War Veterans' Favorite War Films

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The Favorite Films of War Veterans

Recently About.com Action and War Movies surveyed over two hundred veterans from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, both old and recent, from wars as far back as Korea and as recent as Afghanistan, to find out what their favorite war movies were.

For veterans, as with many Americans, war films aren't just entertainment, they're emotionally stirring, resonating with deeply felt traits of American character, or else reminding them of some period of American history - good or bad.

And, of course, for many of us veterans, we simply enjoy watching a good on-screen firefight.

Ranked from number 10 to the number 1 favorite veteran film of all time...

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Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now Film Poster. Zoetrope Pictures

Number ten on the list, coming in last of the best, is Apocalypse Now, the surreal tale of Vietnam as drug experience. Veterans' reason for liking the film seemed to mostly come down to one reason: It was just a cool film they had grown up with.

Sometimes sentimental attachment to one of the first "adult" films you end up seeing can make for a lifetime attachment.

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Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

Heartbreak Ridge.

Number nine on the list is this Clint Eastwood film, a sentimental favorite among veterans and of Marines. This is one of the films that grows with appreciation the closer you are to the subject matter. A civilian can enjoy the film, but Marine infantryman will be laughing at all of the inside jokes and the familiarity of it all. This story of a misfit recon platoon led by an Eastwood that's sort of a relic from a previous pre-modern military brings a lot of themes into the thread and as always, it's a real joy to watch Eastwood - tough as nails - chew the scenery.

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Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket Poster. Warner Brothers

Number eight on the list is Full Metal Jacket, a decidedly anti-war polemic, and also one of the most famous war films of all time.  This film's popularity is again, just as with Apocalypse Now, mostly due to this being the first intense war film many of the veterans spoke to saw as children or young adults.  As with most that see the film, it left a lasting imprint. (It's not an exaggeration to say that for every generation that has gone into the service since the release of this film, their anticipation of Basic Training has been shaped by the sadistic boot camp shown on film.  Most were pleasantly surprised to find that few services have a boot camp as difficult as the Marines did during the Vietnam War.)

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Hurt Locker (2008)

Hurt Locker Poster. Photo © Voltage Pictures

Number seven on the list is the Hurt Locker.  Being an explosive ordinance and disposal expert and facing down bombs in Iraq is not an experience that many veterans will be able to relate to. The reason most vets love this film? Pretty much the same reason that civilians like it:  It's a cool, tense, action film that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

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We Were Soldiers (2002)

Poster for 'We Were Soldiers'. Photo © Paramount Pictures

Number six on the list is Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers.  Although this is a film that has sunk from view a bit in the collective memory of the public at large, within veterans and those currently serving, it's still a fairly popular film. Telling the true story of an Army unit that find itself outmatched 4 to 1 in Vietnam, it's one of the all time great war stories of making a last stand and fighting against over-whelming odds. (Those are the best war stories, after all!)

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Platoon (1986)


Number five on the list is Oliver Stone's classic, Platoon. Again, for many young veterans, this along with Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now were the films they grew up with, the films that first exposed them to any depiction of warfare and combat. That, and it's a damn fine film.

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Blackhawk Down (2001)

Blackhawk Down. Columbia Pictures

Number four on the list is Blackhawk Down, the story of Rangers trapped with two crashed Blackhawk helicopters in Mogadishu, Somalia. This was a special favorite of infantry and Army soldiers who for some reason, were invigorated by this story of Rangers almost dying.  Why infantry soldiers appreciate films where they see what could be themselves dying in a foreign land I'll never know. (Confession: As a former infantry soldier, this was one of my favorite films, too!)

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures

Number three on the all time favorite list goes to Lone Survivor. One of the great all-time action films, this is the sort of film that pumps up infantry soldiers. Few spoken to for this survey cared that elements of the film might have been made up or exaggerated. Instead, it was all about the celebration of one SEAL surviving against overwhelming odds.

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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan Movie Poster.

Number two on the list, Saving Private Ryan, used to be the number one spot. Veterans liked this film because it's sweetly sentimental and patriotic, as well as being a damn fine action film and entertaining war movie. This, of course, is also one of the most popular war films of all time with the general public. Makes simple sense that it would also be at the top of the list for veterans.

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American Sniper (2015)

Easily taking the number one spot is American Sniper. A recent film, this movie displaced Saving Private Ryan from the top slot. Why does it appeal to veterans so much that it's their favorite all time war film?  Most likely, it's the themes of the veteran returning home from war finding it difficult to fit in, along with multiple tours away from home.  While this isn't the story of every veteran, every veteran can appreciate the sacrifice—whether it's long tours about Naval ships, or serving at far away military bases. Plus, a lot of the veterans that mentioned this film appreciated it for it's bold appreciation of the most celebrated sniper in American history—a man that was roundly criticized in the media for having killed too many people.