Memorial Day is a time to reflect and honor the fallen soldiers both past and present who have so selflessly served and bravely fought for our country. The federal holiday was created in order to preserve the memory of the men and women who have given their lives while serving in the United States military, and is observed on the last Monday of May. For decades, many gifted and respected filmmakers have chronicled the frightening realities of war while commending the admirable troops who valiantly go into battle and face unfathomable horrors. While many people across the country look forward to the extended weekend, it’s crucial that society remembers what the day is all about and honors these selfless and exceptional heroes.
Some of the most memorable and critically-acclaimed pictures have honored these fallen soldiers and commend the men and women who serve the nation, displaying their patriotism and respect for such protectors. Steven Spielberg directed the Oscar-winning drama Saving Private Ryan, which many critics consider to be one of the greatest war pictures ever created. Kathryn Bigelow made history when she directed the war thriller The Hurt Locker, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, a first for a female director. These are some Memorial Day movies to commemorate the holiday.
8 Lone Survivor
Based on the eponymous novel chronicling the experiences of retired United States Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the 2013 biographical war drama Lone Survivor depicts the ill-fated counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings, in which Luttrell and his team set out to apprehend or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shad. Featuring the talent of outstanding performers like Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch, the gripping picture recounts the violent battle that ensued after Luttrell and his men became outnumbered by the Taliban and was later aided by a local Pashtun named Mohammed Gulab.
When discussing what drew him to appear in the film and portraying the Navy Cross and Purple Heart recipient, Wahlberg expressed, “… it’s so much bigger than me. It’s not about me, it’s about those soldiers. It’s about Marcus and his team — it’s about all those guys who died out there. It’s about all those Afghan people who were willing to sacrifice their lives to save a stranger… ”
7 Born on the Fourth of July
The esteemed Oliver Stone directed the 1989 biographical anti-war drama Born on the Fourth of July, based on the autobiography by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in which Tom Cruise portrays the former United States Marine Corps sergeant who became wounded and paralyzed during the war. Upon returning home from battle, Kovic adopted anti-war and pro-human life beliefs after feeling disillusioned and neglected by the country he bravely fought for and due to his treatment by the Veterans Administration bureaucracy.
Stone himself was also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and during production of the film the director bonded with Kovic over their experiences serving in the war as the duo worked together to create the script. Born on the Fourth of July was a critical and commercial success, with Cruise’s performance and Stone’s direction being lauded; the latter won the Academy Award for Best Director for his efforts.
Depicting the harrowing efforts by British soldiers Will Schofield and Tom Blake to deliver a pivotal message that could potentially save 1,600 men from participating in an ill-fated offensive attack during World War I, the 2019 war drama 1917 follows the young soldiers as they cross through enemy territory to stop the assault. Director Sam Mendes drew inspiration from his grandfather Alfred and his experiences serving during World War I, with the filmmaker feeling as though he took a risk with the screenplay, having said, “I took a calculated gamble, and I’m pleased I did because of the energy you get just from driving forward (in the narrative), in a war that was fundamentally about paralysis and stasis.”
1917 was praised for its emotionally-driven storyline, incredible cinematography which made 1917 seem as if it were filmed in one takeand honest depiction of the brutalities of war, with Detroit News writing, “It’s a tense, unnerving ride that accomplishes its goal of translating the first-person experience of war better than any war movies that have come before it. It’s a level up.”
5 Flags of Our Fathers
Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood helmed the poignant 2006 war picture Flags of Our Fathers, detailing the events and aftermath surrounding the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima in which a Navy corpsman and five Marines famously raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi during World War II. Eastwood also decided to film the companion piece Letters to Iwo Jima, which was shot entirely in Japanese and depicted the battle from the Japanese’s viewpoint, creating multiple perspectives and a deep sense of empathy.
When discussing the message he hoped Americans would take away from the gripping drama, Eastwood told CBS News he wants them to know “that the price is pretty heavy and the price is something military people are always ready to stand by and pay… and the American people should be appreciative of that.”
4 The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Picture when she directed the 2008 war thriller The Hurt Locker, centering on an Iraq War Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad who finds their tour of duty winding down in Baghdad as its elite members face increasingly dangerous and violent situations. Touting an impressive cast of Hollywood performers like Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Ralph Fiennes, the film was independently produced and directed by Bigelow and was written and based on the accounts of Mark Boal, who was embedded as a journalist in 2004 with a US Army EOD team. When addressing his overall goals for the war thriller, Boal told The Hollywood Reporter, “The idea is that it’s the first movie about the Iraq War that purports to show the experience of the soldiers. We wanted to show the kinds of things that soldiers go through that you can not see on CNN… ”
3 Top Gun
Tom Cruise delivered an iconic performance as Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the beloved 1986 action drama Top Gun, which focuses on the driven naval aviator as he attends the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School where he competes with the best of the best to reach the top of his class. The Navy worked closely with the filmmakers and production, making several aircraft from the F-14 fighter squadron VF-51 available for use and authorizing two actual missile shots to be featured in the movie.
Top Gun went on to become a hit with both critics and audiences and was the highest-grossing film of 1986. According to its producer John Davis, the ’80s staple was used as a recruiting video for the Navy, with people declaring after viewing it, “Wow! I want to be a pilot. ” A highly-anticipated sequel, Top Gun: Maverick was released on May 27, 2022 to widespread acclaim.
2 We Were Soldiers
Dramatizing the Battle of la Drang, the first major battle between the United States and the People’s Army of Vietnam during the American phase of the Vietnam War, the 2002 war drama We Were Soldiers focuses on Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore as he is chosen to lead and train a battalion for the battle. Based on the novel written by Moore with reporter Joseph L. Galloway, the moving picture showcases the heroism and valor demonstrated by the courageous soldiers. In the book, Moore complained that “Every damn Hollywood movie got [the Vietnam War] wrong ”, so director Randall Wallace set out to prove him wrong and became“ determined to get it right this time. ” The decorated war veteran later expressed how he believed We Were Soldiers successfully captured the realities of the Vietnam War and publicly voiced his approval.
1 Saving Private Ryan
Widely regarded as one of the greatest war films of all time, the 1998 epic war drama Saving Private Ryan chronicles the noble efforts of United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller and his courageous squad as they go behind enemy lines in order to rescue the titular paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. The revered Steven Spielberg directed the blockbuster hit, with his interest in World War II being shown in his previous films like 1941 and Schindler’s List.
Of the touching picture, the iconic filmmaker said, “I think that World War II is the most significant event of the last 100 years; the fate of the Baby Boomers and even Generation X was linked to the outcome. Beyond that, I’ve always just been interested in World War II. ” Saving Private Ryan went on to win five Academy Awards including Best Director and has been credited with contributing to the resurgence of America’s interest in the war film genre and World War II.
These Are 8 of the Best World War 2 Movies Ever Made