July 6, 2007

"If you’ve never seen 'Patton,' you shouldn’t even be reading this list."

The Army Times picks the "top 10 American war movies that should have made the AFI’s Top 100."
Whatever the reason, out of the 400 possible selections on the AFI ballot, only 21 could be characterized as truly American “war movies,” and some of those barely make the cut. Sorry, but we’re not counting fluffy romance films set against a battlefield backdrop (take that, “From Here To Eternity”). And we’re not counting sci-fi battles (forgives us, Yoda does).

We’re talking about classic movie moments that provide a snapshot of American military history, must-see films like “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “The Green Berets” (two of the Duke’s finest. God bless you, John Wayne, wherever you are).

No, we’re not counting “Forrest Gump,” either. That’s all we have to say about that.
Nicely written, as you can see, by C. Mark Brinkley. Don't miss the note about the author at the bottom of the page. It's on my 10 best author's notes of all time.

75 comments:

vet66 said...

I agree with most of the choices although, as usual, there are a couple of great ones left out such as "The Fighting SeaBees" , "Casablanca" and 12 O'Clock High come quickly to mind.

What the chosen movies have in common is a noticeable lack of political bias. They portray the spirit of a country standing up and being counted when threatened. Discipline as a virtue and risking their lives for a concept or ideal larger than themselves are timeless messages.

Disregarding the so-called "fluff" movies does a disservice to women and the girl back home. The photo of the girl back home that most service members carried with them in their helmet or kevlar (today) stands for the purity of love and hope for all things worth fighting for.

George said...

"Fail Safe"

"In Harm's Way"

"We Were Soldiers"

"The Last of the Mohicans"

And this one, too.

And, also, The Fred Thompson Story...

hdhouse said...

As does All Quiet on the Western Front...

Hoosier Daddy said...

Interesting list but I am stunned they put Top Gun in there. Heck Flight of the Intruder was far and away better than that God awful flick. Best lines of Intruder:

“Fighter jocks make movies. Bomber pilots make history.”

“You criminal. I grounded you.”
“Hey, I am on the ground.”(after being shot down)

Oh and the Green Berets was probably one of the worst John Wayne movies ever made.

My two cents:

1) Saving Private Ryan
2) Kelly’s Heroes
3) Bridge Too Far
4) Patton
5) Full Metal Jacket
6) Eagle has Landed
7) Hell is for Heroes
8) Stalag 17
9) Battleground
10) Battan

It wasn’t a movie but Band of Brothers has to be mentioned.

Bissage said...

C. Mark Brinkley, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!!!

Sloanasaurus said...

I also liked Gettysburg. Despite being corny at times, watching Picket's charge on a large screen (and in HD) is about the best there is for war movies.

al said...

Wow - a top ten list where I've seen most of the movies (haven't seen Letters from Iwo Jima yet). Top Gun doesn't belong there. 12 O'clock High, Flight of the Intruder (not as good as the book), We Were Soldiers, and Midway would be suitable replacements.

Blackfive had a thread on war movies awhile back. I added a bunch to my netflix queue based on the comments there.

Sloanasaurus said...

There are many military films that should be made but have not...

FOr example, there are plenty of movies about Napoleon and his personal follies, but I don't recall any that portray his military genius. The same goes for the great Carthaginian. I am not aware of any hollywood movies about Hannibal either.

Other great captains such as Gustavus or Frederick the Great have also not made it on to the silver screen.

Tim said...

Brinkley has a point.

Regardless, he quibbles with AFI's list, and I quibble with his.

A Bridge Too Far (and The Longest Day too) was a Hollywood star-fest in which one senses, like an NBA team, everyone is desperate for screen time, warranted or not, and it shows (Robert Redford??). The story was told better than in The Longest Day, I think, but still the whole enterprise seems contrived.

While fun in an action film sort of way, The Dirty Dozen) strains credulity.

While not truly awful, The Green Berets is really a cartoon. Wayne made it explicitly as a propaganda piece to counter the growing anti-war noise - and it was as subtle and artistic as most propaganda is.

