The 70s and 80s were a great time for war movies. Riding the tail-end of the Vietnam War, New Hollywood directors seized the opportunity to make large-scale anti-war epics.
The famous four—which are all included on this list, obviously—became instant classics in cinema's long history of war movies, and we still recommend them today.
But there have been handfuls of other filmmakers who have taken their own stabs at making great Vietnam War movies, each exploring the horrors that young men faced in the jungle.
Here are our picks for the greatest Vietnam War movies that are still worth watching today!
11. Rescue Dawn (2006)
Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies
Adventure, Biography, War (2h)
One of the few 21st century Vietnam War movies on this list is Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn. Known for his extreme physical transformations when committing to a role, Christian Bale becomes the emaciated US Navy pilot who's held captive by the Pathet Lao.
In Rescue Dawn, Lieutenant Dieter Dengler plots to escape the abuse and malnutrition he suffers alongside five other American prisoners. Based on a true story, Rescue Dawn is a nail-biting exploration of morality and determination in the face of adversity.
10. Hamburger Hill (1987)
Directed by John Irvin
Starring Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle
Action, Drama, Thriller (1h 50m)
No, Hamburger Hill isn't a fast-food chain. It was a battle that took place in 1969 on a place called Hill 937 in South Vietnam.
Although the US technically won the Battle of Hamburger Hill, they soon realized that it was a pointless location to own—and so it was abandoned altogether. So much pointless loss of life.
John Irvin directs Dylan McDermott (in his debut), Steven Weber, Courtney B. Vance, Don Cheadle, and Michael Boatman in this intense mission movie that's condensed to over just 10 days.
In Hamburger Hill, the ground infantry act as a microcosm of the entire Vietnam War, and the lack of full context is what makes Hamburger Hill feel like a wartime slice-of-life film.
9. Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters
Adventure, Drama, War (2h 34m)
With Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee managed to make a Vietnam War movie look artsy without being insensitive or pretentious.
This film is delivered across four different aspect ratios—ranging from vintage-looking square shots to vivid widescreen sequences—that are each used to denote different time periods.
Like most Spike Lee "joints," Da 5 Bloods depicts the black experience. In this case, it touches on the fact that black men were more likely to be drafted than white men simply because of their skin color.
In Da 5 Bloods, four war veterans reflect on their service in this grief-stricken war drama that's at once furious and vulnerable.
8. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tom T. Tran
Biography, Comedy, Drama (2h 1m)
"Goooood morning, Vietnam!" are the famous words broadcasted by upbeat disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, who's sent to work for the Armed Forces Radio Service in hopes of raising morale. While the troops revel in his uncensored talk, Adrian's superiors are not impressed.
Barry Levinson's war comedy aims to entertain rather than shock, and it succeeds. Nobody could play the role of Adrian better than Robin Williams; his unique ability to blend drama and comedy fits perfectly with the tone of Good Morning, Vietnam.
7. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen
Drama, History, Thriller (2h 9m)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 moves away from stoned and mud-covered soldiers and over to the streets of Chicago. There, a gang of anti-war protestors are put on trial (about which the generation of "make love not war" hippies weren't happy).
The Vietnam War is partly so famous because of its ripple effects back in the US, which is central to this dramatization.
Aaron Sorkin's legal biopic was nominated for six Academy Awards and featured a sprawling ensemble cast with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Strong.
6. The Killing Fields (1984)
Directed by Roland Joffé
Starring Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich
Biography, Drama, History (2h 21m)
Roland Joffé's intense biopic, The Killing Fields, isn't an easy watch—as you can probably guess from the title. It stars Sam Waterston as a New York Times reporter covering the Cambodian Civil War. But things grow more complicated when the Khmer Rouge rebels move in.
Okay, The Killing Fields isn't technically a Vietnam War movie. But it does take place in its aftermath. The American presence in South East Asia is a common point throughout this list, alongside themes of enduring friendship and survival within conflict.
5. We Were Soldiers (2002)
Directed by Randall Wallace
Starring Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear
Action, Drama, History (2h 18m)
We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson in a dramatization of the Battle of Ia Drang. Randall Wallace writes and directs this hard-hitting drama, where fresh-faced young men are sent to face their bloody end.
Like the war itself, We Were Soldiers is fractured and messy. The gritty story is based on the 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once...and Young by Lt. Hal Moore. Try not to get too attached to the characters, as the human cost of a battle this size is staggering.
4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Directed by Michael Cimino
Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
Drama, War (3h 3m)
One of the most iconic Vietnam War movies ever made, The Deer Hunter is an incredibly well-acted war epic starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep.
Three lifelong friends are drafted from their working-class lives in Pennsylvania to answer Uncle Sam's call. Once there, their military idealism is demolished under the crossfire.
Settle in for a (slightly self-indulgent, but we'll allow it) three-hour runtime of tense, action-packed drama. Director Michael Cimino went over budget and over schedule with this one... and we can see why.
3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio
Drama, War (1h 56m)
Legendary director Stanely Kubrick never does anything by a half-measure. The same goes for Full Metal Jacket—a harsh, explosive, and oftentimes tragic movie that's split into two distinct parts: the first half taking place at a training camp, the second half on the field.
Foul-mouthed drill instructor Sergeant Hartman is at home among the most famous movie villains in cinema, making the recruits' lives a living hell. But he's peanuts compared to the grim reality of actual war. Either way, the boys are sentenced to a reduced life of misery and hardship.
2. Platoon (1986)
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe
Drama, War (2h)
Platoon follows the 25th Infantry Division's odyssey through the hot jungle of the Cambodian border. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you've undoubtedly heard the score or seen the image of a knelt-down soldier with hands in the air.
Platoon won four Oscars for its emblematic impact on cinema, including Best Picture. Oliver Stone directs the ensemble cast through the grassy haze of Vietnam, starring Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Tom Berenger, and Forest Whitaker.
Plus, Samuel Barber's score claws at our heartstrings in a soundtrack that composers have been trying to replicate for decades.
1. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
Drama, Mystery, War (2h 27m)
Apocalypse Now is the greatest Vietnam War movie ever made, and possibly the greatest war movie of all time.
The film is as much psychological as it is action-heavy, opening to a (quite literally) drunk Martin Sheen before he's sent to retrieve an insane colonel. Captain Willard's quest into madness leads him to a shadowy demigod figure, eerily portrayed by Marlon Brando.
Its production was so famously difficult that an entire documentary was made about it. From typhoons to human corpses, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) chronicles the immense problems faced by director Francis Ford Coppola to make a masterpiece.