20 FURIOUS VIETNAM WAR MOVIES
One of my favorite movie genres features olive green uniforms, rock ‘n’ roll music, Huey helicopters, hippies and napalm. Vietnam war movies have a whole array of great attributes. Yes it is weird to admit that depictions of a particularly cruel and politically screwed up war might trigger cinematic pleasure, but I guess something good had to come out of it. Vietnam war movies also boast a high degree of visionary masterpieces and personal favorites. Here is a furious list chosen by me. Enjoy!
Good Morning Vietnam (1987, Dir: Barry Levinson)
In memoriam of the late Robin Williams (who tragically passed on August 12, 2014). This is one of the penultimate ‘Nam movies. It is a tragic comedy set in troubled Saigon at the height of the conflict. Robin plays Airman 2nd Class Adrian Cronauer a fun loving, boisterous radio DJ during the war who keeps the American soldiers’ spirits raised high with his energetic shows. While the war is raging outside, Adrian must fight his own battle in the Armed Forces Radio booth due to his controversial broadcasting style. Co-starring Forrest Whitaker, Robert Wuhl and Bruno Kirby.
The Boys in Company C (1978, Dir: Sidney J. Furie)
An emotionally arresting look at a group of young Marine recruits (played by Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, Michael Lembeck, Craig Wasson) who go from the hectic environment of boot camp to the hell of Vietnam in 1968. One of the first post-Nam movies to portray the brutally realistic experiences of the soldiers. Note: This movie also introduced R. Lee Ermey several years before his memorable role in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. (Peter)
Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989, Dir: Brian Trenchard-Smith)
Based on a screenplay by an uncredited R. Lee Ermey (The Boys in Company C, Full Metal Jacket) this furious, often overlooked war film takes place during the Tet Offensive at a small embattled base that is defended by Marines against a VC army trying to attack it. If you love siege movies like Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13 you’ll enjoy this gem. Starring R. Lee Ermey and Wings Hauser. (Peter)
84 Charlie MoPic (1989, Dir: Patrick Sheane Duncan)
A low budget, found footage mockumentary that was filmed entirely in Southern California. The story follows a Long Range Recon Patrol in Vietnam and captures their personal confessionals and commentaries while doing their duty in the field. The screenplay and excellent, intimately captured acting makes this a very intrigiuing, furious work of indie cinema. It’s funny, inventive and entertaining. A must see for war movie aficionados. Starring Jonathan Emerson, Nicholas Cascone, Jason Tomlins and Byron Thames as MoPic. (Peter)
I mentioned masterpieces in my introduction well this is one of them. Whether you prefer the 1979 theatrical version or Coppola’s 2003 Redux version (which I prefer) that intigrates deleted scenes, this is one of the most epic, crazy and mind blowing war movies ever made. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Fredric Forrest and Dennis Hopper.
Platoon (1986, Dir: Oliver Stone)
Part auto-biography, part semi-authentic war documentary, this battle flick is an exhausting portrayal of the horrors of war. A fresh faced PFC named Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) experiences ambushes, morality battles within his own squads, ugly war crimes and death. It is an action-packed, yet super serious account of one soldier’s experience in Nam. Co-starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon and Johnny Depp.
Brian DePalma created a star-studded shocker that remains a pivotal entry in the Nam genre. Based on true events, it was criticized by many for its overly dramatic and almost pseudo-realistic portrayal of the horrors of rape and other war crimes. It remains one of the greatest Nam films. Starring Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, John C. Reilly, John Leguizamo and Ving Rhames.
Hamburger Hill (1987, Dir: John Irvin)
A look at the comraderie and inner turmoil between soldiers during the hell of war. If there’s one Vietnam war movie that pulls out all the stops and delivers a Saving Private Ryan-esque constant bout of insanity, this is it. No patch of grass remains unscorched or bloodied at the end of this battle. Based on the actual assault of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” on Ap Bia Mountain near the Laotian border. Starring Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, Don Cheadle and Courtney B. Vance.
We Were Soldiers (2002, Dir: Randall Wallace)
What happens when the guy who wrote Braveheart goes all slo-mo and patriotic while making a Vietnam movie? Well, you probably can get the idea. It’s cool-looking, dramatic, not always very realistic, at times historically questionable and not very critical of the war. Starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper.
A trio of friends (Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage) from Pennsylvania’s rust belt join the war and go on different life altering paths. Their POW experiences haunt – and ultimately break them apart. You’ll never joke about Russian Roulette again after watching Cimino’s epic journey of madness. Co-starring Meryl Streep, John Cazale, George Dzundza.
Heaven and Earth (1993, Dir: Oliver Stone)
Stone made three Nam themed movies (including Platoon, Born on The 4th of July) and this is the last one in the trilogy. It tells the story of a Vietnamese woman and the complications during and after the war when she gets caught up between the Vietcong, the US Army and racism upon her arrival in the US. A courageous movie that shows us a view from the other side of the conflict. Starring Joan Chen, Tommy Lee Jones, Haing S. Ngor.
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Dir: Stanley Kubrick)
Kubrick went totally bonkers with this one. The most schizophrenic of them all. It has the most memorable boot camp training sequences that are often copied but never duplicated and episodes of urban warfare in ‘Nam that are both shocking as well as pop culturally signifigant. Starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey.
Platoon Leader (1988, Dir: Aaron Norris)
This is a low budget version of Platoon (hence the title) and actually quite enjoyable as a little, late night B-war flick. It has some shock value and great moments but isn’t overlooked without a reason. Starring Michael Dudikoff.
Bat*21 (1988, Dir: Peter Markle)
Gene Hackman stars as USAF Lt. Col. Gene Hambleton, the only survivor on an aircraft that is downed by a Viet Cong surface to air missile. His main lifeline for survival is “Birddog” (Danny Glover) an easygoing recon pilot who tries to set up a rescue mission before the North Vietnamese can capture or kill him. A suspenseful “behind enemy lines” action classic based on true events. (Peter)
Bullet in the Head (1990, Dir: John Woo)
John Woo made another war film a little over a decade later (Windtalkers) and people were surprised of his genre jump, but in fact he’d been there before. In Bullet in the Head, some gun-wielding gangsters end up in ‘Nam and stylized Woo action ensues. It’s one part The Deer Hunter, one part The Killer. Starring Tony Leung, Simon Yam, Jackie Cheung and Waise Lee.
The Last Hunter (1980, Dir: Antonio Margheriti)
Antonio Margheriti’s macaroni combat exploration of the Vietnam war is a campy flick that you have to see to believe. It’s all exploitation and cheap thrills and will rock your late night cinematic world. Starring David Warbeck, Tisa Farrow, John Steiner.
Air America (1990, Dir: Roger Spottiswoode)
This one’s not quite a typical Nam movie that takes place in the weird world of the CIA’s global games and focuses on a pilot (Mel Gibson) running a smuggling airline across South East Asia during the war. Gibson and co-star Robert Downey Jr. make for a great duo. A high flying, fun adventure film that stands out from the rest of our picks.
Special Mad As Hell Mentions:
The Green Berets: The worst among them all basically.
Hearts and Minds: A really great documentary about the Vietnam war.
Forrest Gump: Laugh and cry with Forrest! He rescues Lieutenant Dan!
1986 Tunnel Rats. Uwe Boll’s finest work? Extremely controversial