Top Gun is just one big recruiting commercial for the Navy. Worse yet, the film, like a late '70's super band, was obviously made to appeal to both men and women to increase box office receipts. Kenny Loggins singing the theme song should automatically disqualify it.

Movies six to one are fine, although I'd re-seed the list. I'm pleased to see he rated both The Caine Mutiny and Glory; the Caine Mutiny in particular is very good.

My additions would be, in no particular order, Saving Private Ryan, as the opening scene of the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach alone qualifies the film. Courage Under Fire with Denzell Washington and Meg Ryan was well told, well acted, and under-appreciated, although the story is, obviously, complete fiction. Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers does an excellent job of portraying an American Army Battalion in the early days of the Vietnamese War, and it significantly rehabilitates the reputation of the American fighting man so too often slandered by Hollywood and the Left. But look away when Madeleine Stowe is on screen, as she went crazy with the collagen lip injections. Finally, I'd include Tora, Tora, Tora for sure, and possibly Midway, although it has many of the same problems as A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day.

Ann Althouse said...

Remember, the list is about things the AFI left out, so you can't criticize C. Mark Brinkley for leaving off Casablanca and Gone With the Wind.

rcocean said...

Pretty good list. But "Top Gun" doesn't belong. And niether does "letters" or "Bridge too Far". Substitute:

1) Stalag 17
2) Run Silent, Run Deep
3) Bridges of Toko-ri

If the list was only about movies to seen on the big screen I'd add: "Saving Private Ryan", "TRL", and "Gettysburg". But all three lose their impact on a TV screen.

Also, not in top 10 but still a good film is "Purple Heart" (1944) with Dana Andrews.

Lars said...

Some of the smaller ones:

"A Walk In the Sun"
"The Story of G.I. Joe"
"Pork Chop Hill"
"The D.I."
"Attack"

These are definitely NO CHICK FLICKS.

SGT Ted said...

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Roger said...

I thought Platoon was well done--at least the climatic battle scene which captured what a firefight was like at night in Viet Nam.

I think some anti-war movies might have made the list: Culloden, an anti-war British Film was required viewing when I was a student at the Command and General Staff College, and it captured the horror of 18the century warfare. Paths of Glory was also a great anti-war film. And I second HD House's nomination of All Quiet on the Western Front. Gallipoli was also well done, but except for Paths of Glory and Platoon, these weren't American movies.

Sloanasaurus said...

Das Boat... Despite the quirky German acting.

Stalingrad.... another German movie.

Roger said...

Late firing synapse: Non-US, but Das Boot was a great movie.

Roger said...

BTW: does the "Chickenhawk argument" prohibit the non-combat experienced among us from commenting on great war movies? We should be required to post our DD214s with Ann before she lets us post.

Lars said...

The Best Navy Flick:
(and I'm an Army alumnus)

"The Enemy Below"
Mitchum vs Jurgens

"Merrils Marauder's"

Tim said...

As is Breaker Morant.

Roger said...

The early 1960s movie Sink the Bismarck was a good navy flick, even though Johnny Horton on the sound track didnt quite ring true. Now if it had been Rule Britannia....

Pogo said...

One of my favorite battle scenes in a non-war movie has to be the high school play about Vietnam in Rushmore. Awesomely bad and good.

LutherM said...

The USA really doesn't make the best war movies. Renoir's "Grand Illusion" or Rossellini's "Open City" are beyond the competence of Holywood. Just for fun, compare the phony "Green Berets" to "Das Boot". (And after you read the news about our surge in Iraq, watch "The Battle of Algiers".)

Lars said...

Roger:
Have tried Netflix re "Culloden" it has it listed as part of
"Battlefield Britain" series.
Is this the one??

TiM: "Breaker Morant" not American but one of the greatest films ever made in any category.

The Drill SGT said...

As the article points out: The winner of seven of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for in 1971, including best actor, best director and best picture, “Patton” was at least considered good enough to make it onto the ballot.

My favorites beyond Patton include

"The Longest Day", full of clich├ęs, but a fair chronology of D-Day if you can get through the cameos.

