Fri. Feb 21st, 2020

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Best and Worst War Movies About Basic Training

18 min read

I’ve compiled a list of movies where there is some form of training, whether it be basic training or advanced training, and there is a marked change in someone or something. Training programs are meant to challenge individuals, physically and mentally, and are required in order for the individual to be fully immersed in military culture.

Some of these movies have what you want: Good script, great acting, realistic story or perhaps it is the opposite. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is one of those movies that stands out nearly 30 years later for being good. Pauly Shore’s in the Army Now stands out 30 years later and is still just as bad.

Maybe you’ve seen a few of these movies but take a look again and see if one of these films stirs up some memories. If you have some time go ahead and watch a few. If there are some that you haven’t seen, and if you lack the time for a full-length movie, take a look at the YouTube trailers I inserted below.


The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne Division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day. Stars: Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston

Band of Brothers was equal parts heroism and equal parts horror. It’s a war drama based on historian Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 book of the same name. The executive producers were Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The series follows the history of  “Easy” Company (part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from jump training and into war. The acting and action is very good. The characters are developed enough that you care about each person. Actor David Schwimmer plays the cruel and spiteful Capt. Herbert Sobel, a leader who shouldn’t be leading anyone into combat. Likely will be one of the best WW II series for a very long time. The interviews given by the surviving soldiers who were part of Easy company is powerful. In one true recounted tale, when a  hopeful man who desires to enlist in the Army finds out he cannot serve in the military due to a medical rating, he goes home and commits suicide.


Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival. Based on the book of the same name. The action in the movie is very good and the acting is wooden. There are no tactics in this film. Special effects weren’t bad considering this was the 1990’s and CGI really isn’t at the level of today’s cinema effects. They were advanced for the time. The movie’s director took a satiric take on Heinlein’s book of the same name. Verhoven also directed the interesting The Soldier’s of Orange with actor Rutger Hauer. Many critics didn’t understand the material and that director Verhoven made a self-aware satire. The basic training scenes are pretty hilarious. Actor Clancy Brown of the Highlander movie is great here in the role of an instructor. It’s too bad that the novel Starship Troopers didn’t get the respect it deserved and use someone who appreciated the material.


There are some very good acting scenes in this movie although the movie is disjointed. Former Marine D.I. and actor Lee Ermey, who originally signed on as a technical advisor was so good he was cast in the film. The Boys in Company C follows the lives of five Marine inductees from their training in boot camp through a tour of duty in Vietnam. The movie’s boot scenes are no where as good as Full Metal Jacket. It doesn’t push political exposition as hard as Apocalypse Now and it was eclipsed by the movie Deer Hunter which happened to come out the same year. Nevertheless, the movie does an adequate job of showing how the Vietnam War fractured lives and the resilience of our nation’s young men who are thrown into a situation they have no control over. Follows a group of men as they prepare for the Vietnam war and their eventual tour of Vietnam. (125 mins.) Director: Sidney J. Furie Stars: Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, James Canning, Michael Lembeck


A young man must complete his work at a Navy Flight school to become an aviator, with the help of a tough gunnery sergeant and his new girlfriend. (124 mins.) Excellent take on pilot/officer training. At the beginning of the movie he is neither of those things but by the end of the story…well, go see it for yourself. Great job by Lou Gossett Jr. as the Drill Instructor.  Beautifully acted, great romance, good buddy film and some chop sockey thrown in for action. Director: Taylor Hackford Stars: Richard Gere, Debra Winger, David Keith, Robert Loggia

A young man joins the Marines during WWII but fails to meet qualifications so is washed out and sent… (90 mins.) Jan Michael Vincent was a star in the 1970’s and went on to do the Airwolf TV Series. He was great in Big Wednesday. I thought the movie Tribes stunk. He’s not bad in this movie and the story is interesting. Director: John Hancock Stars: Jan-Michael Vincent, Glynnis O’Connor, Katherine Helmond, Dana Elcar


A group of young recruits go through boot camp during the Second World War in Biloxi Mississippi. From the play by Neil Simon. (106 mins.) Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Matt Mulhern, Corey Parker I saw this with my brother when it came out. Brought back some memories of being in a company with a diverse group of people. Some you liked and some you hated. Christoper Walken is very good in this movie. What movie isn’t he good in? Some people thought Simon’s retelling of his time in the service was quite good while others hated it. See for yourself.Sergeant Toomey: Hey, Fred Astaire, you tryin’ to tell me something?

