In the years that immediately followed its conclusion and the decades that have passed since, the Vietnam War has inspired some of the best war movies of all time. More so than any other conflict, besides maybe World War II, the nearly 20-year saga has given audiences some of the most realistic depictions of war with stories focussing less on the battle between right and wrong and more on the internal struggles faced by everyone caught up in it.
Below is a list of over a dozen of the best Vietnam War movies and how to watch them, either on various streaming platforms or on old-fashioned physical media. Queue up some Creedence Clearwater Revival because we’re going back to Vietnam…
Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) finds himself trapped in the middle of a life-or-death situation in the heat of battle while also caught between the differing philosophies of his two superior officers. The once idealistic young soldier becomes a shell of his former self after facing the horrors of war.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Oliver Stone’s Platoon, a Best Picture winner, kicked off the director’s Vietnam trilogy with its harrowing military drama, an emotionally grueling and physically exhausting exploration of war and its effect on those trapped in its game.
Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)
Psychologically and emotionally damaged after accidentally killing one of his fellow soldiers, and confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in battle, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) comes home to find a country with no intentions of taking care of him or others in his position.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy continued with the 1989 release of Born on the Fourth of July, an exploration of the real-life Kovic and how his experiences transformed not only his life but the lives of countless soldiers carrying physical and mental scars.
Heaven & Earth (1993)
Caught in the middle of the devastation of the Vietnam War and abused by soldiers and leaders on both sides of the conflict, Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) attempts to find her place in the world; a journey made a little easier after meeting U.S. Marine Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones).
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: What makes Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth (the concluding chapter of his trilogy) worth watching is the fact that it offers a different perspective of the Vietnam War and shows how those who lost their homes, families, and lives were impacted.
A young soldier/photographer (played by Matthew Modine) goes from covering the Vietnam War to being caught in a life-or-death firefight in the middle of one of its bloodiest battles.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: One of the best Stanley Kubrick movies, Full Metal Jacket is about as hardcore as it gets. From the first half set during basic training where young G.I.s endure physical and psychological torture to the second half depicting the actual war, this one doesn’t let off the gas.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Three tight-knit friends (played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) are shipped off to fight in Vietnam, an experience that changes everything. Torn apart from their shared experiences, the three attempt to pick up the pieces in their own way.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: A war movie that won a Best Picture Oscar, Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter offers one of the most traumatizing and unflinching depictions of the conflict you will see. Epic in both scope and scale, the film dives into the lingering effects of war on man.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Tasked with finding and killing Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the middle of the jungle, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) embarks upon a tumulous journey into the heart of darkness that will test him in every way imaginable.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Despite its troubled production, severe on-set injuries, and all other kinds of issues, Francis Ford Coppola’s film remains one of the premier war movies. Intense battles, tremendous character development, and a maddening story make this a classic.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Decades after the Vietnam War has ended, a group of soldiers returns to the jungle to find a massive stash of gold they left behind and to give their commanding officer a proper burial.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is another movie that focuses more on the aftermath of the Vietnam War than the actual fighting, and it does a damn fine job of doing that.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
After being sent to Vietnam to help boost the morale of American soldiers stationed in the jungle, radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) finds himself in the middle of a life-changing experience.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam is often thought of as a comedy, but it’s so much more than that. Sure, it’s hilarious thanks to Robin Williams’ character, but it also dives into themes like the importance of truth no matter how much it hurts.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
A squad of U.S. soldiers consisting of seasoned vets and new recruits fights tooth and nail to take and hold a hill deep in Central Vietnam while also dealing with personal issues arising from the controversial military campaign.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Featuring incredible performances from Dylan McDermott, Courtney B. Vance, and Don Cheadle, John Irvin’s Hamburger Hill is an action-packed and devastating war film, one that benefits from focusing on the personal lives and ideologies of the soldiers it covers.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
After being shot down over enemy-controlled Laos during the Vietnam War, pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) finds himself trapped in a hellish prison camp.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: One of the most thrilling movies based on real-life survival stories, Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn is a frightening and intense thrill ride in which soldiers find that what lies behind the walls of their prison is just as dangerous and unforgiving as the torture within the camp.
Casualties Of War (1989)
Private Max Eriksson (Michael J. Fox) finds himself at odds with Sergeant Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) when the former refuses to help capture a young Vietnamese woman and use her as a sex slave. Just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, their divided unit is forced to take on Viet Cong troops in a brutal battle.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War is a movie that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, which is a real shame. Though it doesn’t get as much attention as other films on this list, this tense war drama is remarkable on so many levels.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Severely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese army, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) and his battalion fight like hell to win the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle fought by America in the Vietnam War.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Randall Wallace’s We Were Soldiers, which is based on Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway’s book of the same name, is absolutely riveting in terms of drama and action. A remarkable cast, outstanding battle sequences, and a powerful story make this a must-watch.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Throughout his remarkable life, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) goes from being a young Alabama boy in leg braces to a decorated soldier to a successful ping pong player to a wealthy shrimp boat captain, all while never losing touch with who he is.
Why it’s one of the best Vietnam War Movies: Robert Zemeckis’ Academy Award-winning drama, Forrest Gump, isn’t technically a war movie, but Vietnam is a major part of the second half of the movie, and its impact can be felt in just about every character and decision after Gump flies into the jungle.
Each of these movies depicts the Vietnam War honestly and faithfully, making them not just some of the best military films of all time, but also some of cinema’s greatest achievements.