Flashback Five – Best Vietnam War Movies

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Decades later, the Vietnam War is still a charged subject for Americans. For better or worse, the conflict has served as rich source material for some of Hollywood’s most memorable war movies. You can’t make a a generic guys-on-a-mission story about Vietnam. Hell, no! Vietnam movies are mind-blowing experiences like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. Tomorrow, Sat., May 30, at 8PM | 7C, check out one prime example, Apocalypse Now Redux, on AMC, as part of War Heroes Weekend. It’s the best Vietnam War movie there is. See what else ranks near the top in the list below.

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)
The panorama of napalmed jungle paired with the Doors’ “The End” tells you Francis Ford Coppola’s epic is no solemn drama about American foreign policy. Instead, the movie brilliantly turns the war into the stuff of trippy myth, mixing harsh realities with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The descent into hell — Martin Sheen’s haunted search downriver to find Marlon Brando’s Kurtz — would drive anyone mad.

2. Platoon (1986)
Oliver Stone’s pic is one of the more realistic portrayals of the average soldier’s experience. (Being a Stone film, it winds up nearly as nightmarish as Apocalypse Now). A sweaty jungle atmosphere oozes off the screen, while viewers are overwhelmed by the paranoia of guerrilla warfare. The film’s centerpiece is the tense near-massacre of a village, a horrifying illustration of how quickly any moment can deteriorate into savage violence.

3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Understandably, people tend to focus on the first half of the movie: a hilariously chilling psychodrama about basic training. Indeed, R. Lee Ermey based an entire acting career on his overheated drill instructor. But the second half, a recounting of combat, is hopelessly fragmented — and that’s the point. A series of disconnected scenes culminate in a deadly standoff between marines and a sniper that, when over, doesn’t offer much meaning. Meaninglessness being the point.

4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
The movie ends with a game of Russian roulette, the perfect symbol for the insanity of war. Oddly, the film opens innocuously, at a Polish wedding where working-class buddies (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Cazale) bond before going to battle. Naturally, their lives are destroyed. In fact, The Deer Hunter is arguably the most shattering drama about Vietnam.

5. Rescue Dawn (2006)
A true rarity among Vietnam flicks, Rescue Dawn is strangely uplifting. Based on the true story of a pilot (Christian Bale) who crash-lands during a bombing raid then taken prisoner by the Vietcong, the film’s power comes from Bale’s eerily upbeat demeanor while being tortured and starved in a POW camp. He’s incomprehensibly confident that he will escape! One of the more underrated Vietnam movies, and perhaps the most underrated performances by Bale.

Honorable Mentions

1. Hamburger Hill (1987): With a terrific ensemble, Hamburger Hill depicts soldiers endlessly fighting to take Hill 937. Dozens die and the victory is a Pyrrhic one.

2. Casualties of War (1989): Director Brian De Palma’s object lesson in wartime morality finds Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox battling over whether kidnapping a Vietnamese girl as a sex slave for GIs is a good thing or not.

3. Good Morning,Vietnam (1987): Robin Williams is an armed-forces DJ  who won’t bow down to his superiors. Funny and sad, this movie really is Williams in top form.

4. Born on the Fourth of July (1989): Oliver Stone shifts his
attention to the home front with this heartbreaking exploration of Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), a man who went from gung-ho soldier to antiwar activist.

5. The Boys in Company C (1978): Among the first Vietnam War movies, this all-but-forgotten flick follows soldiers from basic training to an active duty that proves more than they bargained for.

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Filed under: Flashback Five

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