The Best and Worst War Movies About the Navy

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An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

An Officer and a Gentleman.


This is a classic war movie.  There's no war in the film, but there's loads of Navy, boot camp, and ambition.  (Also, not a bad war love story.)  Richard Gere is the son of a career Naval burnout who comes back to the states as a bit of a rebel (a tattoo..shocking!), a wild haircut, and a bad attitude against authority.  After graduating University, he enlists in the Navy with desires to become a fighter pilot - but firs the has to get through mean drill sergeant Louis Gossett, Jr.  A bit trapped by its 1980s heritage, but still a fun, worthwhile film.

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Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun.

The Best!

Top Gun provides us with a conundrum.  On the one hand, we have a silly film about another rogue pilot who does things his own way, involved in a hokum goofball romance.  On the other hand, we have some of the best fighter pilot sequences put to film.  Yes, this is a silly film, but it's ultimately harmless.  And as Navy film's go, it's become a bonafide historical artifact.

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Navy SEALs (1990)

Navy SEALs.


In the 1990s, the U.S. Navy cooperated with Hollywood to make this turkey of a film about Navy SEALs, one of whom was played by Charlie Sheen who acts as if he's playing in the satire film Hot Shots.  It's supposed to be Top Gun for commandos, but I doubt anyone saw this film and immediately went to the recruiting office.  The best thing about this film was the 7-11 tie-in where you got a Navy SEALs cup.

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Under Siege (1992)

Under Siege.


If Lone Survivor showcases Navy SEALs at their best, then Under Siege showcases Navy SEALs at their worst.  A quick summary of the film should quickly justify the "Worst" label:  Terrorists led by Tommy Lee Jones take over an entire Naval destroyer (because they're very easy to take over!), but - all is not lost! - for reasons not quite explained, the cook (Steven Seagal) happens to be a Navy SEAL who single-handedly kills all the bad guys and saves the day.  This film was an attempt to capitalize on the Die Hard action template of "Terrorists takeover a….", but the answer to that question is not a Naval Destroyer.

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Crimson Tide (1995)

Crimson Tide.


This Tony Scott thriller starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington as a Captain and his second in command at odds with each other over different interpretations of an interrupted order to file nuclear missiles during the outbreak of World War III, is a taut and intense thriller.  The submarine crew divides into different factions and teeters on the brink of mutiny, but the Navy never looked so exciting or so fun!  Plus, it's fun to imagine what one would do if they were on the sub and in charge.  Follow what you think to be the last given order and fire a nuclear payload that could annihilate Russia?  Or hold off on the side of caution for the order to be confirmed and not destroy a country, even though it could mean losing a nuclear war?  (This was one of the scenarios in a recent article on ethical decisions in war movies!)

See the best and worst submarine war movies!

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G.I. Jane (1997)

G.I. Jane.

The Worst!

G.I. Jane is not a great movie.  It takes a serious, real issue:  Women in combat.  And discusses this issue with us the audience, by giving us a fake character, at a fake training camp, that's at a fake base.  In other words, the filmmakers got so much of SEAL training wrong, that it's hard for us the audience to take much of what they say very realistically.

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Men of Honor (2000)

Men of Honor.


In this real life story, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the first African-American to join the U.S. Navy's elite diver program. Robert DeNiro plays the racist, hard-charging instructor who resents his presence in the program.  It's a classic tale of a black man overcoming adversity, and prejudice in an all white institution, but despite the familiarity of the film's story, it remains a powerfully told tale of a real American hero.  My review of the film itself was poor, but as a film representing the Navy, it's top notch.

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Antwone Fisher (2002)

Antwone Fisher.


In real life, Antwone Fisher was a troubled youngster from a rough neighborhood.  Put into foster care at an early age, he was physically and sexually abused.  When he joined the Navy to avoid being homeless, he was angry, and prone to disciplinary problems.  By working with a psychiatrist though, Fisher was able to come to terms with his past, re-connect with his family that gave him away, and come to an understanding of who he is as a man, and what it is he wants in life.  This film based on his life story is not a war film, but it is a Navy film, and it's also a powerful film about relationships, coming to terms with one's past, and learning to accept that which we cannot change.  It was directed by Denzel Washington.  (One of my best African-American war movies.)

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Battleship (2012)



This 2012 Peter Berg film is based on a board game.  You know the one, where you hide little plastic battleships on a board and call out guesses in a grid, hoping that one of your random shots hits on a battleship that might be hidden on your opponent's board?  

Well, somehow that simple board game got translated into a giant science-fiction film with an alien Naval battleship.  Of course, the film is far less interesting than actually playing the game would be - or watching a Saturday morning cartoon - as a U.S. battleship finds itself locked under a force field, and at war, with the alien battleship.  The silliness knows no bounds as the ship's goof-off also happens to end up taking command and saving the day.  This is a film that aspires to entertain twelve year olds but ends up missing even that low mark.

At least, the special effects are neat.

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures


The Navy never looks better than when it's showcasing its elite Navy SEALs.  And Navy SEALs have never looked better than in Lone Survivor, a hard-hitting, action filled, intense war film based on the real life tale of Marcus Luttrell and his three sailor comrades deep behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, facing off against an army of enemy forces.   There's neither an ocean or a war ship anywhere in sight, but one can't help but admire the sailors at the center of this riveting film.