"We were Soldiers", again, the cinematography is very fast paced, anf frantic, but as somebody who was in some situations like that, it gave a very very realistic "look and feel" to battle in VN, and the story was awe inspiring.

"Saving Private Ryan" story was a bit bogus, but the battle footage was very good.

My favorite, though not a US film: Zulu. The battle at Rorke's Drift. The Army still studies Rorke's Drift as a world class example of small unit isolated defense of a position.

Band of Brothers as a TV show of course.

Does the "Two Towers" count :)

Hoosier Daddy said...

Roger said Paths of Glory was also a great anti-war film.

Good call Roger, I forgot about that one. Kirk Douglas was outstanding. Paths of Glory also shows how disconnected the French High Command was from the frontline soldiers and probably was a good pre-cursor to some of the reasons for the 1917 Mutiny.

A couple of others would be, Zulu and the Lost Battalion.

Jeff said...

Guys, this is a list of AMERICAN war films. All Quiet, Gallipoli, etc are great but not American- and not a proper topic for the American Film Institute. They belong on another list.

Having said that, I nominate They Were Expendable. Despite it being both patriotic and a film with John Wayne, even the lefties here can love it: the Americans are losing the war and are left in an impossible position by the US military!

Freder Frederson said...

I think the reason Full Metal Jacket isn't on the AFI list already is that it is already loaded down with Kubrick films.

And the point of the Army Times list is to include films that should have been on the list but didn't make it, All Quiet on the Western Front (which is probably still the best war movie ever made with battle scenes just as horrific as those in Private Ryan) and others mentioned are already on the list.

Top Gun certainly doesn't belong on the Army Times list.

Breaker Morant and Gallipoli are two of the best films (combination courtroom drama/war movie, condemnation of the British Empire) ever made, but they are Australian, not American. As for German reexaminations of WWII, to Stalingrad and Das Boot, you can add Downfall.

I would kick Top Gun and The Dirty Dozen off the list and replace them with On a Midnight Clear and The Big Red One (if they had gotten rid of the Rachel Weiss subplot or actually let her die at the end, Enemy at the Gates could have made the cut)

Roger said...

Lars--yes--that's the one. Definitely not a chick flick and it takes all the fun out of war.

amba said...

"Patton" is incredibly great to this chick. And it's a study in how really, really good music can kick a film up an order of magnitude. The late great Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music for "Patton"(just look at that list!!), and the echoing martial fanfare that evokes the ghosts of Roman generals Georgie P. believes himself to be the reincarnation of will put chills right down your spine.

Freder Frederson said...

All Quiet,

All Quiet on the Western Front is most definitely an American film but it is already on the AFI list and very near the top (as is Platoon). What shocks me is that Patton is not. Full Metal Jacket really doesn't surprise me because of all the other Kubrick films on the list. In fact, as a percentage of life work, I doubt any director is so well represented on the list.

jane said...

What about The Red Badge of Courage (John Huston, 1951)?

Here's a fairly comprehensive listing of war films I'm going to send to my father just to see whether he's seen them all (all war and westerns all the time). His father read every military history book he could find in his part of the state.

(I went to that school in "Rushmore," which is actually co-ed and does a pretty decent job of supporting student playwrights and teaching history).

Irene Done said...

And the award for outstanding achievement in the area of blog commenting goes to....Bissage.

Mike said...

HD said: "Oh and the Green Berets was probably one of the worst John Wayne movies ever made."

Amen.

Re: Das Boot. I saw it for the first time this weekend. I was really looking forward to it, having heard it was good. I watched it to the end just so I could "cross it off my list". 4-1/2 hours of my life I'd like to have back.

B said...

I'm in agreement with hd and Freder:

All Quiet on the Western Front is, IMHO, the best of the true war films.

And, imdb lists it as American made.

That said, I always think of The Best Years of Our Lives as a war film, even though it is about the effects of war after the war is over.

