War movies would not be the same without its horrors, depiction of bonds of brotherhood, trials and sufferings that beat up or lift up the human spirit, and its links to history. It is no mystery why they have remained such a popular genre in film.
With the release of ‘Fury’, inSing picks out some of the greatest war movies that continue to captivate audiences after so many years.
'Apocalypse Now' (1979) Easily one of the greatest war movies of all time, ‘Apocalypse Now’ is considered to be one of the darker movies, even in this genre.
Martin Sheen plays an army captain tasked with finding and killing a rogue colonel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando), believed to have turned insane and established himself as a revered leader among his own troops in Cambodia. It may not be about some major historical battle, but the insanity of Kurtz is enough to keep the movie on its heels.
Whether the message behind ‘Apocalypse Now’ is profound or simply eerie is for you to decide. Regardless, you know that it is going to have a lasting impact on you. Trivia: In seven years after this was made, Sheen’s son, Charlie, would star in yet another great war movie, ‘Platoon’.
'Platoon' (1986) If you thought that war was glorious, ‘Platoon’ would change your mind. It is brutal and harsh. The conditions in Vietnam are hostile, and the soldiers are worn out and committing crimes against the innocent locals. We experience the internal and external conflicts with the main character, played by a young Charlie Sheen (yes, back when we could still take him seriously), but the movie is based on the personal experiences of director Oliver Stone, a Vietnam War veteran himself.
As uninspiring as it sounds, ‘Platoon’ is easily one of the best war movies in history. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director. And how can we forget Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) dropping down to his knees, raising his arms and jerking forward in slow motion in that ruthless scene?
'Full Metal Jacket' (1987) If you are into military training, then this movie is for you.
In the first act, Jarhead recruits are whipped into shape as they endure boot camp under a frightening Marine drill instructor, who is easily one of the highlights of the film. That really is no surprise since he is portrayed by real-life former drill instructor R Lee Ermey. The second half follows the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Throughout the movie, we tag along with private/sergeant “Joker” (Matthew Modine), who wears a peace sign and has “Born to Kill” written on his helmet.
But despite the protagonist’s nickname and strange antics, and the film’s unimpressive box-office earnings, this is a movie that you can take seriously. Like we said, the drill instructor really is iconic.
Memphis Belle (1990) Most war movies are infantry-heavy, so let’s turn to the sky for once.
During World War II, the 10-men crew of the B-17 bomber, the Memphis Belle, needs to complete just one more mission before completing their tour of duty. The men are so close to returning home, but fate is not so kind. Their final mission is a high-risk bombing of the heavily protected Bremen, Germany. What follows during their final assignment is plenty of tension in the skies, both outside and inside the plane.
Despite its all-star cast including Matthew Modine (of ‘Full Metal Jacket’), Tate Donavan, Sean Astin and Harry Connick Jr among others, ‘Memphis Belle’ bombed at the box office as well. But it is still one of the better war aviation movies out there.
Crimson Tide (1995) Here’s a submarine movie for the navy boys.
Russian rebels threaten to launch nuclear missiles at the United States and Japan, and the nuclear submarine USS Alabama is put on red alert. It receives an order to fire its nukes at Russia, but the radio breaks before it can receive a second incoming message. As if debating over whether to launch nuclear weapons is not tense enough, the commanding officer (Gene Hackman) and his deputy (Denzel Washington) engage in a power struggle. As expected of such fine actors, they make sure that the war between themselves is as important as the one with the Russian rebels.
‘Crimson Tide’ might not have battle scenes with guns blazing and masses of troops surging, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat nonetheless.
'Saving Private Ryan' (1998) The premise is intriguing: after landing in Normandy on D-Day, army captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his team of seven men are expected to risk their lives to find one Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) and return him to the safety of the United States. The reason: his three brothers were all killed in action during the war, and the army general does not want their mother to lose her last son.
Miller and his men clearly do not think that the soldier is worth all the trouble, and their frustration shows as they have to battle their way through German-occupied France to locate him. The questions raised about the value of one life over another give this movie its refreshing and thoughtful spin. Not to mention, it has several dranatic battle scenes and the legendary Steven Spielberg at its helm – all more than enough to make this movie a timeless war classic.
'The Thin Red Line' (1998) “Thin” does not accurately describe the size of this movie’s ensemble cast and the amount of star power it carries. It had so many big names appearing as main characters or in cameo appearances, so much so that even Mickey Rourke and Bill Pullman did not make the final cut.
Based on the novel by World War II veteran James Jones, the movie is set during the Battle of Guadalcanal between Allied and Japanese forces. Of course, the war itself is not the only issue here, and the plot explores the individual problems faced by several US Marines, including characters played by Sean Penn, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson and John Savage.
It might not be up there with classics such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Platoon’, but ‘The Thin Red Line’ should definitely be included if you are hosting a war movie marathon.
'Black Hawk Down' (2001) When a movie is as well-known as ‘Black Hawk Down’, you know you have to watch it.
At front and centre is a team of elite US Delta Force soldiers and Army Rangers, portrayed by a sizeable Hollywood powerhouse including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Eric Bana (this movie launched his career). Their mission is to enter war-ridden Somalia and kidnap two of a local faction leader’s deputies. But the team’s two Black Hawk helicopters crash, and what follows is a long and gruelling battle against the local militia, who clearly outnumber them.
Here, you have fewer than 200 US Special Forces facing several thousand troopers in opposition, engaged in a high-casualty battle, and Ridley Scott at the helm as director. It cannot be ignored.
'Letters from Iwo Jima' (2006) It is not often that we get a Hollywood movie focusing on the Japanese perspective during World War II, but here it is.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie follows Japanese soldiers as they try to make a final stand against invading American forces on the desolate but strategic island of Iwo Jima. Through the stories of an innovative general played by international star Ken Watanabe, a conscripted baker who had to leave his wife while she was pregnant, and various troops who believe in suicide rather than surrender, we get a refreshing and emotional insight into the soldiers usually portrayed in war movies as the ruthless enemy.
This feature is a companion to Eastwood’s ‘Flags of our Fathers’, which depicts the same Battle of Iwo Jima from the American perspective and was released several months prior. ‘Letters’ was easily the more successful film, but you would no doubt appreciate this movie more by watching ‘Flags of our Fathers’ first.
The Hurt Locker (2009) It is this smaller budget movie that beat the sci-fi behemoth ‘Avatar’ at the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and it stars Jeremy Renner right before he became the major Hollywood name that he is today.
Detracting from the typical infantry-focused war movies for a change, ‘The Hurt Locker’ focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in Iraq. Watch Renner put on and move uncomfortably in that heavy and stuffy bomb suit, and you already feel bad for the guy. But then you find out what he does for a living: he has to dispose bombs on a regular basis, and unlike most skills, this one never gets easier.
Director Kathryn Bigelow gives us a solid movie, and was clearly deserving of becoming the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar. Trivia: Bigelow beat her ex-hubby James Cameron (who directed’ Avatar’) in getting the prestigious award.