iwo Jima.  The film is half war story of infantrymen in combat, and half a story of propaganda, about how one photo - the iconic flag-raising - ends up inspiring a nation (even though the story that's proffered by the government, isn't necessarily true!)

of 08

Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the 4th of July - Tom Cruise

In the opening of Born on the 4th of July, a Marine recruiter takes to the high school stage in front of all the students and says, "Well you can join the Air Force, the Navy, or the Army..."  (the students chuckle and laugh knowing what comes next) "...or you can join the Marines!"

And it's to the Marines that Ron Kovic turns to when he voluntarily enlists to go to Vietnam as an infantry soldier.  Although by the film's end Kovic will be an anti-war demonstrator, Kovic maintains that Marine gung-ho enthusiasm no matter what it is he's attempting:  Rehab, being an infantry soldier in Vietnam, or protesting the war.

of 08

A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men - Demi Moore and Tom Cruise
 Columbia Pictures

In this famous courtroom military drama, a Navy Jag attorney who has never left the D.C. area takes on the fierce Marine Colonel Jack Nicholson who may or may not have ordered his Marines to attack an under-performing Marine.  The entire premise of the film is that Marines do what others can't and won't, which means that sometimes it's necessary for Marines to experience harsh discipline.  The film's famous courtroom finale hinges on the truth (You can't handle the truth!) that Cruises' attorney doesn't want to hear:  Marines live in a world onto their own.

of 08


Aliens movie
 20th Century Fox

James Cameron's alien monster movie is typically considered far superior to Alien, the first film in the series.  Partly, what makes this sequel so outstanding is that it focuses on a colorful platoon of colonial marines sent to fight the xenomorph space alien.  Even in space, Marines are the first to fight.

of 08

Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket
 Warner Brothers

In Full Metal Jacket, director Stanley Kubrick spends the first half of the film at boot camp on Paris Island.  These scenes are legendary because of the cruelty and harsh conditions that Marine recruits are shown to have experienced.  Whereas the second half of the film shows Marines in combat in Vietnam as desensitized killing machines.  This is one of the quintessential Marine movies.

of 08


Jarhead movie poster
 Universal Pictures

Like Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead captures the Marine ethos of desiring to enter combat and test one's self.  Except in Jarhead, the war is not Vietnam but is Desert Storm, meaning the war is over before the Marines have a chance to do much of anything, despite their training, and burning desire to participate in a full-on war.