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Fun Friday–Favorite War Movies

Friday, September 5, 2008


“What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”
~ Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, 1864

Let me preface this list by saying this started out as my “Favorite Historical Films” list. But when I realized that almost everything I’d written down had something to do with war, I changed the title. Let me also say, I’m not a connoisseur of “war movies.” These are all movies that I’ve enjoyed or that have touched me in some way that happen to be set during war.

Having grown up the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a WWII veteran, I have a very healthy respect for our military, and a deep fear of the consequences of war. Because of that, there are certain movies that are set during war that I love because they show that same respect and fear. These films don’t glorify violence, though there is plenty in all of them; they might actually be seen as treatises on why we should never go to war again. Unlike our news media and the political spin put on the current war (by either party), these films focus on the human element of the horrors of war, and should serve as a reminder of why God wants us to love one another above all else. That said, here are my favorite war movies.

5. Glory (1989, Tri-Star Pictures)
Starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, and Morgan Freeman. This film came out just as I was starting college (the first time) and was minoring in American History with a focus on the Civil War. It told a story that up until that time, no film had told: the involvement of African Americans in the War Between the States. A few years later, when talking about it with a friend from Georgia, he made the comment that it was the first Civil War movie in which, by the end, he was cheering for the Yankees to win. It doesn’t matter which side you come from, this is a wonderful story (based on the real-life events surrounding Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts regiment) that shows the reasons why people choose to go to war.

4. Memphis Belle (1990, Warner Brothers)
Starring Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Zane, Sean Astin, D.B. Sweeney, Tate Donovan, Reed Diamond, Courtney Gains, David Strathairn, and John Lithgow. This is another one of those movies that came out during my college days when I was immersed in all things historical. Even though WWII has never been an area of interest for me like the Civil War, it’s still something that captures my attention. So when this film came out starring some of the up-and-coming actors of my generation, I paid attention. Oh, and Harry Connick sings “Danny Boy” in it too.

3. Master & Commander (2003, 20th Century Fox/Miramax).
Starring Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, and an ensemble cast of some of the best British character-actors in the business, including Billy Boyd (yes, Pippin from the Lord of the Rings films). What can I say about films that come out at just a certain time in my life? This one came out just as I was starting the research for my Regency/Napoleonic-set historical romance in which the hero is a Royal Navy captain. Unlike the Horatio Hornblower films that I was obsessed with around the same time, this one shows a more realistic view of what life was like aboard a ship in the early 19th century. And it’s got Russell Crowe at the helm partnered with Paul Bettany. Who knew those two actors would play so well off each other. And the music is divine.

2. The Patriot (2000, Columbia Pictures)
Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson, and Adam Baldwin. I’m a very, very bad history-minor: I know little about the Revolutionary War. I know the names of a few key battles, but I couldn’t even tell you in what year they took place nor who the important military figures were, unlike my knowledge of the war that followed less than a century later. So when this movie came out, I was very interested in it and also able to watch it without getting caught up in the historical inaccuracies which I’ve since learned the film has. Just like I watch A Christmas Story on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I always watch The Patriot on the Fourth of July.

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998, Amblin/DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures)
Starring Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldbert, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, and Matt Damon. When this film first came out in theaters, the Veterans’ Administration reported an increased number of older veterans coming in for counseling, with panic attacks, or with PTSD-like symptoms. Steven Spielberg set out to create—and achieved—one of the most realistic war sequences ever put on film. With documentary-style shooting and the unrelenting pace of the action, when viewed in the movie theater (especially like the one where I saw it—mammoth screen), for many war veterans, it was too real. I did not have the opportunity to see this film with my father; however, many years before, we did go as a family to see another very realistic war film: Platoon. At fifteen or sixteen years old, I can remember my dad’s reaction to that film. And it was after seeing it that he finally started opening up and telling us some stories about his experiences in Vietnam. I’ve been to the Vietnam wall in DC with him a few times, along with Arlington Cemetery. I’ve also heard stories about some of the close calls he had in Vietnam—almost two years before I was born. That’s why this film gets the place of honor at the top of this list. Because never before had I seen a film that really made me understand that the only reason I’m here today is because others’ lives were sacrificed so that my father could make it home safely. I hope in some small way, like Private Ryan, I’ve lived a life worthy of their sacrifice. I know Daddy has.

  1. Friday, September 5, 2008 8:32 am

    “And it’s got Russell Crowe at the helm partnered with Paul Bettany. Who knew those two actors would play so well off each other.”

    Ron Howard in the far, far superior movie A Beautiful Mind? Or I guess the answer could be “almost everybody” since A Beautiful Mind came out two years earlier.

    I’m sure we’ve talk about Master and Commander before and I understand your personal attachment to it given the circumstances of your first viewing, but I think it’s terribly boring and the only movie here I’d say doesn’t deserve to be on the list, despite a great cast and good cinematography. It’s just dull.

