Make Your Picks

Vietnam War Movie Recs


Can y'all give me some recs? Anything related to the Vietnam War will do.

Here is my current watchlist

I'm interested in anything good, but I'm specifically interested in exploitation-esque movies from the 70s or 80s that have anything to do with it (something like Rolling Thunder or Combat Shock), movies from Vietnam or taking the Vietnamese perspective, and under-the-radar/forgotten/unacclaimed Hollywood depictions of the war while it was happening or shortly after (think something like the John Wayne film The Green Berets), and documentaries that go into specific details about specific events of the war (something like Little Dieter Needs to Fly).

Maybe The Exterminator would fit the exploitation bill. It's a vigilante film with a quite distinct Vietnam connection. And if you wish to lower the bar even more, then there's the Missing in Action series starring Chuck Norris.

I like these movies:
BAT 21 with danny glover
Rambo first blood part 2
Full metal.jacket
Casualties of war

Casualties of War is underrated. So is The Thin Red Line.
Thin Red Line is WWII, but I agree that it's underrated. Casualties of War is going to be a priority for me when I start knocking some of these out.

Professional horse shoe straightener
Thin Red Line is WWII, but I agree that it's underrated. Casualties of War is going to be a priority for me when I start knocking some of these out.
Of course it is.

Rescue Dawn is quite good too.

The Visitors (1972) uses the same real-life incident as Casualties of War for the basis of its narrative but then combines it with Straw Dogs as a fictionalized post-War confrontation. It stars James Woods, Patrick McVey, Steve Railsback, and Patricia Joyce and was the second-to-last film of director Elia Kazan. It is an interesting double feature with DePalma’s visceral, gory telling of the infamous Incident on Hill 192.
*now I see you already had The Visitors on your watchlist

Dead Presidents (1995) is the Hughes Brothers stylized tale of a few kids from The Bronx who become Marines during the Vietnam War but find few opportunities when they return home to the States, resulting in them turning to crime including an armored car heist. Starring Larenz Tate, Keith David, Chris Tucker, Bokeem Woodbine, N'Bushe Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, and Terrence Howard. A sort of mix between Carlito’s Way and The Deer Hunter by way of Shaft.

Since you have asked for fictionalized narratives leaning towards the exploitation side check out Off Limits (1988). Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines play two U.S. military policemen working in wartime Saigon trying to solve the mystery of what appears to be a high ranking officer who is murdering prostitutes. Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, Keith David, Richard Brooks, and David Alan Grier round out the cast. Not especially compelling as a procedural Who-Done-It but is a really strong group of actors and an interesting, sweaty portrayal of the era.

You have Coming Home and Born on the Fourth of July on your list but two more narratives with Vietnam veterans dealing with the pain, loss, and PTSD of the war are Jacknife (1989) and In Country (1989). Jacknife stars Robert DeNiro and Ed Harris as two vets who are handling the trauma very differently with Kathy Baker as Harris' sister and a potential love interest for the spirited Miggs played by DeNiro. In Country was the first major narrative to film at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The climax takes place there. Emily Lloyd plays the daughter of a soldier who was killed in the war, who died before she was born. Bruce Willis is the man's brother, a vet who is nearly crippled by PTSD. The cast also includes Joan Allen, John Terry, Kevin Anderson, and Judith Ivey.

While on the subject of that powerful wall, check out Maya Lin: A Clear Strong Vision (1994), a documentary about the artist who was a 21-year-old undergraduate student when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was chosen. It covers some of the controversies around the wall as well as the power of it.

The Vietnam War spilled across the neighboring borders of Laos and Cambodia which to my mind makes The Killing Fields (1984) fair game for such a list. Based on a true story it begins in 1973 while the war is still raging and follows New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and Cambodian translator and journalist Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) as they try to cover some of that spillage over the border. As the War ends and the United States pulls out of the region it leaves Cambodia to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge who perpetrated a genocide on their own people. The second half of the film follows Pran as he tries to survive and escape while Shanberg tries to search for him from the outside. Haing Ngor's real-life experiences were similar to Pran's, lending another layer of reality to the narrative. John Malkovich and Julian Sands are also in the cast as journalists in Cambodia.

If you groove to that one also check out Swimming to Cambodia (1987), a filmed version of Spalding Gray's most famous monologue. Gray was an actor in The Killing Fields playing a relatively small role of a U.S. Ambassador's aide and the monologue tells about some of his experiences on and off the set in Thailand where the movie was made. In Spalding's inimitable style his thoughts and stories drift far and wide (I absolutely love him!) and does include a powerful and digestible sort of history lesson on Cambodia and the Vietnam War.
"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

And for my money despite the great actors involved I find Little Dieter Needs to Fly to be about ten times more compelling than Rescue Dawn. I was so looking forward to Herzog's narrative take on his own documentary subject and I was and still am mystified by how flat and unemotionally involving it is. Bale of course but especially Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies give it their all, but none of it compares to Dengler calmly recounting his horrors of war.