Arnold Epstein: I have to go to the bathroom, sergeant.

Sergeant Toomey: You can’t do that. We don’t have “bathrooms” in the Army.

Arnold Epstein: They had them at Fort Dix.

Sergeant Toomey: Not bathrooms, they didn’t

Arnold Epstein: Yes, they did. I went in them a lot.

Sergeant Toomey: I’m tellin’ you, we don’t have any “bathrooms” on this base. Do you doubt my veracity?

Arnold Epstein: No, sergeant.

Sergeant Toomey: Then you’ve got a problem, don’t you Epstein?

Arnold Epstein: Ho ho.

Sergeant Toomey: You bet your ass ho ho. You know why you’ve got a problem?

Arnold Epstein: Because I’ve got to go real bad.

Sergeant Toomey: No, son. You’ve got a problem because you don’t know Army terminology. The place where a U.S. soldier goes to defecate, relieve himself, open his bowel, shit, fart, dump, crap, and unload, is called the latrine. The la-trine, from the French.


A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue. (116 mins.) Director: Stanley Kubrick Stars: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin Excellent. Thankfully Kubrick and the writers listened to the technical advisers. The movie is a masterpiece and there are some amazing break out moments by the actors in this film. Actor Vincent D’onofrio shines. Moviefone noted:
R. Lee Ermey had been a real-life Parris Island Marine drill sergeant during the war. He’d acted in other Vietnam films, including “The Boys in Company C” (where he played his first drill sergeant role) and “Apocalypse Now.” Kubrick had hired him as a technical adviser, but Ermey wanted to play Hartman, the Parris Island drill sergeant who dominates the first half of the movie. So he made an audition reel in which he generated a sponataneous stream of foul-mouthed insults directed at a group of extras — all while having oranges and tennis balls thrown at him — that ran for 15 minutes. That got him the job.
Modine also wrote that he and the other actors playing Marines underwent realistic boot camp training, which included being yelled at by Ermey for up to 10 hours a day. They also had to have their heads shaved once a week.

GI JANE (1997)

A female Senator succeeds in enrolling a woman into Combined Reconnaissance Team training where everyone expects her to fail. Director: Ridley Scott. I liked the premise but hated the movie. The idea was interesting. Here is my perspective on part of it. To get in shape for the scenes Demi Moore worked out under the guidance of  a real Navy SEAL and took some SEAL training. She combined a lot of strength, cardio, and martial arts to get fit and skillful.
C.O Salem:
Welcome to SEAL/C.R.T. selection program. You have volunteered for the most intensive military training known to man. You are all proven operators within the SpecOps communtiy: SEALs, EOD, Army Delta, Marine Force Recon, Naval Intel community, and so on. In spite of your expertise, many of you will not successfully negotiate this program. Those that do, will experience an operational tempo that exceeds that of any other unit within the US arsenal. That is all that is to be said about the special nature of the CRT training program. I now turn you over to my Command Master Chief, John James Urgayle.


A hard-nosed, hard-living Marine gunnery sergeant clashes with his superiors and his ex-wife as he takes command of a spoiled recon platoon with a bad attitude. Director: Clint Eastwood Writer: James Carabatsos Stars: Clint Eastwood, Marsha Mason, Everett McGill. Some good funny moments in this movie. Good script, some silliness in it and more light-hearted than most of Eastwood’s films outside of his comedies like the film Any Which Way but Loose. His acting as a serious Marine next to the band of goofballs and the character Stitch holds the movie together.
Stitch Jones: You see, it’s all a question of mind over matter. We no longer mind, ’cause, you don’t matter. You’ve been voted out of office, baby.
Highway: Mister Jones, you fall out in that street or I’m gonna kick your ass right off this fuckin’ planet.
Stitch Jones: Oh, I don’t think so, babe. Swede!
Recon Platoon: [Chanting loudly] Swede, Swede, Swede, Swede, Swede![A tall and powerfully-built Marine comes into view, standing in front of Highway]
Stitch Jones: Uh, Gunny, I’d like you to meet my big friend, Swede Johanson. Swede, say something charming to the man.
Swede Johanson: I’m gonna rip your head off and shit down your neck.[Swede throws the first punch; Highway dodges it and grabs Swede’s arm in a joint lock, forcing him down]
Highway: Stick your chin up. [Swede does] Higher. [punches Swede, knocking him to the floor] Now get your ass out in that street, ladies. Right this second.
Stitch Jones: [hastily] Uh, I’ll catch you later, Swede![the platoon rushes outside; Swede gets up and faces Highway]
Swede Johanson: Sir, I’ll wait outside for the MPs to come.
Thomas Highway: Negative, Johanson. You’re going to become a Marine, right now. [Swede gives him a questioning look as he realizes he won’t go to the brig] Fall out.
Swede Johanson: Yes, sir.