    Black Hawk Down and Gladiator are sorely missing, though Gladiator is only a “war” movie for the first half hour. After that it’s mainly just a fighting movie, so I’ll excuse that exclusion.

    Obviously, I couldn’t agree more on the top choice.


  2. Friday, September 5, 2008 8:58 am

    Caleb, while I enjoy Gladiator, I don’t consider it a war movie. It’s a…well, it’s a gladiator movie and I’d have to link it more closely with films like Spartacus or Ben Hur.

    Yes, I’ve seen Black Hawk Down—I have the DVD, actually. However, it’s not one that resonates with me the way these do on the list. I think one my dad would add to this list is We Were Soldiers. Again, not one that resonated with me.

    And I know both my dad and my oldest nephew would take exception to Band of Brothers not being on this list, even though it’s a miniseries and not a theatrically released film.

    As I said, I didn’t necessarily choose these films because of the wars depicted in them. I chose them because of the way they resonate with me personally.


  3. Friday, September 5, 2008 9:09 am

    I never saw Saving Private Ryan. From all I can gather it goes beyond what I’m willing to subject myself to, by way of realism. So… not being a huge fan of war movies, I’d slide Flyboys in that slot. That one was much better than I expected it to be, and it’s the only other war movie (seen by me) I can think of at the moment.

    There’s Pearl Harbor, but that won’t ever rank among my favorites.

    You’ve reminded me, Kaye, that I’ve been meaning to see Glory again.


  4. Friday, September 5, 2008 9:36 am

    My favorite war movies are all John Wayne’s.

    Sands of Iwo Jima
    Back to Bataan
    The Green Berets (I cry every time)
    The Fighting Seabees
    The Longest Day

    His western Indian War movies too.

    She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, Fort Apache, The Horse Soldiers, Comancheros, The Fighting Kentuckian…ah, the list goes on…


  5. Friday, September 5, 2008 11:55 am

    Glory was heart-wrenching. I first watched it in 8th greade and I wasn’t ready to see it in someways. My whole outlook from there on change, but one thing is did do was give me a love for History. That class (that we watched the movie in) made me interested in history and I’ve loved it ever since…guess that’s why I write Time Travel. And probably why most recent novel though a Contemporary novel is about the war in Afghanistan…


  6. Friday, September 5, 2008 2:55 pm

    Saving Private Ryan was a little too gory for me, but I really enjoyed The Patriot. Honestly, I haven’t seen many war movies at all!


  7. Friday, September 5, 2008 3:36 pm

    Have any of you seen The Killing Fields with Sam Waterson? Talk about an eye opening, heart wrenching film!


  8. Friday, September 5, 2008 4:04 pm

    It’s weird to hear so many people complain about the gore of Saving Private Ryan being “too much” or scaring them away from watching it at all. I’ll admit it’s really really violent and horrifically realistic, but the gore itself didn’t seem that much worse than a ton of other movies I watch.

    I think I’m almost completely desensitized at this point.


  9. Friday, September 5, 2008 6:13 pm

    Desensitization is not hard to come by these days, but I made a conscious choice a few years ago not to go there myself (not just with violence). It’s not an easy commitment to keep.


  10. Friday, September 5, 2008 6:36 pm

    Lori, you are so right about that kind of commitment being hard to keep!

    Good list, Kaye. I took a quick glance at my DVDs to see what I’d classify as “war” films/miniseries – The Great Raid, Flyboys, The Four Feathers, Masada (maybe this is more of a siege film!), and Band of Brothers. One of the most powerful, moving war films I’ve ever seen is The Fighting Sullivans, about the five brothers who all died on the same ship in WW2. I cried for HOURS after watching that film. In fact, I don’t know if I could put myself through watching it again, I have such a gut-wrenching reaction to the story.


  11. Friday, September 5, 2008 6:42 pm


    I forgot about The Four Feathers (the Heath Ledger version). I even own a copy.


  12. Friday, September 5, 2008 9:40 pm

    That’s the version I have. Have you seen the original? It’s excellent as well…although I think I prefer the remake (which is unusual, LOL!).


  13. Friday, September 5, 2008 10:48 pm

    Talk about the realism of the war movies, and their effect on veterans has made me think of my husband.

    While he didn’t see any combat, he saw the after effects on the civilians in Iraq. He still reminds me that church is a lot quieter than what his Sunday morning services were like with C130s, fighter planes, mortar shells and warning alarms going off.

    He can still watch those war movies we like, but I wonder if things would be different had he experienced hardcore combat.

    I’ve seen first hand what happens to our men when they’ve seen IDE’s go off and someone took the impact, or their buddy shot right next to them. Movies may make you desensitized, but it’s a different matter in real life.


