All Camoed Up
The 10 Most Realistic War Movies Ever Filmed
Early in my Army career, I had a Sergeant who would tell us "Get all camoed up! Let's go heroes!" The phrase, "all camoed up" is common in the military ranks. In my day, it referred primarily to painting your face but now it refers to complete body camouflage (like the Ghillie suit my son has on in the photo on the right..Once he had on a little face paint, he was invisible in the woods!).
When I think about "camo", I think about all the military men and women I served with over a 22 year career. Then I start thinking of the wars we've fought and what it really means to be a soldier. War is hell. I've lost friends to war just in my short time on this earth. My dad, his brothers and my grandfathers have all been involved in wartime military service and, in some cases, they were in the fighting.
There are lots and lots of war movies out there. Far too many, though popular, are all about entertainment. Films that aren't direct war documentaries typically gloss over how the troops really felt and what they really faced. This lens is my attempt to point out some movies that while still being "entertainment", really get it right.
Let's get "all camoed up" and dive into some great movies!
War is Hell!
The movies on the list below are definitely not for viewing by the faint of heart. War is hell! It's brutal, it's hard, it's violent beyond all comprehension and it's ugly. These movies depict all of that.
Due to the extreme nature of their content, few if any of these movies are going to carry anything less than an "R" rating. Many are not rated (because of the manner in which they were originally produced) but they would carry an "R" or an NC-17 rating given modern standards of rating content. You'll notice that most of these movies (not all, but most) are more recent and specifically within the past 15 years. Hollywood censorship being what it was in the 1950s when a lot of the "great" movies were shot, meant for very homogenized war films.
All of the movies below are available on DVD. Many of them are also available for streaming and some are available in other formats like Blu-ray and VHS.
Band of Brothers
There are so many movies that depict combat scenes, both real and made for the movies from WWII. Many are very intense and realistic. One movie stands above all the others though possibly because it's not really a movie but a 10 hour miniseries with lots of extras (like a documentary filled with WWII survivor interviews).
Band of Brothers is as real as it gets. Don't believe me? Ask any war vet. Or, better yet, check out the more than 1700 ratings it's received on Amazon.com alone with more than 1600 of those being 5 stars.
The miniseries isn't rated but it does carry viewer advisories. Don't think of this as anything less than an "R" rating. If your children are very young and/or sensitive, you should probably view it first. It would not be a stretch to say this would carry an NC-17 rating were it to be shown in theaters.
Band of Brothers Movie Trailer
Saving Private Ryan
Before there was "Band of Brothers", there was the blockbuster movie "Saving Private Ryan". I ranked this movie second only because it's less in length to "Band of Brothers". It's also about WW2, it's still pretty lengthy clocking at nearly 2 hours and 50 minutes and it's also very, very intense.
Now, bearing in mind that the movie was considered shocking when it was released in 1998 and that it was both protested and boycotted (mainly by vets who did not want to relive the battlefield horror), you can imagine what you'll be seeing should you choose to watch it.
This is rated "R". Your young child probably should not watch, even with adult supervision.
"Braveheart", first released in 1995, is a historical drama - loosely based on some true events - that tells the story of William Wallace, a Scottish 'commoner' in the 13 century who united several tribes and clans and then lead an uprising against the Scottish King, Edward who was also known as "Longshanks".
The movie, directed by Mel Gibson (who should really just stick to directing and keep his mouth shut otherwise...but, I digress) won several Oscars including "Best Picture" and "Best Director". There are some pretty violent scenes of hand-to-hand combat in the movie. They give it a well deserved "R" rating.
This is another nearly 3 hour epic but it's certainly worth it!
Braveheart Official Movie Trailer
We go back to WWII with the movie "Battleground". This one focuses, primarily, on the Battle of the Bulge. It's actually an older production - 1949 - that was directed by the now famous William Wellmen and that starred the fan favorite of the day, Van Johnson. It won Oscars for its screenplay and for cinematography. Given the 2nd award there, you'll hopefully realize that we're, again, getting some pretty realistic looks at the life of a soldier at war.
That said, this time we're seeing less battle (as you just didn't put that on the big screen in 1949) and more of troops suffering through the winter and feeling alone and demoralized.
This isn't rated. For themes today, it would likely be rated "R".
All Quiet on the Western Front
"All Quiet on the Western Front", an Oscar winner for "Best Picture" is another oldie (1930, really old) but a goodie for its depiction of the "lives" led by combat soldiers. This time, we're talking about WW1 and we're looking at the German Army.
Young German men - boys, really - were "encouraged" to enlist. Looking back from the present, we now see that they were literally brainwashed by members of academia, the government and their social betters to join the Army to support and defend "The Fatherland". They were heralded as heroes at first and so they were full of pride and what most modern day drill sergeants would call motivation, but later, with their training days far behind them, the grim realities of war would set in for them.