The Drill SGT said...

expanding the definition a bit:

Major Dundee
Fort Apache
She wore a Yellow Ribbon
Stagecoach (ok, the good guys weren't primarily soldiers, but the apaches were clearly at war :)

Sloanasaurus said...

you can add Downfall.

Great call, Downfall was an excellent film.

Although Topgun is a great patriotic cold war movie, I wouldn't really count it as a war movie. It's more in the same genre as Firefox.

Bissage said...

Oh my goodness, Irene, I’m about as blushicated as a man can get, but thank you!

The weird thing is, I’m only here in between meetings (“I cannot stay I came to say I must be going”) to correct my botched comment, above, as follows:

C. Mark Brinkley, you magnificent bastard, I read your article!!!

There!

Now it’s perfect.

And off I go. I'm late. SEE YA!

B said...

Congrats Bissage, on the award (see Irene above):

I know Phil Hartman said it, I just can't remember where . . .

. . . wait (it literally came to me while writing this comment)! It was the Cane Episode of NewsRadio!

That's why my children walked around saying that for years . . .

Tim said...

Mike,

Re: Das Boot, you must have seen the director's cut. Much too long; the initial version was much tighter, shorter and better.

B said...

The weird thing is, I’m only here in between meetings. . .

And who among us here isn't?

Dewave said...

One of my roommates in college owned exactly two movies, Patton and Die Hard. Can't say I could criticize his taste.

Also, Gettysburg is extremely long, but highly highly recommended.

I should also point out that I consider the newest Last of the Mohicans to be a travesty against humanity and little more than brit-bashing.

Nevermind that it bears little relation to the book, as a film it's vastly inferior to the old BBC miniseries from the 70's. That is something I recommend to everyone :)

Palladian said...

"In fact, as a percentage of life work, I doubt any director is so well represented on the list."

And deservedly so.

I'm a great admirer of Kubrick's work so I can't dispute Full Metal Jacket at the top of the list, though it's the one Kubrick film that I don't often revisit; it's just too difficult.

Seven Machos said...

Truly a brilliant tag line.

Mike said...

Ahhhhh. Thank's Tim. It was the director's cut. I knew there had to be more to the story.

Did the original have all those lame shots from the outside of the boat showing the sub racing through the fake waves, accompanied by cheesy music? The movie could have definitely done without them.

SteveR said...

Agree with Tim about Das Boot. I saw it originally in German with English subtitles in about 1981. Not long at all like the one on AMC.

Top Gun should not be on the list and in fact may disqualify the list. Anyway Patton and Saving Private Ryan.

Bissage you magnificent bastard, I read your comment.

Pete Fanning said...

I'd have to agree with 12 O'Clock High, and I'd throw in "The Final Countdown" with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen, since that was the movie that got me to join the Navy, and eventually land an aircraft carrier for duty :)

Fen said...

We’re talking about classic movie moments that provide a snapshot of American military history

Heartbreak Ridge.

Clint Eastwood was the epitome of the salty staff NCO. Nailed it.

The grunts aren't as undisciplined as portrayed, but the movie provided a good snapshot of what its like to be in a Recon unit.

Bender said...

We Were Soldiers
Gettysburg
Rough Riders
Midway
Fat Man and Little Boy
United 93
Tora, Tora, Tora

If we include non-American war movies -- Gallipoli, Braveheart, Paths of Glory
If we include fantasy -- Lord of the Rings

Bender said...

look away when Madeleine Stowe is on screen

What? Are you nuts?!

Freder Frederson said...

Braveheart

Are you serious? Anyone who has seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail can not help but laugh at inappropriate moments in Braveheart (e.g., when the King throws his son's lover out of the castle window, and you keep expecting the old Scottish guy who keeps getting body parts cut off yet keeps fighting to say "it's only a flesh wound"). It's a wonder the Pythons didn't sue Mel Gibson for copyright infringement.

birdie bob said...

How about Bridge on the River Kwai? Not only fact based and action filled, it's a great psychological study of various and varied personalities.

bill said...

Can't believe no one mentioned Stripes.

We're all very different people. We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans. With a capital "A", huh? And you know what that means? Do you? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts.

