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 huge-scale, anti-war epics.
The famous four—comprising Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now—became instant classics in cinema’s long history, and we still recommend them today.
But since then, there have been handfuls of other filmmakers who have taken their own stab at Vietnam War movies, each exploring the horrors that young men faced in the jungle.
Here are some of the best Vietnam War movies worth watching today, and they’re all available to stream online.
8. Rescue Dawn
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The most recent Vietnam War movie 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.
“Goooood morning, Vietnam!” 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 into the tone of Good Morning, Vietnam.
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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.
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 doom.
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.
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 of war. 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.
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.
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.
And Samuel Barber’s score claws at our heartstrings in a soundtrack that composers have been trying to replicate for decades.
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.