The difficulty in selecting the 5 best Vietnam War movies lies in sorting out the changing views of the war. Early films were generally positive in their presentation on the American perspective. Movies from the immediate post-war era gave a negative view of combat and presented the war in a morally ambiguous light. In recent years, some depictions of the war have been favorable to the American soldier and viewpoint without disparaging the enemy.
“Apocalypse Now.” This film ranks not only as one of the best Vietnam War movies ever made, but as one of the best films ever made, period. Although it is not by any means a perfect movie, for such an audacious work, it succeeds surprisingly well. Director Francis Ford Coppala made a “big” film about a “big” topic. This is an impressive achievement because many other great directors who have tried to do the same thing have failed. The movie tells the story of a Special Forces operative who is sent to kill an insane commander who has gone rogue. The film features an Oscar-winning performance by Robert Duvall in a supporting role.
“The Green Berets.” Many people will vehemently disagree that this film belongs on a list of the best Vietnam War movies. But, it is a John Wayne movie, and while some may not like the way the subject matter of the film is treated, the story is well-done and the movie is pretty well-played and executed. This film was a pro-war movie and a tribute by Wayne to the men who wer fighting Communism in Southeast Asia. It's been accused of being an unrealistic propaganda piece, and maybe it is, but it does present a view of the Vietnam War that was once prevalent, but is seldom seen today.
“Full Metal Jacket.” This film follow a group of marines through their boot camp training and depicts some of the combat experiences of several of them in Vietnam. Famed director Stanley Kubrick produced and directed the movie and also helped write the screenplay. This movie made a star out of R. Lee Ermey, who played the drill instructor. Ermey improvised half or more of his dialogue on the spot. This film is a great Vietnam War movie because it captures the intensity of the combat that took place and the dehumanization of those who fought the war.
“Platoon.” This film was based partly on director Oliver Stone's Vietnam War experiences and won multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film tells the story of an infantry platoon in combat. The troops distrust the local populace because they can't tell who among them is the enemy. This leads to serious conflict within the platoon, and the men have to choose sides. This film qualifies as one of the best Vietnam War movies ever made because of its portrayal of the violence and moral dilemmas that combatants and their leaders faced.
“We Were Soldiers.” This film swings the pendulum back from a generally negative portrayal of the Vietnam War and the actions of American soldiers to a more balanced treatment of the war that also shows respect for the enemy combatants. This film is one of the best Vietnam War movies because it is an excellent dramatization of an actual battle.