10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See Before You Die

The following 10 Vietnam War Movies are the ones you absolutely must see. There are more. Many I have seen, some I have not. You may be astonished that one of the most famous ones, Apocalypse Now, is not among them… I wanted to stick to 10 and these are my 10 choices. I always found Apocalypse Now slightly dubious. Whatever.  The list is in chronological order. I did not want to weigh them against each other as they show quite different aspects of the same war.

The Deer Hunter (1978):  Young second generation Russian-Americans volunteer to prove themselves and serve their country. In Vietnam they are  captured and suffer as POWs and are forced to play Russian roulette. They come home disillusioned and physically and psychologically broken.

Platoon (1986): Infantry combat. A young man volunteers to go to Vietnam and soon sees his dreams shattered. He gets caught between two antagonistic officers, the ultimately good Sgt. Elias and the mean Sgt. Barnes.

Hamburger Hill (1987): No-nonsense infantry combat at its toughest. A group of soldiers of mixed social backgrounds and ethnic origins must fight a senseless battle for a hill.

Full Metal Jacket (1987): Artsy movie. First part is an unforgettable look at boot camp horrors. The second centers on  street fighting in Vietnam. Unusual setting. Vivid, haunting pictures.

Jacknife (1989): A brilliant De Niro in the role of a memorable Vietnam vet. (More details on this movie in my post).

Born on the 4th of July (1989): Maybe the ultimate anti-war statement and a in-depth exploration of masculinity. A movie that makes you cringe.

84 Charlie MoPic (1989): Documentary style but much better than the Iraq movie Redacted. Embedded journalists follow an infantry combat unit in the bush.

Heaven and Earth (1993): A look at the other side. What was the meaning of this war for  Vietnamese civilians?

Tigerland (2000): Boot camp. We see the soldiers train long before they are shipped out. Tensions rise until a drama unfolds.

We Were Soldiers (2002): The only Vietnam War Movie that truly attempts to show more than one side. Close look at the Vietnamese command. Heavy combat. Story switches between battle field and home front where the wives wait for the letters who will inform them they have become widows. Very emotional but not unproblematic movie. Too much trying to make us believe it was  a “good war”.

Maybe you disagree with this list. Let me know which ones you would choose. Which one do you really prefer?

82 thoughts on “10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See Before You Die

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    I do not have any problems with the ones I have seen (all but Jackknife and Heaven), but would add “A Rumor of War” which was the first good Vietnam War movie and a good retelling of the important book. I would put “Apocalypse” because it is so distinctive. I’m glad to see “84 Charlie Mopic” – the greatest POV war movie ever made (actually, the only one I am aware of) and a personal favorite of mine. Recommendation: if you watch “We Were Soldiers”, turn it off before the ridiculous Hollywood ending which mars an otherwise very accurate movie.

    • I have the same problem with Apocalypse Now as you have with The Thin Red Line, I guess. I must admit I have not seen A Rumor of War. I tried to get it but it wasn’t possible.

    • sgtb says:

      I’d have to agree that We Were Soldiers should be here… The movie follows the book written by Hal Moore himself about that battle and an a nearly equally impressive one a short time later. I can’t recall exactly how the ending of the movie differed from the book, but other than that possibility, it is an excellent story of a REAL event… to me that puts it ahead of some other favorites like Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket…

      I don’t think that I would include Born on the 4th of July… in a top 10 but maybe I just haven’t watched it in a long time and was too young then to really get the point… But I don’t really care much for “anti-war” movies unless they respect that many soldiers are also anti-war at heart, but compelled by duty to remain soldiers, rather than run for the hills at the first sign of trouble. I mean that yes some and many individual battles turn into senseless killing fields and seem pointless after the fact, but that doesn’t mean that those guys were not fighting for their lives when put in harms way by either commander or politician… (But anyway that is enough of the soap box for now…)

      Thanks for the list though, I have a few others to check out now.

