Top 7 Vietnam War Movies of All Time

Guest Post by Justin Long

Though it’s been almost 40 years since the Vietnam War ended, the impact the War had on the Soldiers who fought in it and the people here at home can still be felt. Hollywood is no exception. Vietnam War movies are probably some of the most compelling, thought provoking and emotionally stirring war movies out there.

Lasting almost two decades and crossing generations, the affect the Vietnam War had on the Soldiers who fought in it and the people here at home, both brought this country together and tore it apart.  This impact has been captured on film over and over again.

When it comes to movies…….the grittier the better.  Keep that in mind when reading my choices of what I think are the Top 7 Vietnam War Movies of All Time.  Here you go.

#7  The Green Berets

John Wayne both directed and starred in this 1968 film about an officer’s mission in South Vietnam with two Special Forces teams. With its seemingly ‘pro-war’ tone, The Green Berets sparked anger and controversy. What sets this movie apart however, is that it was actually filmed and released during the war. It can be argued that Wayne simply wanted to provide a balance in the war’s portrayal. Love it or hate it, you can’t have a list of the Top Vietnam War movies without including The Green Berets.

#6 The Deer Hunter

Oscar winning drama Deer Hunter is about how the lives and friendship of three young steel workers is affected by the Vietnam War. Robert Deniro led the all star cast, which included Christopher Walken who won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his gripping & heart breaking portrayal of Mike’s best friend, Nick.

#5 Casualties of War

This 1989 drama is based on the true events surrounding the kidnapping, rape and murder of a young Vietnamese girl by a squad lead by a rogue sergeant. Sean Penn did a superb job as deranged Sergeant Tony Meserve against hero Michael J. Fox as Private Max Eriksson. Eriksson stands up to Meserve when given an order to kill the girl to cover up their crime. His refusal pits him against his squad. But Eriksson’s courage leads to the arrest of Meserve and the three privates who participated. Penn’s portrayal as the unsympathetic and unapologetic Meserve deserved an Oscar.

#4 Full Metal Jacket

This 1987 film starring Matthew Modine and Vincent D’Onofrio gets its name from the bullet used by infantry riflemen. The film follows young Marines from boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina to Vietnam. Showing the psychological effects that preparing for war can have on an individual.  Tough as nails Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by ex-Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey)   proved you don’t have to go to war to experience torture. Made more relevant by the eventual breakdown & suicide of D’Onofrio’s ‘Pyle’.

#3 Platoon

There’s a reason that Platoon shows up time and time again as a favorite Vietnam era movie……..IT’S AWESOME!!! Spurred by John Wayne’s The Green Berets, former infantryman and the movie’s director Oliver Stone wrote what would be the 1st in a trilogy of Vietnam War flicks. Young recruit Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen, pre “WINNING” days) volunteers for combat and heads to Vietnam. But he very quickly begins to realize that he may have gotten himself into something deeper than he ever imagined. He realizes the men in his platoon aren’t just fighting the Viet Cong, they are fighting themselves. Hands down Platoon is one of the greatest movies of all time, and though it may spark some controversy for its low placement, makes number 3 on my list.

#2 Good Morning Vietnam

What? Good Morning Vietnam over Platoon? Before the riots begin, let me explain. The juxtaposition of the humor of Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer and the horrors of war time Vietnam really hit home. When Soldiers are in the jungle, you expect to see bloodshed and terrible things. But here you have this radio DJ who’s exposure to the horrors of war have been limited until now and his take on it. Particularly compelling is the explosion scene. One moment you’re having a beer and ‘BOOM’, just like that….It’s also a movie about censorship and free speech, freedom of the press. Fundamental rights we as Americans share and what makes this country great!

#1 Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July is a biographical account following the emotional journey of Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic before and after being wounded in Vietnam.  Kovic did multiple tours in Vietnam, but it was after his second tour that things began to change. When he accidentally kills a fellow Soldier, his guilt over the incident coupled with the lack of sympathy from his superiors forever changes him. His return home from the war paralyzed and the treatment and conditions of the VA Hospital leave him disillusioned. Anti-war protests are rampant as support for the war has waned. Oliver Stone co-wrote the script with Kovic. Tom Cruise’s Oscar nominated role was played with a passion and a humility that resonated with movie goers and critics alike. Born on the Fourth of July deservedly, was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.

Final Thoughts

There you have it folks.  These are my top 7 Vietnam War movies of all time.  What are your thoughts?  What is your favorite Vietnam era movie?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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6 thoughts on “Top 7 Vietnam War Movies of All Time”

  1. Full Metal Jacket was one of my favorite movies of all time – it had a real message and showed the war in a more realistic light. The characters were awesome, and the DI will stick with me forever – always an entertaining movie to watch and one that I always recommend when someone wants a film of the era. Must watch.

  2. Apocalypse Now, We Were Soldiers and Hamburger Hill all have to be in this conversation. Although, there really isn't any movie that jumps out to be pulled off the list. The Green Berets is probably the weakest movie of the group but I feel it represents a different angle on the war so it provides a little balance to the list.

  3. Technically not a Vietnam era movie, For The Boys with Bette Midler & James Caan have a scene where they are performing for the troops in Vietnam. There is a part where her son (played by Christopher Rydell) seems so disconnected with an authentic portrayal of “the 1000 mile stare” – it always moves me.I’m kind of surprised and glad that Good Morning Vietnam beat out Platoon on your list. I’m also glad that The Duke made the list with The Green Berets. We have to remember the classics! And now the song is stuck in my head. “Fighting soldiers from the sky – Fearless men who jump and die! Men who mean just what they say. The brave men of the Green Beret”

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