10 Best Movies About The Vietnam War

5. Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978)

Coming Home

This critically acclaimed romantic drama from director Hal Ashby is one of the most powerful looks at the life of soldiers after their experience of the war. Jon Voight and Jane Fonda, both in Academy Award winning roles, star as an unlikely couple who become involved when Fonda’s Sally Hyde is working at a military recovery center for injured veterans.

Voight plays Luke Martin, a wounded paraplegic who has become heavily against the war. Despite Sally being married to army Captain Bob Hyde, currently on duty in Vietnam, the affair proceeds and Luke and Sally fall in love. Things turn ugly when Bob returns from duty suffering trauma from what he has seen and learns of Sally’s affair, leading to a powerful climax.

Taking place in the late 1960s, Coming Home is a capsule of the time, featuring a rock and roll soundtrack featuring The Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It also accurately reflects the changing mindset of the younger generation, shown by Sally’s transition from patriotism to anti-war.

The film, however, does not make heroes of its main characters in their opposition of the war, but uses their flawed actions and personalities to show how the war can change people even back home. In fact, no footage of battle is ever seen, having war take the form of a mysterious outside force that nobody really understands.

Although the film’s message can come across a little too strongly in some parts, it still succeeds as a realistic and convincing analysis of the negative effects of the war. The unique method in which Ashby shows the transformation of characters in a love triangle creates both powerful commentary as well as a gripping and passionate plot line.

Filled with incredible performances as well as a touching, human script, Coming Home is a quintessential exploration of the tolls of war. Like most of the other films on this list, but also criticizes the military organization itself.


4. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick previously had success in anti-war films with Paths of Glory about soldiers in World War I and his Vietnam film is equally as powerful. Based on Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short Timers, the plot is effectively divided into two sections, one in training camp and one on the battlefield.

In training camp the platoon of soldiers is berated endlessly by their sergeant Hartman, terrifyingly played by the real life drill instructor R. Lee Ermey. Private “Gomer Pyle”, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is a fat and slow recruit who is treated much worse than the others, which causes him to snap psychologically.

The second portion of the film focuses on the Marine “Joker”, played by Matthew Modine, who is deployed as a correspondent in the Tet Offensive but ends up being forced into battle with a Vietcong sniper.

Full Metal Jacket is a powerful commentary on the brutality of the Vietnam War and is also critical of the system of the Military in general. The first section regarding the abuse and roughness of the barracks show that those who are supposed to be on the soldiers side can even drive them to trauma and stress. These scenes descent Gomer Pyle’s descent from sanity are arguably more disturbing than the violent war scenes of the second half, showing more greatly the destructive power of the military.

The section on the Tet Offensive is still extremely powerful, however, showing that the war consisted, on both sides, of soldiers who did not wish to be there. A significant entry in Kubrick’s legendary body of work, Full Metal Jacket is an exhilarating and though provoking portrait of soldiers during the Vietnam War.


3. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)

The Deer Hunter

Coming out the same year as Coming Home, Michael Cimino’s brutal masterpiece covers similar material about the short and long term effects of the war on the soldiers and their families. The film stars one of the most talented casts ever, including Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale and John Savage as citizens of a working class town in Pennsylvania. Before they depart for combat, they celebrate with a marriage and a deer hunt.

The film cuts then to a violent battle in Vietnam where De Niro, Walken and Savage’s characters (Mike, Nick and Steven) become captured by Vietcong troops and are forced to play Russian Roulette with each other for the troops’ entertainment. After escaping through an act of cunning, Mike tries to live his life but must deal with his psychological scars and his friends who are even more shaken up.

Over three hours long, The Deer Hunter is an in depth portrait of a tight knit group of friends whose relationships disintegrate with their experiences in the war. The bitterness and trauma of combat leave them all changed for the worse, for the most part unable to enjoy the life they used to have. The three part structure of the film allows for a complete display of the depressing transformation that the group undergoes, showing the complete devastation that the war had on their minds.

Although the film is filled with incredible performances, Christopher Walken stand out in his greatest role ever as the completely desensitized and unstable veteran who becomes obsessed with Russian Roulette. The films emotional impact is all but unmatched among other war films due to Cimino’s close focus on the characters and their past lives before Vietnam. Violent and controversial upon its release, The Deer Hunter has fascinated viewers ever since with its powerful content and message.


2. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

Apocalypse Now movie

Following on the immense success of his first two films in The Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola set to make this ambitious retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam War. Martin Sheen stars as Captain Benjamin Willard who is put on a special assignment to travel down a river in order to find a rogue special forces Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, and kill him.

Joined by four other soldiers, Willard travels down the river, learning about Kurtz from reports and experiences more warfare and tensions from the war. After a few conflicts from the Vietcong and internally, Willard arrives at Kurtz’s camp to discover a cult-like society led by the reclusive Kurtz who, as command has suspected, had indeed lost his mind.

Apocalypse Now underwent one of the most infamous productions in film history, with the filming running much longer and more expensive than had been estimated. In addition, Brando was said to be horribly difficult to work with and Sheen suffered a heart attack due to the stress of the filming and location.

A fascinating documentary called Hearts of Darkness was made about the troubled production and is also worth a watch. Nonetheless, this three hour long war epic is one of the most acclaimed films of all time and for good reason.

The film carries a strong anti-war message, shown through the corruption of Kurtz’s character and the increasing conflicts between friendly soldiers like Willard and his company. As well as being culturally significant, Apocalypse Now is exceptionally made with brilliant cinematography and other technical elements.

Although a fictional story about a made up mission in the Vietnam War, the film manages to capture the realism and shock of war as much as any film based upon true events. Packed with many iconic scenes and quotable lines, Apocalypse Now is a must see film with a powerful message about violence and war.


1. Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)

Sgt. Barnes (Platoon)

Platoon is Oliver Stone’s most personal and most powerful work to date. Created from Stone’s own experiences as a soldier on the frontlines of Vietnam, the film is a unrelenting war drama, questioning the ethics and actions of humans when put in dire situations. Charlie Sheen stars as the young recruit Chris Taylor through whom we experience the atrocities carried out by both sides of the war.

Within Taylor’s platoon there are the two main feuding sergeants, Barnes and Elias, played by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe respectively. Barnes is a malicious and merciless soldier who kills civilians easily while Elias tries to maintain his morals in the midst of the war, as well as look out for young soldiers like Taylor. Tensions inside of the platoon are as large as those between the Americans and the Vietcong, with almost as many friendly fire casualties as normal military deaths.

The violence in Platoon is some of the most disturbing and aggressive of that in any war film, placing the audience in the shoes of the soldiers. The explicit content and deplorable actions executed by some of the American soldiers shown on screen has several purposes.

As with the majority of the films on this list is shows war as a highly inhumane and evil invention of humanity, with Vietnam being a particularly nasty and unnecessary event. More importantly, the film explores closely what might make people do these things, showing that the answer is never easy. In many case for the soldiers, the civilians would kill them if they did not kill the civilians.

The moral ambiguity and many other questions posed by this film make it the most challenging and arguably the most important depiction of the Vietnam War in film. Not shying away from controversial material and themes, Stone’s film creates unforgettable situations where the soldiers have to make horrible snap decisions, taking a toll on their mental state and relationships with each other. W

inner of a multitude of awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Platoon is Oliver Stone’s masterpiece who’s dangerous concepts and powerful commentary on humanity show the reality and evils of the Vietnam War.

Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has a passion for film, music and literature and, when not watching movies, is an amateur director and violin player.