Have you ever watched a film only to find yourself saying, “Wait up, that’s not realistic!” I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there.
From having to endure watching characters pull grenade safety pins with their teeth like it’s nothing to cringing as one of the supporting characters says, “Ah, it’s just a flesh wound.” But, of course, we’ll spare you the same agony, so here are some of the most accurate and realistic war movies if you’re looking for some.
Apocalypse Now, 1979
Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War-era movie focuses on a soldier, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who was tasked to terminate a “once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad,” Colonel Kurtz. He was accompanied by a group of individuals with unique characteristics— a freelance photographer, an Air Cavalry officer who loves to surf, and some “street-smart” kids.
For good reasons, “Apocalypse Now” is one of the most well-known war movies. The story starts pretty typically, but as it progresses, it gets darker and darker, all while depicting real life on the river, showing raw and various human emotions. Criticisms started in the two-thirds part of the movie, but it was pretty spot on.
“Platoon” is another movie set during the Vietnam War that is often regarded as the “best war movie” with accurate depictions of the war. Major credit to its director, Oliver Stone, a Vietnam War veteran. According to DoD, Stone arrived in South Vietnam on September 16, 1967, as part of the 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry. He was wounded twice by a bullet or shrapnel that left marks on his neck, legs, and buttocks. He was also awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor that he wrote about in his book “Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game.”
Leveraging his personal experience and combining it with the accounts of other Marines, he came up with the most powerful, accurate, and unforgettable depiction of war. As film critic James Berardinelli noted:
“If Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter are like slaps to the face, Platoon is a punch to the gut,”
He also commented on how the film shows the unflinching detail and dehumanizing power of war; someone who was a “killing machine” on the frontline would be a misfit outside and in the civilian world.
Saving Private Ryan, 1998
Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” has a good balance of fact and fiction. The story was set in the Normandy Invasion, the world’s largest seaborne invasion. The story revolved around Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men, who were tasked to retrieve Private James Ryan and take him back home alive after his three brothers were killed in action. The brutalities during that chaotic day of the D-Day Invasion were shown as the group searched for Ryan while trying not to get killed. It’s the little accurate details that make the film stand out, from how soldiers react (or do not react) after being shot, to the Czech soldiers crying out to the Americans to not shoot them, to soldiers still battling even when the war was over, this time with PTSD.
Not only the details of the warzone were accurate, but the story was also based on the death of the five Sullivan brothers, who tragically died onboard the sunken U.S. cruiser Juneau.
Das Boot, 1981
“Das Boot” was produced with a budget of 18.5 million USD, making it one of the most expensive German films, but it proved to be worth it as it grossed 84.9 million USD worldwide, confirming its commercial success. The drama was based on a novel with the same title and translated as “the boat.”
The story was about a U-Boat heavily engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic tasked to take down English shipping. It showed the reality of serving on a submarine in all its miserable glory: cramped up and filthy.
As The Film Magazine wrote, “The story deals with the psychological consequences on the lives of the millions of young officers and sailors who worked under the water, and gives a brilliant and truthful insight into the different personal problems, fears, and feelings that those young men had to put aside in order to fight a war in which many of them didn’t truly believe.”
The novel’s author criticized the film, as he meant his work to be an anti-war novel but the screen version turned out to be a glorification of war. Even so, it was well-received by the audience. Chicago Tribune called Das Boot “one of the most shattering war movies of its decade.”
Did we miss your favorite? We’d love to know your best picks!