Veteran’s Day gives us an annual chance to celebrate the actions and sacrifices of the men and women of America’s armed forces. And as we honor those real-life heroes who have served our country so well, I thought it would be fun to draw attention to the war heroes from film who have inspired us across the decades.
General George Patton (Patton)
The controversial general was influential in both real life and film, inspiring troops during World War II and filmgoers thereafter thanks to a masterful performance by George C. Scott. Patton may not have been the most self-restrained commander in the US Army, but his successful campaigns have left a lasting legacy in the annals of American military history.
Benjamin Martin (The Patriot)
Mel Gibson is personally responsible for two of the most badass war heroes we’ve ever seen on the big screen. The Patriot’s soldier-turned-farmer-turned-Terminator Benjamin Martin leaves his peaceful life behind when Jason Isaacs murders his son in cold blood, and from there singlehandedly wins the Revolutionary War, accompanied by his trusty hatchet and certainly sentient ponytail. Martin also gets points for using the actual American flag to vanquish his enemy on the battlefield.
Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings)
There may not be a fictional on-screen war with bigger stakes than the one depicted in The Lord of the Rings. A conflict of that scale needs a hero equal to it, and the heir to the throne of Gondor is absolutely that. Whether the man formerly known as Strider wanted it or not, the job of leading and inspiring soldiers of all races against Mordor fell to him and he handled it with aplomb.
William James (The Hurt Locker)
One of the most outright dangerous jobs in today’s military involves the dismantling of unexploded IEDs in conflict zones. To say that not many people have the intestinal fortitude to be so close to death with such regularity would qualify for understatement of the century, as would the fact that such high-stress work can have lasting psychological effects. This is all brought to life in expert fashion by Katheryn Bigelow and particularly Jeremy Renner as Sgt. First Class James, whose cavalier attitude toward his team and his mission is simultaneously disturbing and, in a way, understandable. The Hurt Locker also reminds us that the most heroic among us aren’t always perfect people.
Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan)
It takes a special kind of hero to lead a team behind enemy lines at the tail end of the biggest war the world has ever seen to find and rescue the sole survivor of four enlisted brothers. Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller is a noble but flawed leader who makes decisions that his men actively disagree with and that unintentionally put them further in harm’s way, but he does the best with the information he has in an already impossible situation. Even so, like the best leaders, he shows strength and determination in the face of insurmountable odds. If that’s not inspirational, what is?
Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
Coming a bit longer ago and farther away than the other cinematic war heroes on this list, Luke Skywalker deserves the same tribute. After all, the rebellion against the Empire spanned quite a few more planets than the wars the other guys fought in, and he did take out an entire moon-sized space station all by his lonesome (no, R2-D2 doesn’t count as “helping”). Though let’s be honest – maybe this spot belongs more to the Ewoks. They’re really the ones who won the final battle, and they throw a kick-ass party too.
Colonel Robert Shaw & the entire 54th Infantry (Glory)
In the grand scheme, Colonel Shaw and the 54th are heroes as much (if not more) for what their accomplishments meant off the battlefield as on it. The first all-black regiment in the Civil War and its white commander fought against not only men on the Confederate side, but also the prejudice that surrounded them on their own. Their sacrifices ensured that scores of other black men volunteered for and were accepted into military service for the Union, one small first step in the long battle for equality in this country’s history.
This is only a sample of the big-screen war heroes that deserve recognition. Share your own thoughts and ideas in the comments section, and remember to thank our real life servicemen and women this Veteran’s Day.