10 Good Movies Featuring the U.S. Navy

Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm

The United States Navy has enjoyed numerous victories since its creation in 1775. From battling the Barbary pirate states to participating in engagements in Kosovo and Iraq, the men and women of this military branch have served with honor and distinction. These accomplishments haven’t went unnoticed by Hollywood, either, which brings us to our list of 10 good movies featuring the U.S. Navy.

Tinseltown has plenty to work with. From massive aircraft carriers with awesome firepower to the deadly SEALs, the Navy’s various branches and deeds are a screenwriter’s dream. The following feature films include naval adventures both real and imagined, although you’ll notice the absence of any movies centered around submarines. That’s a list for another time.

Under Siege

Under Siege (1992) – Set on the USS Missouri, this box office hit propelled Steven Seagal to a whole other level of stardom, although he would later shoot himself in the foot with a combination of overeating and excessive environmental commentary. Here, he stars as Casey Ryback, a former Navy SEAL who was demoted in rank after punching out an incompetent superior officer. Now he serves as the ship’s cook, but his lethal skills will soon be needed once the battleship is taken over by terrorists.

Tommy Lee Jones is reliable as always, and here he serves as the bad guy and even engages Seagal in a climactic knife fight. Erika Eleniak has all the charisma of a sack of potatoes, but she does show off her boobs as a former Playboy Playmate trapped on the ship. The cast of veteran actors is rounded out by Gary Busey and Colm Meaney, and there’s more than enough gunfights and martial arts to please fans of the action genre.

Men of Honor (2000) – Based on the true story of Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first African-American to attain the qualification of Master Diver in the U.S. Navy. Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Brashear, a poorly educated sharecropper who seeks to improve his life by enlisting in the late 1940s. He sets his sights on becoming the first black Navy diver, although he faces tough obstacles in the form of a racist commanding officer (Hal Holbrook) and a tough-as-nails instructor (Robert De Niro). While Gooding gives an admirable performance, De Niro steals the show with his portrayal as the complicated Master Chief Leslie Sunday. Co-starring Charlize Theron, David Keith, Powers Boothe, and Michael Rapaport.

Top Gun

Top Gun (1986) – Members of the U.S. Navy do more than just sail around on ships, and this Tony Scott film shows fighter pilots in all their glory. Tom Cruise stars as hotshot aviator Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a young man haunted by the death of his father during the Vietnam War. When he and his radar officer “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) get a chance to attend the Navy’s Top Gun flight school, you can bet that rules will be broken, women (Kelly McGillis) will be romanced, and rivalries will be formed (with Val Kilmer, no less). The aerial combat sequences still hold up well thanks to Scott’s direction, and Cruise pushes his boyish charm to the absolute limit.

The supporting cast includes Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Meg Ryan, and Tim Robbins, although the film’s soundtrack also seems like an additional character. The two most memorable songs are “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin and “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, and anyone who listens to classic rock radio is bound to be familiar with them.

The film became a major recruiting tool for the U.S. Navy. After the release of Top Gun, the enrollment of young men and women hoping to become pilots increased by 500 percent. Somehow, I’m guessing that most of them never got to sleep with Kelly McGillis or engage enemy MiGs in dogfights.

Task Force (1949) – Gary Cooper demonstrates his all-American charm as Jonathan “Scotty” Scott, a career naval man dedicated to proving the necessity of aircraft carriers during the first half of the 20th century. Walter Brennan co-stars as Scott’s mentor, making this the eighth film the two actors made together. Jane Wyatt is a Navy widow who Scott takes a shine to, although their life is sometimes made difficult by his various enemies in the military and Washington.

A great deal of historical footage is used in Task Force, something which should appeal to history buffs. This includes the first-ever American aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, as well as footage of the Battle of Midway and a kamikaze attack on the USS Franklin.

Act of Valor (2012) – Nobody in this film is in danger of winning any acting awards, but they sure know how to kick ass. That’s because many of the on-screen soldiers also happen to be real-life Navy SEALs, lending a physicality to their roles that can’t be duplicated with personal trainers or degrees from Juliard. All the weapons and tactics are also authentic, and our heroes get plenty of chances to use them as they track a Chechen terrorist (Jason Cottle) who’s declared war on the United States. The film’s release came when public interest in the Navy SEALs was at an all-time high, less than one year after their role in the death of Osama bin Laden. It might be too jingoistic for some, but action junkies will still find it worth their time.

