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February 24, 2008 8:59 PM   Subscribe

What are great film examples of the toughest, awesomest soldiers?

I'm putting together a film night. From The Dirty Dozen to Starship Troopers, I want to know what iconic, classic, or modern films feature the most badass soldiers. All examples welcome. Explanations as to why, or what to look out for, are also appreciated.
posted by BE ADEQUITE to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller

Captain Miller: I'm a schoolteacher. I teach English composition... in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I've been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it's a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I've changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I've changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I'll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don't know anything about Ryan. I don't care. The man means nothing to me. It's just a name. But if ... You know ... if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home ... If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that's my mission.

Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. This hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here you can build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we're fighting for, in the end, is each other.


Patton: I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:14 PM on February 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

In the realm of badassitude, I believe you want 300.
posted by mumkin at 9:16 PM on February 24, 2008

posted by Bookhouse at 9:23 PM on February 24, 2008

Seconding 300, though I think Patton's not a bad choice either.

On the other hand, what about the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket?
posted by Shiva88 at 9:24 PM on February 24, 2008

I think most of the great films depicting soldiers depict them as they actually fight and live. In groups, the lone wolf out kicking ass alone is ridiculous. Like wolves, men fighting alone die quickly. Men fighting alongside those they care about and are willing to die for achieve greatness.

The Green Berets -Over the top in places, but if you're going to accept Starship Troopers... why not.
Black Hawk Down -Based on the Battle of Mogadishu, those men were as hard as men could have been.
The Frogmen
Where Eagles Dare
Bridge on the River Kwai
Lawrence of Arabia -One man essentially raises an Army and changes WWI.
Three Kings
Rambo -An exception to the group rule.
Aliens -Space Marines vs Aliens with acid for blood.
The Guns of Navarone
The Great Escape
Band of Brothers -Technically a TV show.
posted by Science! at 9:25 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, Gary Cooper's Sergeant York, whom Wikipedia credits with earning "the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War Two Victory Medal, the French Legion of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Italian Croce di Guerra and the Montenegran War Medal." And he was a pacifist. And Cooper won an Oscar for the performance. 100% Classic goodness.
posted by mumkin at 9:26 PM on February 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Gunnery Seargent Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. (NOT SAFE FOR WORK)
posted by Bookhouse at 9:28 PM on February 24, 2008

"To Hell and Back."

Audi Murphy was the most decorated soldier in WWII. In the movie Audi Murphy is played by Audi Murphy.
posted by 517 at 9:32 PM on February 24, 2008

Kokoda - "great films depicting soldiers depict them as they actually fight and live" - gritty film depicting the awfulness of trying to halt the Japanese advance in the hellish highlands of New Guinea.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:39 PM on February 24, 2008

How soldiery do they need to be?

Seven Samurai is great, as is Magnificent Seven which was based on it. Both are groups of individual fighters (samurai or gunslingers) who come together to protect a town from marauders. Not technically soldiers, but still awesome fighters.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:49 PM on February 24, 2008

Hell in the Pacific with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. Real soldiers working together although on opposite sides. I always liked that about this film.
posted by cazoo at 9:51 PM on February 24, 2008

The dark haired guy from Band of Brothers.
posted by dobbs at 10:18 PM on February 24, 2008

If you like old films or Russian history I enjoyed the Soviet Alexander Nevsky, directed by Sergei Eisenstein and score by Prokofiev. It's about the legendary Russian prince of the same name who stopped the invasion of the Teutonic Order into Russia during the Northern Crusades.

Ran by Akira Kurosawa. Epic samurai warfare and drama.

The Last Samurai - modern one with Tom Cruise, set in late 1800's Japan. A U.S. Civil War veteran travels to Japan to serve as a military advisor and goes native.

The Man Who Would Be King - two colonial British soldiers in India decide they're going to take a few cases of guns up through the Khyber Pass and conquor Afghanistan. Michael Caine and Sean Connery. Based on a novel by Rudyard Kipling.

