Vietnam War depicted in films

The Vietnam War has been a favorite subject of many screenplays and films. Since 1964, there have been more than 80 films made about the controversial war and some about coming home after the conflict.
Not only was the war a subject of movies, but also of documentaries. Dozens of documentaries about the war, life during and after the war have been produced in the past 50 years.
The first movie about the Vietnam War was “A Yank in Vietnam” released in 1964 and filmed entirely in South Vietnam during the war. The film is about a Marine Corps pilot played by Marshall Thompson, who is shot down over the Vietnamese jungle. In his endeavor to get to safety, he meets a female guerrilla fighter and a nationalist named Hong. The movie is based on a story by retired Marine Jack Lewis, one of the movie’s screenwriters.
One of the first major films based on the war to hit the big screen was “The Green Berets” released by Columbia Pictures in 1968. It starred John Wayne, David Janssen and Jim Hutton. Wayne, who co-directed the film, visited South Vietnam in 1965 and decided to produce a film about Army Special Forces.
Several movies about the Vietnam War have received Oscars during past Academy Award ceremonies.
One of the best Vietnam War movies – “The Deer Hunter” — captured five Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Sound in 1979. Portions of the movie were filmed in the Northern Cascade Mountains.
It was named by the American Film Institute as the 53rd “Greatest Movie of All Time” on the 10th Anniversary Edition of the AFI’s 100 Year’s 100 Movies list.
Other Vietnam War movies to receive Academy Awards were:
• “Platoon:” Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Film Editing (1986)
• “Apocalypse Now:” Best Cinematography, Best Sound (1979)
• “Born on the Fourth of July:” Best Director, Best Film Editing (1989)
While most movies made about the war are not based on actual events, there are a few.
“Casualties of War” is a 1989 movie based on the actual events of the incident on Hill 1962 in 1966 during the war involving five soldiers in the kidnapping, gang rape, and murder of Phan Thi Mao, a 20-year-old Vietnamese woman. Former soldier Robert Storeby, one of the five soldiers involved in the incident, reported the crime which resulted in a court-martial. Two of the four soldiers were convicted of rape and murder, another for murder, and the other, who actually killed the girl, was convicted of murder and received a life sentence. All of the soldier, except Storeby, were dishonorably discharged from the military.
“Born on the Fourth of July” was based on the autobiography of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Kovic, born on July 4, 1946, is an anti-war activist and writer who was paralyzed during the war.
“We Were Soldiers” was based on the Battle of La Drang, the first major engagement of U.S. troops in the Vietnam War. The film looks at more than one side of the war. It is a close look at the Vietnamese command and heavy combat. The story switches between battle field and home front where wives wait for the letters who that inform them they have become widows.
The latest movie made about the Vietnam war was made in 2007. “Rescue Dawn” is based on the story of U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down in Laos during the Vietnam War. He and another POW escaped and were later rescued by U.S. military troops. He died in 2001.
According to AMC (America Movie Classics) the best Vietnam War movies are:
1. “Full Metal Jacket:” It is one of the best Vietnam War movies, based on the novel “The Short-Timers” by Gustav Hasford. The movie follows Marines through training camp and into the Vietnam War. The movie features a memorable performance by R. Lee Ermey as a drill instructor. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick.
2. “Platoon:” Oliver Stone directed this movie based on his own time served in the Vietnam War. It’s a riveting portrait of the effects the Vietnam War had on those soldiers forced to fight in it. The film stars Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Willem Defoe and was the first of Stone’s trilogy of Vietnam War movies. The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, the only Stone movie to win that award.
3. “Apocalypse Now:” One of the greatest Vietnam War movies ever made. The movie follows an Army special operative who is sent to assassinate a rogue U.S. Colonel. Influenced by the novel “Heart of Darkness,” it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film was also deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2000. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.
4. The Deer Hunter: The 1978 ware film is about a trio of Russian American steelworkers and their infantry service in the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage and Meryl Streep. The story takes place in a small Pennsylvania town, then in Vietnam, somewhere around Saigon, during the war. It deals with the men who fought in the war and the mental illness that inflicted a number of them.
5. “Hamburger Hill:” This movie remains one of the best Vietnam War movies, focusing on a single attack by the famed “Screaming Eagles” division of the U.S. Army. The movie is an unflinching look at the horrors of war and the effects of death on the men who fight for our freedom.