  14. Saturday, September 6, 2008 5:54 am

    Have to add a couple of films from the silent service (subs). “Run Silent, Run Deep” with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Also, “Hunt for Red October” just to round out the Cold War.


  15. Doug permalink
    Saturday, September 6, 2008 11:32 am

    Interesting list. I don’t necessarily agree with your choices, but I understand your reasons for picking them.

    I agree with Caleb that Master & Commander is boring. It’s very well made, but it was way too slow for my taste.

    As for the others, I haven’t seen Memphis Belle or The Patriot, but I thought Glory was a great film and of course Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece.

    If I had to choose five favorites I’d go with Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist, Paths of Glory and Apocalypse Now.


  16. Saturday, September 6, 2008 7:27 pm

    I forgot Joyeux Noel. And The Great Escape!


  17. Saturday, September 6, 2008 10:42 pm

    Glory’s an awesome movie. And I love the old black and white movie The Longest Day. What a cast there, too.


  18. Sunday, September 7, 2008 11:55 pm

    A couple you left out. 🙂
    And ONE I highly recommend to you! GODS AND GENERALS should be on that list–and I recommend it to you as it isn’t afraid to touch on the religion that was so important back in The War.
    I would also add Braveheart, Sgt. York (you should know that one–Alvin York was from your state!) and The Big Red One to the list.


  19. Monday, September 8, 2008 8:30 am

    Wow, I can’t believe Braveheart slipped my mind. That should be like #2. Good call.


  20. Monday, September 8, 2008 11:08 am

    Gods and Generals–yes! I had forgotten that one too. I highly recommend it. That’s also where I discovered Mary Fahl, who sings the title song “Going Home.” What an unusual and versatile voice she has.


  21. Monday, September 8, 2008 11:14 am

    I’ve seen Gods & Generals once. And even with as much as I love the Civil War, it pretty much bored me to tears.

    Braveheart has already been “honored”—it’s #6 on my favorite Medieval movies list.


  22. Monday, September 8, 2008 11:52 am

    Behind KING ARTHUR!?


  23. Monday, September 8, 2008 12:39 pm

    Compared to Gettysburg, Gods and Generals was really hard for me to get through. However, Lori, I have to say I LOVE Mary Fahl’s song “Going Home.” That’s a fantastic song.


  24. Monday, September 8, 2008 1:33 pm

    YES behind King Arthur. I like Clive Owen better than Mel Gibson!


  25. Monday, September 8, 2008 2:02 pm


    Not sure I’ve seen Gettysburg. I’ll add that to my Netflix.

    Have you heard Mary Fahl’s The Other Side of Time CD? Going Home is on that, and plenty of other great songs. There’s one she sings in Arabic that makes me want to get up and dance with a scarf or something. So far I’ve spared the world. 🙂

    Bet Amazon has some short clips of all the songs, to give you an idea of this woman’s range.


  26. Monday, September 8, 2008 2:06 pm

    Hey, I don’t know if anyone else noticed the brilliance of my timing with this post, but Saving Private Ryan was on continual loop on TNT this past weekend. Considering I wrote and “published” this post more than a month ago, I thought that worked out quite well.


  27. Monday, September 8, 2008 6:30 pm

    Hey Lori,
    I have heard that CD, it’s great! BTW, Ronany Tynan covered 2 of her songs on his last CD (or next to last CD…). His versions are pretty good as well.
    Hope you enjoy Gettysburg! 🙂


  28. Dad permalink
    Monday, September 8, 2008 9:25 pm

    Thanks for the comments. BTW, I thought Platoon was overblown and tried to cram everything wrong that happened from 1961 to 1975 into one platoon’s one year tour, but some of the scenes were too real and produced flashbacks. I can still remember walking out of the theater with you, Michelle and your mom and you saying to your mom “Dad held his breath for the entire night ambush scene and one of the other night combat scenes.”

    We were Soldiers Once and Young is as realistic a portrayal of combat in Viet Nam as has ever been made outside of actual combat footage. I’ve read the book and I served with a number of the lieutanants and captains that were there, and for once the movie was as good as the book.

    Blackhawk Down is about as good as it gets for the way combat goes for the last few years of the 20th and first decade of the 21st century.

    I like all the John Wayne and Robert Mitchum WWII classics, but they were obvious pro-war propaganda made during the conflict – all motherhood, apple pie, and glory and not all too much a dose of reality. Big Bad John did the same sort of Job on The Green Berets too, although it was interesting to see the woman rescued from the VC scene taken at the commanding General’s quarters at Fort Benning, and all the combat scenes filmed on the training ranges we spent our days on. Of course, we laughed at the BAT-JACK film company offer to pay us minimum wage plus cover the cost of laundering our fatigues if we would run the Ranger School obstacle course until they got all the shots they wanted.


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