Prisoner of the Mountains - a recent Russian film based on a short story by Tolstoy about two Russian soldiers who are kidnapped by Chechens.
posted by XMLicious at 10:22 PM on February 24, 2008

Band of Brothers - all 10 hours of it. I guess the standout would be Major Winters

There is a reason BoB is ranked a beyond-astronomical 9.6 / 10 on IMDB with 40,000 votes, and it has nothing to do with marketing or teenage girls voting 10s over and over because 'omg he's so hot' - it's because the miniseries is bloody amazing.

Of course it doesn't really fit into a movie night at 10 hours, but if you don't do it last everything else is just gonna look lame afterwards.
posted by spatula at 10:24 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" is more general that soldier, but he is pretty badass. He lives and dies with honor.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:25 PM on February 24, 2008

posted by kirkaracha at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2008

Also Troy.
posted by XMLicious at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2008

The poor bloody chockos

Too late in the day for me to add more links, but these guys stopped the Japanese in New Guinea on the infamous Kokoda Trail
posted by mattoxic at 10:35 PM on February 24, 2008

Band of Brothers -- after watching the series I feel like I know the men of Easy, like they were friends of mine. The fact that they are all real people makes it all the more vivid. Winters is a strong characters but Spears stands out as the real badass of the bunch - after he (allegedly) guns down several prisoners of war, rumors spread about his bad-assedness. He gave them smokes, the rumors say, right before he shot them. Later in the foxholes he offers a smoke to one of the men, who chokes and sputters "no thanks". Oh, and don't miss the scene where he runs right through a German-held town in the middle of a firefight in order to link up with allied units on the other side that are about to leave... and then turns around and runs right back.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:40 PM on February 24, 2008

Kirk Douglas' character in Kubrick's classic Paths of Glory is a fascinating film soldier.

Science! wrote: I think most of the great films depicting soldiers depict them as they actually fight and live.

Maybe, but including Lawrence of Arabia among your examples is a stretch. That film has little to do with the actual history of T.E. Lawrence, which makes the realism of the fighting and living it portrays kind of suspect.

/minor peeve, sorry
posted by mediareport at 10:40 PM on February 24, 2008

The Battle of Algiers for a depiction of the post-Vietnam crackerjack French Army Paratroops taking control of the situation in French Algeria.
posted by panamax at 10:51 PM on February 24, 2008

Kurt Russell & Jason Scott Lee are pretty badass in "Soldier."
posted by luriete at 11:00 PM on February 24, 2008

val kilmer is a great modern soldier in spartan. he ends up doing a bunch of secret agent type stuff, but i think this film is one of david mamet's overlooked gems.
posted by bruceo at 11:18 PM on February 24, 2008

Oh, yeah, Spartan for sure. Mamet and Kilmer worked closely with a Delta Force guy for that movie.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:32 PM on February 24, 2008

2nding The Green Berets, damn tough soldiers all of them.

If we are talking about T.V series, I would say that Rome shows some tough-as-nails soldiers, Lucius Verenius and Titus Pullo are two badass SoBs.
posted by Carillon at 12:08 AM on February 25, 2008

Soldier refers to ARMY, but most read it as "military". If you DO mean military, the most bad-ass of all is the US Marine Corps. Every other branch/specialized team (ie Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, etc) claim they are the most bad-ass...but only they can toot their own horns. The Marine Corps is known the world over by those who they have come into combat with. You don't name yourself Teufelhunde, you get that from others.

Ergo...any movies accurately portraying Marines should be the answer to your question. Some that I can think of would be:

A few good men -Jack Nicholson.
Full Metal Jacket- The drill INSTRUCTOR is R. Lee Ermey (a real marine)
An officer and a gentleman-the instructor is a Marine

ahh...i can't think of one more single military movie anymore...which means time for bed.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:04 AM on February 25, 2008

Gunnery Sgt. Tom 'Gunny' Highway, as played by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge.
posted by benzo8 at 1:34 AM on February 25, 2008

bill murray in stripes!

ok, he's not really much of a badass, but it'll breakup the monotony of endless smoking, mumbled diologue and dying in the other films.