Two misguided youths join the reserves to make some money for their entrepreneurial dreams. No sooner than they finish basic training are they called up to do their part to save the free world. Actors Pauly Shore, Lori Petty, Andy Dick. Not my cup of tea. Enjoy.


A psychological study of operations desert shield and desert storm during the gulf war; through the eyes of a U.S marine sniper who struggles to cope with the possibility his girlfriend may be cheating on him back home. Director: Sam Mendes Writers: William Broyles Jr. (screenplay) (as William D. Broyles Jr.), Anthony Swofford (book) Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black. I hated the story yet there were some really good moments in it.


The story of Carl Brashear, the first African-American, then also the first amputee, U.S. Navy Diver, and the man who trained him. Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron

Excellent movie. Yes it is predictable but still very good!

Leslie William ‘Billy’ Sunday: You see this pipe? General MacArthur himself smoked this pipe. I served with him in Leyte Gulf. Biggest naval battle in history. Kamikaze ripped into this escort carrier, name of Saint Lo. She went down on a shallow reef, trapping me and six boys in the fire room. Only one way out. Flood the compartment and swim up. Five decks, cookie. Five fuckin’ decks. Locked bulkheads, dead bodies everywhere. You got to have your balls screwed on tight for that swim. We still had intercom. Old MacArthur himself came over that squawk box, “Sunday, you cocky son of a bitch, I bet you can’t hold your breath for four minutes and swim out ofthere.” Know what I said back ? “No, Mac, I can’t, but I’ll bet you your cob pipe I can hold it for five, ’cause that’s what it’s gonna take, motherfucker.”


Will Stockdale is a country bumpkin drafted into the Air Force and too dumb to realize he’s driving everyone around him crazy — no one more than Sgt. King. (119 mins.) Director: Mervyn LeRoy Stars: Andy Griffith, Myron McCormick, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton. Hilarious movie. The hick is smarter than he looks. One of the best scenes is the drinking scene. I saw this with my father and we laughed a lot. Here are some highlights I gleaned from Wikipedia:

Unlike Jim NaborsGomer Pyle (of the Andy Griffith Show spin off of the same name, inspired by No Time for Sergeants), Jackson’s Stockdale was no idiot; rather he had an unlimited amount of common sense, which was displayed in various episodes.

  • His knowledge of farming leads him to give a better image interpretation analysis of an aerial photograph than Air Force Intelligence.
  • The Air Force attempts to demonstrate the efficiency of its survival training by pitting an Air Force survival trained group against an untrained group including Stockdale in the wilderness. Stockdale, with his backwoods knowledge, takes charge and gives his party a comfortable time similar to being in a resort, while the trained group barely survives.
  • Stockdale accepts latrine details as challenges rather than punishments and impresses the drill sergeant by how well he cleans the latrine.
  • Stockdale demonstrates another more appealing quality over Gomer Pyle when he unflinchingly takes punches to his stomach from a karate expert with a smile and a good natured lecture to his assailant until Stockdale ends his lecture by knocking the karate expert through a window.
  • Stockdale has no reservations about drinking alcohol. However, the drill sergeant’s attempts at getting Will drunk fail, impliedly because Will has built up a resistance to intoxication from a lifetime of drinking moonshine whiskey.


A sheltered young high society woman joins the United States Army on a whim and finds herself in a more difficult situation than she ever expected. (109 mins.) Director: Howard Zieff Stars: Goldie Hawn, Eileen Brennan, Armand Assante, Robert Webber. I don’t recall seeing this one when it came out.
Pvt. Benjamin: I think they sent me to the wrong place.
Capt. Lewis: Uh-huh.
Pvt. Benjamin: See, I did join the army, but I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.
Cpt. Lewis: I got news for you, Princess. THERE IS NO OTHER ARMY!


