When I was in the Army, every soldier, or at least every male combat-arms soldier, could recite swaths of dialogue from 80s and 90s war-movie classics such as Full Metal Jacket and Blackhawk Down. Save for Jarhead, I’ve never heard anyone quote a post-9/11 war film with the same gleeful enthusiasm, or really at all, and truth be told, Jarhead is about the First Gulf War, not Operation Iraqi Freedom. Whatever, of the many films released after 9/11 that portray American men-and-women fighting in desert places, here are some of my favorite scenes, in chronological order of date-of-release.
1. Jarhead (2005). Like I said, not technically a Global War on Terror film, but it might as well be for how popular and influential it has been among those in the ranks. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s full of life-defining scenes for young Marines, or young men dreaming of joining them.
2. The Hurt Locker (2008). Veterans love to assert their contempt for The Hurt Locker for all sorts of reasons, but no other GWOT film cranks up the tension scene-by-scene like it does, nor hits as hard in the feels. Starring Jeremy Renner, first the tension:
3. The Hurt Locker (2008). Now the feels:
4. The Messenger (2009). Woody Harrelson can chew the scenery with the best of them, and he’s in fine form here. But guess what? He’s outdone by Yaya DaCosta and the unknown actress who plays her mother.
5. Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Jessica Chastain as CIA operative “Mia” owns Zero Dark Thirty from start-to-finish, and I could have chosen a dozen scenes to highlight. Love here the bit about “your dip and your Velcro and all your gear bullshit.”
6. Lone Survivor (2013). The portrayal of the death of SEAL lieutenant Michael Murphy in the book version of Lone Survivor is superb. The movie version for some reason changes details from the book and drains some of the emotional and dramatic wallop, but the scene still makes the list. Taylor Kitsch as Lieutenant Murphy.
7. Captain Phillips (2013). Danielle Albert, the Navy corpsman who treats Tom Hanks at the end of Captain Phillips is a real sailor, not an actor, but she holds her own and then some. My favorite on the list.
8. American Sniper (2014). Say what you will about Chris Kyle and the memoir American Sniper, Bradley Cooper is so great in the movie version he can almost make you forget the faults of the actual man and his book.
9. Mine (2016). Mine is basically a one-man-show starring Armie Hammer, but for the short time he’s in it, Tom Cullen runs away with the movie.
10. Thank You For Your Service (2017). The scenes I like best from Thank You for Your Service aren’t on YouTube, so this one featuring Miles Teller will have to stand-in for them.
11. Meaghan Leavey (2017). Kata Mara is good as the title character in this Marine-and-her-dog flick, but this scene belongs to rap star Common, who plays her gunnery sergeant.
BONUS! 10 Days to War (2008). Kenneth Branagh, Mr. Henry V himself, playing a British commander who gives a rousing-but-thoughtful speech to his troops on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.