10 Movies That Are Great Companion Pieces To “Apocalypse Now”
Sometimes if you’re a cinephile and you fall in love with a particular film, you might end up watching the same film past the point of enjoyment. You could run the risk of potentially ruining the film for yourself.
Luckily, if a film is really good its influence can be felt on other films. You may never get to see a favourite film for the first time ever again, but you will always be able to watch other movies inspired by your favourite. It isn’t a bad compromise: sometimes these types of movies can be described as companion pieces or even “spiritual” sequels.
Here are 10 great films that are companion pieces to Apocalypse Now. And no, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, is not on this list (although it is another great film to watch if you love Apocalypse Now).
1. Lord of the Flies (1963)
Lord of the Flies is one of those movies that is based on a book that actually really works. Like the Golding novel, this film takes its time showing the main characters and their slow descent.
Apocalypse Now is very similar to Lord of the Flies thematically; they are both dark films that illustrate the dark side of humanity when people become isolated from traditional rules. Some people keep their integrity intact, but other people see isolation as a chance to break all of the previously established rules and not get in trouble.
One of the darkest sequences of Lord of the Flies involves a young boy murdering another boy in front of a group of others. This moment is reminiscent to what Apocalypse Now sets out to do; it shows us how morality can be malleable for people.
2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is Steven Spielberg’s classic war film about a group of people trapped in a warzone. This has been called one of the most realistic war films of all time. Like Coppola’s film, Saving Private Ryan goes to some really dark places. Both films show war as seriously as possible. The reality of the situation is made really clear in both films when we see the result of the war.
3. Come and See (1985)
This is a great movie that depicts war for what it really is. If you watch a movie like Life is Beautiful, even though it’s not a bad movie you might find yourself feeling annoyed at how innocent the theme of war is portrayed (Steven Spielberg is apparently among those who were not fans of that movie’s naivete).
Come and See on the other hand is a great example of how to use young actors in films that depict war, and not have the characters be ignorant of the harsh realities that surround them. In this film, the main character is a child who goes through a lot. It’s almost difficult to watch him react to all the brutal conditions that are thrown his way.
4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter is another great movie to come out of the 1970s to feature war so negatively. Like Apocalypse Now, it is not a film that treads lightly when it comes to showing the devastating results of what war does to people.
The film is so dark it has earned criticism for its depictions of the “Russian roulette” sequences; some people say that type of thing never happened in Vietnam, and it was just made up to make the movie seem more intense. Nevertheless, The Deer Hunter remains one of the most powerful films about war that makes you think long after the film is over.
5. Deliverance (1972)
Deliverance is another fantastic film from the 70s. Although this film may not seem like it has anything in common with Apocalypse Now in terms of depicting war, Deliverance’s manner of storytelling does a similar thing Coppola’s film does.
Deliverance really captures the idea that people lose their morals or undergo some sort of change when they are stuck in isolation for a very long period of time. It is a film essentially about what can potentially occur if humanity does not take care of everyone: some people become closed off to humanity for so long they forget they’re human. Just like the war affects people in mysterious ways, in films like Deliverance and Lord of the Flies isolation is seen as a crushing thing.
6. Hamburger Hill (1987)
Hamburger Hill is a classic war movie depicting a real moment in history: a battle that took place during the Vietnam war. The American army and the Vietnamese both suffered many casualties, and it is considered one of the worst incidents in wartime that could have been avoided.
This is a film that starts off introducing you to its characters and world in an almost lighthearted manner, and then abruptly changes everything with violence and destruction (not unlike The Deer Hunter, which spends the entire first hour getting the audience familiar with the characters and their hometown).
Like Apocalypse Now, the thrill of going into war disappears as everyone involved realizes the nature of what they have gotten themselves into. Even though war movies tend to have great soundtracks, even the fun of the era’s music starts to take a turn when we hear songs like “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” by The Animals. It becomes quite clear: this will be the most important period of the characters’ lives.
7. Max Manus: Man of War (2008)
Max Manus: Man of War is an underrated film about a real person. Max Manus was a resistance fighter during World War II who became famous for his role in the Norwegian resistance against Germany.
This is another film that may not seem like it has much in common with Apocalypse Now beyond war, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s another great look at the aftereffects of war specifically. Even when people survive, they will never be able to forget the horrors of what they saw.
8. Downfall (2004)
Downfall is a great depiction of the final days of Hitler’s regime. Even if you haven’t seen this film you may be familiar with the video of Bruno Ganz playing Hitler that has been used to make memes. Downfall does a great job at showing the complete breaking down of a man; we see Hitler reduced to a paranoid mess by the end of the film. It is compelling to watch a person who was supposed to be a “leader” suffer such a tremendous blow.
Similarly, in Apocalypse Now Colonel Kurtz was once an important figure but becomes labelled as “insane.” Downfall is also a fantastic film that covers an intense period of history very well. There are many movies that cover similar subject matter, but Downfall might be one of the best ones.
9. Three Kings (1999)
Three Kings is David O. Russell’s genre-bending film that takes place near the end of the Gulf War. It tells the story of a group of American soldiers who have to retrieve stolen gold. Along the way they meet people who have suffered as a result of the ongoing war, and learn about the nature of their actions along the way.
What makes Three Kings such an excellent companion piece to Apocalypse Now (despite the fact that they cover two entirely different periods of history) is the fact that both Russell and Coppola made films featuring war that were years ahead of their times.
In his original 1999 review of the film, Ebert referred to Three Kings as, “some kind of weird masterpiece.” It sounds vague, but it could not be more accurate: Three Kings was a pretty unusual film to cover war thematically. Similarly, Apocalypse Now did not follow many conventions filmgoers were used to at the time. Both films broke new ground for what a mainstream film considered a “war movie” could look like.
10. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down is another film that sets out to cover war as boldly as its budget will allow. The film is based on real reporting, and it is primarily about a battle between American forces and Somalian fighters. Black Hawk Down is another film covering a period that unfortunately had casualties that went up to the hundreds (both Somalis and Americans were killed).
The names involved in the making of this film alone should be enough to let you know what you are in for: Ridley Scott, and Jerry Bruckheimer. Like Apocalypse Now, Black Hawk Down was always meant to be a movie as intense as it could possibly be.
The film would go on to win two Oscars (and it was nominated for another two, including directing and cinematography). Ridley Scott does a fantastic job at not glamorizing the conditions of war at all: if a filmmaker approaches a war movie like Coppola did with Apocalypse Now, it would not be inaccurate to call the result a “horror film,” not just a “war movie.”
Author Bio: Dilair Singh is a film lover from Toronto. He particularly enjoys screenwriting, and hopes to sell a screenplay someday. You can find him on Twitter: @dilairsingh.