5 greatest Vietnam war movies of all time

Platoon movie
Platoon (Image via Hemdale Film Corporation)

While movies depicting the Vietnam war are a rarity now, the world has given us some absolute masterpieces based on this bloody and brutal war.

The War on Vietnam has always been a controversial topic that never fails to capture our attention when explored through movies. The grittiness, the extreme environment, and the intense firefights in the jungles of Vietnam are something we have always found interesting.

Here are five such depictions that are considered the greatest movies ever made on the Vietnam war.

Apocalypse Now, We Were Soldiers, and 3 other unmissable Vietnam war movies

1) Platoon (1986)

Platoon (Image via Hemdale Film Corporation)
Platoon (Image via Hemdale Film Corporation)

IMDb rating: 8.1

Notable Cast:

  • Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias
  • Charlie Sheen as Chris
  • Johnny Depp as Lerner

Directed by the famous director Oliver Stone, Platoon is regarded as the most realistic depiction of the Vietnam War and one of the greatest war movies ever. The director, himself a Vietnam war veteran, brought to light the brutal and remorseless experience every soldier had to endure during the war.

The portrayal of the horrors of the war, as well as the dark and gritty setting of the Vietnamese jungles, is visceral to an unimaginable extent. Dubiety between good and evil in humanity is portrayed perfectly in the film, which has a powerfully written story where every cast member has put up phenomenal performances.

The IMDb summary of the film reads:

"Chris Taylor, a neophyte recruit in Vietnam, finds himself caught in a battle of wills between two sergeants, one good and the other evil. A shrewd examination of the brutality of war and the duality of man in conflict."

2) Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket (Image via Warner Bros. Pictures)
Full Metal Jacket (Image via Warner Bros. Pictures)

IMDb rating: 8.3

Notable Cast:

  • Matthew Modine as Pvt. Joker
  • Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother
  • Vincent D'Onofrio as Pvt. Pyle

Full Metal Jacket is a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, and groundbreaking scenes from this film have been immortalized in pop culture. Kubrick's unique wide-angle style is notable throughout the film, where he portrays the horrifying and dehumanizing training of the Marines and how war can entirely alter a person's mind.

The depiction of the Vietnam War was spot-on in the movie, even though the screen time of the war was relatively short. The screenplay is very powerful and thought-provoking, and the film perfectly shows the effects the war had on civilians and soldiers.

The IMDb summary of the film reads:

"A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue."

3) Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now (Image via Omni Zoetrope)
Apocalypse Now (Image via Omni Zoetrope)

IMDb rating: 8.5

Notable Cast:

  • Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz
  • Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard
  • Harrison Ford as Colonel Lucas

Regarded to be one of the greatest movies of all time, Apocalypse Now is a powerful and thought-provoking movie on the Vietnam war. The film has outstanding cinematography and screenplay with some stellar performances, notably from Marlon Brando's iconic character Colonel Kurtz.

The movie perfectly depicts the horrors of the Vietnam war and its psychological effects on the soldiers.

The IMDb summary of the film reads:

"A U.S. Army officer serving in Vietnam is tasked with assassinating a renegade Special Forces Colonel who sees himself as a god."

4) We Were Soldiers (2002)

We Were Soldiers (Image via Paramount Pictures)
We Were Soldiers (Image via Paramount Pictures)

IMDb rating: 7.1

Notable Cast:

  • Mel Gibson as Lt. Col. Hal Moore
  • Madeleine Stowe as Julie Moore
  • Jon Hamm as Capt. Matt Dillon

We Were Soldiers is a true war movie in every sense, as it does an excellent job of portraying the grueling and brutal Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam war. The film perfectly depicts the bloody battle sequences and ruthless war tactics in the most climactic ways possible, and the portrayal is also very realistic.

The director also portrayed the sacrifices the families of the soldiers had to make and what it took for them to endure the war. The film is a must-watch for those fond of intense battle depictions.

The IMDb summary of the film reads:

"The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, and the soldiers on both sides that fought it, while their wives wait nervously and anxiously at home for the good news or the bad news."

5) Hamburger Hill (1987)

Hamburger Hill (Image via RKO Pictures)
Hamburger Hill (Image via RKO Pictures)

IMDb rating: 6.7

Notable Cast:

  • Don Cheadle as Pvt. Johnny Washburn
  • Dylan McDermott as Sgt. Adam Frantz
  • Steven Weber as Sfc. Dennis Worcester

Hamburger Hill has arguably one of the best portrayals of the Vietnam War's mountainous jungle battles, as it flawlessly depicts Vietnam's incredibly damp and humid conditions. The director did a great job of focusing on a soldier's daily life during the Vietnam war.

Rather than just portraying them as lifeless killing machines, the film showcases what every soldier had to go through mentally and physically on a daily basis. The gruesome and violent aspects of the war were also depicted nicely in the film.

The IMDb summary of the film reads:

"A brutal and realistic war film focuses on the lives of a squad of 14 U.S. Army soldiers of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the brutal 10 day (May 11-20, 1969) battle for Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam as they try again and again to take the fortified hill held by the North Vietnamese."

While they didn't make it to this list, The Deer Hunter (1987), Rescue Dawn (2006), and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) are also among some of the best movies based on the Vietnam war.

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Edited by Rhythm Bhatia
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