Good Memorial Day Movies

Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Observed the last Monday of each May, Memorial Day is a U.S. holiday honoring the men and women who’ve died in military service. Since it’s right around the corner, I’ve put together this list of good Memorial Day movies. Just be warned: all of these films feature either the death of the lead character, or, in the case of an ensemble cast, numerous U.S. combatants. Since the holiday is all about sacrifice, I thought it would only be appropriate.

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Glory (1989) – Denzel Washington picked up his first Academy Award in this film about one of the first Civil War units comprised entirely of African-American soldiers. Starring Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman and Andre Braugher.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) – On the eve of the D-Day invasion, a special unit comprised of military convicts is sent behind enemy lines to assassinate a group of high-ranking German officers. The amazing cast includes Lee Marvin, Enest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan and Donald Sutherland. No doubt an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Tom Hanks stars as Capt. John H. Miller, an Army Ranger who leads his squad of men deep into France to rescue a paratrooper (Matt Damon) whose three brothers have all been killed in action. Highly influential on every war film to come afterwards, the film co-stars Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, and Vin Diesel. Not for the faint of heart, as the combat scenes are graphically violent (especially the opening depiction of the D-Day invasion).

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) – A group of U.S. Marines participate in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and they’re led by Sergeant John Stryker (John Wayne), a role that earned The Duke an Oscar nomination. On an interesting side note: Sands of Iwo Jima was the first film to feature the phrase “lock and load.” Despite being over 60 years old, it remains one of the greatest war movies ever made.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) – William Holden plays a weary fighter pilot tasked with destroying a series of bridges during the Korean War. Grace Kelly is his worried wife, and Mickey Rooney and Earl Holliman are a pair of rescue pilots. Based on a story by James Michener.

The Thin Red Line (1998) – After 20 years away from filmmaking, director Terrence Malick returns to helm this story of American forces participating in the Battle of Guadalcanal during WWII. Starring John Cusack, James Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Adrien Brody, and John Travolta. Sadly, performances from Gary Oldman, Martin Sheen, Viggo Mortensen, Mickey Rourke and others were left on the cutting room floor after the initial version was found to run five hours.

The Fighting Seabees (1944) – Construction boss Wedge Donovan (John Wayne) and his men are building airstrips for the Navy during World War II, but they’re not allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves. That all changes after a vicious Japanese attack, leading to the creating of the Construction Battalions (also known as Seabees). Meanwhile, Donovan and the local commander compete for the affections of a beautiful war correspondent (Susan Hayward).

Hell is For Heroes (1962) – Steve McQueen stars in this bleak film about a squad of American soldiers forced to hold out against an entire German company for 48 hours. Co-starring Bobby Darin, Fess Parker, James Coburn, and Bob Newhart.

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – Featuring gritty scenes of submarine warfare during WWII, the film stars Clark Gable as a sub commander obsessed with sinking a particular Japanese destroyer. Burt Lancaster plays his second in command, a soldier with issues of his own. Don Rickles makes his film debut. If you enjoyed the dynamic between Denzel and Hackman in Crimson Tide, then you should also like the unfriendly chemistry between Gable and Lancaster.

Go Tell the Spartans (1978) – Burt Lancaster plays an American officer stationed in Vietnam as an “advisor” in 1964, prior to the full-scale outbreak of the war. Assigned to protect an outpost with a band of ragtag soldiers, he does his duty in the face of inevitable defeat.

All of the good Memorial Day movies listed above are available for rental from Netflix, or you can purchase them from Amazon. Either way, it’s an excellent way to honor those who’ve died in between your barbeque or Indy 500 viewing. We do get a small commission if you buy something, but all proceeds go right back into the site.

For more war movie recommendations, check out the following links from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2010 at 12:47 pm 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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