Movies for Memorial Day

It being the Memorial Day Weekend we’re being inundated with war movies on television. To my eye most of the movies they’re showing seem very inappropriate to the day.

If you were curating a film festival wih a Memorial Day theme, what movies would you include? Here’s a sample of the films that occurred to me:

  • The Patriot (2000)
  • Glory (1989)
  • The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
  • The Big Parade (1925)
  • Wings (1927)
  • They Were Expendable (1945)
  • A Walk in the Sun (1945)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Steel Helmet (1951)
  • Fixed Bayonets! (1951)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  • Jarhead (2005)
  • The Hurt Locker (2008)
  • Restrepo (2010)

I’d appreciate your suggestions and why you’ve suggested them.

It just occurred to me that both of the movies I suggested depicting the Korean War were directed by Sam Fuller.


I suddenly realized that this is my opportunity to pitch a little 2012 gem, appropriately titled Memorial Day. It’s streamable via NetFlix.

21 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    My daughter and I have been watching a few historical movies to go along with her American History class (which goes up to the Civil War), and these were the war movies, we watched:

    The Last of the Mohicans (1992) (French and Indian War; perhaps my favorite on this list)

    Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) (American Revolution on the frontier; less historically jarring than Patriot)

    Patriot (2000)

    1776 (1972) (Amusing)

    The Buccaneer (1958) (Battle of New Orleans; too much melodrama, but Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston feel like Lafittte and Jackson)

    Glory (1989)

    Gone With the Wind (1939) (awful)

  • roadgeek Link

    “The Best Years Of Our Lives” from 1946, which traces the difficulty three veterans have in reentering civilian life. The stories told in this movie are timeless, and are being repeated today by those who went to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some things never change. The scene in which Harold Russell demonstrates to Cathy O’Donnell just how hard life with him is going to be (he lost both hands when his aircraft carrier sank) brought me to tears. Powerful, compelling storytelling. This movie should be shown every Memorial Day and every Veteran’s Day, and probably every Independence Day as well.

  • I thought of including The Best Years of Our Lives in my original list. It is a movie of astonishingly good quality, great performances from end to end. The best picture about reentering civilian life bar none.

  • ... Link

    Battleground (1949)

    And I’ve heard a few people state that The Best Years of Our Lives might be the greatest movie ever made. It’s very compelling and yet I can never get more than about half-way through it. It’s depressing in the same way that reality often is. The most amazing thing about that movie is that it came out in 1946. That’s an awful fast turnaround, and makes me suspect that some of the people involved must have been WWI vets. (In fact I remember a couple of similar type scenes in the movie The Roaring Twenties about returning Great War vets.)

    Harold Russell, the man with the hooks for hands in TBYoOL, had lost his hands in a training exercise. More than just those on the tip of the spear can be maimed.

  • And I’ve heard a few people state that The Best Years of Our Lives might be the greatest movie ever made.

    I think it’s certainly in the top 10. As a side note I’m not a big Citizen Kane fan. I think it’s over-rated.

  • Cstanley Link

    I’m thinking of doing history enrichment with my son this summer, focusing on US wars through movies and trips to Civil War sites in our area. I appreciate the list and welcome any specific advice from folks who have seen these, for appropriateness for a 13 year old boy with a lousy attention span. I plan to start with The Patriotand think it will capture him, particularly because of the boys. It is about at the limit of graphicness that I’m comfortable with (meaning, my comfort level for him as a parent, as well as my personal comfort level since I’m pretty squeamish.)

  • ... Link

    Citizin Kane didn’t do it for me, either. Apparently my wife and I watched it years ago, and none of it stuck for me. On the other hand, I love the re-cut version of Touch of Evil. In fact, now that I’m coming down off my Godzilla high, perhaps I’ll watch that along with Hobson’s Choice in the next couple of weeks. (Blocking off time for movies is a challenge. One hour TV shows is easy, but two hours? That’s tough.)

  • ... Link

    It is about at the limit of graphicness that I’m comfortable with (meaning, my comfort level for him as a parent, as well as my personal comfort level since I’m pretty squeamish.)

    Okay, then, so let me recommend that you NOT watch the TV show Hannibal! Not that you were likely too, but it is one part murder porn, one part cooking show and one part psycho-drama. (You can interpret that last part any way you wish and probably hit at least some truth.)

    Even I was a bit surprised by the “Italian” nature of the season two finale.

  • Cstanley Link

    Yeah, no for me! But thanks for the warning.

