Small Details in Military Films That Make Them More Accurate

Photo Credit: 1. Pineapples101 / MovieStillsDB 2. Piftu / Dreamworks Pictures / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: 1. Pineapples101 / MovieStillsDB 2. Piftu / Dreamworks Pictures / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB

When filmmakers make movies about the military, the majority try to be as accurate as possible in their depiction of combat and those who participate. This can be accomplished in several ways, but it’s the small details that often provide the best authenticity. Here are some of the most impressive examples of Hollywood getting it right (for once).

Doris ‘Dorie’ Miller in Pearl Harbor (2001)

Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Doris "Dorie" Miller in 'Pearl Harbor'
Pearl Harbor, 2001. (Photo Credit: Touchstone Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

The story of Doris “Dorie” Miller, a mess attendant-turned-war hero, was certainly known to people in the 1940s, and a character based on Miller was portrayed by Elven Havard in the film, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). He was aboard the USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and not only did he save his wounded comrades, he also shot down several Japanese aircraft with an anti-aircraft machine gun – with no training!

By 2001, there was a generation of people who’d never heard his story. Filmmaker Michael Bay aimed to change this. Miller was a prominent feature in 2001’s Pearl Harbor. While the movie is a heavily fictionalized account of what occurred, Miller, portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr., sees extended screen time.

A real water buffalo was sacrificed in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Still from 'Apocalypse Now'
Apocalypse Now, 1979. (Photo Credit: Kupca / United Artists / MovieStillsDB)

Francis Ford Coppola meant to unnerve viewers with his 1979 film, Apocalypse Now. The Vietnam War-era feature is famed for its portrayal of the search by Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) for Col. William Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who’s gone rogue and is accused of murder. Given the gravity of the situation, Willard is tasked with assassinating him.

Kurtz was worshipped by the villagers in Cambodia. At one point, they sacrifice a water buffalo, and while the majority of movies would produce such a scene with CGI or special effects, the slaying of the animal actually occurred. The local indigenous tribe had already planned on doing this and allowed the filmmakers to not only film the act, but use it in the final product.

A recording of Adrian Cronauer plays in Platoon (1986)

Charlie Sheen as Chris Taylor in 'Platoon'
Platoon, 1986. (Photo Credit: Kupca / MovieStillsDB)

Adrian Cronauer was a member of the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. While he was first involved in producing move, he became a radio disc jockey (DJ) for the American Forces Network (AFN). Each morning, he’d yell, “Good Morning, Vietnam!”

While Cronauer’s Vietnam legacy is best remembered through Robin Williams‘ portrayal of him in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam, an actual recording of him saying his famous catchphrase was used a year earlier, in Oliver Stone‘s Platoon.

Gary Sinise wore his brother-in-law’s dog tags in Forrest Gump (1994)

Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks as Lt. Dan Taylor and Forrest Gump in 'Forrest Gump'
Forrest Gump, 1994. (Photo Credit: CaptainOT / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

The 1994 movie Forrest Gump, as beloved as it is, can’t exactly be called realistic. In fact, while it may focus on famous historical events, it goes to great lengths to have its protagonist, portrayed by Tom Hanks, appear as having taken part in them.

At one point, Forrest goes off the fight in Vietnam, under the command of Lt. Dan Taylor, a career military man who believes he’s destined to perish in war, as his ancestors did. Gary Sinise, who portrays Taylor, decided to add some realness to his character. In the film, the dog tags he wears are actually those of Sinise’s brother-in-law, Jack Treese, who served in Vietnam.

Fury (2014) featured a real Tiger tank

Still from 'Fury'
Fury, 2014. (Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

The 2014 film Fury debuted in theaters in 2014 and focused on the tank battles between the Allied forces and Germany during World War II. The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, was a hit, grossing more than $210 million at the box office.

Fury was lauded by critics, who appreciated the movie’s accuracy, especially when it came to the tanks. According to Live Science, “the Sherman M4A3E8 and the Tiger 131 – are real, and belong to the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.” The inclusion of the Tiger tank is especially notable, as the Tank Museum is in possession of the last running one.

The team behind Full Metal Jacket (1987) hired R. Lee Ermey

Still from 'Full Metal Jacket'
Full Metal Jacket, 1987. (Photo Credit: Pineapples101 / MovieStillsDB)

R. Lee Ermey, the scene-stealing drill instructor from 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, was originally only an adviser on the film. To help the actors, the US Marine Corps veteran created an instructional video. Director Stanley Kubrick was so impressed with the tape that he decided to cast Ermey in the film as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman.

The decision to cast Ermey was soon proven to be the correct one. His performance received rave reviews, and he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Czech soldiers make an appearance in Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Still from 'Saving Private Ryan'
Saving Private Ryan, 1998. (Photo Credit: lisakenobi / Dreamworks Pictures / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Four brothers from the Niland family went off to fight in World War II. Upon the conflict’s conclusion, three were thought to have been killed (one was actually in a prisoner of war camp) and the fourth was sent home to finish his service. The 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, was inspired by this story.

Saving Private Ryan is one of the most critically-acclaimed war movies of all time. One small decision shows the filmmakers’ commitment to authenticity. Toward the beginning, two soldiers surrender to the Allies on Omaha Beach, who execute them. Most assume they’re speaking German, but, in reality, the pair are Czech, and they were likely conscripted during Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Accurate Supermarine Spitfire action in Dunkirk (2017)

Still from 'Dunkirk'
Dunkirk, 2017. (Photo Credit: Hope72 / MovieStillsDB)

As its name suggests, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) centers around the Dunkirk evacuation that took place in 1940. While there are many interesting tidbits regarding these sequences, such as the use of Little Ships that actually took part in the rescues, what stands out the most is the rate of fire of the Supermarine Spitfires.

During the dogfight featuring Tom Hardy, the Spitfire he’s piloting fires rounds in two-second increments over the course of 15 seconds. This is true to the units manned during the Second World War that had between 15-18 seconds of firing time, which aviators used in two-second bursts.

A Sikh soldier fighting alongside the British in 1917 (2019)

Still from '1917'
1917, 2019. (Photo Credit: andrewz / Dreamworks Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

One of the more unique World War I-era movies to be released in recent years, 1917 follows two soldiers – Lance Cpl. Thomas “Tom” Blake and William “Will” Schofield – as they journey to deliver a message to a British garrison, warning them to call off what’s forecasted to be a devastating attack.

At one point, a Sikh soldier fighting with the British Army is seen riding in the back of a truck with other troops. While there are some who claim this was the filmmakers wanting to diversify the cast, those with a knowledge of British history will know about 161,000 Sikh troops served with the British during the Great War, despite making up just two percent of the Indian population.

More from us: Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas II Tried (and Failed) to Avert World War I

There are also discussions regarding the man’s Lee-Enfield rifle and its appearance, but that topic, in particular, is up for debate.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in,, and He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.