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Top Vietnam War Movies

Updated on August 20, 2015
Vietnam Military Museum
Vietnam Military Museum | Source

Movies on the War in Vietnam

War movies about Vietnam are really not about Vietnam. Put them all together and you have an epic story of bad planning, bad judgment, horrible execution and an absence of imagination on the part of the American government.

The war is just part of the continuing tragedy for the Vietnamese people. They had been at war with China and France before that and nothing will ever stop them from defending their country. They make this clear even now.

But today, surprisingly, there is no resentment against the Americans at all here. We now work in Hanoi and live just beside the Hoa Lo Prison. I meet American friends where we live who will not go and visit this Prison. They still have vivid memories of friends whose sons never came back and of the division that the war caused in the country. Yes, for the American people, the wound is still healing. For many, it will always be there.

The War in Vietnam - A War in the Jungle

You have to understand that the war in Vietnam was a war in the jungle and this was what the young American volunteers got into. Vietnam was a jungle that was so unfamiliar to the many young Americans who have not even been overseas. Here are some of the movies that show this reality so well.

1. Good Morning Vietnam

Good Morning Vietnam blared through our short wave radio everyday that when this movie came out, it became an instant favourite. This movie centered on the American DJ, Arian Cronnauer, who was sent to Vietnam to the American Armed Forces Radio Service and whose irreverence refreshed the troops and sent them to howls of laughter.

Acted by Robin Williams, this airman second class, DJ Cronnauer, immediately touched the heart of movie goers especially when his superiors, second lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and sergeant major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), who had other ideas about entertainment and behavior for the troops did everything they could to make him change his style. The troops, however, including Brigadier General Taylor (Noble Willingham) quickly enjoyed Cronnauer's brand of comedy. One of the troop members, Private First Class Edward Montesquieu Garlick (Forest Whitaker), immediately befriended him and the two of them just went further into getting their two superiors worked hard into getting them out or even sending them to where the North Vietnamese Army could take care of them.

Meanwhile, Cronnauer is unstoppable not only as a DJ. He met Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana) and followed her to her English class where he persuaded the teacher to let him teach the class and whereupon he taught them American slang. Trinh's brother was not impressed by what this American is doing so stopped him but instead, Cronnauer befriended him bringing him for drinks at Jimmy Wah's, the popular G.I. Bar in Saigon. This is just the beginning of his relentless pursuit of Trinh and her family's constant watch.

You just have to watch the movie to know what happened to Cronnauer in his DJ work and his pursuit of Trinh.

Good Morning Vietnam - Starring Robin Williams

Fighter Plane Vietnam War
Fighter Plane Vietnam War | Source

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There are some memorable scenes in this movie that we still love to recall.

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2. Deer Hunter

Deer Hunter is a movie about a close knit group of young American steel factory workers who volunteered for the war in Vietnam. They said goodbye to their small community in the wedding of one of them.

While in Vietnam, they were taken prisoners and were able to escape but they would never escape this experience. It has changed them and their lives. They were never the same again. There are great actors in this movie and two of my all time favourites: Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep.

The Deer Hunter - An Epic 1978 Drama

Child Playing in Vietnam's Military Museum
Child Playing in Vietnam's Military Museum | Source

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This Vietnam war movie is one to watch.

The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter

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Remains of the Vietnam War - What's in the military museum in Hanoi

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Vietnam Military Museum DisplayFighter PlaneTank
Vietnam Military Museum Display
Vietnam Military Museum Display | Source
Fighter Plane
Fighter Plane | Source
Tank
Tank | Source
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3. We Were Soldiers

America's First Engagement in Vietnam

America's first engagement in Vietnam took place 14 November 1965. This movie shows 395 American soldiers go to battle not knowing they were going to engage a large Vietnamese batallion. See how Lt.Col. Hal Moore and hi 7th Air Cavalry Division fared.

Watch Lt.Col. Hal Moore's Speech - What Leardership is

Watch these videos and understand leadership better.

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4. Hanoi Hilton

Hoa Lo Prison

I live right beside Hoa Lo Prison, our residence share a fence with this place. Sometimes, I go there to just sit and just sit in the Memorial garden.

This movie, Hanoi Hilton, shows how the Americans, mostly airforce men, imprisoned here in Hoa Lo lived. One of the most popular of these priosoners is Sen. McCain of Arizona. His airforce uniform is displayed here. The displays include pictures of American prisoners preparing for Christmas, decorating the Christmas tree and preparing Christmas dinner. Other pictures are of them playing cards, guitar, planting trees, raising fowl for meat and of their departure when they were freed.

What will give you some sense of what the American prisoners went through as show in the movie are the pictures of Vietnamese revolutionists who resisted the French. Letters and accounts of how they lived in this prison are displayed in Hoa Lo. There is a memorial to these Vietnamese patriots here. There are huge sculptures showing the Vietnamese "rebels" chained together. The detention and isolation places are there, too.

