Depending how you set up your Memorial Day weekend, you might end up with Monday off and nothing to do but let your body process all the food you consumed the day before. If that’s what you’re looking forward to, there are a bunch of movies that can carry you through and still put you in the right frame of mind for remembering those who gave all.
Right now, there are a lot of such movies on Netflix, like those in this list from International Business Times. Many are decidedly old-school, which is what Netflix has the most of, but there are plenty more that are worth streaming from somewhere or digging for in your Blu-Ray collection.
This is a classic, mostly because of George C. Scott’s unforgettable performance as the controversial General George S. Patton during the WWII phase of his career. The memorable speech Scott gives as Patton at the beginning in front of the American Flag was actually sanitized from the real-life speech, which contains a few more expletives. It’s worth a read.
2. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Another classic, this big-budget film tells its story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, from both the American and Japanese perspective. It’s a long one, clocking in at 144 minutes, but it’s a movie that should be seen at least once by any war-movie fan.
3. Black Hawk Down (2001)
One of the best modern war movies ever made, this is about the true story of a mission gone bad in October, 1993 when 100 U.S. Army Rangers were dropped by helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia to capture two lieutenants of a Somali warlord. The action led to a large and drawn-out firefight between Rangers and hundreds of Somali gunmen, which in turn led to the destruction of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. It’s a story of valor and the American fighting spirit that should not be missed.
4. American Sniper (2014)
This is probably going to be a no-duh addition to a lot of movie lists, but the story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is not only one of the gems of Clint Eastwood’s directorial career, but a truly great war movie that captures the struggle and turmoil the modern warrior must endure.
5. Lone Survivor (2013)
This is the story of another U.S. Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, but it’s a much different tale than “American Sniper.” This focuses on a mission Luttrell and three SEALs undertook in 2005 to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah. It’s the story of a group of warrior cut off from rescue and supply, surrounded by the enemy, on some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. If you think you’re tough, you won’t by the end of this one.
6. Platoon (1986)
If you haven’t seen this classic Vietnam opus written and directed by Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone, then you best get on that most ricky-tick. It’s a heady story about a young man who volunteers for combat despite being enrolled in college at the time, and the moral crises and horrors he faces when he gets to Southeast Asia. This film can be seen on its surface as an action-filled flick full of Vietnam-era military details and slang, but if you watch it with a critical eye, it’s a very psychological film that dwells on the duality of man and the nature of war and what it can do to the human psyche.
7. Hamburger Hill (1987)
A war movie that many vets point to as one of the most accurate depictions of Vietnam, “Hamburger Hill” is an uncompromising, brutal story about the lives of 14 U.S. Army soldiers of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne division during the brutal 10-day battle for Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam. Watch any documentary about the war and you’ll know something about Hill 937. A more straightforward film than “Platoon,” HH does an incredible job of highlighting the mental detours soldiers must create to make it through daily combat.
8. The Deer Hunter (1978)
First a warning: this movie is incredibly depressing, but a fantastic film. You won’t walk away feeling good about…well, anything. No other film connects the homeland with the soldiers who went to fight in Vietnam like this one. Perhaps the fact that it was made so close to the end of the war gives this movie a sense of realism that’s lacking in other war films. The story follows three young steel mill workers from a small town in Pennsylvania who go to Vietnam. The first, and fairly long, chunk of the movie is devoted to the wedding of one of the friends two days before they all ship out. The film deviously lulls you into complacency, as you watch a bunch of people–tight friends who work, drink and live together–having a great time celebrating a happy occasion. Then it abruptly drops you into the horror of Vietnam with a quick smash cut, and it’s a rough ride from there, through the famous Russian roulette scenes at the Viet Cong prison camp, to Michael’s slow, heartbreaking homecoming. This film does a lot to encapsulate the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.
9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
This is the war film that gave moviemakers a whole new level for which to strive. It’s a story that contains all the glory and misery of WWII in Europe. A group of U.S. soldiers is tasked with going behind enemy lines to find a soldier and get him home after command realizes three of his brothers had been killed in action. The opening recreation of the Normandy Landing at Omaha Beach left audiences dumbfounded when it was released, and the whole film still retains that power almost 20 years later. The closing scene at the Normandy American Cemetery will probably leave you with a tear in your eye, but not the empty pit in your stomach left by Deer Hunter.
10. Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010)
If you have HBO or subscribe to HBO NOW, then you have hours and hours of stuff to watch on Memorial Day. First there’s “Band of Brothers,” the seminal WWII mini-series helmed by a lot of the people behind “Saving Private Ryan,” is the story of “E” Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from their training to the end of WWII. There are too many great moments in this series to mention here, but it’s a kaleidoscope of ultra-accurate period weapons, uniforms and occurrences.
Then there’s “The Pacific,” (2010) which follows the stories of a group of U.S. Marines during the campaign against the Japanese Empire. It outlines the hardships of the common man during war, but focuses on a much broader set of occurrences, meaning the series jumps around more from location to location, as the Marines travel from island to island, and can be a little harder to follow, but ranks right up there with its predecessor, “Band of Brothers.” Both mini-series are currently available on Amazon Prime as well.
BONUS: Fury (2014)
This is a WWII movie that feels a bit like the submarine films of old, focusing on the veteran American crew of a M4A2E8 Sherman tank during the closing days of World War II in Nazi Germany. The film strives for an extreme sense of realism, and consequently, the movie is very dark in tone and subject matter, but there is an unmistakable heart to this story, and a staggering closing battle sequence. The film really captures the emotional place of U.S. soldiers who had been fighting the Germans since landing in Sicily at the beginning of American involvement in WWII. Plus, it’s one of the only modern war films to focus on tank warfare, and one of the few times you can see an actual M4 Sherman tank in a color movie.