10 Good Soldier Movies

Friday, May 14, 2010 at 8:18 am

May is National Military Appreciation Month, so it’s time to unveil our list of 10 good soldier movies. Whether trying to complete their mission against all odds or battling problems on the homefront, these cinematic warriors demonstrate some of the finest qualities of a soldier: bravery, honor, and discipline.

And while I would’ve loved to have included a film featuring a female soldier, I couldn’t think of any that were worth recommending. Sorry, I just didn’t buy Meg Ryan as a member of the armed forces. If I’m overlooking one, be sure and let me know.

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Before we get to the list of good soldier movies, I’d like to take a moment and talk about a great website I came across while gathering information for this article. The site is called Operation: Take a Soldier to the Movies, and it’s designed to improve the morale of troops stationed around the globe by sending them a special movie package. Since there’s not much to do on a military base, these packages allow our men and women in uniform to enjoy a night at the movies. Each packet contains the following:

Over 45,000 of these movie kits have been distributed to soldiers, and it’s a perfect tie-in with National Military Appreciation Month. If you’d like to participate, just click on the link provided above and show your support. Just be sure not to send any copies of Batman and Robin or Transformers. Those films are so bad that you might be deemed an enemy combatant.

Now let’s get to the list of movies. Oorah!

First Blood (1982) – Demonstrating the psychological toll that the Vietnam War took on its combatants, First Blood follows John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) as he’s driven into a rage by the unwise torment of a small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Richard Crenna is great as his former commanding officer, Colonel Trautman (a role that initially went to Kirk Douglas). The film has a much different ending than the original book, where Rambo kills the sheriff and then gets his head blown off by Trautman. Later films in the franchise emphasized action, but this one remains a haunting look at a man’s inner demons.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Director Stanley Kubrick turns out another anti-war film, this time set during the events in Vietnam. Matthew Modine is Pvt. Joker, a Marine recruit who receives brutal training from Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey in his breakout role), but it pales in comparison to what awaits the dim-witted Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). But that’s just the half of it, as Joker survives boot camp and finds himself in a “world of shit” in Southeast Asia.

Sergeant York (1941) – Gary Cooper stars in this inspirational tale of America’s most-decorated soldier during World War I. While he begins his military career as a conscientious objector, Alvin York’s doubts disappear when his fellow soldiers are being gunned down all around him. Cooper won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal, and the real-life York hand-picked him for the role.

Terminator (1984) – Okay, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) isn’t exactly fighting in a real war, but that doesn’t stop this early James Cameron film from being filled with elements of the classic “soldier on a mission” story. Traveling back through time, he must save Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from an unstoppable cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) so that she can give birth to humanity’s savior. Packed with gunplay, the film had a major impact on future sci-fi and action films. It’s interesting to note that Lance Henriksen was the originally choice to play the Terminator, and Schwarzenegger actually auditioned for the role of Reese.

To Hell and Back (1955) – Based on his 1949 autobiography, To Hell and Back tells the story of Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier during World War II. Originally turned down for enlistment due to his small size (5’5”, 110 lbs.), Murphy would serve with distinction in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France, eventually being awarded the Medal of Honor for a gutsy stand that single-handedly saved the life of his company. A few facts are changed around for dramatic purposes, but the most amazing elements of the story are absolutely true.

Gardens of Stone (1987) – Sgt. Clell Hazard (James Caan) is a grizzled veteran of both Vietnam and Korea who finds himself assigned to conducting funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery. His new position doesn’t sit well with the old warhorse, especially since he wants to pass on his knowledge to those shipping out for Vietnam. Then he meets Jackie Willow (D.B. Sweeney), an idealistic young soldier and family friend who wants nothing more than to serve his country. Co-starring Anjelica Huston, James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne and Mary Stuart Masterson. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who knows a thing or two about making a military movie.

Platoon (1986) – Believing it’s unfair that only the poor and uneducated should serve in Vietnam, college student Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) drops out and enlists. He soon finds himself as a member of the 25th Infantry division on the Cambodian border, and the horrors of the jungle become all too real. Dueling sergeants Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Barnes (Tom Berenger) function like a gun-toting angel and devil on his shoulder, and Chris must find a way to survive without sacrificing his humanity. Directed by Oliver Stone and based on his experiences as an infantryman, the film also includes Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley and Keith David.

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) – Adrian Cronauer was a real-life DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service during Vietnam, and this comedy starring Robin Williams tells his (somewhat fictional) story. Constantly at odds with his superior officers (including Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh), Cronauer struggles to provide good cheer and rock ‘n roll to the troops. Directed by Barry Levinson and co-starring a young Forest Whitaker, the film delivers food for thought and plenty of laughs.

Heartbreak Ridge (1986) – Combining battlefield action with Clint Eastwood’s trademark dry humor, Heartbreak Ridge is the story of an aging Marine, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint), and his attempts to win back his ex-wife, whip a motley band of soldiers into shape, and participate in the invasion of Grenada. Mario Van Peebles co-stars as Corporal Stitch Jones, a Marine and the self-proclaimed “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n Rolla.” Eastwood also served as director and producer on the project.

Patton (1970) – The winner of seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), this film tells the story of real-life U.S. General George S. Patton and his tireless efforts to advance the war effort in WWII. While Rod Steiger passed on the role, George C. Scott played it with relish and depicted Patton as a fierce soldier who had little patience for what he perceived as incompetence or cowardice. A masterful war epic with an equally masterful performance from its lead. Scott won the Best Actor Oscar for his role, but then proceeded to become the first recipient in the history of the Academy Awards to refuse it (citing a dislike of competition between performers).

All the good soldier movies listed above are available through Netflix, and signing up for a free trial membership via our link will allow us to get a small commission. It doesn’t add to your total, and any money we earn goes right back into Only Good Movies. That’s what I call a win-win situation.

You can also click on the following links for more recommendations on war and military movies:

This entry was posted on Friday, May 14th, 2010 at 8:18 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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