+1 for saving private ryan - the soldiers aren't badassed like rambo, they're badassed like a bunch of regular guys who've been through more than a few very tough battles and have managed to survive, while meanwhile getting quite good at killing germans.
posted by messiahwannabe at 2:08 AM on February 25, 2008

I've just watched Letters From Iwo Jima

posted by mattoxic at 5:17 AM on February 25, 2008

Breaker Morant
Any of the Sharpe films
posted by yerfatma at 5:29 AM on February 25, 2008

Beast of War
posted by DreamerFi at 5:51 AM on February 25, 2008

"The Longest Day" is a good soldier movie, it runs the gamut.

"The Americanization of Emily" is an excellent movie, also about D-Day. It's not about badass soldiers like John Wayne, but it does show a slightly different perspective of soldiering that is no less badass. One of my favorite movies.
posted by gjc at 5:53 AM on February 25, 2008

Cpl. Jason L. Dunham

real life trumps fiction
posted by caddis at 5:59 AM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 AM on February 25, 2008

... Guess I know what I'm watching for awhile. War!

More recently, Marky Mark is pretty badass in Sniper.

... Along the same lines, but way more offbeat, Tom Berenger is pretty awesome in The Substitute, a movie about a bunch of mercenaries for hire to get personally involved in cleaning up a gang-riddled high school.
posted by ph00dz at 6:18 AM on February 25, 2008

Weezy -- because he carries big things, if you know what I mean.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:21 AM on February 25, 2008

Lt. Spears from Band of Brothers!
posted by Caper's Ghost at 6:31 AM on February 25, 2008

That is, Lt. Speirs. In episode #7 of the miniseries he's a bad dude.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 6:37 AM on February 25, 2008

Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" movies.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:04 AM on February 25, 2008

I see Aliens has been mentioned a few times, but not Cpl. Hicks in particular. I nominate him for his total cool-headed leadership amidst a rapidly disintegrating security situation. Plus, he just cool as hell in most of his scenes: exchanging glances with Ripley upon waking from hypersleep, dozing off during the awesome drop ship sequence, unsheathing his shotgun when the HE mags are all confiscated ("I keep this handy for close encounters"), diving through the glass in the Med center, and of course, "Stay Frosty".
posted by Scoo at 9:09 AM on February 25, 2008

Wait - what's going on here? How is it that all of us have forgotten G.I. Joe The Movie? (spoiler) For shame.

If Snake Eyes fought Sargent Slaughter, who would win? I mean, their real names are both classified.

And of course Cheat Commandos.
posted by XMLicious at 9:59 AM on February 25, 2008

Dieter Dengler as an Air Force POW in Laos, in Werner Herzog's "based on a true story" Rescue Dawn, is not so much badass as determined.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:36 AM on February 25, 2008


Sandra: What are you going to do?
Todd: I'm going to kill them all, sir.


Scott: What they gotcha teachin' here, young sergeant?
Jackie Black: Edged weapons, sir. Knife fighting.
Scott: Don't you teach 'em knife fighting. Teach 'em to kill. That way, they meet some sonofabitch who studied knife fighting, they send his soul to hell.

And it may seem a little unconventional but the Malcolm Reynolds character in the TV show Firefly could deliver lines that embodied the concept of esprit de corps and camaraderie in a way that gets even a grump like me choked up.

Simon: You came for us.
Mal: You're on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?
Mal: You're on my crew. Why we still talking about this?
posted by quin at 1:18 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You want badass soldiers? There are 4,000+ of them in Zulu.
Well...yeah, I know they lost. But they won the day before.
posted by Dr.Pill at 1:22 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well heck, if we're talking about courageously facing certain doom, mention of the 1936 Charge of the Light Brigade with Errol Flynn is in order.

Plus The Thin Red Line, which is not about the original Thin Red Line which occurred during the Charge of the Light Brigade.
posted by XMLicious at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2008

Full Metal Jacket- The drill INSTRUCTOR is R. Lee Ermey (a real marine)

He's that dude on "Mail Call"! I bet he plays one bad-ass marine!
posted by wafaa at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2008

That should be Marine. Sorry. (I'm the proud sister of a Marine.)
posted by wafaa at 3:03 PM on February 25, 2008

Have to second the Heartbreak Ridge. But I'd select that light-skinned brother as the top dog. The one that sings about some girls behind.
posted by thebellafonte at 2:53 PM on February 26, 2008

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