****************

John Winger: C'mon, it's Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like we're going into *Wisconsin*.

Russell Ziskey: Well I got the shit kicked out of me in Wisconsin once. Forget it!


***************

Captain Stillman: All right, soldier, let's see how you fire that mortar.

Soldier with Mortar: What coordinates, sir?

Captain Stillman: [annoyed] Coordinates?

Soldier with Mortar: Yes, sir, they determine where the mortar's...

Captain Stillman: Soldier, the army has spent a lot of money teaching you to fire that thing. Now set it and fire it.

Soldier with Mortar: Sir, we don't know where the shell's gonna...

Captain Stillman: Soldier. The only way to learn anything is to do it. Now fire the weapon.

Jonathan Potts said...

Ditto to "Heartbreak Ridge." I'd also give an honorable mention to "Gardens of Stone", an underappreciated Francis Ford Coppola film starring James Caan and James Earl Jones.

Freder Frederson said...

How about Bridge on the River Kwai? Not only fact based and action filled, it's a great psychological study of various and varied personalities.

Already on the AFI list, although I think it should not be classified as an American Film (but then again neither should Lawrence of Arabia).

Freder Frederson said...

John Winger: C'mon, it's Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like we're going into *Wisconsin*.

Russell Ziskey: Well I got the shit kicked out of me in Wisconsin once. Forget it!


Only those of us who grew up around the Wisconsin/Illinois border when the drinking age was 21 in Illinois and 18 in Wisconsin understand the true significance of that exchange. It is a classic.

The Drill SGT said...

Jonathan Potts said...
Ditto to "Heartbreak Ridge." I'd also give an honorable mention to "Gardens of Stone", an underappreciated Francis Ford Coppola film starring James Caan and James Earl Jones.


I like both, but think that GSGT Highway was a bit over the top and the troops were too incompetent to me Marines, much less Recon. I do love the ending scene though at Cherry Point with Marsha Mason in the bleachers

as for Gardens of Stone, much better than Apocalypse Now as a VN war or even anti-war flick. Great emotional play.

Joe said...

The first half hour of Saving Private Ryan is amazing. Then it slowly falls apart until it becomes very angsty and just plain dumb. Platoon was both dumb and vastly overrated. (And Three Kings? What a dumb movie that was--seems that, like usual, AFI picks movies that "should" be great, but few people actually watch repeatedly.)

Blackhawk Down, We Were Soldiers and Kelly's Heroes should have all made the list.

While not about America in war, Empire of the Sun is one of the few Spielburg movies that doesn't make me vomit. The scene of the P-51 making a pass of the airfield in slow motion still gets me.

For non-American war films, I heartedly endorse Breaker Morant.

A special category should be made for Band of Brothers.

(Am I the only one here who utterly detests John Wayne? I simply cannot watch the guy in any movie.)

PS. Never forget Bambi Meets Godzilla

Smilin' Jack said...

Maybe because it's the Army Times, the Navy seems a bit shortchanged here (except for The Caine Mutiny...not really a war movie IMHO.) I'd second the nomination of The Enemy Below--the archetypal destroyer-sub cat-and-mouse nailbiter, with excellent performances all round.

Fen said...

While not about America in war, Empire of the Sun is one of the few Spielburg movies that doesn't make me vomit.

Echo. Can't beleive I forgot that one. Really underscores the professionalism and hardships faced by elite teams.

Freder Frederson said...

Maybe because it's the Army Times, the Navy seems a bit shortchanged here

Speaking of which, would Mr. Roberts classify as a war movie, even though there are no battle scenes? Because that should definitely be on the list. Or is already on the AFI list?

Sigivald said...

Yeah, I missed The Big Red One on the list, too.

(And less seriously, what about Kelly's Heroes?)

(I suppose people must like Top Gun, but I've never seen the appeal.)

Dewave said...

What about the movie on Rorke's Drift, Zulu I think?

Does a fairly good job of portraying the bravery of the Zulus and the bull dog stubborness of british soldiers, officer and enlisted man alike.