The Caine Mutiny (1954) – Based on Herman Wouk’s 1951 novel of the same name, The Caine Mutiny features action in the Pacific Theatre of WWII, as well as courtroom drama during a court-martial. Humphrey Bogart received one of the film’s seven Oscar nominations for his role as Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg, a career naval man whose obsession with discipline and perceived cowardice causes his crew (including Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, and Robert Francis) to turn against him. Jose Ferrer is also notable as Lt. Greenwald, a defense attorney who clears his conscience with a drunken tirade for the ages.

If you want to know why Bogart is so highly regarded as an actor, watch this performance. From Queeg’s obsession with catching a strawberry thief to his courtroom meltdown, he plays every scene with a low-key paranoia that’s mesmerizing. And he did all this while suffering from the throat cancer that would eventually kill him.

Mister Roberts (1955) – John Ford was the original director of this Oscar-winning comedy-drama, but gall bladder problems and a physical altercation with Henry Fonda led to his departure in the middle of shooting. Mervyn LeRoy filled in admirably, although the strength of the source material (based on a 1946 novel by Thomas Heggen) and the stellar cast would’ve allowed almost anyone to pull it off.

Fonda stars as Lt. Douglas Roberts, the executive officer on a cargo ship during the final days of WWII. Roberts is loved by the crew and excels at his job, neither of which describes his captain, Lt. Commander Morton (James Cagney). The two men constantly butt heads, especially when it comes to Roberts’ transfer request, and the crewmen are caught in the middle like children during an ugly divorce. Jack Lemmon won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a shiftless junior officer inspired by Roberts, and you can see Betsy Palmer in action years before she got beheaded in Friday the 13th.

Midway (1976) – When it comes to naval battles in the Pacific Campaign of WWII, none were more important than the Battle of Midway. This was the first time that the Imperial Navy of Japan suffered a setback, and it served as a turning point in establishing the U.S. as the dominant power in the region. While the film version is filled with several historical inaccuracies and the usual amount of Hollywood melodrama, it still remains an entertaining primer for those curious about naval warfare.

Charlton Heston heads up the American side as the fictional Captain Matthew Garth, while Kirosawa favorite¬†Toshiro Mifune plays the real-life Admiral Yamamoto. The international cast is an impressive–and sometimes bizarre–one, including James Coburn, Larry Csonka, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Pat Morita, Robert Mitchum, Tom Selleck, Cliff Robertson, Dabney Coleman, and Erik Estrada (playing a character nicknamed “Chili Bean”).

Charlie Sheen

Hot Shots! (1991) – Most films featuring the U.S. Navy are serious affairs, but this Top Gun spoof from director Jim Abrahams is just the opposite. Charlie Sheen puts his Adonis DNA to work as Topper Harley, a tormented Navy pilot assigned to the top secret Operation Sleepy Weasel. Valeria Golina co-stars as his therapist and romantic interest, while Cary Elwes takes on the Val Kilmer role as a fellow pilot with an axe to grind. Also starring Jon Cryer, Lloyd Bridges, and Kevin Dunn. If you’ve seen Airplane! (which Abrahams co-directed), then you should have an idea of what to expect: absurd dialogue, outlandish sight gags, and lots of laughs.

The Final Countdown (1980) – No, not the ’86 album from hair metal band Europe. I’m talking about the sci-fi film that sends the crew of the USS Nimitz back in time–courtesy of a massive vortex–to just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Will they sink the enemy fleet and alter the course of history, or will they sit by and allow events to play out as before? That’s the central question our protagonists must deal with, including Kirk Douglas as the ship’s commanding officer. Other cast members include Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross, James Farentino, Charles Durning, and Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman in a small role. The Final Countdown is all kinds of goofy, but fans of naval history should still get a kick out of the “what if” scenario.

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That concludes our look at 10 good movies featuring the U.S. Navy. For even more military goodness, be sure to check out the following articles from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2012 at 4:30 pm and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. 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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