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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, best memorial day mov
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

The 10 best Memorial Day movies

Feeling patriotic? Salute American sacrifice by watching the best Memorial Day movies honoring the military.

By Joshua Rothkopf
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Many of the best Memorial Day movies have won Academy Awards, some are now considered action-movie classics and only the select few grapple with essential questions about military might, mission ethics and the trauma that continues long after the fighting is over. For this Memorial Day, pay your respects to fallen soldiers with these intelligent, extraordinary war movies, all of which will make you proud to be an American.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Memorial Day in NYC

Best Memorial Day movies

1. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Movies Drama

If you’ve seen Jimmy Cagney only as a tough-talkin’ gangster, you may be surprised by how fancy his footwork is in this biopic of beloved song-and-dance man George M. Cohan. He's the Broadway legend who composed the patriotic anthems "Over There," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "The Yankee Doodle Boy."

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2. American Sniper (2014)

Movies Drama

A slow-building and unlikely blockbuster (the biggest film of 84-year-old director Clint Eastwood’s career), this electrifying PTSD war drama became a political football for its questionable handling of the real-life Chris Kyle. But between a nervy performance by Bradley Cooper and some daring ambiguities on the matter of valor, you have a movie that only Eastwood could make.

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3. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)

Movies Action and adventure

Have we made all our Michael Bay jokes by now? Because the Transformers director turned out a remarkably serious effort chronicling a misunderstood moment in recent American military misadventure. There’s very little political commentary here. No actor is cast as Hillary Clinton, firing off secret emails; nobody questions the selfless heroism of the soldiers involved.

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4. Platoon (1986)

Movies Drama

Saintly Willem Dafoe and evil Tom Berenger (the enormous scar across his face gives it away) vie for grunt Charlie Sheen’s soul in director Oliver Stone’s autobiographical account of his time in Vietnam. Simplistic yet undeniably powerful, it won the Oscar for Best Picture that year.

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5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Movies Drama

You don't have to roll with Steven Spielberg’s central conceit—another movie about rescuing Matt Damon—to be knocked out by his epic mounting of WWII's 1944 Omaha Beach assault, a visually spectacular sequence that simply has no equal in cinema. This is war at its most violent and costly of national treasure.

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6. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Movies

Another Eastwood film? This one deserves it. It's the story of the real-life Marines snapped in the iconic wartime photograph raising a flag on Iwo Jima, a staged moment that was cynically milked during the war-bonds drive. (Eastwood's companion film, Letters from Iwo Jima, is told from the Japanese perspective).

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7. Black Hawk Down (2001)

Movies Drama

Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, The Martian) is an undeniable visual genius and his pummeling action film puts a who’s who of celebrity grunts (Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor among them) through their “war is bad, I say!” paces. The subject is the 1993 Mogadishu raid, a military incident of thankless sacrifice.

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8. Sergeant York (1941)

Movies Drama

Hard-core pacifists are advised to stay away from this film, since it tells the story of a man who starts out as one but ultimately becomes a WWI war hero. Anybody else is sure to be entertained by Gary Cooper's effortlessly sincere central performance and Howard Hawks's no-nonsense direction.

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10. Patton (1970)

Movies

Famously, this was Richard Nixon's favorite film, a potent counterbalance to the voices of the protesters and a manly peptalk of righteousness. (It wasn't enough to help the President with his problems.) George C. Scott is magnificent in the title role, railing iconically against "Hun bastards" in his opening monologue before a huge American flag.

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Best war movies of all time

The 50 best war movies of all time

Movies

We slogged through our own basic training to arrive at the 50 best war movies—and not merely the best action movies with the wildest explosions and movie stunts (though expect plenty of ammo). Rather, here are the most profound statements, pointed and patriotic alike, on the distinctly human condition of fighting. We offer the list to you, our readers, along with our sharpest salute. Why not put on your war face and sound off, in the comments section below? RECOMMENDED: Our list of the 100 best movies of all time

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