Every Memorial Day holiday we remember the countless U.S. soldiers who died fighting in wars declared and undeclared. As one who served, this holiday has always meant a great deal to me as well as those who have a legacy of service to this nation.
Here is our list of our top fifteen films to watch on Memorial Day. These films represent stories of soldiers in wars across the century and reflect what Memorial Day represents: the sacrifice of lives during war as well as the grief of those left behind.
15. Bridge on the River Kwai
Director David Lean’s seven-time Oscar-winning film focuses on the aftermath once settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their captors – while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
14. Born on the Fourth of July
Tom Cruise gives an award-winning performance in the biography of Ron Kovic. Paralyzed in the Vietnam war, he becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist after feeling betrayed by the country he fought for.
13. The Hurt Locker
Forced to play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the chaos of war, an elite Army bomb squad unit must come together in a city where everyone is a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb in Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning film.
12. Flags of Our Fathers
Director Clint Eastwood focuses on the life stories of the six men who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima, a turning point in WWII in this amazing film.
11. Black Hawk Down
123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily armed Somalis in Ridley Scott’s fantastic story.
10. Coming Home
Jane Fonda and Jon Voight give award-winning performances in this story of a woman whose husband is fighting in Vietnam falls in love with another man who suffered a paralyzing combat injury there.
9. Sergeant York
Gary Cooper headlines this two-time winning Oscar film based on the true story of a hillbilly sharpshooter drafted in WW1 despite his claim to be a pacifist, who ends up becoming a war hero.
8. The Best Years of Our Lives
William Wyler directed this story of three WWII veterans who return home to small-town America to discover that they and their families have been irreparably changed. This heartwarming story took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture.
7. Full Metal Jacket
The first of two Stanley Kubrick films on the list centers on a pragmatic U.S. Marine who observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow Marine recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting set in 1968 in Hue, Vietnam.
6. Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg’s story, which took home five Oscars, follows the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers who go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
5. All Quiet on the Western Front
Lewis Milestone’s classic film tells the story of a young soldier who faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I. The film won two Oscars including Best Picture.
4. Apocalypse Now
After two earlier 70’s classics, Francis Ford Coppola returns with this story centered on events during the U.S.-Viet Nam War when Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.
Denzel Washington won his first Oscar in this Edward Zwick film that focused on Robert Gould Shaw who leads the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of both his own Union army and the Confederates.
2. Paths of Glory
Stanley Kubrick’s epic story that looks at the effects when soldiers in WW1 refuse to continue with an impossible attack, their superiors decide to make an example of them. Kirk Douglas gives a towering performance and Kubrick’s script and direction is near flawless.
Oliver Stone’s instant classic tells the story of a young recruit in Vietnam who faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man. Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe are outstanding in the film.