      • Thanks for your comment. We Were Soldiers is included because it is one of the very few showing the Vienamese side as well. But I have my problems with it. I prefer anti-war movies which, in my book, are not anti-soldier but anti sensless decisions made by politicians and the High Command far away from the battlefields. I think we are on the same page. I thought Born on the 4th of July was outstanding. I’m not much of a Tom Cruise fan but he is excellent in it.
        I’m glad you found some movies you didn’t know.
        I did include vet movies and combat.
        I’ve meanwhile re-visited Apocalypse Now and must say it is far better than I remembered. I wouldn’t kick ut any on the list though, I’d rather make it a Top 12.

      • The movie – We Were Soldiers Once, differed from the book and history quite a bit by Day 3. They were re-inforced by their sister battalions (2/7) and 5/2 by then and that farcicle charge on the NVA headquarters up the mountain never happened. What actually happened was that the NVA stopped attacking. Moores Battalion (1/7) essentially picked up its dead and wounded and flew off. Leaving 5/2 and 2/7 to guard the battlefield overnight.

        The next morning 5/2 Cav marched off on foot NE to LZ Colombus whilst 2/7 marched out to LZ Albany and marched into an arsekicking of even greater proportion than the Battle at X-Ray. 2/7 lost twice as many soldiers (155 killed) in a few hours than Moores 1/7 did in 3 days (79 Killed). And in far more horrific scenes. The entire battalion was strung out in a 500m long single file and it was cut to shreds with survivors crawling back into a group at the head and a group at the tail. Inbetween was death.

        The book ‘We Were Soldiers Once – and Young’ tells the full story. The movie only covers the firs thalf of the book. I’d highly recommend reading it. Because I highly doubt they will ever make a movie about LZ Albany.

      • We Were Soldiers is a movie I find hard to review as I’m in two minds about it. A lot is good, a lot is not and as you say, a lot was very different in reality. Thanks for the input.

  2. […] is not my favourite Vietnam movie but it  ranks high up among the 10 best as I stated before (see my list 10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See Before You Die […]

  3. Gav says:

    Gail is a spammer – http://www.google.com.au/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=This+a+fabulous+post+and+may+be+one+that+should+be+followed+up+to+see+how+things+go#sclient=psy&hl=en&safe=off&q=%22This+a+fabulous+post+and+may+be+one+that+should+be+followed+up+to+see+how+things+go%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=342c1aa58e3bb34f

    Loads of similar comments.

    Anyway, I’m just doing some research ahead of my trip to Vietnam with my girlfriend – she’s not seen any Vietnam war films, so just deciding which ones to make her sit through… None are too much about Vietnam really – oooh, Good Morning Vietnam, that’s a good one.

    • Thanks Gav, I thought so but wasn’t sure and didn’ want to offend someone who means well.
      Does it have to be a war movie in the strict sense? How about The Quiet American and the movie Saigon with Willem Dafoe.

  4. One film I would add is BAT 21 starring Gene Hackman & Danny Glover, based on the true story of an Air Force planning officer shot down behind enemy lines. It’s a great experience revealing how a staff officer accustomed to being removed from combat suddenly finds himself having to evade and survive, and the rescue pilot who acts as his lifeguard in helping get him to safety. I found it to be inspirational and all the more satisfying because it is a true story that is very much part of the war but also not overpowered by it.

  5. Gene Vigliante says:

    Go Tell it to the Spartans is an excellent Viet nam movie. I have not seen it in quite some time, and it may be hard to find. Not a very well known VN flick. Stars Burt Lancaster.

    • Thanks, I’m glad for recommendations. I’ll have to track it down.

      • Go Tell the Spartans was a ‘not bad’ movie. Very much akin to the Green Berets in that its a very early Viet Nam ‘Advisor Era’ movie used as a vehicle for a well known aging star, but with a litlte less chest beating than the Green Berets. You’ll watch it once but thats about it. Not a lot there to revisit.

