Memorial Day means a lot of things to a lot of people. A time to honor veterans and active military, a day to reflect and remember, a day to spend with family and friends. At my last job, it was an especially important day because a lot of the teens in our library either enlisted directly out of high school or were in ROTC and planned to enlist. It was their pathway to college and job training, and when our “kids” came back on leave they couldn’t wait to come in uniform to see us. It was wonderful but also bittersweet, because we worried about them as much as we would as if they were our own kids- and in a way they were and always will be.
In remembrance and in honor of those who have served, I’ve pulled together a military movie playlist of some of the best films for teens. A mix of modern day blockbusters and classics, these are ones that have captured teens and young adults and made them really think, and have discussions that you wouldn’t think they’d have. Have some that you think fit? Share in the comments!
The Hurt Locker: Before they were Hawkeye and Falcon, Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie were squadmates on a bomb quad in Iraq in 2008. When one’s maverick way of doing things starts to put others at risk, bonds will be stretched to the limit and true character will be called into question. Winner, Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director.
Red Tails: Based on the true story of the Tuskagee Airmen, the Civil Aeronautics Authority selects 13 black cadets to become part of an experimental program to train “colored personnel” to become pilots for the War. Fighting discrimination, racism, and lack of support, the Airmen prove their valor when called into duty. Starring Michael B. Young.
Saving Private Ryan: When three of her four sons have been killed in action, a group of soldiers follow the Normandy landings to track down the fourth remaining son to bring him home. Starring not only Tom Hanks, but also a very young Matt Damon and Vin Diseal.
Black Hawk Down: On a mission in Somalia to destabilize the government and bring back food and water to the starving population, two Black Hawk helicopters are brought down and their crew abandoned on the ground, fighting to survive. Starring Eric Bana and Ewan McGregor.
Rescue Dawn: When a US Pilot is shot down during the Vietnam War, he and his fellow prisoners are taken to Laos and imprisoned for years. Starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn.
Thinking and More Intense Movies
These are movies that I’ve used for a more mature audience that have worked really well.
Good Morning, Vietnam: When an unorthodox DJ starts to shake things up on a military base in Vietnam, things get tense with middle management. Meanwhile, brushes with the real war that never gets reported shakes his confidence and his world view. Starring Forrest Whitaker and Robin Williams.
A Few Good Men: When two servicemen go on trial for the suspected suicide/death of another Marine, the JAG service suspect a massive cover-up by higher officers. Starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in one of the most memorable scenes in movie history.
Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Seen through the eyes of an 8 year old, a friendship through the fence of a concentration camp has huge consequences. Starring a young Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game) as Bruno.
The Imitation Game: Very loosely based on Turig’s life history, a group of mathematicians work to crack the German codes to help win England win World War II. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch at Turig and Keria Knightly as Joan Clark.