The Best and Worst of Navy SEAL War Movies

Everyone knows what a Navy SEAL is.  These secretive commandos are so uniquely popular in our American culture that they've become like celebrities.  Whether it's jumping into an NFL football game, or having characters based on them in the latest video games, SEALs are assumed by Americans the country over to be the best of the Special Forces community.  And because they are so very popular, they've popped up in many films, especially within the last two decades.  Not all of these films though obtain the quality of character that is required of SEALs themselves.  Here are the Best and the Worst of Navy SEAL war films!

For related articles, see...

The Best and Worst Special Forces War Movies!

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The Most Dangerous Covert Missions in War Films!

The Best and Worst Navy War Movies!

Navy SEALs (1990)

Navy SEALs.

The Worst!

Following on from the success of Top Gun in the 1980s, studios thought they could bottle lighting a second time.  What Tom Cruise did for fighter jets, Charlie Sheen was supposed to do for frogmen!  (Well, it seems silly when you actually frame it like that!)  Yes, back in the early 1990s, Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn (The Terminator), starred in this really awful, really horrible film about SEALs.  Biehn was the same character that he played in The Terminator and Aliens, a no nonsense, quiet tough guy.  Sheen, who is arguably responsible for the film being insufferably awful, was the "wild guy" that couldn't play by the rules, that did his own thing, yet saved the day in the end.  The SEALs go to Beirut, which is still all messed up because this is the early 1990s, and try and act tough, but they ain't fooling anyone.  This film is most notable for is 7-11 tie-in of action cups.

Under Siege (1992)


The Worst!

To the left is an artifact of early 1990s America, a photo of a man by the name of Steven Seagal.  Even by 1992, the date of his biggest box office hit, he was approaching his sell by date, his face getting increasingly wrinkled, his paunch growing bigger and bigger.  Yet Hollywood connived to sell this aging so-called actor as a Navy SEAL.  Even more confusing is that he was a Navy SEAL on-board a Naval Destroyer (when it was taken by terrorists) who was working as a cook.  (I still don't understand this plot twist...why would a Navy SEAL be assigned to the galley to work as a cook?  Is that the best use of taxpayer money to have SEALs which cost a small fortune to train employed as galley chefs?)  In any case, Seagal channels John McClane from the Die Hard franchise and rescues the Navy Destroyer from terrorists and saves the day.

G.I. Jane (1997)

G.I. Jane.

The Worst!

I gave the film three stars in my initial review.  I suppose I was in a good mood or feeling charitable that day, because put in this current list of SEAL films, G.I. Jane fails to make the grade.  Sure, Moore as the first woman SEAL is appropriately buff and the instructors all look very tough, but for some strange bizarre reason that makes no sense, this film that purports to be a serious drama about SEALs fictionalizes so much of the training that for anyone who even peripherally knows something about SEAL training, it becomes a distracting point of contention.  They could have based the film in San Diego and had Moore undergone real SEAL training.  Instead they base Moore in Florida and have her do activities that real SEALs don't do.  Why did they make this decision?  It's inexplicable.  Almost as inexplicable as my initial three star review.

The Rock (1996)

The Rock.

The Worst!

The Rock is a pretty famous and somewhat popular action film from the 1990s.  Maybe, in the 1990s it was good, but ten years later, this is a film showing its gray hairs.  And you have to have a tolerance for Nicolas Cage's wild antics, which I don't.  The SEALs in this film aren't much more than a prop.  They secretly enter Alcatraz prison which has been taken over by some angry Marines, and are promptly slaughtered, indicating to the audience that these Marines are really tough guys.

Tears of the Sun (2003)

Tears of the Sun.

The Worst!

Bruce Willis plays a Navy SEAL in Africa as he goes up against an evil African warlord.  Willis, of course, has to make a fateful decision about whether or not to leave refugees behind and makes the only decision that he can, which is to take the refugees with him, even though it means the death of almost everyone in his SEAL team.  It's a completely forgettable action film that never really leaves any sort of memorable imprint.  I saw this film my first weekend being released from Basic Training and I remember next to nothing about it.  The review I read to remind me of this film though did remind me that I didn't like it.  Neither did the reviewer that helped refresh my memory.

Act of Valor (2012)

Act of Valor. Relativity Media

The Worst!

In 2012, the Pentagon thought it would be a good idea to buy an hour and a half long commercial for the Navy.  That commercial ended up with a title and also ended up being released in cinemas.  It was called Act of Valor.  The film features real life Navy SEALs and is little more than a set piece to show off Navy SEALs being cool action heroes.  There's sort of a plot about drug dealers, but it's never really the point of the film.  To this day, one of the all time most obvious recruitment films.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty. Columbia Pictures

The Best!

In this taut thriller, Bin Laden gets his due courtesy of SEAL Team Six. This is perhaps the best film to feature Navy SEALs because rather than having the SEALs face off against fictional terrorists taking over a Navy Destroyer, this film actually showcases a real-life SEAL mission and hews as closely to the facts as possible.  And, as American history goes, it's sort of one of the more important missions that SEALs have undergone.  If you haven't seen this film, you're missing out.

Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures

The Best!

In this incredibly paced action film, four Navy SEALs on a recon mission are discovered by a goat herder and a young boy.  The SEALs have to decide whether to kill them or whether to let them go.  The SEALs decide to let them go, and they, of course, promptly tell the small army of Taliban fighters in the area.  The rest of this film exists - more or less - as one long sustained gun battle of terrifying proportions.  Based on a true story.

American Sniper (2014)

American Sniper.

The Best!

Another film based on a true story, American Sniper tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, credited with the most confirmed kills by a sniper in all of U.S. military history.  The film follows him through four tours in Iraq, as he increasingly is forced to muddy his soul in ever deeper and darker waters.  Another powerful film from Clint Eastwood.