7 Great Films About Vietnam Veterans

7 Great Films Portraying the Lives of Vietnam Veterans

The Vietnam War deeply impacted America and inspired filmmakers to create poignant and powerful movies that shed light on the lives of Vietnam veterans. While some films focus on the war itself, such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket,” there are several lesser-known gems that explore the haunting experiences of veterans struggling with health issues, poverty, prejudice, and social isolation. In this article, we will explore seven remarkable films that capture the post-war struggles and challenges faced by Vietnam veterans.


Director: Adrian Lyne
Year: 1990

“Jacob’s Ladder,” directed by Adrian Lyne, may surprise those familiar with the director’s steamy romantic dramas. This film follows Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins), an ex-platoon member who served in Vietnam and now works as a postman in New York City. Haunted by a tragic event during his service, Jacob and his fellow survivors experience disturbing nightmares and ghostly apparitions. As Jacob unravels a mysterious drug conspiracy and uncovers a government cover-up, the film explores the lasting trauma of war and the challenges faced by veterans reintegrating into society. Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay, enriched with symbolic and philosophical elements, adds depth to this mesmerizing cult-classic.


Director: Michael Cimino
Year: 1978

Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” received critical acclaim and won the Best Picture Academy Award. Set in a Russian-American steel-working community in Pennsylvania, the film revolves around the lives of close friends Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steven, who are deeply affected by their experiences in the Vietnam War. The film explores their relationships, love, and loyalty amidst the horrors of war. Though some historical liberties were taken, the remarkable performances by De Niro, Walken, and Meryl Streep, combined with Cimino’s masterful direction, make “The Deer Hunter” a cinematic masterpiece.


Director: Martin Scorsese
Year: 1976

Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” delves into the life of Travis Bickle, a Vietnam veteran turned taxi driver in New York City. Travis, played by Robert De Niro, grapples with the psychological effects of war, witnessing crime and poverty in his gritty neighborhood, and his unrequited romantic interest in political campaigner Betsy. As Travis descends into violence and encounters a vulnerable teenage prostitute named Iris, the film presents a deeply existential and powerful portrayal of a Vietnam veteran in constant battle with his surroundings. Supported by an evocative score by Bernard Herrmann, “Taxi Driver” is a thought-provoking cinematic exploration of a veteran at the edge.


Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2020

Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is a gripping and relevant film that sheds light on the African-American experience in the Vietnam War. The story follows four veterans, Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin, played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr., respectively. Decades after the war, the group returns to Vietnam in search of their leader’s remains and buried gold. With stunning cinematography and a powerful score by Terence Blanchard, the film tackles the trauma of war while intertwining humor and profound messages. “Da 5 Bloods” serves as a harrowing history lesson and a testament to Spike Lee’s storytelling prowess.


Director: Hal Ashby
Year: 1978

Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home,” commissioned by the passionate Jane Fonda, explores the romantic journey of Sally, played by Fonda, as she navigates the complexities of love during the Vietnam War era. Sally, the wife of Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern), falls for Luke Martin (Jon Voight), a disabled ex-soldier and her high school classmate. The film unravels a love triangle against the backdrop of the veterans’ post-war struggles, including Bob’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Luke’s transformation into a passionate anti-war advocate. Despite occasional pedantic moments, “Coming Home” resonates with its outstanding performances and emotional storytelling.


Director: Alan Parker
Year: 1984

Alan Parker’s “Birdy,” based on William Wharton’s novel, tells a touching story of friendship and the profound effects of war. The film follows Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al Columbato (Nicolas Cage), two teenage friends who develop a deep bond while watching and catching birds. Their lives are forever altered when they enlist to serve in the Vietnam War. Upon their return, Birdy becomes mute and apathetic, requiring admission to a mental health facility, while Al is determined to help his friend recover. “Birdy” explores the introspective nature of the novel on screen and employs powerful symbolism through birds and flight in the context of war.


Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1989

Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” offers a profound and gut-wrenching portrayal of the aftermath of war. Adapted from Ron Kovic’s autobiographical book, the film stars Tom Cruise as Kovic, a veteran who loses the use of his legs during the Vietnam War and becomes a staunch pacifist. The movie explores themes of war-related guilt, PTSD, social readjustment, and political disillusionment. Tom Cruise delivers an Oscar-nominated performance, immersing viewers in the gripping journey of a Vietnam veteran struggling to find his place in society. “Born on the Fourth of July” stands as a definitive cinematic exploration of the post-war life of a Vietnam veteran.


These seven outstanding films portray the lives of Vietnam veterans with raw emotion, providing a glimpse into the struggles they faced long after the war ended. Each film captures the complexities of their experiences, highlighting themes of trauma, alienation, and societal challenges. From the psychological intensity of “Jacob’s Ladder” to the transformative journey in “Da 5 Bloods,” these movies offer powerful narratives that engage and educate audiences. Through storytelling and cinematic artistry, these films ensure that the legacy and struggles of Vietnam veterans are never forgotten.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are these films based on real stories of Vietnam veterans?

While some films draw inspiration from real-life events and individuals, others are fictional stories created to shed light on the experiences of Vietnam veterans. The filmmakers aimed to capture the emotional and psychological toll that war had on veterans.

2. Do these films romanticize or glorify war?