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Veterans Day is observed annually on November 11 in the United States and serves to honor all those who have served in the US Armed Forces. This holiday originated as Armistice Day (a holiday still celebrated in many countries), which marked the anniversary of the Armistice with Germany that ended World War I. Since 1954, Armistice Day was officially renamed Veterans Day in the US. Since many workers and students have Veterans Day off, it is a good day for celebration in honor of the many men and women who have served in the US Armed Forces (as well as those still on active duty). One easy way to observe Veterans Day is to pick out a war movie or two to watch in observance of the holiday. To help you choose, here are 10 Veterans Day movies to help you honor those who have served our country.
Saving Private Ryan
The opening scene of this 1998 classic depicts the 1944 invasion of Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy Invasions. This iconic scene, regarded as a shockingly accurate portrayal of D-Day, sets the stage for one of the greatest war films of all time. Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, is the story of a small group of soldiers under the command of Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) as they search for a young paratrooper played by Matt Damon—the titular Private Ryan. This powerful tale of brotherhood is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, and an excellent choice for your Veterans Day viewing.
Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is based on the true story of the brief Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993. The battle was the result of a short mission gone awry: a simple extraction, expected to take about an hour, spiraled into an overnight standoff that lead to the deaths of 19 American soldiers. Like Saving Private Ryan, this Ridley Scott-directed film has intense scenes of horrifying violence and heartbreaking losses, but it is a masterful film well worth your time.
General George S. Patton was a controversial American general during World War II. Patton was a brilliant strategist, winning several key victories on the European front and playing a vital role during the Battle of the Bulge. However, Patton was also outspoken to a fault and arguably abusive to his own soldiers, including one infamous incident (depicted in the film) where Patton slapped a pair of shell-shocked soldiers, called them cowards, and ordered them back to the front line. This award-winning epic biography, simply titled Patton, paints a broad portrait of this complex and uncompromising military genius.
Many of the other Veterans Day movies on this list are notable for the accurate portrayals of important events in US military history. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds does quite the opposite by portraying a "what could have been" alternate history of two plots to assassinate some of the most infamous leaders of World War II. Despite being a highly stylized work of fiction, Inglourious Basterds manages to capture the spirit of defiance felt by the many opponents of the Nazi regime. Featuring the talents of such acting luminaries as Christoph Waltz and Brad Pitt, Inglourious Basterds is one of the best military movies for you to enjoy on Veterans Day.
American Sniper is based on the autobiography of the same name by Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal during the War in Iraq. Despite making a name for himself as one of the deadliest snipers in American history, Kyle's multiple tours of duty began to take a heavy toll on his personal life. Tragically, Kyle was murdered by a fellow veteran with PTSD. While this film has garnered controversy due to its portrayal of the War in Iraq, American Sniper is really about the treatment of veterans in the United States, making it one of the most poignantly importance Veterans Day movies you'll see.
For those seeking lighter Veterans Day movies than the likes of American Sniper and Black Hawk Down, an action-packed romp like Top Gun may be just the ticket. A review of this classic 1986 film tells the story of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer as pilots at the US Navy's prestigious Naval Fighter Weapons School in San Diego, California. Top Gun follows the intense competition between students at the academy as well as the romance between Cruise's character "Maverick" and an instructor portrayed by Kelly McGillis. Featuring a satisfying mix of action and drama, Top Gun is a winning choice.
A Few Good Men
If you want Tom Cruise to be a part of your Veterans Day marathon, but you'd rather watch an intense legal drama than an action film, pick up A Few Good Men. Cruise stars alongside legendary actor Jack Nicholson in this gripping tale of the court-martial of two US marines accused of murdering a fellow soldier. The cast is rounded out by Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland in this Rob Reiner-directed masterpiece. Even if you've yet to see A Few Good Men, you've no doubt heard its iconic line: "You can't handle the truth!"
The Thin Red Line
Here is another masterful depiction of American soldiers during World War II. Unlike the other WWII films on this list, which largely focus on the European campaign, The Thin Red Line depicts a fictionalized account of a platoon of soldiers in the Pacific Theater. The central conflict in the film is the Battle of Mount Austen, which took place three years before the much more famous Battle of Iwo Jima. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast that includes Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody, Sean Penn, George Clooney, and Woody Harrelson, this film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and has featured on many top-ten lists.
This much-lauded historical drama takes place during the Civil War, but the primary focus is on the personal and political life of Abraham Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Academy Award-winning performance). Lincoln follows the final few months of the title figure's life as he participated in peace talks with the Confederacy and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (which abolished slavery). This film was masterfully produced under the direction of Steven Spielberg and is well worth your time this Veterans Day.
Captain America: The First Avenger
While certainly not a historically accurate war film like many other on this list, I submit that Captain America: The First Avenger is nonetheless one of the most enjoyable Veterans Day movies. True to his name, Captain America, AKA Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is the embodiment of the ideal American soldier: bold, cunning, and willing to lay down his life for his allies. Luckily, nothing quite so dark happens in this film, despite the many other things you probably didn't know about The First Avenger. Mostly, the first Captain America film is an adventure film in WWII-era America, as a weak and frail, but uncompromisingly brave man is chosen to be the subject of an experiment that propels him to peak physical condition in order to best serve his country.