As far as I’m concerned, we all deserve an escape from regular life on occasion. While there remains many ways to detach, I routinely choose to lose myself in a movie. Whether it’s rewatching an old favorite or checking out something new, there are very few things I cherish more than investing a couple hours into a story and a couple more hours analyzing and researching everything about said film. Especially, those of the military variety. Amongst the more inspiring, captivating, and patriotic tales ever to hit the silver screen, I favor the flicks that are rooted in realism as much as I do the ones of pure fiction. For cinephiles such as myself, NETFLIX offers an impressive lineup of freedom-fighting, bad-guy bashing, flag-honoring films that celebrate the warrior spirit and the epic battles of good versus evil.
Here’s the best of the best. Available for you to stream right now.
5. MOSUL (2019)
It’s a funny thing, really. I commonly equate the genre of military films with the American armed forces. But the fact is, some of the best stories of survival and sacrifice during times of conflict come from overseas. MOSUL is no exception. Set in the Middle East, the movie follows the plight of a young police officer who joins the ranks of a rogue Iraqi team in their fight against ISIS. Produced by Joe and Anthony Russo (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, AVENGERS: ENDGAME), MOSUL takes the audience on a raw and uncompromising trip through a country, its people, and its opposing forces as they grapple with the decimation of decades of war.
“We can rebuild everything, we just have to kill them all first.” – Major Jasem, MOSUL
By no means a by-the-book action thriller, MOSUL refuses to pull any punches when it comes to showing the reign of terror caused by ISIS, and the ramifications of their actions. Regardless of your level of patriotism, do yourself a favor and fire up the subtitles, and experience a different — yet, enlightening dramatization inspired by real-life events.
4. TEARS OF THE SUN (2003)
Fun fact, for an entire two-year period I was a regular patron at a local comic book store that would periodically receive shipments of free movie preview passes. After getting chummy with the workers, they’d hold a few passes in reserve for me every week and no matter the movie, I’d drag myself to a showing because one, it was free and two, I was a broke-ass college student. This helped me see upwards of 20+ movies without dropping much more than parking fees. This was Movie Pass before Movie Pass. TEARS OF THE SUN was one such showing.
This Bruce Willis-led vehicle seems somewhat forgotten in time today, but despite the influx of military films post 9-11, this movie still standouts in my mind for its intensity and original story. Set amidst the background of a Nigerian civil war, Willis plays Lieutenant A.K. Waters, a seasoned Navy SEAL who must lead a rescue mission to extract an American doctor played by Monica Bellucci out of the danger zone. Complicated by her reluctance to abandon her refugee patients, Waters battles his way through unfamiliar territory all while being relentlessly pursued by a rebel militia group.
“It’s been so long since I’ve done a good thing–the right thing.” – LT. A.K. Waters, TEARS OF THE SUN
Faced with the time-sensitive decision to follow his direct orders or risk the entire operation to save as many innocent lives as he can, Willis handles the complexities of his role with considerable aplomb. Directed by the ultra-talented Antoine Fuqoa (TRAINING DAY, SHOOTER), this is one film that packs the pressure and doesn’t dare sugarcoat a damn thing.
3. DA FIVE BLOODS (2020)
I never skip a Spike Lee joint. In my mind, nobody on Earth does a better job at telling an authentic New York story. Proprieter of the famous “double dolly shot” a visual effect where the actor appears to be floating on camera as the background moves around them, Lee’s films invoke a style, substance, and cultural commentary that has often been emulated but never truly duplicated. DA FIVE BLOODS represents a return visit to the military theme he first explored with the criminally underseen MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (2008).
In this particular straight-to-streaming film, Lee’s story revolves around four African-American veterans who make the journey back to Vietnam decades after they fought to reclaim their squad leader’s remains and recover a hidden locker of gold bars, initially intended as payment for the Lahu people for their assistance in fighting the Viet Cong. Flashing back between past and present-day, DA FIVE BLOODS is a journey of brotherhood, betrayal, relationships, age, loyalty, and revenge. Exploring a frontier of literal and figurative landmines, Lee hits you on an emotional level, touches on what it means to serve alongside friends who become family, and challenges the viewer to root for imperfect men just trying to get what they think is rightfully theirs.
“After you’ve been in a war, you understand it never really ends. Whether it’s in your mind or in reality. There are just degrees.” – Vinh Tran, DA 5 BLOODS
Featuring one of the last on-screen roles by the late, great Chadwick Boseman, the film is equal parts a masterclass in acting, storytelling, and direction from the first shot to the last.
2. THE PATRIOT (2000)
Yes, Mel Gibson is a problematic figure in Hollywood. But alongside the controversies and tabloid fodder, he’s also acted, directed, and written a massive collection of certifiably badass movies from BRAVEHEART (1995) to APOCALYPTO (2006) with very few misses in between. THE PATRIOT lives up to the name. Set during the backdrop of the revolutionary war, Gibson portrays legendary French and Indian war hero Benjamin Martin, a widowed father attempting to leave a bloody military career firmly in the past.
“This battle was over before it began.” – Benjamin Martin, THE PATRIOT
When his family becomes entangled in the emerging conflict of 1776, Martin must rise up to revolt against British rule and lead the colonial militia to a personal and pivotal early American victory. Not afraid to show the brutality of war, THE PATRIOT isn’t always historically accurate, but it doesn’t miss its mark in showing the lengths Americans will go to fight for what they love.
1. APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (1979, 2001)
Was there ever a doubt? A god-level film from nearly every perspective, Francis Ford Coppola’s loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS is a treasure trove of cinematic trivia and largely considered to be the production from Hell. Marred by set-destroying storms on location, one lead in Marlon Brando showing up overweight and incoherent and the other in Martin Sheen enduring an emotional breakdown and a near-fatal heart attack while filming, it’s safe to say that this movie ever being finished is nothing short of a miracle. The Redux version is more or less the remastered director’s cut with 49 extra minutes of footage.
The plot revolves around Captain Willard’s (SHEEN) covert journey upriver and behind enemy lines to track down and terminate former military hero Colonel Kurtz (BRANDO), who had recently gone rogue and assumed military leadership over a tribe of Cambodian locals.
“He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops.” – General Corman, APOCALYPSE NOW
In many scenes you feel stuck on that boat with Captain Williard and his crew, speeding toward a frightening and unsettling conclusion. You can feel the stress, the confusion, and the fear build with each click. Ultimately, this is a war film without any massive battle at the end. Instead, you’re faced only with a descent into complete and utter madness.
GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961)
A World War II classic. Gregory Peck and team lead a crucial attack against the Nazi regime at sea.
Remember James Badge Dale from Iron Man 2? That’s okay. This is all about an elite Special Ops unit going up against ghosts in Moldova. Your proton packs are useless.
WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002)
Got room for more Mel? Of course you do.
JARHEAD: LAW OF THE RETURN (2019)
They made a sequel to Jarhead? They made a sequel to Jarhead.
COMPANY OF HEROES (2013)
There isn’t a law that you have to put Tom Sizemore in your war movie. But there should be.