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Video of Hanoi Hilton - See some of the Airforce men's experiences in Hoa Lo

Hanoi Hilton Today - Photos of displays

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The entrance to Hoa Lo PrisonThe Memorial Inside Hoa LoThe Americans Released from Hoa Lo PrisonAmerican Prisoners in Hoa Lo Preparing Christmas DinnerSenator McCain who was one of those detained in Hoa Lo came back to visit
The entrance to Hoa Lo Prison
The entrance to Hoa Lo Prison | Source
The Memorial Inside Hoa Lo
The Memorial Inside Hoa Lo | Source
The Americans Released from Hoa Lo Prison
The Americans Released from Hoa Lo Prison | Source
American Prisoners in Hoa Lo Preparing Christmas Dinner
American Prisoners in Hoa Lo Preparing Christmas Dinner | Source
Senator McCain who was one of those detained in Hoa Lo came back to visit
Senator McCain who was one of those detained in Hoa Lo came back to visit | Source

DVD of Hanoi Hilton - Buy your copy

Remember when you watch this movie that the Americans were not the only ones imprisoned here. Many Vietnamese considered revolutionaries during the French era were also placed here.

Full Metal Jacket - One of the more realistic movies on the war in Vietnam

Scraps of the Vietnam War
Scraps of the Vietnam War | Source

5. Full Metal Jacket

This movie on the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket, shows the dehumanizing effects of war. A marine corp observed this starting at the marine corps boot camp in Paris Island, South Carolina to their engagement in Hue. The drill sergeant, R.Lee Ermey, acting in this movie has really served as a marine corps drill sergeant in Vietnam.

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    • profile image

      Colin323 3 years ago

      I enjoyed 'The Deer Hunter' from your list, but my overall favourite is 'Platoon' for its characterisation of men under pressure and they ways they respond to it.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @delia-delia: You are right. It isn't a competition. I have been reading about Germany, too, and it is really good to have a rounded picture of events. Sometimes, we only see events from our own side of the story.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 3 years ago

      Nice lens...Hubby has many movies and books about Vietnam...I personally don't want to watch them, they bring back heartaches....but then I was born during the war in Germany and I find myself watching documentaries and movies of that time...guess it's something inside us.

      I noticed in the above Module about 'the latest news about Vietnam' the caption reads "San Jose Veteran of Vietnam War wins three more medals -- 44 years late" WHY they use the word WINS is beyond me...it should be Awarded, no one goes out in competition to win a Purple Heart or any other medal.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I had forgotten about many of these Vietnam movies. I loved Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam. It was one of my favorites.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @motobidia: Yes, I wanted to include this as McNamara has so much to do with this war. Thank you for the suggestion.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @anonymous: You are right about how each of these movies expand on perspectives from which we can take lessons...if we care to pay attention. Love these words of yours.

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      motobidia 5 years ago

      I would also highly recommend the documentary "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara" - it talks frankly about the politics at the time and the increasing role of the industrial military complex. At one point Former Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara recollects how years after the Vietnam War he met with his Vietnamese counterparts and talking to them discovered that both sides had a very different understanding about the reasons for that war. A very poignant film!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The social and personal perspectives that each of these movies brings is what really matter. There is a lesson in each one of these films, if we care to pay attention.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Close2Art LM: Thank you so much. Will include Bat 21. Thanks for the blessing.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think the most important thing that happens when I watch movies about the Vietnam war is appreciating those who served and were never the same. It seems we will never be able to understand this undeclared war in which we lost so much.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      The Deer Hunter is my favorite of all time, another good one is, Bat 21, with Danny Glover and Gene Hackman, you might want to include it too, awesome picks...Angel Blessed!

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Steph Tietjen: The insanity of war. We all know this but there seems to be nothing to stop it.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @MarcStorm LM: You are right. I will check out Platoon. Time heals. New wars come as well.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @chas65: Yes, the appreciation is there. At that time, it was a troubled psyche that prevailed.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @HealthfulMD: Yes, I remembered that because they filmed it in the Philippines.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      They are disturbing but it is important to look at the insanity of war.

    • MarcStorm LM profile image

      MarcStorm LM 5 years ago

      Good choices! I would've added Platoon too. As the older generations pass away, this war will be only alive in history books, monuments & these movies! Time heals, just about, all wounds.

    • chas65 profile image

      chas65 5 years ago

      I think they help remind us of how our country was torn apart by this war. As a vet, our service was not appreciated for many, many years. I am so pleased that the service members today have the admiration of the American people for their sacrifices and service.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 5 years ago from Northern California

      Apocalypse Now was one that stuck with me for years.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @ismeedee: Thank you.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @pawpaw911: Looking at the pictures, it is horrible for a young man to just land here not knowing what to expect.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @flycatcherrr: You are right about the healing. Visiting Hoa Lo prison, I was touched in particular by how humans try to survive in terrible situations.

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      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Excellent suggestions - a lot of great movies came out of this era.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      Love what you said in your intro!!!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Great movies. My dad's younger brother served there.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      Agree with Josh: the Vietnam War gave rise to a lot of great movies, for sure. Perhaps that's part of the process of a society trying to understand and heal from such a dark time. Well presented selection of films here, aesta1 - well done.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @allenwebstarme: Thank you so much. I wrote it because I saw what remains of the war here in Hanoi.

    • aesta1 profile image
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      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @JoshK47: You're right. It was a period most of us will not forget.

    • allenwebstarme profile image

      allenwebstarme 5 years ago

      I like war battlefield movies so much, my fav. Black Hawk Down. Excellent lens.