The Best Vietnam War Movies, According to Service Members and Veterans

Full disclosure: there are way more than seven crazy facts about "Apocalypse Now." (United Artists)

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It's no surprise that the Vietnam War and the veterans who served during it have been immortalized in some of the most iconic war movies ever made. From visceral battles to emotional homecoming, explosions to tears, writers, directors and actors continue to mine the war and its fallout for cinematic inspiration.

Here's a look at readers' must-watch flicks.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

No Vietnam War movie list would be complete without Francis Ford Coppola's masterful take on the Joseph Conrad novel, "Heart of Darkness." The movie follows Martin Sheen's character, Cpt. Willard, who is tasked with tracking down and killing Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), an officer who has gone rogue and has likely devolved into an insane murderer. Even though filming and production were plagued with problems, the movie became a box-office hit and is widely regarded as one of the best American movies of all time. "Apocalypse Now" garnered eight Academy Awards nominations and two wins, as well as a prestigious Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival. The movie continues to fascinate audiences today, as one reader pointed out: "As with the current war in Ukraine, and Russian war crimes, this movie shows the true nature of men's ability to descend into barbarism."

The Deer Hunter (1978)

"The Deer Hunter" follows three Western Pennsylvania steelworkers who survive the Vietnam War despite staggering odds and horrific experiences, only to find themselves unable to readjust to civilian life. On its release, elements of the movie -- including the plot's use of Russian roulette, the depiction of Vietnamese people and the film's seemingly patriotic conclusion -- were considered highly controversial, which led to an Oscar-night protest by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Featuring performances by Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken and a breakout role by Meryl Streep, "The Deer Hunter" is now widely regarded as an American cinema classic due to its all-star cast, excellent screenplay and technical execution.

First Blood (1982)

Starring Sylvester Stallone as the now-iconic former Green Beret John Rambo, "First Blood" became an instant international sensation upon its release, spurring a franchise of movies, books and merchandise. While the Vietnam War is very much a part of the overall plot, the movie takes place in Washington state after the conclusion of the war. Following a series of increasingly brutal encounters with local law enforcement, Rambo's flashbacks trigger in him a nearly superhuman response as he leaves a path of destruction, maybe, and spent brass in his wake. "Just an all around great movie that inspired me to be a Green Beret," one reader noted when nominating "First Blood" as a must-watch film.

    Full Metal Jacket (1987)

    Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" tells the story of a group of Marine recruits from boot camp to the battles of Da Nang and Hue. Perhaps best known and loved -- at least within the military community -- for R. Lee Ermey's Gunnery Sgt. Hartman's foul-mouth quips and quotes, the movie also garnered BAFTA, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Many readers who nominated "Full Metal Jacket" particularly focused on the boot-camp scenes, saying, "[The] bootcamp scenes were so real;" "The basic training scenes were the most realistic that I've seen in a movie"; and "I lived that movie in 1973 in the USMC."

    Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

    Based on the novel "Incident at Muc Wa," which was inspired by a real-life Special Forces operation at Tan Hoa in the early 1960s, "Go Tell the Spartans" follows a doomed and outgunned Army outpost and its leader, Maj. Asa Barker (Burt Lancaster). While it had a limited theatrical release in the United States, it did so to critical acclaim, including praise for Lancaster's performance. One reader echoed movie reviews of the '70s, saying, "The only accurate movie about the experience of the advisers that served in [Vietnam], and a pretty good demonstration of the lives of the rural Vietnamese who survived the war."

    Hamburger Hill (1987)

    In Vietnam War history, the Battle of Hamburger Hill is generally considered a controversial event that had a high human cost and low strategic value. That same battle was immortalized by the eponymous movie nearly 20 years later. Featuring Don Cheadle and Dylan McDermott (in his first movie), "Hamburger Hill" focuses on the lives of 14 soldiers during a 10-day stretch of the Vietnam War. While this movie is often forgotten on must-watch lists, our readers emphatically lauded it for its realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War, combat and squad relationships.

    Platoon (1986)

    Written and directed by Oliver Stone, "Platoon" is a response to his personal experiences as an infantryman serving in Vietnam. Both a critical and box-office success, the movie boasts eight Oscar noms and four wins, including Best Director and Best Picture. "Platoon" features a star-studded cast, led by Charlie Sheen as Chris, an Army volunteer whose idealism quickly fades as he's thrown into combat. He experiences confusing and unmooring ambiguities that create hostilities not only between the Army and the locals but between the soldiers in the platoon as well. One reader emphatically recommends "Platoon," "... because I served in Vietnam as a Pointman with the 101st ABN. The movie is very accurate as to what happens at the platoon level. Also I served in the rear area, after I was wounded. Therefore I know what soldiers experience."

    We Were Soldiers (2002)

    Adapted from the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" by retired Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway, "We Were Soldiers" follows an air cavalry unit led by then-Lt. Col. Moore (played by Mel Gibson) in the la Drang Valley as they try to hold off North Vietnamese troops despite withering odds. A reader recommended the movie because it "... tells the story from the battle lines as well as the home front." "We Were Soldiers" continues to resonate with viewers two decades after its release.

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