      • I could imagine that’s it’s not one to re-watch often. I’m not going to watch it any day soon. I have seen a lot of Vietnam movies, many more that once but haven’t reviewd them. I think I should rewatch and revoew them first.

  6. Well, Like your list, I have seen almost all except ‘Tigerland’ & ‘Jacknife’

  7. Matt says:

    i actually liked Hart’s War alot too

  8. Matt says:

    oh and ” Iwo Jima” and “flags of our fathers” was also good movies from good ol clint eastwood!

  9. Crooked Mick says:

    Your list and the comments following only show an American perspective of the war.

    The Australian film, “The Odd Angry Shot”, depicts the involvement of Australian troops. Though not as professionally done (budget limitations, etc.) as US films, it is quite a good film.

  10. […] If you are looking for really great Vietnam movies see my post 10 Vietnam War Movies You Must See. […]

  11. Drew says:

    What about apocalypse now¿

  12. Ian says:

    Im perplexed as to how any one can comment that “we were soldiers once” depicts the viet side/ OK it shows a few shots to fill the film with intermitnent non killing scenes, but it certainly does not depict the other sides point at all. NOT to include apolalypse now is a real mystery. It was long and drawn out but a brilliant movie nevertheless – the Deer Hunter? Very good scenes but I am not sure about it’s inclusion as a real vietnam war movie? Any way there is a lot to choose from. As for the anti war to the pro war – why would any one be pro war? Beats me – must be phsycopathic to be like that!

    • It’s one of the only infantry combat movies to show Vietnamese not as absolutely dumb or beastly. It doesn’t show the war from a Vietnamese perspective. There are others who attempted this.
      I think there are quite a lot of pro-war war movies fans out there and far too many movies who are glorifying war to a certain extent. I think that depending on who watches them that could be problematic.
      I have re-watched Apocalypse Now since I made the list and it’s possible I would include it now.

  13. Ray says:

    Which Vietnam movie was made to mimic a home movie camera ?

  14. Ray says:

    Let me reword that last post : There was a Nam war movie that was ” shot ” as though it were actually filmed with a home movie camera . Anyone know the name of that movie ?

  15. Bill Jackson says:

    From a Combat Veteran of the VietNam War, C Co 3rd 187th INF, 101st ABN Div, one must remember that movies are for entertainment, documentaries are for facts, for the most part, if you want to watch a movie for realistic combat, I would say Hamburger Hill, and not because I was in the 101st and it was my unit, Forrest Gump, I have a hard time because that was the realist ambush scene ever,and of course Charlie MoPic. For enertainment with no political crap, everyone has to be pro or con, irrelevant for entertainment, Full Metal, We Were Soldiers, Platoon, I really don’t care for movies with an agenda, because most do not understand.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bill. I think I know what you mean. I’m glad for your input on the different movies. I thought Hamburger Hill was very realistic, although I liked Platoon better but it’s not that realistic.
      I guess Born on te 4th of July would be one with an agenda then?
      I need to rewatch Forrest Gump, I can hardly remember it at all.

    • What made Hamburger Hill so great was that it wasn’t trying to sell us an epic story. It wasn’t trying to sell us a movie ticket. It wasn’t trying to sell an extra ticket to your girlfriend by throwing in some token romance.love interest. It wasn’t trying to paint a picture of glorious soldiers bonding together to defeat the dastardly enemy.

      What it did do was illustrate not only the chaotic nature of battle, its repeated stupidity and futility, but also the fact that a lot of the soldiers fighting that battle didn’t know one another, didn’t particularly like one another and were fighting not for the flag, not for each other but just to survive get on the ‘freedom bird’ back to ‘the world’ and their real lives.

      Which is an apt and concise analogy for the entire war.