By co-sign on that last notion. Rescue Dawn's a decent enough movie but it's really hard to enjoy if you see Herzog's documentary first, so just watch that instead and you can probably imagine the fictionalized account.

While only marginally better or more plausible than Rambo: First Blood or Missing in Action, the other major film in that cycle of going back to rescue POW flicks is Uncommon Valor (1983) starring Gene Hackman as a retired Marine who goes into Laos looking for his son who has been missing since 1972. He believes he is still alive even ten years later but after the U.S. Government will not officially sanction anything he forms a heavily armed posse of his own, including soldiers his son served with. Fred Ward, Tim Thomerson, Reb Brown, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Harold Sylvester, and Patrick Swayze make up the team. The presence of Hackman helps make it all a little less pulpy than the subsequent Stallone and Chuck Norris flicks. Probably a little less fun, too.

I would suggest watching the Ken Burns 16 hour in-depth documentary on the whole Vietnam struggle, The Vietnam War (2017). It's much more than just the U.S. involvement in South East Asia, as it covers the causes and effects of the Vietnam war with a number of candid interviews with those involved in the the struggle, including North Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.

As far as movies go you have a good selection of them and some other good ones have already been mentioned. My favorite for giving the Vietnam experience of the Tet Offensive is The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989) In just 90 minutes it condenses the final blow to the U.S. troops that lead to so much dissension.

Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
The Vietnam War (2017)
A friend who's a historian told me this doc is full of 60s Soviet propaganda in its view on the war and presents a lot of long-debunked content in a manipulative way, including the famous pic of the execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém, or the general image of Ho Chi Minh as a good uncle.

Be warned.
In the strictest sense lesbians can't have sex at all period.

The 2002 adaptation of The Quiet American is a good pre-War Vietnam movie. It is set in 1952 Saigon, when the country was known as French Indochina, and shows the roots of the CIA's involvement in the region that would eventually lead to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It stars Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, directed by Australian Phillip Noyce who helmed the Tom Clancy flicks Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. Graham Greene's novel was published in 1955, and while the characters and love triangle are fictional the setting is not. The authenticity comes from Greene being a journalist there during the period. There is a 1958 adaptation that subverts the message of the book and twists it into a kind of rah-rah America piece. Other than for comparison purposes to the 2002 version, I wouldn't bother much with that first movie.

"Friendly Fire" (1979) is an award-winning made-for-television movie, back in the golden age of films made by the three major networks, based on the true story of a mother who would not rest until she found out the details of her son's non-combat death in Vietnam. Starring Carol Burnett, Ned Beatty, and Sam Waterston with Timothy Hutton and David Keith just before they hit it big in Ordinary People and An Officer and a Gentleman, respectively. Dated but still powerful with a great non-comedic turn by Burnett.

Errol Morris' The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) is a must-see documentary, interviewing McNamara himself. McNamara was The Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and on camera concedes to if not outright admits to some of the errors in judgement and policy that took place some forty years before.

The title of the documentary Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987) tells you all you need to know about that one. The entire film is available in the YouTube link below.

Louis Malle's Alamo Bay (1985) is a fictionalized version of real sentiments and incidents that took place in Texas and other U.S. States along the Gulf Coast when Vietnamese refugee immigrants settled there post-War in the '70s and early '80s. Ed Harris stars as an angry, bitter, racist veteran who moves against his new neighbors and fellow fishermen. Not one of Malle's best but on topic and oft forgotten.

Yet another Vietnam movie starring Willem Dafoe is Flight of the Intruder (1991). Just about everyone involved creatively disowned it, including John Milius who would not direct another feature film after this one. The plot involves some U.S. pilots who do some unsanctioned bombing runs into North Vietnam against their Rules of Engagement as payback for fallen comrades and ineffectual leadership. Co-stars Brad Johnson, Danny Glover, and Rosanna Arquette. Probably not as bad as its critical reputation but certainly not very good, either. But if you want to be a completist, there's another title for your watch list.

minds his own damn business
Hearts and Minds and Winter Soldier are two docs not yet mentioned.

I really like Hamburger Hill, which tends to get lost in that late-80s surge of Vietnam flicks. Another obscure one is 84 Charlie Mopic, an early found footage experiment depicted as raw 16mm journalist footage. It's a bit amateurish, acting-wise, but very interesting. John Woo's Bullet in the Head takes on the subject from a Hong Kong perspective.

I'm sure it's on a lot of lists, but for me, Coming Home is the superlative PTSD film.