6. “Good Morning, Vietnam:” Robin Williams stars in this comedy-drama, one of the top Vietnam War movies ever made. Williams plays a radio DJ for Armed Forces Radio who takes it upon himself to keep the troops’ morale high. Many superiors found his broadcasts irreverent and sought to shut him down. The story is loosely based on the experiences of AFRS radio DJ Adrian Cronauer.
7. “The Boys in Company C:” The movie follows the lives of five young Marine inductees from training in boot camp in 1967 through a tour in Vietnam in 1968. Things quickly devolve into a hellish nightmare. Disheartened by futile combat, appalled by the corruption of their South Vietnamese ally, and constantly endangered by the incompetence of their company commander, the men find a possible way out of the war. They are told that if they win a soccer game against a South Vietnamese team, they can spend the rest of their tour playing exhibition games behind the lines. Once the soccer match starts, nothing in Vietnam is as simple as it seems.
8. “Casualties of War:” This film is based, we are told, on an actual event. A five-man patrol of American soldiers in Vietnam kidnapped a young woman from her village, forced her to march with them, and then raped her and killed her. One of the five, played by Michael J. Fox, refused to participate in the rape and murder, and it was his testimony that eventually brought the others to a military court martial and prison sentences.
9. “Born on the Forth of July:” Oliver Stone won Best Director Oscar for this movie, the second in his trilogy of Vietnam War movies. The movie details a veteran, played by Tom Cruise, returning home paralyzed and disillusioned by the entire war efforts. He soon becomes a war protestor, completely turning on his prior beliefs.
10. “Rescue Dawn:” Christian Bale stars in this 2007 film, one of the best Vietnam War movies of all time, which centers on a pilot shot down in enemy territory. When he is captured and refuses to renounce America, he is imprisoned in a prison camp. The movie was directed by Werner Herzog.
Among documentaries about the war are:
• “The Vietnam War with Walter Cronkite/ CBS News:” Walter Cronkite is the host with on-the-scene reports by correspondents Ed Bradley, Charles Kuralt, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and Bob Simon. This is a complete history of the Vietnam War, as chronicled by CBS News correspondents, from its genesis in the days after World War II to its conclusion with the fall of Saigon. Includes interviews with combat veterans.
• “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam:” Documentary account of the Vietnam War from the actual letters of the men and women who served there; also uses home movies, news footage and music of the period.
• “Four Hours in My Lai:” This is an extraordinarily powerful film about one of the most tragic episodes of the Vietnam War, the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968, in which American troops killed nearly 500 unarmed Vietnamese women, children, and old men.
• “Experiencing the Darkness:” Video of an oral history panel conducted during the conference, “Facing the Darkness, Healing the Wounds : My Lai 25 Years After” held at Tulane University in 1994. The panel includes: Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot who tried to stop the massacre; Ron Ridenhour, a soldier whose letter to Congress and the Pentagon prevented a cover-up and William Eckhardt, the chief prosecutor of the My Lai case.
• “Wings over Vietnam:” This documentary takes you back for one of the most intense air campaigns ever waged. From “Flaming Dart” to “Rolling Thunder,” the skies over Vietnam exploded with incredible air attacks while ground forces dug into the trenches.
• “Vietnam’s Unseen War:” Pictures from the Other Side – Journey deep behind battle lines to experience a different side of the Vietnam War — the side seen only through the lenses of North Vietnam photographers. Renowned British photojournalist Tim Page travels back to the land where he nearly lost his life to meet with North Vietnamese war photographers, revealing remarkable, never-before-seen photos and personal stories long hidden by time and tragedy.
• “Vietnam, The Secret Agent:” Looks at dioxin, the deadly contaminant of the defoliant code-named Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War. Focuses on the devastating effects of this chemical on American soldiers and the Vietnamese populace, and interviews impaired Vietnam veterans who feel they should be fully compensated.
• “Vietnam: In the Year of the Pig:” Directed and produced by the famous and controversial Italian film director, Emile de Antonio. One of the most powerful films ever produced about Vietnam — so powerful, in fact, director de Antonio was nominated for an Academy Award and was placed on Richard Nixon’s enemy list.
• “Vietnam: The World Beneath the War:” A study of the use of tunnels by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. Rather than flee their ancestral homes, the villagers dug tunnels and moved their communities underground. Includes interviews with the tunnelers and an American POW held in the tunnels. Follows an artist who takes his son back to Vinh Moc village and explains life during the war years. An American Air Force historian and a female guerrilla commander also provide their perspective on tunnel warfare. Includes archival film footage.