Memorial Day weekend is often filled with barbecuing and soaking up the sun, but it’s important to reflect on the meaning of the day while remembering those who lost their lives for our country. Gather your family, friends or kick back by yourself to watch the following films which shine a light on American history and its heroes, as well as the utter devastation left in the wake of any war. 



“Originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags,” according to PBS, Memorial Day “was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of [American] Civil War soldiers.” 1989’s Glory— which stars Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, along with Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman — depicts the conflict with critically acclaimed cinematography and storytelling, highlighting the heroic efforts of one of the Union Army’s earliest African American regiments. 

Upon its release, Variety called the film “a stirring and long overdue tribute to the black soldiers who fought for the Union cause in the Civil War…[with] the sweep and magnificence of a Tolstoy battle tale or a John Ford saga of American history.”


“Born on the Fourth of July”

Based on the autobiography of anti-war activist Ron Kovic, played here by an unforgettable Tom Cruise, this Vietnam War movie depicts the life of a patriotic American war vet from hopeful childhood through his harrowing military service and the unfortunate aftermath. Dubbed “the most ambitious non-documentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience,” by the New York Times, Born on the Fourth of July is a film and a performance that’s necessary viewing, plain and simple. Kyra Sedgwick and Willem Dafoe co-star in one of Oliver Stone’s most memorable efforts.


“Flags of Our Fathers”

From director Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers is “a fascinating look at heroism, both earned and manufactured,” in the words of Rotten Tomatoes, “and a well-filmed salute to the men who fought at the battle of Iwo Jima” — from both sides of enemy lines. The American viewpoint of a two-film effort, the other of which was Japan’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Roger Ebert hailed the “project [as] one of the most visionary of all efforts to depict the reality and meaning of battle.” Ryan Phillipe, Jesse Bradford, Jamie Bell and the late Paul Walker star, among other familiar Hollywood faces. 


“Black Hawk Down”

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name about the U.S. military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down tells the story of thwarted American aid efforts during the ongoing Somali civil war. With two Academy Award wins for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, along with powerful performances from Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Eric Bana, TIME Magazine granted the film “a place on the very short list of unforgettable movies about war and its ineradicable and immeasurable costs.”


“Megan Leavey”

Starring Kate Mara in the titular role, alongside Edie Falco, Ramon Rodriguez and Tom Felton, Megan Leavey follows the moving, true story of a US Marine corporal and her military combat dog. As a Military Police K9 handler deployed in Iraq, she and her heroic German Shepherd Rex saved hundreds of lives before they were both wounded, separated and then ultimately reunited. 

The New York Times hails director Gabriela Cowperthwaite for “letting this irresistible real-life story tell itself with a minimum of manufactured sentiment” — a point which earned the film praise beyond movie critics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Iraq War film was even “verified by the committee of service veterans and entertainment industry experts of the Got Your Six foundation, a nonprofit aimed at promoting more normalized depictions of veterans in film and television.”


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