A failed businessman is hired by the army to teach a group of underachieving recruits in order to help them pass basic training. (128 mins.) Director: Penny Marshall Stars: Danny DeVito, Gregory Hines, James Remar, Ed Begley Jr I avoided this like the plague. Maybe you’ll feel the same.
THE DI (1957)

Gunnery Sergeant Jim Moore is one of the toughest Drill Instructors on Parris Island. But he’s got a thorn in his side: Pvt… (106 mins.) Director: Jack Webb Stars: Jack Webb, Don Dubbins, Jackie Loughery, Lin McCarthy. Very good.
TRIBES (1975)

 A Marine Corps drill instructor who is disgusted by the fact that the Corps now accepts draftees finds himself pitted against a hippie who has been drafted but refuses to accept the military’s way of doing things. Stars:Darren McGavin, Earl Holliman, Jan-Michael Vincent. I did not enjoy this movie and still recall seeing it when I was a child. The clash between the two main characters is so distinct. I still recall the scene where Jan Michael Vincent is using meditation to help him handle carrying the two buckets. Some good scenes but it didn’t sit with my point of view.

STRIPES (1981)

Two friends who are dissatisfied with their jobs decide to join the army for a bit of fun. (106 mins.) Director: Ivan Reitman Stars: Bill Murray, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates
Too many funny scenes here to list. The basic training scenes are excellent. Marching and singing in formation is hilarious. Stripes was well received by critics and audiences. Per Box Office Mojo Stripes was released on June 26, 1981 and grossed $1,892,000 in 1,074 screens on opening day. It placed fifth overall for the weekend with $6,152,166. It eventually grossed $85,297,000 in North America, making it the fifth most popular 1981 film at the U.S.A. and Canada box office.
John Winger: [breaking up a fight] Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you?! Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw Old Yeller? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? [raises his hand] Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure. [hands are reluctantly raised] I cried my eyes out. [even more hands go up] So we’re all dogfaces. We’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us! We’re soldiers, but we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kickin’ ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud. Fall in!


A group of recruits go through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana’s infamous Tigerland, last stop before Vietnam for tens of thousands of young men in 1971. (101 mins.) Director: Joel Schumacher Stars: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr., Tom Guiry
I frankly don’t recall much about this movie other than Colin Farrell smoking cigarettes. Colin Farrell plays a draftee who is opposed to the war. He has no respect for authority and talks back to his superiors. Gritty drama with good acting.

TOP GUN (1986)

As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be best in the class, one daring young pilot learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom. Director: Tony Scott Stars: Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, Kelly McGillis
Good stuff. Audiences liked it and were definitely intrigued by the training scenes. Nothing like Top Gun had ever been done before. It became a success and was the highest-grossing film of 1986. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, pointing out that “Movies like Top Gun are hard to review because the good parts are so good and the bad parts are so relentless. The show was so successful that Top Gun Part 2 is coming out in 2018.
[Maverick visits Viper at his house]Viper: I flew with your old man. VF-51, the Oriskany. You’re a lot like he was. Only better…and worse. He was a natural heroic son of a bitch, that one.
Maverick: So he did do it right.
Viper: Yeah, he did right. Is that why you fly the way you do? Trying to prove something? Yeah, your old man did it right. [Maverick and Viper take a walk.] What I’m about to tell you is classified and it could end my career. We were in the worst dogfight I could’ve dreamed of. There were bogeys like fireflies all over the sky. His F-4 was hit; he was wounded, but he could’ve made it back. He stayed in it; saved three planes before he bought it.
Maverick: How come I never heard that before?
Viper: Well that’s not something the State Department tells its dependents when the battle occurred over the wrong line on some map.Maverick: So you were there?
Viper: I was there. What’s on your mind?
Maverick: My options, sir.
Viper: Simple. First, you’ve acquired enough points to show up and graduate with your Top Gun class, or you can quit. There’ll be no disgrace. That spin was hell; it would’ve shook me up.
Maverick: So you think I should quit?
Viper: I didn’t say that. The simple fact is you feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem. Now I’m not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your ass, Lieutenant. A good pilot is compelled to always evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned. Up there, we gotta push it. That’s our job. It’s your option, Lieutenant. All yours.
Maverick: Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, sir, but thank you very much for your time.
Viper: No problem. Good luck.


A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness. Director: Neil Marshall Writer: Neil Marshall Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby
The training is ridiculous but hey its a sci-fi horror movie. On the film critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, Dog Soldiers holds 78% based on 32 reviews with an average rating of 6.9 out of 10.
You know what this reminds me of? Rorke’s Drift. A hundred men of Harlech making a desperate stand against ten thousand Zulu warriors. Outnumbered, surrounded, staring death in the face, not flinching for a moment. Balls of British steel. You’re bloody loving this, aren’t you?

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