7 War Films for Memorial Day That Are Actually Quite Good

It feels inappropriate to wish other Americans a "happy Memorial Day," since today is one of the most somber holidays on the American calendar. Unlike Independence Day or either of the V Days, we can't really point to the upsides of war on Memorial Day, but are left contemplating its damage. Nonetheless, I hope we all observe the holiday remembering fallen soldiers in whatever way seems fitting, from remembering a family member to quietly reflecting on the nature of modern war. However, if your Memorial Day celebration needs some new life, consider one of these great films about American soldiers to make the day a bit more reflective.

Although many American war films can alternate between two extremes — pacifist or war propaganda — the genre has gotten a bad rap among younger viewers. In a summer full of romanticized sci-fi and action violence on the big screen, it might be time to return to a few gritty military movies. Hopefully in doing so, we can remind ourselves that war is far more than shaky-cam shots of Josh Hartnett shooting up the countryside, then going home to his wife after she's slept with Ben Affleck. (That's what Pearl Harbor was about, right?) So here are the candidates for the perfect Memorial Day mixtape, because they put our soldiers first.

The Messenger


This feels like the perfect place to begin, since The Messenger centers on two casualty notification officers — literally the two men who inform families that their military member has died. Watch Woody Harrelson pull out the cold efficiency he displayed in True Detective, without the nudity or lack of real female characters.

Band of Brothers

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Often called the best take on American soldiers in WWII, Band of Brothers was a powerful but short-lived HBO miniseries. Watch it for the patriotism, stay for the amazing soundtrack and relatable characters.

Saving Private Ryan

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It may be the obvious choice, but this movie has that old Tom Hanks charm that never gets old. Rewatch it and pretend Cloud Atlas never happened.

Lone Survivor

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Of course, no soldier-centric war movie list would be complete without Lone Survivor. The moral choices, the depictions of war in the Middle East, and the gritty realism of this film make it an instant classic.


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Any list that includes Lone Survivor will have Restrepo following close behind. This documentary was taken from a year's worth of footage in one of the most dangerous war zones of Afghanistan, and interviews with the soldiers about life after intense combat.

The Good Soldier


The mission of this film was simple: to find out what five American veterans think of the phrase "good soldier." All of the veterans are from different generations and wars, and their frank discussion of war crimes and psychological trauma shows the cost of war for those who live beyond it.

The Invisible War

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Much like The Good Soldier, The Invisible War focuses on veterans' stories. But instead of worrying about war crimes, it shows a similarly malicious side of the military: sexual assault. Even if these soldiers never saw combat, some of them have lived through harrowing violence and mistreatment, and their stories are shared and honored in this important film.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.