      Thats why it is one of my favourites and one I can re-watch. It has a stellar cast, guys who are now stars in their own rights for a long time now, but this was back when they were younger and relatively unknown. It ‘tells it like it is’ without the Hollywood ending. Infact its an anti-Hollywood ending. If you haven’t seen it – you are doing yourself a disservice.

      • Hamburger Hill has always been among my Top 10 favorite movies and it’s one of a few that’s firmly rooted there. While Platoon tells more of a story it’s also much more manipulative. hamburger Hill is, as you say, told as it was.
        I need to rewatch and finally review it.

  16. clint says:

    I would like to share my list, some may have been mentioned some not.
    Your Top Ten is good. I have to collect some more not listed but mentioned above, like… we were soldiers and goodmorning vietnam etc. etc. I think ive seen them all. This took me many hours of research to find out about some of these movies i have, i hope some can learn about movies they never knew were out there, like R-Point, as its a sub title Korean made movie, however very good and wierdly a horror flic, which goes hand in hand with war time Nam.

    Apocolypse now
    Hamburger Hill
    Go Tell The Spartens
    Forest Gump (small part about Vietnam in movie)
    Three Seasons
    Missing In Action (post war p.o.w. film)
    Extreme R-Point ( the only vietnam horror movie )
    Heaven & Earth
    Born On the 4th Of July
    Full Metal Jacket
    The Deer Hunter
    The Odd Angry Shot (great Aussie film)
    First Blood (post war shell shock)
    Rambo First Blood Part II (post war p.o.w. film)
    Flight Of The Intruder (great carrier pilot movie about Hanoi air raids)
    Who’ll Stop The rain (post war)
    Casualties Of War (cant believe this has not been mentioned!)
    The Boys In Company C ( great in country movie about a football team)
    The Veteran
    The Quiet American
    Under Heavy Fire
    A rumour Of War
    Path To War (good political movie about McNamara)
    Winter Soldier ( the best interview doco the USA banned for years ! )
    Hearts And Minds (another good doco with interviews)
    84 Charlie Mopec (so realistic)
    Tunnel rats (cant believe this was not mentioned either)

    and still collecting, anything ive missed? these would have to be almost all of them i think.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your list.
      I tried to limit the list to 10 but it would be worth to do another longer list and I would, of course, quote yours.
      I’ve seen a lot of them and even reviewed some like R-Point. I thought it was excellent but someone watched it after my review and thought it was only odd. Yeah, well. I think, as you say, the ghost story goes well with he topic.
      Some like A Rumour of War I have wanted to watch since years but can’t find it.
      And you have some on the list I’ve never heard of like Three Seasons.
      I see only one that you have forgotten
      A Bright and Shining Lie

    • nem baj says:

      Well, what about the first of them all : The Green Berets (or the second, depending on how you view the excellent Quiet American – I’m speaking of the Mankiewicz version).

      Plus The White Silk Dress, Journey From the Fall (which I inexplicably forgot to mention when we were talking about Vietnamese movies), The Scent of Burning Grass

      And since you mentioned documentaries, The Anderson Platoon.

    • Tunnel rats?? Not the abysmal Uwe Bolle crap?? I have seen some bad movies but this was the first ever ‘War’ genre movie that I have ever used the fast forward button on and eventually just turned it off. I am a huge ‘War’ movie fan. I am also a huge Michael Pare fan ever since I saw Eddie and the Cruisers but Tunnel Rats is one of the worst films I have ever sat through.

      • I haven’t seen that but I don’t like Uwe Boll. I saw his movie on Max Schmeling, that was quite alright but anything else is horrible. However I think there is an older movie called “Tunnel Rats”.

