Culture of Pop

The Best or Most Realistic Military Films in Film History


With the release of 13: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi a few months away, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on five military films, which were the most realistic as opposed to ‘Hollywood’ standards.

Lone Survivor
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Marcus Luttrell and it dramatizes the US SEALs mission Operation Red Wings, where a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team had a mission to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The film starred Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, Ben Foster as Matthew “Axe” Axelson, Emile Hirsch as Danny Dietz, and Taylor Kitsch as Michael P. “Murph” Murphy. The realistic aspect in Lone Survivor is the actors went through a three-week regimen boot camp being trained in weapons, military communications and tactics as well as engaging in a live-firing exercises so the actors would know how military rifles actually felt.


Saving Private Ryan
The film takes place during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II. The films stars Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller, Matt Damon as Private First Class James Francis Ryan, and Edward Burns as Private First Class Richard Reiben. The realistic aspect of the film is the Omaha Beach landings as the scene has been called the “best battle scene of all time” by Empire Magazine. The scene cost $12 million and involved 1,500 extras including reenactment groups who played German soldiers. The details of the scene were filmed close to historical record as opposed to other films who take a different view on events causing significant historical inaccuracies. Overall, Saving Private Ryan packs a powerfully visceral punch that heightens the horrors of the battlefield.


American Sniper
The film is loosely based on the memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle. The film stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife, Taya Kyle. The realistic aspect of this film was how much muscle Bradley Cooper put on for the film to look similar to Kyle as well as he received rifle training from a Navy SEAL, Kyle Lacz, who served with Kyle; Lacz would go on to say Cooper was able to hit a target as small as a teacup from a distance of 800 feet.


Zero Dark Thirty
The film dramatized the decade-long manhunt for Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden. The manhunt came to a close on May 2, 2011 as a team of SEALs raided Bin Laden’s complex and killed the Al Qaeda leader. The film starred Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt, and the late James Gandolfini (The Sopranos). The most realistic aspect in the film is the climax scene where the SEAL team carries out the night assault on the complex. Retired Navy SEAL Mitch Hall was on set to guide the actors is portraying the assault accurately such using correct verbiage. He said most of the corrections made were the posture of the actors portraying the team.


Full Metal Jacket
The film was based on Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers. The film starred Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The title refers to the full metal jacket bullet used by infantry rifleman. The realistic aspect of the film takes place during the boot camp. R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine, was originally hired as a technical adviser until Stanley Kubrick realized he hired the wrong actor for the drill instructor. Kubrick gave Ermey free-reign to improvising his own lines. Ermey decided to play the role with a straight face as opposed to the traditional role of a screaming drill instructor.


The aforementioned list does not follow any particular order in terms of greatest to least greatest. These are just five movies where the action sequences make sense, as opposed to others where the mayhem takes longer than expected.

Some of the aforementioned films required the actors to meet with actual soldiers or engage in a ‘boot camp’ of sorts in order to have basic weapons training. Military films often times portray historical events such as Operation Red Wings or the Search of Bin Laden.

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