Memorial Day Movie Showdown: War Films Versus Anti-War Films

By , Columnist

Amid the barbecues, traffic jams and airport pat-downs, it's easy to forget that Memorial Day is actually about remembering American soldiers who died in combat. Hollywood has honored U.S. troops who've fought on the front lines with dozens of admiring movies.

Filmmakers have also produced compelling work that questions warrior mentality.

Here's a Memorial Day special recapping the best war-themed movies as well as the most persuasive anti-war arguments committed to film.

War Movies

Band of Brothers: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' HBO epic presented the Invasion of Normandy in such visceral terms that the miniseries remains the most unflinching portrait of modern warfare in modern times. Drawing from documentary film archives, the recreation of D Day carnage depicted the bravery displayed by U.S. combat troops in nerve-shattering detail.

Letters From Iwo Jima: Director Clint Eastwood attached tiny cameras to the helmets of his actors to capture the chaos experienced by U.S. Marines as they attacked the Japanese during a series of World War II beach landings. The iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph functions in the film as a metaphor for the adrenalized bonding that happens between soldiers who stick together in the face of enemy fire.

Patton: George C. Scott won an Oscar for portraying the ornery army general armed with the gift of ballsy war-zone rhetoric. Case in point: "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country."

To Hell and Back: Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy starred in this 1955 picture based on his World War II memoir. Audiences responded to the real thing - To Hell and Back became Universal Picture's most popular movie until Jaws came along in 1975.

Anti-War Movies

The Messenger: Woody Harrelson gives the deepest dramatic performance of his career as a soldier with the worst job imaginable - informing families that their son or husband died in Iraq.

Born on the Fourth of July: Tom Cruise dramatized the personal price paid by Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, who went to southeast Asia fired up for action before transforming from gung-ho fighter into a wheelchair-bound political activist.

The Deerhunter: Bittersweet tale follows a crew of patriotic steel mill workers who join the army and fight in Vietnam. One friend loses a leg. Another loses his mind. Christopher Walken personified the psychological cost of war as an adrenaline junkie addicted to Russian roulette. In the title role, Robert DeNiro comes home a changed man who no longer shoots animals.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: Cold war paranoia gets ridiculed in Stanley Kubrick's satire featuring Peter Sellers as a Heil Hitler-saluting presidential advisor who champions a nuclear attack on Russia.

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug blackā€¦

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