When filmmakers make movies about the military, they try to be as accurate as possible. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the small details often provide the most authenticity. Here are some of the best examples of Hollywood getting it right.
The portrayal of Dorie Miller in Pearl Harbor
The story of Doris “Dorie” Miller, the 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 onboard the USS West Virginia (BB-48) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and not only did he save the wounded, he also shot down a number of Japanese aircraft with an anti-aircraft machine gun – with no training!
By 2001, there was a generation of people who had never heard his story. Filmmaker Michael Bay aimed to change this. Dorie Miller was a prominent character in 2001’s Pearl Harbor. While the film is a heavily fictionalized account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Miller, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., sees extended screen time.
A real water buffalo was sacrificed in Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola meant to unnerve viewers with his 1979 film, Apocalypse Now. The Vietnam War-era movie is famed for its portrayal of the search by Capt. Benjamin Willard for legendary military man, Col. William Kurtz, who’s gone rogue and is accused of murder. Capt. Willard, played by Martin Sheen, has been tasked with assassinating him.
Col. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, was worshipped by villagers in Cambodia. At one point, they sacrifice a water buffalo, and while the majority of films would produce such a scene with CGI or special effects, the killing of the animal actually occurred. The local indigenous tribe had planned on killing the buffalo, and allowed the filmmakers to not only film the act, but use it in the movie.
A recording of Adrian Cronauer’s catchphrase plays in Platoon
Adrian Cronauer was a member of the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. While he was first involved in producing films, he later became a morning show radio disc jockey (DJ) for the American Forces Network. Each morning, Cronauer would 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
The 1994 movie Forrest Gump, as beloved as it is, can’t exactly be called realistic. In fact, while the film may focus on famous historical events, it goes to great lengths to have its protagonist, portrayed by Tom Hanks, appear as a part of them.
At one point, Forrest goes off the fight in the Vietnam War, 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, Taylor’s dog tags are actually those of Sinise’s brother-in-law, Jack Treese, who served in Vietnam.
Fury used a real Tiger Tank
The film Fury debuted in theaters in 2014 and focused on the tank battles between the Allied forces and the German Army 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 featured in the film. 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 makers of Full Metal Jacket hired R. Lee Ermey
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 Ermey was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Pvt. Jackson’s injury in Saving Private Ryan
Four brothers from the Niland family went off to fight in WWII. Upon the conflict’s conclusion, three of the brothers 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. Pvt. Daniel Jackson, played by Barry Pepper, has a bruise on his thumbnail. This was common for WWII-era soldiers whose thumbs got caught in the loading mechanism of their Springfield M1903 rifles.