Master and Commander is a good naval 'war movie'. Rather recent though, so perhaps not a 'classic'.

Mike said...

Joe asked: "Am I the only one here who utterly detests John Wayne?"

He's not my favorite either, but every once and a while he seems to click in a movie. I like "The Shootist" quite a bit. I also liked him in "The Comancheros". In looking over the list of his movies, I realize I haven't seen that many.

Zeb Quinn said...

If cold war navy flicks qualify as "war movies," then The Hunt for Red October belongs on the list ahead of Top Gun

The Drill SGT said...

Dewave said...
and the bull dog stubborness of british soldiers, officer and enlisted man alike.
The Star, Stanley Baker (Michael Caine was a newbie then) put up his own money to make a Welsh film about a Welsh Regiment (though their home base wasn't Wales till later). The song they sing in opposition to the Zulu war chants is "Men of Harlech" an Welsh military tune about a Welsh defense against (future) Henry V in 1408


Colour Sergeant Bourne: It's a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir, with some guts behind.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

What about Gibson's The Patriot?

I also have to defend The Green Berets. Yes it was not the best representation of Vietnam, (as I recall one critic saying- Wayne did avery credible WWII flick and set it in 'Nam), but very watchable. I will also admit Wayne did better war movies.

They Were Expendable and Back to Bataan are a couple of great WWII choices, more about the sacrifices war causes than anyting else.

I suppose nobody else liked To Hell and Back?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I forgot The Great Escape!

I think that's American?

Revenant said...

Re: Das Boot. I saw it for the first time this weekend. I was really looking forward to it, having heard it was good. I watched it to the end

I liked it more than that, but it definitely benefits from the "everything seems smarter with subtitles" phenomenon.

Mike said...

LOL, Rev.

Lars said...

EDJAMAKITED:

"To Hell and Back"

Cripes!!!! How did I skip over that one.

If anything it underplays Audie Murphy's heroism.

Good catch.

SteveR said...

Das Boot: benefited from being in a theater also.

LoafingOaf said...

The first half hour of Saving Private Ryan is amazing. Then it slowly falls apart until it becomes very angsty and just plain dumb.

Yeah, I agree. Whenever SPR comes on cable I just watch the beach invasion and then turn it off. The rest doesn't really add much, but damn that first half hour is powerful.

The Great Escape and Full Metal Jacket are my two faves on the list.

My favorite war movie is not American. I urge anyone into WW2 movies to rent the 1980s Russian movie called Come & See (which refers to Revelations in the Bible: Come and see the Apocalypse). It takes place in Belarus, where the Nazis were slaughtering whole villages. The movie is through the eyes of a young boy yanked into the Russian army, and I doubt you'll ever see better performance from an actor so young.

This is a heavy duty and surreal movie desgined to hit your emotions in the most intense and horrifying way I've ever experienced from a movie. So, fair warning, it's not a movie to just plop in any old time.

Another good foreign WW2 movie is Soldier of Orange, from the Netherlands, with Rutger Hauer. It takes place when the Nazis invade Holland and the Queen had to relocate to England. It's about the occupation and how some young men react to it. From the director of Robocop and Starship Troopers, back before he went to Hollywood. I think he has a new WW2 movie in the art houses right this moment, but I haven't seen it yet.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Another one I forgot is Gary Cooper's Sgt. York.

My wife, being some kin to the real Alvin York, reminded mr when I got home.

I don't know if it classifys as a war movie, but I always have classified it that way.

Tim said...

Bender,

To clarify, I think Madeleine Stowe is a total, 130 degree babe, if you catch my meaning - but in We Were Soldiers her lips look like she was having an anaphylactic shock to a bee sting.

Not necessary, and not attractive.

From Inwood said...

I think that virtually all the movies nominated in this thread & The Army Times are worthy.

As someone has noted, both

The Longest Day &
A Bridge Too Far

though good, seem like an NBA All-Star Game. (Tora does not suffer from that affliction.) BTW, The Longest Day never mentions the Canadian contribution.