It’s Veteran’s Day and no other director makes use of the military quite like Director Michael Benjamin Bay. Depending on the cinematic flavors you enjoy you either love or hate Bay’s work. To perfectly illustrate his polarization, the average Rotten Tomato score for Bay movies is 40 percent. He’s the Trump of filmmaking if you will. So, before we get started, I’d like to say that Michael Bay movies give me headaches. I call modern Hollywood “Michael Bay Hollywood” and think he makes the same vapid movies that are slavishly devoted to the Save the Cat formula. But … I also love Michael Bay. I wrote a short play about Michael Bay (100% true. If I had a relationship with Bay on Facebook, it would most certainly be complicated.
For those not familiar, or who have lived beneath rocks inside the hollow earth, Michael Bay is the mastermind behind the Bad Boys films, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the Transformers movies. Bay proudly says “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.” And he’s right. There’s no crime or shame in the big, dumb, and loud movies he makes. They’re fun and undoubtedly draw people into theaters to the tune of billions.
A common theme in Michael Bay movies is his use of the United States military. Bay has a close relationship with the armed forces and so his often global-spanning films feature planes, tanks, and other weapons of war in ways few movies even dream.
In honor of Veteran’s Day … here are seven great films to watch featuring the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines NOT directed by Michael Bay. Remember, I did say that his movies give me headaches.
Top Gun – 1986
Military-focused movies were big in the 80s and this one is a must-watch on Veteran’s Day. Cruise plays Maverick, a hotshot pilot in a program for the best-of-the-best. Directed by Tony Scott, it has a little something for everyone including a love story and possibly a love triangle if you believe some interpretations. The action scenes are a little dated, but the film is no less fun to watch and absurdly quotable.
Hunt For Red October – 1990
The first film in the now long legacy of Jack Ryan movies. The Hunt For Red October is tense, gripping, and arguably the least Michael Bay type of movie on this list. The film provides a look at Cold War era politics. An American CIA analyst played by Alec Baldwin tries to convince United States officials that Sean Connery’s Russian submarine captain is defecting and not trying to start a nuclear war.
Independence Day – 1996
As the Michael Bay era of Hollywood was on the verge of beginning, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin handled the big, dumb, and loud movies. ID4, as it’s known, is the ultimate action movie for Fourth of July but it also fits nicely as a Veteran’s Day salute to the brave soldiers who fight wars. If humans survive long enough, we will need to take on some alien scum sooner or later.
Three Kings – 1999
An unlikely cast of Ice Cube, Mark Walberg, Spike Jonez, and George Clooney are at the heart of this unsung hero of a war movie. David O. Russell crafted an action-comedy laced with social commentary about war and politics. The film follows four soldiers on a mission to take gold from Saddam Hussein following the chaos of the early 90s Persian Gulf War. The self-serving mission turns into a chance for the soldiers to prove who the good guys truly are in the fight for freedom.
Black Hawk Down – 2001
Ridley Scott’s career is a treasure trove of movies that are both visually arresting and thematically gripping. Scott’s Black Hawk Down follows the true accounts of a group of soldiers who crash-land in the middle of war-torn Mogadishu. A star-studded cast fights to survive the ensuing chaos. Scott and cinematographer Sławomir Idziak, clearly inspired by Spielberg and Janusz Kamiński’s work in Saving Private Ryan, adapt the impactful visual style for modern day warfare.
Zero Dark Thirty – 2012
Kathryn Bigelow has two films in her filmography centered on the military: The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Both of them are fantastic. If you want a little less political commentary, then The Hurt Locker is a better choice. But Zero Dark Thirty is the one that follows the actual story of the raid that took out the most notorious terrorist in the world — Osama Bin Laden. The film does pull punches when it comes to thoughts on torture and terrorism.
Honorable Mention: Navy SEALs – 1990
Pure early 90s action awesome. Navy SEALs stars Michael Bien, Charlie Sheen, and Bill Paxton as classic manly men Navy Seals who drink and party and kick ass. A mission to save a downed aircrew takes the rag-tag team into a war zone and a fight for their lives. The film features a classic montage sequence and this cheesetastic song from Mr. Big. Pure joy for a happy Veteran’s Day movie marathon.