Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Examples
Vietnam-War Related Films:
The Vietnam-War experience produced only one film during the actual era of conflict and it was one of the worst films ever made about Vietnam: the propagandistic, inaccurate, pro-war The Green Berets (1968), a shamelessly jingoistic, heavy-handed, gung-ho action film starring John Wayne as ultra-patriotic, anti-Communist Colonel Mike Kirby - the leader of elite, hand-picked Special Forces troops fighting against the Vietcong. This war film flopped, probably because it echoed Wayne's earlier westerns and cowboys-vs-Indians mentality, with the star apparently engaging the enemy singlehandedly, and walking off into the sunset at film's end.
It took Hollywood a number of years lasting into the 1970s, after the end of the war in mid-1975 with the fall of Saigon, until it could no longer ignore the subject of the unpopular Vietnam War that had been bloodily splashed on TV screens across the heartland's living rooms. In the interim, there were a few allegorical attempts to reflect the underlying anxieties about the dreaded conflict and its unseen or relentless enemies, in various other action/horror/thriller films:
The film industry finally released films of greater substance and violence on the subject of Vietnam, and realistically examined the disturbing effects of the war. [Interesting to note was that almost all of the films about Vietnam didn't include the word 'Vietnam' in the film's title.] There were four films in 1978 that confronted the subject of Vietnam directly:
Francis Ford Coppola's harrowing epic vision of the madness of the war in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now (1979) was an exceptionally spectacular war movie loosely based on Joseph Conrad's 1911 novel Heart of Darkness. An American military assassin, a socially-dysfunctional loner named Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), was commissioned to journey upriver into Cambodia to 'terminate without prejudice' an insane, renegade colonel named Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The film featured Robert Duvall as megalomaniac bad-ass Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, noted for loving the smell of napalm, tossing playing cards on each dead enemy body to serve as calling cards, and surfing and hosting steak BBQs amidst war. [The film was later re-released in a new version, Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) with expanded and re-edited footage.] Coppola also directed the grim and somber military drama Gardens of Stone (1987) about the decorated veterans of the Third Infantry (the elite Old Guard) who patrolled, guarded, and served at ceremonial funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The Australian film The Odd Angry Shot (1979) examined the Vietnam War from another nation's perspective. In the realistic drama The Hanoi Hilton (1987), the focus was on the sufferings, torture and brutal treatment American POWs experienced while in North Vietnam's Hoa Lo Prison, the most infamous prisoner of war camp in Hanoi.
Critically-acclaimed films in the 1980s also examined the Vietnam experience, portraying war as a living hell. The Killing Fields (1984) was an emotionally-moving drama based upon the events surrounding the fall of Cambodia and the American evacuation from the novel The Death and Life of Dith Pran by Sydney Schanberg. It was an account of the friendship between a NY Times reporter and his Cambodian interpreter. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Gustav Hasford's The Short Timers was Full Metal Jacket (1987). In two parts, the film presented the exploits of a recruited young Marine Corps soldier known as Private Joker (Matthew Modine) with his realistic, dehumanizing South Carolina boot-camp training experience on Parris Island (under unrelenting, foul-mouthed drill instructor Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman), his work as a photojournalist for a military magazine, and his combat soldiering in the 1968 Tet offensive - with his helmet labeled "Born to Kill".
Oliver Stone's Vietnam Trilogy:
Writer/director film-maker Oliver Stone, an actual veteran of the Vietnam War himself, presented a Vietnam 'trilogy':
Revisionistic Vietnam-related War Films:
In the 1980s, there was also a reflexive response to the late 70s Vietnam films that were seen as uncompromising and difficult to watch. Pro-military action films disguised as war films featured big stars and dazzling special effects during war sequences, to illustrate how the US should have fought the war. Sylvester Stallone appeared in the 'feel-good' action/war Rambo 'trilogy' (and a fourth film 20 years later) as a misfit, cartoonish, and self-righteous super-hero - a revenge-seeking, buffed up, brooding ex-Green Beret Vietnam veteran (of Special Operations Command) named John Rambo. He 'refought' the Vietnam War, using VC bushwhacking techniques, during his battle against a variety of enemies in the Pacific Northwest, including a small-town sheriff, a posse, and hundreds of National Guardsmen. These entertainment-based, mainstream films provided a shallow commentary on the real US conflict in Vietnam, and altered the facts of the complex conflict to portray America as heroic:
Actor Chuck Norris' Vietnam-based box-office smash Missing in Action (1984), a fantasy action film, followed the exploits of an ex-Vietnam POW attempting to rescue other MIA-POWs in the Vietnamese jungle.