A Look at Vietnam War Movies

PLATOON, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, 1986.
PLATOON, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, 1986.

Hollywood always had trouble with the Vietnam War. The conflict divided the nation and had no easy story line for the screen.

In 1968, John Wayne starred in “The Green Berets.” It was released at the apex of the war as an old-fashioned war story, ignoring the confused morals of the conflict. Other movies indirectly addressed the situation or focused on the counterculture growing in the States. Long after the last helicopter left Saigon in 1975, Hollywood finally attempted an in-depth portrayal of the conflict. Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter was at the front of the pack of movies taking on the war.

Michael Cimino recently died. Here are some memories of The Deer Hunter and other Vietnam War films.

The Deer Hunter, 1978, was a three-act drama that depicted friends torn apart by war. The Russian roulette scene is still shocking today as Robert De Niro’s and Christopher Walken’s characters put their fate in the game of chance played out by their captors. This movie was one of the earliest attempts to deal with the war. The movie won the Oscar for best picture.

Coming Home, 1978, was able to humanize Vietnam veterans returning home from the war. Hal Ashby directed the film that was nominated for best picture. The movie is about a paraplegic veteran who tries to re-adjust to civilian life while finding comfort with the wife of another soldier. Jon Voight and Jane Fonda each won Oscars.

Apocalypse Now, 1979, won the Palme d’Or and was nominated for Oscars for best picture and best director. The many iconic moments have become some of popular culture’s most recognized depictions of war.

Platoon, 1986, was Oliver Stone’s autobiographical foray into his time in the war. He won both the bronze star and a purple heart when serving in Vietnam. The movie won the best picture for its point-of-view depiction of dissent among the ranks, corrupt officers, friendly fire, and war crimes.

Full Metal Jacket, 1987, was Stanley Kubrick’s look into the chaos of Vietnam. The first part of the movie is famous for R. Lee Ermey’s performance as the drill instructor who dehumanizes the new recruits. The second part puts Private Joker in the hell of war.

Born on the Fourth of July, 1989, was Oliver Stone’s look at the life of Ron Kovic, who became an activist after coming home from Vietnam. This movie earned Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination. Stone was also nominated for best director.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE