Memorial Day weekend is commonly seen as the gateway to summer, and while there are many movies to watch at your local multiplex some of y’all may be looking for a film that’s more in line with the holiday itself. Stories that honor our fallen soldiers. A war epic perhaps, or something that showcases bravery in the face of danger.

From the Civil War to Vietnam the war in Afghanistan, the movies on this list are perfect for any Memorial Day viewing, as we remember the courageous men and women who gave their lives while serving in the United States armed forces. War sagas have been a part of cinema since its invention and, still today, they’re a tremendous way to tell truly human life-or-death stories. Award-winning directors like Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, and more have tried their hand at these epics, as well as icons like Stanley Kubrick, Edward Zwick, Terrence Malick, and Peter Weir.

Here are some fine flicks to consider if you’re trying to craft and create a Memorial Day binge, from all different eras of American (and world) history, telling tales of extraordinary action in the midst of absolute hell.

The 15 Best Memorial Day Movies to Watch

Note: Where to watch information is based on data available at the time of publication.

Black Hawk Down

Where to Watch: HBO Max, HBO Go, Max Go, Hoopla

Black Hawk Down, from Ridley Scott, was heaped with praise and two Academy Awards (for Best Film Editing and Best Sound) and still remains a solid, gripping look at soldiers caught in a seemingly impossible situation. Detailing the US military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu, which shifted from what was supposed to be a quick mission into an overnight standoff and rescue operation, Black Hawk Down features a large ensemble, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Piven and Tom Hardy in his first film role.

Check out IGN’s review of Black Hawk Down.

Glory

Where to Watch: Fubo, and rentable on other platforms

Edward Zwick’s historical Civil War drama, Glory, stars Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick in the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment – which was one of the Union Army’s earliest African-American regiments. Nominated for five Academy Awards, and winning three (including one for Denzel), Glory is a moving, powerful film that will take your breath away.

Check out IGN’s review of Glory.

Courage Under Fire

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, and rentable on other platforms

Denzel Washington reunited with Glory director Edward Zwick for a very different war and a very different tale of bravery with Courage Under Fire. Utilizing a Rashomon-style format, the film follows a Lieutenant Colonel (Washington), back home from the Gulf War after a friendly fire incident, tasked with determining if Captain Karen Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) should be the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor following her death in combat. The separate stories from Walden’s crew are filled with inconsistencies … so where lies the truth? Courage Under Fire – also starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon, and Seth Gilliam – is a compelling, haunted watch.

Saving Private Ryan

Where to Watch: Fubo, and rentable on other platforms

A few years after Spielberg changed the course of cinema with Jurassic Park, he made his indelible mark in the realm of war dramas with instant classic Saving Private Ryan. A film featuring battle scenes so shocking and harsh that it was unlike anything audiences had seen before from a World War II movie. From its D-Day opening to its cruel climax, Saving Private Ryan, and its all-star cast, rarely lets you breathe. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies star in this trek to track down a paratrooper in Northern France that was nominated for a whopping eleven Oscars.

Check out IGN’s review of Saving Private Ryan.

The Thin Red Line

Where to Watch: Rentable on many platforms

The same year Saving Private Ryan was released another, very different World War II film, The Thin Red Line, which was director Terrence Malick’s first feature in 20 years. Focusing on a different arena of the war, the Pacific Theater, and operating, in true Malick style, like a profound war poem, The Thin Red Line was also a contender at the Academy Awards, finding itself nominated in seven categories. Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas and Ben Chaplin star in this mesmerizing meditation on life and death (as well as other famous faces – like John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly and John Travolta – – in smaller roles).

Check out IGN’s review of The Thin Red Line.

Paths of Glory

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, and rentable on other platforms

Kirk Douglas stars as a commanding officer in World War I who attempts to defend his soldiers after they refuse to embark on a suicide mission in this early gem from Stanley Kubrick. Based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory is a thought-provoking tale about the horrors of war and the detached inhumanity that can be exhibited from those in charge. It’s gorgeously shot and expertly acted.

The Hurt Locker

Where to Watch: Fubo, and rentable on other platforms

Kathryn Bigelow would become the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director after helming this intense, revealing movie about an Iraq War bomb disposal team and their psychological reactions to the stress of combat. Future MCU players Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie star in this riveting Best Picture-winner that will leave you both exhilarated and exhausted.

Check out IGN’s review of The Hurt Locker.

Platoon

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, and rentable on other platforms

If you’re looking for another war film that cleaned up at the Academy Awards then look no further than Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which took home Best Picture, Director, Sound, and Editing. Charlie Sheen stars as a US Army soldier serving in Vietnam while his Platoon Sergeant (Tom Berenger) and his Squad Leader (Willem Dafoe) clash over the morality in the platoon and of the war itself. As the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War, Platoon is a harrowing look at wartime violence and how men can become monsters in the midst of chaos.

Check out IGN’s review of Platoon.

Where to Watch: Rentable on many platforms

Clint Eastwood directed Bradley Cooper in this vivid, sorrowful account of the deadliest marksman in US military history, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and the heavy toll that accomplishment took on his personal and family life. Loosely based on Kyle’s own memoir, American Sniper boasts a blistering, beautiful performance from Cooper, along with a strong supporting cast featuring Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, and Kyle Gallner.

Check out IGN’s review of American Sniper.

The Big Red One

Where to Watch: Rentable on many platforms

The Big Red One is one of the lesser-known films on this list, produced independently and shot for very little overseas, written and directed by tinseltown vet (and World War II vet) Samuel Fuller. The Big Red One stars action legend Lee Marvin as a hardened sergeant, and World War I veteran, as he leads the members of his infantry unit from battle to battle throughout Europe, trying to survive World War II. A post-Star Wars Mark Hamill co-stars along with a pre-Revenge of the Nerds Robert Carradine.

The Outpost

Where to Watch: Netflix, and rentable on other platforms

The Outpost, from director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle, Straw Dogs), is an exceptional blend of writing, acting, and technical filmmaking. Based on journalist Jake Tapper’s non-fiction book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, the film depicts the months leading up to the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, where just over 50 soldiers found themselves surrounded on all sides by hundreds of Taliban insurgents. Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Jack Kesy, and Cory Hardrict star.

Check out IGN’s review of The Outpost.

Lone Survivor

Where to Watch: Rentable on many platforms

Actor / director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Rundown) kicked off his five-movie collaboration with Mark Wahlberg with 2013’s Lone Survivor, a dramatization of the unsuccessful United States Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings. A survival story in the truest sense of the term, Lone Survivor is a gritty, violent depiction of bravery, focus, and fortitude. Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana co-star.

Check out IGN’s review of Lone Survivor.

Gallipoli

Where to Watch: Starz app, Amazon with Starz add-on, rentable on many platforms

This soaring story of Australian soldiers sent to the peninsula of Gallipoli in World War I is quintessential Australian cinema – as well as one of the best war films ever made. Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) proved himself early on to be a patient and exceedingly talented filmmaker with this wrenching look at innocence lost on the unforgiving battlefield. Yes, it’s the only film on this list that doesn’t focus on American fighters but the themes of Gallipoli are evergreen and enduring.

Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima

Where to Watch: Rentable on many platforms

Two films sneak in here at the end, both from Clint Eastwood and both depicting the Battle of Iwo Jima. Flags of Our Fathers stars Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach in a searing salute to the American side of the conflict while Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, and Tsuyoshi Ihara star in the almost entirely Japanese (and stronger film) Letters from Iwo Jima , which depicts the Japanese soldiers’ story.

Check out IGN’s reviews of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Do you have a favorite war film that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments below …

Also check out the Best Memorial Day Deals if you’re looking for some holiday savings.

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