  • steve Link

    CStanley- Gettysburg has had a lot of work put into it and is a great visit now. Splurge and get a guide. It really helps to get out and walk the fields or to see what a difference the heights made. Also, I would highly recommend the whole Williamsburg/Yorktown area. Lots of history and the guys at Yorktown took us into the back of the museum to see everything. They really know their stuff.


  • michael reynolds Link

    Paths of Glory. Early Kubrick with Kirk Douglas. WW1.

    Das Boot. It’s the bad guys but a great war movie. WW2.

    And of course, The Conqueror. Not exactly a war movie, certainly not one involving Americans, but it’s hard to beat John Wayne as Genghis uttering the immortal line, “She is a woman – much woman. Should her perfidy be less than that of other women?”

    The Longest Day. They shot it partly in France near where I was living at the time. My dad is briefly visible in profile driving an LCM. (His actual job at the time, so I assume he did it with great authenticity.)

  • Although several of those are great movies, I wouldn’t include them if I were curating a Memorial Day-themed film festival. I think the theme of such a festival should be the sacrifices of American men and women in uniform in war.

    Paths of Glory is a great film but it’s about the French; Das Boot about Germans. I could have mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front or La Grande Illusion but they wouldn’t have fit my theme.

    And then there’s The Conqueror. I’m probably the only one in this assembly to have seen it twice in the theater so I think I can speak authoritatively. Not a good picture. My favorite line (spoken by John Wayne as Temujin to Susan Hayward): “You are beau-tee-ful in yore wrath” (imagine the John Wayne prosody). A memorable moment in screen history. Of course, it’s no Black Shield of Falworth but…

  • Cstanley Link

    Steve- thanks but although I’d love to see Gettysburg, we’ll be staying closer to home this summer. We live north of Atlanta and several battle sites of the Atlanta campaign are nearby. They’re working on a park at Resaca but I don’t think it’s open yet, so we’ll do Kennesaw mountain (it’s just down the road and we’ve hiked there but haven’t gotten around to the museum and historical site.) Then on a road trip to see relatives in Arkansas, we’ll make a stop at Chickamauga.

  • PD Shaw Link

    CStanley, your route would appear to put you close to the Shiloh battlefield, which I’ve argued here was probably the most important battle of the Civil War (ignore sam, who thinks its Gettysburg, he reads too much Faulkner).

    These are probably the favorite Civil War movies (taken from a Civil War blog comment threat in which I lurk):

    Red Badge of Courage
    Horse Soldiers
    Cold Mountain
    Ride With the Devil

    I haven’t seen the last two, and honorable mention goes to God & Generals for the opening depiction of the First Battle of Bull Run and Birth of a Nation for storytelling. Those two movies have significant detractors.

  • michael reynolds Link

    I can’t believe the Duke let himself be attached to that picture. And of course the story is that while shooting it out in the desert he was exposed to fallout from an atomic test, hence the cancer that eventually did what no lousy Jap sniper or bad hombre’s six gun could do.

    Somehow I doubt an airtight case could be made. But as was wisely observed in a different movie, “Print the legend.”

    I’ll second or third The Best Years of our Lives. Still a hard movie to watch. A lot of honesty for 1946.

  • mike shupp Link

    Two Spielberg films: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, followed by SCHINDLER’S LIST.

    How we fought. Why we fought.

  • the story is that while shooting it out in the desert he was exposed to fallout from an atomic test

    Not just John Wayne but his co-star, Susan Hayward, and Dick Powell, the director, too. That they all smoked like chimneys probably didn’t help.

  • Cstanley Link

    Thanks, PD. Shiloh would require a detour off the I40 route but I will look into it. I think it will come down to how well the sites are set up to tell the story. Have you visited Shiloh, and can you speak to whether or not it is likely to hold a kid’s interest?

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Cstanley, I took the kids to Shiloh about five years ago and it held their interest for awhile, but their interest faltered as we followed the auto tour and kept getting out to read an information market about here is where A charged B. Unfortunately, the landing itself was closed for renovations, and the landing is probably the most dramatic location at the battlefield. When the Union positions were overrun, the men ran to the river to escape and its where the reinforcements came from. My son got a splinter on one of the fences, and we still recall that he was wounded at Shiloh.

    Unfortunately, I think battlefields might require some of what you bring to it. The Battle is depicted in the movie “How the West was Won,” but the segment is particularly uninspiring with John Wayne as Sherman and Harry Morgan as Grant — it could be any battle. (Kids found that movie too long)

  • Cstanley Link

    Unfortunately, I think battlefields might require some of what you bring to it

    Agree- that’s why I’m trying to preface the visits with the movie narratives.

  • I can only tell you my reaction the first time I went to Gettysburg: reverence. It is a haunted place, a sacred place.

    …we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

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