  17. The Green Berets has some seriuosly bad ratings and reviews.
    I’ll look into Journey from the Fall. Thanks.

    • nem baj says:

      In my opinion The Green Berets is better than its bad reputation (although this reputation is historically understandable). Plus, it certainly develops a different point of view. After all, if the American public had thought like Platoon in 1965, there would have been no ‘Vietnam war’ (at least none involving so many U.S. troops)…

  18. Erik says:

    I am glad you mentioned Tigerland, because in my opinion it’s one of the best Vietnam War movies. This movie finds the way to paint the atmosphere of that time for us and shows us the internal side of the story: soldiers’ emotions, friendships, goodness…in a word: their point of view.
    There is a very good movie I didn’t see on your list and it’s called “Jackob’s ladder”. Instead of call this film dubious I’d rather say it gives us a puzzle we cannot find in the other movies on this subject.
    These two movies show us the inside of human soul.

    • It’s much better than its reputation which is probably because of Colin Farrell. I tends to divide people. I think he is good in this one though.
      Thanks you so much for mentioning Jacob’s Ladder, I just looked it up and it looks like a movie I wil like a lot. I think it’s importnat to show what war does to people and their souls, not only during combat but later as well. I hope I can watch it soon.

  19. Erik says:

    I am sure you will find it in this movie. There are many articles on the internet where you can learn about the battles, the generals and the important events, but the internal side stays hidden.
    As for Colin’s reputation, I think it should be separated from the movie which is very good. By the way, some people dislike the fact that the story happens in 1971. Do you think it’s O.k.?

    • When I watched the first time, that was when I made this list, I loved it, couldn’t find anything to criticize but then I watched it again and wasn’t so sure anymore. I thought Colin’s charcater was too modern, too insolent and I wasn’t sure if it was believable. I then wrote a review which is far less enthusiastic as when I wrote this list. I still liked it but I wasn’t sure his tone and attitude was realistic. Now that you mention 1971 again, I think I have to reassess. The attitude must have changed incredibly by then. A movie depicting the early days would very very different from one showing the final stages of the war. I still think it is among te 10 best.

  20. Erik says:

    The majority of soldiers are deffinitely quite different from Roland, but I am sure you could find a soldier with similar charracter. Very rare, but possible. I found in wikipedia that “a novel of the same name written by Howard Alan Lantzer is a possible basis for the film. Howard Alan Lantzer completed “Tigerland” from his experience as an infantry conscript in Vietnam draft era”. It is not a complete fiction. It wasn’t based on an exact true story, but there are realistic elements in it.
    When I mentioned 1971 I wanted to say there were many people who think the story should be placed earlier because 1971 was almost the end of American presence in Vietnam. Maybe the movie wouldn’t be different if the story happens in 1970/1969 or earlier. The resistance to war was strong.

    • I wasn’t aware of a book, that’s interesting. I guess the resistance was huge before as well but there is more of a feeling of total senselessness in Tigerland because by the time everyone must have known the whole thing was a major disaster.

  21. Peter Simmel says:

    It’s been a number of years since I up-dated my list of movies about the Viet Nam War. There might be some that have come out since I last taught a course here at the University titled “The Viet Nam War: Theatre and Film- it was always a bit difficult to teach-as it brought back memories. However, if anyone would like the List, send me your e-mail address and I’ll send it as an attachment.
    As a Theatre Director- I prefer the plays- but have seen most of the movies as well.

  22. Tommy says:

    Tho not a movie, the tv series Tour of duty was very accurate to Vietnam. Even tho it was short lived. But as far as movies go, The Boys in Co C and also and the unfortunate and very heart wrenching very true story of the POW’s in Hanoi Hilton where senetor and former presidential candidate John McCain was kept prisoner. McCain is a POW during this time and is portrayed in it. He was even offered a release to go home with other POW’s but refused to leave until ALL of Hanoi Hiltons POW’s were released and was consequently tortured for several more years. Another very true story is Bat 21 starring Gene Hacmman about a LT Colonel shot down over north Vietnam. And the people who rescued him and what he went thru.

