- Military movies shed light on the intense training and mental challenges that soldiers face in their journey to become walking weapons.
- These films explore themes of power dynamics, rivalries, and conflicts within military training, showcasing the consequences of high-handedness and the pursuit of personal goals.
- Some military movies tackle discrimination and gender inequality, highlighting the struggles of women and LGBTQ individuals in a traditionally male-dominated space.
Many professions are elastic enough to accommodate employees who didn’t undergo the prerequisite training but when it comes to military service, one can’t learn on the job. Recruits are often forced to go through a psychologically and physically intensive boot camp process where they familiarize themselves with all the skills needed to tackle enemy forces. Over the decades, life in military schools has been explored in a number of movies. These films not only make audiences appreciate the hard work that soldiers put in, but they also shed light on some of the mental challenges they go through while shaping themselves to be walking weapons.
10 Taps (1981)
Modern-day audiences might not be familiar with Tom Cruise’s first 10 movies, yet they are all gems worth checking out. Among them is Taps which follows cadets at the fictional Bunker Hill Military Academy as they protest a managerial decision to shut down the school and sell the land to a real estate developer.
Instead of audiences getting to see grueling training sessions, the events here play out in the same way they do in hostage movies. The cadets secure the entire perimeter and make their stance against corporate greed clear. As the clock ticks, the situation threatens to get violent and the National Guard is even called in to help dilute the growing tension. Finally, all hell breaks loose in the final minutes.
Full Metal Jacket proves that high-handedness often creates more harm than good. Events kick off at the Parris Island Marine Corps training facility where the drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman spends his days insulting the young soldiers as a way to toughen them up. He particularly enjoys picking on Gomer Pyle because he is lazy and gluttonous. Eventually, the recruit becomes fed up and kills him.
As unlikable as Sgt. Hartman is, he is undoubtedly one of cinema’s best-written characters and is the key reason Full Metal Jacket is considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest movies. Thanks to his quotable lines and a great performance from R. L. Emery, the drill instructor bosses the proceedings right until his death in the second act of the film.
8 Moffie (2019)
Events in Moffie are seen through the eyes of Nicholas van der Swart — a young South African White man who is forced to join the South African Defense Force (SADF) — during the Apartheid era because of the mandatory conscription policy. There, he and other recruits are subjected to harsh training which involves being conditioned to see Black people as the enemy. Such methods really irk Nicholas but what gives him the biggest headache is how to secretly form a relationship with a fellow male recruit that he is crushing on.
“Moffie” is in fact a homophobic slang used in South Africa, and in line with its title, the film dedicates a huge chunk of its running time to dissecting hypermasculinity and the persecution of LGBTQ members. The plot is inspired by the life of South African author and solider, André Carl van der Merwe.
7 Tigerland (2000)
Among war history buffs, there is often the suggestion that the Vietnam War wasn’t a real war. That’s because Congress never issued a declaration of war on the Viet Cong. It only authorized the deployment of troops. The war was also fought for political interests rather than in defense of the country. Well, this particular line of thinking is explored in Tigerland, where many young recruits lose the desire to join the war after learning “the truth.” At a boot camp, Bozz attempts to find loopholes to get him and others discharged. While at it, he finds himself in conflict with another recruit named Wilson.
By the second act, the film morphs into a full-blown feud between the two. Wilson tries to kill Bozz several times during training, only to fail. The best moments of their conflict come when the cadets are taken to “Tigerland” — a heavily forested region that has been designed as a replica of the jungles of Vietnam. The two keep going at each other and in the end, Bozz comes out on top. In the final witness, it’s revealed that Bozz soon disappeared after heading to Vietnam, with some witnesses claiming they spotted him in Mexico enjoying the company of beautiful women.
6 An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Great coaches don’t just insert skills into students, they also warn them about the things that might ruin them. In An Officer and a Gentleman, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley keeps reminding the Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) not to hook up with the local girls who use pregnancy to trap aspiring Naval aviators.
For these women, marrying a military man is a flex, so they do their best to land one. To no one’s surprise, the protagonist Zack ignores the advice and begins a romance with a woman named Paula. This puts him in conflict with a number of people including Foley, who ultimately challenges him to a rather hilarious fistfight.
5 Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is also one of the recommendable biographical military movies as it tells the story of Desmond Doss, who strongly believed in the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” but figured he could help anyway by being a military doctor. Unfortunately for him, things weren’t as straightforward as he thought. Army medics are required to undergo weapons training too, but Doss refused to do so.
The film is thus one long and engrossing debate on whether Doss is right or wrong. By allowing him to do what he pleases, the military could set a wrong precedent, encouraging other soldiers to do the same. And if he gets persecuted for his religious beliefs, the military risks appearing devilish. Thankfully, the situation gets resolved with Doss going on to save a whopping 75 men at the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single weapon.
4 Stripes (1981)
There are often three factors that motivate people to join the military: patriotism, the realization that you are too tough, and the desire for employment. For the two main characters of Stripes, it’s the latter. Depressed after losing his job and girlfriend, taxi driver John Winger convinces his buddy Russel to enlist with him. Once the training starts, they realize they’d rather be somewhere else.
The film is ideal for fans of all genres as it mostly uses a comedic tone. The characters keep cracking jokes and finding themselves in weird situations, making them likable despite their lack of effort. Many of the scenes are improvisations by Bill Murray, and given how talented the actor is, none of them fails to trigger laughter.
3 G.I. Jane (1997)
The military is becoming more gender-balanced as the years go by but back in the old days when chauvinism was rife, the battlefield was considered a man’s place. G.I. Jane mines its plot from such kind of discrimination, introducing audiences to Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, who has to prove she can pass a rigorous Navy-SEAL-like training program in order to legitimize a female senator’s suggestion that more women should be admitted to the military.
Several obstacles are deliberately thrown in O’Neil’s way, causing the male superiors — who thought she would become fed up and quit — to be worried. At some point, she even gets accused of being a lesbian too, but that doesn’t stop her. This is also the kind of military movie with a marvelous twist as it’s later revealed that the female senator who brought the suggestion isn’t actually a champion for women’s rights. She was hoping O’Neil would fail.
2 The Boys in Company C (1978)
The directors and screenwriters of many military boot camps often make the mistake of not properly digging into the backgrounds of the recruits, but such a common flaw is avoided in The Boys in Company C. Things are a lot more interesting here because the key cadets aren’t the usual type. There is a former drug dealer, a lothario, a naïve and cowardly man, and a writer.
As expected, surviving the brutal and dehumanizing Marine Corps boot camp becomes quite a challenge. Everyday is a nightmare, but they keep pushing on before they are eventually sent to Vietnam. There, they don’t find the well-functioning military complex they hoped to see. Endless bureaucratic obstacles and weird orders cause them to miss their boot camp days.
1 Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
The first Top Gun film is good, but the second is pure perfection as it has some of the best aerial dogfights ever seen on screen. In it. Navy aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to train a new team of pilots for a mission to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant in an unnamed country.
Well, Maverick is the kind of teacher who helps his students do the exams, so he also takes part in the mission with them. Thankfully, his over-involvement ends up being more beneficial than detrimental. Thanks to its incredibly high box office figures, the film is largely credited with saving Hollywood after the COVID-19 pandemic
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