Please note, this is in black and white. Color cinematography was a little ways off in 1930! Also, it's unrated though today it would likely carry a PG-13 rating. There's a pretty intense battle scene for 1930 but, overall it probably wouldn't garner today's "R" rating.
All Quiet on the Western Front Trailer
During WWII former U.S. President John F. Kennedy commanded a patrol boat, PT-109 in the Solomon Islands. The boat was literally sliced in half by a Japanese naval destroyer. Kennedy's heroism saved his crew from certain death.
The movie, "PT-109" tells the fateful story, many say quite accurately. It was produced in 1963, and released before Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy is said to have seen the movie.
This is not rated but it would likely carry an "R" rating under the modern rating system given the battle sequence the movie turns on.
The Lost Battalion
Keeping with the theme of true stories that were turned into major motion pictures (or made for television movies, in this case) we have an A&E television produced, 2001 release, "The Lost Battalion". It's the true story of a WW1 battalion, the 77th Infantry Divisions, 308th Battalion that was completely surrounded by German troops in 1918 and cut off from all U.S. and Allied support.
The men of the 308th had virtually nothing but a basic supply of ammo and the will to live. They were cut off from everything else; food, water, commo...you name it. They were under constant assault from the Germans. They were even bombed with friendly fire that had no way of knowing their exact position. They held the enemy off for several days until they were finally rescued. Their commander won a Congressional Medal of Honor as a result of their stand.
Since it was made for TV, this is not rated but, given the intense, up close battle scenes of this modern depiction of a gruesome war, it would rate at least an "R"...at least...
The Lost Battalion Trailer
Paths of Glory
The 1957 film "Paths of Glory" was the movie that made director Stanley Kubrick famous. It's the WW1 depiction of a French Army Commander (Kirk Douglas in a role that helped to define his career as a leading man) and his men's attempt to carry out what, in reality, was an impossible mission and the aftermath of their spectacular failure. 3 soldiers from the unit are selected by the French brass and ordered to a trial for their lives based on their "supposed" cowardice.
The movie was banned in France for a long time based on it's unflattering portrayal of the French Military high command. There are both trench warfare scenes and intense courtroom scenes here. By today's standards, this would likely be rated PG-13 and, possibly "R", but it was not originally rated.
For "Das Boot", directed by the famous Wolfgang Petersen, writer Jim Emerson did a great review on Amazon.com about this movie. It really says it all and you should check it out. You can do that by clicking on the link directly below which is for the fully restored, "Directors Cut".
PLEASE NOTE: The movie is German made. The 2 disc version has English subtitles. Don't worry, you'll get engrossed in the story very quickly.
A Scene from Das Boot
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Last but certainly not least, we have one of my favorite realistic war movies ever, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" directed by David Lean and Starring Alec Guinness as an interred Colonel and others as prisoners in a Japanese prison camp in WWII tasked by a ruthless Camp Commander to build a rail bridge over, you guessed it, the river Kwai. In a parallel story, a British and American group is tasked to destroy the bridge led by an American camp escapee (William Holden).
Now, it sounds pretty straight forward but, of course, it isn't. The Colonel and the men under him evolve to a position of taking great pride in the bridge they're building for the enemy and they gain better treatment from the Japanese as a result of their efforts. The ending is not to be missed as it's quite a twist.
This is rated PG as there's no real war violence but there is a lot of mistreatment of military prisoners and that's why I ranked it last...but it's still certainly not least!
The Bridge on the River Kwai Trailer
I had to add just one more in... Cue the whistling...
If you had to choose just one... - Which one would you choose?
Which war movie is your favorite?
Honorable Mention: Apocalypse Now
A person commenting on the movies I selected for this lens mentioned that her spouse really had a difficult time watching the movie "Apocalypse Now" which is based on events of the Vietnam War. I replied to her that I had considered the movie. I did. I considered it and several others, in fact. I would actually rank it 11th or 12th for this list. It's appeal isn't quite as universal as movies about WW1 and WW2 but, for sheer realism about the perils of war, it's definitely in the mix.
As an 'Honorable Mention" pick, I've chosen to include the "Apocalypse Now Redux" version of the movie rather than the original version as Redux includes and additional 49 minutes that were cut from the screened version. Yes, those extra minutes make the movie more than 2.5 hours long but I think they add to the plot and help to make the movie both stronger and more cohesive.
This is rated "R".
What's your opinion of the movies profiled above? Do they show it like it was? Or was it better or worse than depicted? We'd all love to hear the opinions of those that have gotten all camoed up and been there and done that!