The Top War Movies that Served as Recruitment Videos

I've written before about how, for a great many years, filmmakers necessarily had to make pro-war scripts if they wanted any assistance in making their films.  (In the days before modern special effects, this was a big deal, as it was difficult to re-create armies and tanks without using the real thing, and the real thing could only be had with Pentagon approval.)  Still, there are some films that went beyond even simply offering a pro-war message, these are films that were made, almost in partnership, with the Pentagon. 

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The Green Berets (1968)

John Wayne was so disgusted with the anti-Vietnam fervor that seemed to pervade the nation, that he approached the White House about making a blatantly pro-war film, which he would star in.  The White House quickly got on board and the military collaborated in the filmmaking of this John Wayne turkey.  With modern eyes, the film is painful to watch, as the film preaches messages which, we now know, to be absolutely false and untrue.  The film takes the complex issues surrounding Vietnam and simplifies them to the point of absurdity, offering a singular message about how the United States is all good, and the Communist threat is all evil.
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Top Gun (1986)


The Navy might as well be considered to have been a producing partner for this Tom Cruise mega-hit.  The film's producers were given full access to all the toys in the Navy's arsenal to play with, including fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and personnel.  (All of those extras in the background?  Those are real Navy sailors.)  The film was designed from its inception to be a hoorah! recruitment film for the Navy, and it worked!  The film was so popular, that recruitment into the Navy soared after the film, with thousands of young men saying they wanted to be fighter pilots.  (Of course, chances are that few, if any, of those new recruits actually made it into the elite program.)

Click here for the Best and Worst War Films about Aerial Combat.

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Navy SEALs (1990)


In 1990, Hollywood, and the Pentagon, decided to try and double down on the success of Top Gun, by producing Navy SEALs, a flop of a film, which starred Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen as elite Naval commandos doing battle in Lebanon.  The film had the full backing of the U.S. military, and - it was hoped - would be popular among the kids and spur long lines at the recruiter's office.  Instead, the film was a box office and critical flop.  It quickly disappeared from cinemas and was never heard from again.  Perhaps it's most lasting legacy is the 7-11 special cups that were offered as a promotional tie-in.

Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about Special Forces.

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Blackhawk Down (2001)


Ridley Scott's film about Army Rangers in Mogadishu was so supported by the Pentagon, who hoped that it would increase recruitment numbers, that they not only leant the filmmakers all the equipment they would need to film the movie with (including helicopters and humvees), but they also had the real-life Rangers, of which, the film is about, on set to advise the filmmakers.  The film was a huge hit and remains a favorite of soldiers everywhere.  In full honesty, I should also say that this enlistment attempt was successful as I've written before at the films that inspired me to join the Infantry.  (They all looked so cool dying and getting shot at, how could you not want to join the Army after this film!)


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Acts of Valor (2012)


Acts of Valor represents perhaps the nadir of all recruitment films.  This movie about Special Forces starred real-life Navy SEALs!  Not only was the film made in full cooperation with the military, but it was, in part, funded by the U.S. military!  This film was little more than an hour and a half recruitment video, which also barely managed some sort of brief storyline about the commandos battling bad guys.  Most of the script was constructed around simply showing the SEALs operate in a variety of different environments.  The film, as you might guess, was pretty awful, and didn't do that well at the box office.  You also might be surprised to learn that SEALs do not make for the best actors.

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Battleship (2012)


In 2012, Peter Berg released this awful, horrible, science fiction film about a Naval Destroyer taking on an alien spaceship.  (It was sort of loosely based on the Hasbro board game.)  The film was made with generous contributions from the Navy, allowing the filmmakers to film on board real ships, and use sailors as extras.  The film seems at times, more a commercial for Naval recruitment than an actual film about fighting an alien.  Which, does beg an interesting question:  If you enlist in the Navy, do you get to fight aliens?  The film flopped at the box office, and was mercilessly attacked by critics.

Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about the Navy.

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American Sniper (2014)


Clint Eastwood made American Sniper to show audiences how the strain of war resulted in post traumatic stress disorder, and how one SEAL in particular, struggled with continuous deployments.  It became the top grossing war movie of all time, and reportedly, inquiries into becoming a SEAL peaked - presumably a lot of young kids saw a struggling SEAL in a state of perpetual combat where he lost his friends in war and thought, "Hey!  That looks fun!"

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Your Citation
Rico, Johnny. "The Top War Movies that Served as Recruitment Videos." ThoughtCo, Jan. 25, 2016, Rico, Johnny. (2016, January 25). The Top War Movies that Served as Recruitment Videos. Retrieved from Rico, Johnny. "The Top War Movies that Served as Recruitment Videos." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).