- Hollywood has a reputation for distorting and misrepresenting how the military actually operations.
- But some movies get right, depicting how US troops conduct themselves and perform their missions.
- Several Green Berets told Insider which ones they thought reflected the Special Forces experience.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Hollywood is usually quite off the mark when it comes to war and the military, but there are a few films that actually reflect the Army Special Forces experience, according to Green Berets themselves.
“Military movies have always been a challenge for me to watch. Having been in the military for quite a few years, my eyes are drawn to the slightest details, such as dialogue, uniform accuracy, and character representation. Special Operations movies, the few that have been made, are even more difficult for me to enjoy,” a retired Green Beret told Insider.
Hollywood often tries to convey a message about war or politics through war films, and that usually leads to an unrealistic film rife with big and small inaccuracies.
“Little effort is placed on accuracy and quality acting when dealing with military subjects. There are, of course, exceptions, but most of the films are set during World War II, a war that even Hollywood celebrates as justified and necessary,” the retired Green Beret added.
The three films below, which depict three different conflicts, are among the best war films out there, several current and former Green Berets told Insider.
’12 Strong’ (2018)
In the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, small teams of CIA paramilitary officers and Green Berets inserted into Afghanistan and linked up with local anti-Taliban groups.
Supported by US airpower, the intelligence officers and commandos were able to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda in a few weeks. The commandos’ flexibility and ability to deal with partner forces and with ambiguous situations were key to the success.
“12 Strong” is “a more recent film about a Special Forces detachment that infiltrates Afghanistan early in late 2001. I think this movie has good acting, represents Green Berets well, and most importantly it’s based on a true story,” the retired Green Beret said.
This film is particularly relevant today, with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan after a very short campaign – the same way they were ousted from power nearly 20 years ago.
A retired Delta Force operator told Insider that “12 Strong” was “a good movie as far as Hollywood goes.”
The movie depicts an Operational Detachment-A – the smallest Green Beret element – and its mission “in a realistic way,” the retired operator said.
“Not many people know that a 12-man ODA can be broken down into two or even smaller teams in order to enable and lead more guerrillas. That inherent flexibility in SF [Army Special Forces] is what makes them so good,” the retired Delta operator added. “But the movie has a poignant aspect with everything that is going on in Afghanistan at the moment.”
‘Black Hawk Down’ (2001)
“Black Hawk Down” puts the viewer on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia, alongside Task Force Ranger as they tried to stop a brutal civil war by capturing the Somali warlords.
On October 3, 1993, the Task Force’s Delta Force operators and Rangers got into a hellish battle within Mogadishu after the Somali militiamen shot down two MH-60 Black Hawks with rocket-propelled grenades.
What followed was hours of street-to-street combat as the American commandos tried to hold off thousands of Somali militiamen and fighters.
“Black Hawk Down is a classic one. Although the movie doesn’t accurately depict what went down on the ground, it is fairly close for Hollywood,” a retired Delta Force operator who also served in the Army Special Forces told Insider.
“What makes it a good movie and distinguishes it from other war movies is the violence of action. The producers and directors did a really good job at capturing that. I think they had help and advising from SOF [special-operations forces] veterans,” the operator added.
‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)
Set during the Vietnam War, “Apocalypse Now” is a classic and celebrated war film.
Col. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, is a Green Beret officer who was tasked with taking the fight to the Viet Cong but went too far and created an army of indigenous people who thought he is a god.
Attempts by the US military to rein Kurtz in fail, so they send a young intelligence officer, played by Martin Sheen, to find him, bring him back, or kill him.
“You can’t go wrong with Apocalypse Now. The movie is an epic. The plot, acting, theme are on point. Everything is on point, except perhaps that it runs a little long. It shows unconventional warfare, the bread and butter of SF [Special Forces], and what an SF guy can do,” a National Guard Green Beret told Insider.
“Hero or villain, Col. Kurtz shows the [Army Special Forces] Regiment’s capabilities and the force-multiplier aspect of SF,” the Green Beret added.
Reception was mixed up its release, but it is now considered a classic by many cinephiles. In 2000, the Library of Congress included the film in the US National Film Registry, which identifies movies worth preservation.
John Milius, who wrote the script for “Apocalypse Now,” “is one of the few people in Hollywood that has an interest in the military and representing it well on the big screen,” the retired Green Beret added. “Hollywood doesn’t care for war flicks for the most part. Just reflect back to 1989 when ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ took best picture over ‘Born on the Fourth of July.'”
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.