Veterans Day Iraq and Afghanistan War Movie Guide

A still from 2018’s 12 Strong: The Declassified Story of the Horse Soldiers.

UPDATED and REVISED in 2022! Just in time for Veterans Day weekend binge-watching, or binge-reading, here are links to all Time Now posts that review movies about America’s twenty-first century wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No In the Valley of Elah yet, but I’ve made lots of additions since I first compiled the list in 2017 and then again in 2019.  I also add a link to my post on Adam Driver. No Captain Phillips, Act of Valor, or 13 Hours, because they’re not set in Iraq or Afghanistan or concerned with the aftermath of war upon redeployment. I do include a review of Mine, though, whose location is vaguely middle-Eastern or north-African, so I may rethink Captain Phillips, Acts of Valor, and 13 Hours in the future. No Jarhead, since it’s about the Gulf War, nor the Jarhead sequels, because either their location is indeterminate or I haven’t watched them yet. Still, there’s plenty more to keep you entertained. What will I be watching this Veterans Day weekend? May be time for Mosul or Nobel again.

Purple Hearts (2022): an opposites-attract romance about a Marine trying to put a disreputable past behind him and an aspiring rock-singer who find love after wedding each other for the financial benefits marriage brings military couples. Starring Sofia Carson as Cassie Salazar and Nick Galatzine as Lance Corporal Luke Morrow.

The Outpost (2020). US Army soldiers fight a big battle at COP Keating in Afghanistan in 2009 in which two of them earn Medals of Honor. Featuring a large-cast that includes Scott Eastwood as Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha and Orlando Bloom as Captain Ben Keating.

Mosul (2019). Kurdish militiamen undertake an action-filled rescued mission.  Written and directed by American Matthew Michael Carnahan and featuring an excellent cast of Arab actors in the principal roles, including Suhail Dabbach as Commander Major Jasem of the Nineveh SWAT Team.

12 Strong (2018). A rogue-ish Special Forces operative joins Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum to lead a horse-mounted cavalry charge early in the war in Afghanistan. Based on true events, starring Chris Hemsworth as Captain Mitch Nelson and Navid Negahban as Dostum.

Megan Leavey (2017). A biopic about a female Marine who bonds with her working-dog, an explosive-sniffing, life-saving German Shepard named Rex. Starring Kate Mara in the title role, with a great performance in a minor role from rapper Common as Gunny Sergeant Martin.

Mine (2017). A Marine sniper steps on an undetonated mine, upon which his foot must remain for 52 hours until rescue. Virtually a one-man show, with Armie Hammer as Sergeant Mike Stevens never off-screen for long.

Sand Castle (2017). US Army soldiers struggle to complete a civil affairs project in Iraq. Starring Nicholas Hoult as Private Matt Ocre.

Thank You for Your Service (2017). US Army Iraq veterans cope with PTSD after leaving the service. Starring Miles Teller as Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann.

War Machine (2017). An idiosyncratic US Army general takes charge of the war in Afghanistan. Starring Brad Pitt as General Glen McMahon.

The Yellow Birds (2017). Two US Army soldiers are tormented by the death of a third in Iraq. Starring Alden Ehrenreich as Private John Bartle. Also discussed at length here.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016). An unlikely Iraq War hero is feted by the American public. Starring Joe Alwyn as US Army Specialist Billy Lynn.

Nobel (2016). The long reach of war in Afghanistan follows Norwegian soldiers home after deployment. Starring Aksel Hennie as Lieutenant Erling Riiser.

War Dogs (2016). Two in-over-their-heads arms entrepreneurs try to make it big selling ammo to the Afghan National Army. Starring Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli and Miles Teller as David Packouz.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016). A female journalist parties hard while exposing problems with the US military effort in Afghanistan. Starring Tina Fey as Kim Barker.

Hyena Road (2015). Canadian soldiers debate whether counterinsurgency operations or combat action is the path to victory in Afghanistan. Starring Paul Goss as Captain Pete Mitchell and Rossif Sutherland as Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders.

A War (2016). The long reach of war in Afghanistan follows Danish soldiers home after deployment. Starring Pilou Asbaek as Commander Michael Pedersen.

American Sniper (1) (2014). A Navy SEAL at first excels in battle in Iraq but eventually cracks under the stress of repeated tours. Starring Bradley Cooper as Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle. American Sniper (2)

Fort Bliss (2014). A female US Army sergeant, a battlefield hero in Afghanistan, fights for respect on return to the States. Starring Michelle Monaghan as Staff Sergeant Maggie Swann.

Lone Survivor (2013). A Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan goes awry. Starring Mark Wahlberg as Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell.

Zero Dark Thirty (1) (2012). A bold female CIA agent leads the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Starring Jessica Chastain as “Maya.” Zero Dark Thirty (2)

Green Zone (2010). A swashbuckling US Army officer fights not just insurgents in Iraq, but enemies within his own ranks. Starring Matt Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller.

Brothers (2009). There’s turmoil on the home-front upon a scarred veterans’ redeployment from war. Strong performances from Tobey Maguire as Captain Sam Cahill, Jake Gyllenhaal as Tommy Cahill, Nicole Kidman as Grace Cahill, and in a small role, Sam Shepard as Hank Cahill.

The Messenger (2009). Two US Army soldiers notify next-of-kin of loved ones’ deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starring Woody Harrelson as Captain Tony Stone and Ben Fisher as Sergeant Will Montgomery.

Generation Kill (2008). Not a movie, but an HBO mini-series about a Marine unit during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Starring Alexander Skarsgaard as Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert and a large and talented supporting cast.

The Hurt Locker (2008). A cocky US Army bomb disposal expert wages war in Iraq on his own terms. Starring Jeremy Renner as Sergeant First Class William James.

Lions for Lambs (2007). A charismatic university professor, an agenda-driven US Senator, and a seasoned investigative reporter opine about war in Afghanistan, while two young men go off to fight. Starring Robert Redford as Professor Steven Malley, Tom Cruise as Senator Jasper Irving, and Meryl Streep as reporter Janine Roth.

Finally, Adam Driver.. Not a film, but a post that covers many of the war-and-vet-centric films starring Driver, a former Marine.


Postscript: After publishing the post above, I read the following in Nicholas Kulish’s Last One In, a 2007 novel narrated by an embedded journalist assigned to a Marine unit at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A Marine named Martinez opines on whether reporters should carry and fire weapons when attached to a unit going into combat:

“I’ve seen We Were Soldiers, with Mel Gibson,” Martinez continued. “That reporter said the same thing. When the time cam, he started popping like his name was Dirty Harry.” A civilian stateside might feel inadequate for imagining war in terms of movies. After he lived with a Marine rifle company, that feeling would vanish. Everything was related in terms of movies, Braveheart and Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket, and with the reverence reserved for canonical texts, Black Hawk Down. It said a lot for the movie that Marines would hold a film about Army Rangers in such high regard. If a reporter had shot people in We Were Soldiers, by the Marine logic, it must be so.

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