    • I haven’t seen Tour of Duty but I’ve got The Boys in Company C. I should finally wath it.
      I’ve heard about Hanoi Hilton. Another one I’d like to watch. I wasn’t too keen on Bat 21. It has its merrits but I didn’t like it so much.

      • I still have Tour of Duty on my had drive and I watched it growing up in the late 80’s – and I am a huge fan but, its pretty bland/generic. Great music and unknown cast. Sadly the DVD boxed set does not include all the great music that was part of the original series and has been replaced by royalty free music….ruins it really.

        I enjoyed the Boys from Company C, its not to a lot of peoples taste….and if you want to see the original R Lee Ermy you’r ein for a treat…..and I wonder how he got away with the same speech in Full Metal Jacket…..

      • I totally forgot about that- I really need to watch The Boys In Company C. I’ve heard a few bad things about it but as you say it’s probabaly just not to everyone’s taste.
        Too bad about the music of Tour of Duty. Music is quite important and I can see how that would alter everything. I’ll still see if I can find it.

  23. nem baj says:

    And now for something entirely different : Don’t Burn (2009) by Vietnamese director Nhat Minh Dang. In spite of a somehow convoluted storyline it’s a great movie, humanistic and passionate (and I might add deliciously sentimental, so much that I can’t wait to read the diaries that inspired it).

    If you ever wondered what a contemporary Vietnamese point of view could look like…

  24. Matt says:

    I like your list, aside from excluding Apocalypse Now, which I still feel to this day is one of the best movies ever made.

    I wish there were more Vietnam movies like Apocalypse that focus on the ‘secret wars’ that raged in Laos and Cambodia with unconventional units like SOG (the clandestine unit to which Martin Sheen’s character Willard is assigned,) and the involvement of the CIA. I also felt that the French plantation scene in the redux version was a poignant reminder of the French military and colonial legacy in Indochina, and the passing of the torch so the speak to the new age of American interventionism. Most don’t like the film because it seems drawn out and lacks direction, but I find it’s the subtle tidbits of history that make it great.

    Good list though, I’ll have to check out Heaven and Earth.

    • While I like Apocalypse Now as a movie I have always felt that that movie is a shining example, a poster child if you will, of ‘Hollywood Wank’ when it comes to war movies, the soldiers and the conflicts they fight in. Its what you get when you have writers preach ‘literature’ to us with no personal background to the conflict the story is set in or even the genre. Or they shoehorn a story to a setting – like Hearts of Darkness, a story set on the Congo in Africa becoming Apocalypse Now during the Vietnam War.

      I lump it in with the Thin Red Line and the Deer Hunter. Cinematically and visually stunning, well crafted, great directors, great cast, fantastic acting yadda yadda…loved by all the critics etc – but ultimately a complete mockery of actual events, history and the poor buggers doing the fighting and dying.

    • Thanks, Matt. I guess, if I rewrote the list, I’d add Apocalpse Now. I didn’t mind that it was too long or lacked direction. I didn’t find the anti-war statement all that pertinent the first time I saw it.I need to rewatch it.

  25. Jim Cichantk says:

    what about “Birdie” with Matt Modine(also in “Full Metal Jacket”) and Nick Cage?

  26. Ronny Neilz says:

    Can any of you guys help me identify the name of a 1980s era Vietnam War movie with the opening scene showing a flight of US Army Hueys skimming over Vietnamese riverine swampland to insert a platoon of GIs in what appears to be a coconut grove or plantation? The GIs disembark the Hueys and cautiously advance to contact. The ensuing fire fight with Viet Cong forces the GIs to retreat back to the LZ where most of them are picked up by the choppers but the main character is left behind with a wounded comrade.

  27. sully says:

    Ive been looking for a Vietnam war film i saw many years ago but cant remember the name of it. It was about Vietnam USA soldiers fighting the war and nearly losing, when a bunch of USA civil war soldiers ghosts came and helped them, and they all won! Can anyone help? Thankyou

  28. ryan says:

    Causalities of War

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