While there’s no way to fully approximate the experience of combat or trauma on film, some of the best movies about the Vietnam War make a reasonable attempt. (These are the best war movies of all time.)
To determine the best Vietnam War movies, 24/7 Tempo developed an index of movies using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of Dec. 15, 2022, weighting all ratings equally. (Documentaries were not considered.) Directorial and cast credits are from IMDb.
The majority of these titles aren’t so much concerned with gratuitous violence as they are determined to capture a certain event or state of mind. Yes, the Vietnam War is a specific time in history, but it’s also a psychological condition that hovers over characters before, during, and after they go into the heart of battle. (Here are 29 horrifying images of the Vietnam War.)
In turn, the Vietnam War genre is arguably more versatile and wide-reaching than one might first imagine. War-based films such as “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” might leap to mind, but titles like 1991’s “Dogfight” or 1985’s “Fandango” primarily use Vietnam as an abstract force that threatens to upend the livelihoods of certain characters. Meanwhile, 1990’s “Jacob’s Ladder” and 1996’s “The War at Home,” to name two examples, examine the psychological repercussions of combat with the Vietnam War as a backstory.
To consider the genre in full is to gain a multi-faceted impression of a truly disastrous event. If an underlying theme emerges, it’s that virtually no one walked away from this war unscathed. Not only did it kill or traumatize soldiers, but their family members suffered greatly as well. That’s not to mention the power vacuums created in places such as Cambodia, as depicted in films like “The Killing Fields” and “First They Killed My Father.” May one watch in the hope that this history will never repeat itself, knowing all too well that it probably will.
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