Top military movie roles for Veterans Day

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes military movie roles (Part 1)

Veterans Day is a time to salute the brave men and women who have served.

Likewise, there have been some fantastic fictional portrayals over the years.

Join us below as we rank the Top Military Movie Roles for Veterans Day.

This list differs slightly from our Best War Movies as we are now ranking the individual performances in those movies, which produces a slightly different order.

Disclaimer: I limited selections to American or Allied soldiers. I did not include resistance leaders like Paul Henreid in “Casablanca” or Liam Neeson in “Schindler’s List,” nor did I include Confederate generals like Martin Sheen in “Gettysburg” or Robert Duvall in “Gods & Generals” because I prefer to salute the stars and stripes.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes military movie roles (Part 2)

30. Bradley Cooper — “American Sniper”

After “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover,” Bradley Cooper showed his serious side as the late Chris Kyle, the post-9/11 sniper with the most confirmed kills in U.S. history.

29. John Wayne – “The Longest Day”

Forget “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “The Green Berets,” John Wayne’s best war flick is this epic, authentic account of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

28. Gregory Peck – “Twelve O’Clock High”

Gregory Peck plays the hard-as-nails General Frank Savage, who takes over a demoralized WWII bomber unit and pushes the pilots beyond what they thought possible.

27. Chris Pratt – “Zero Dark Thirty”

As an overall movie, “Zero Dark Thirty” is Top 10 material, following a CIA agent’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden. As an individual soldier’s performance, Chris Pratt gives a brief role as a member of SEAL Team Six raiding the compound.

26. Jeremy Renner – “The Hurt Locker”

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar, using a cinema-verite style to follow an Iraq War bomb squad led by Jeremy Renner, who craves redeployment after returning home to the eerie quiet of the supermarket aisle.

25. Tom Hardy – “Dunkirk”

Long before “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gary Cooper delivered one of his finest performances in the true story of a pacifist who goes to World War I, using his down-home turkey hunting skills to save his platoon.

24. George MacKay – “1917”

After the underrated Desert Storm flick “Jarhead,” Sam Mendes returned to battle with this single-shot masterpiece in the trenches of World War I.

23. Jamie Foxx – “Jarhead”

“1917” may have gotten all the award season love, but Sam Mendes’ better war flick was “Jarhead,” starring Jamie Foxx as a “hoo-rah” drill sergeant for Jake Gyllenhaal in the Gulf War.

22. Brad Pitt – “Inglourious Basterds”

Quentin Tarantino cast Brad Pitt to lead a team of Jewish U.S. soldiers on a revisionist Nazi-killing mission, while Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for his terrifying Jew Hunter villain.

21. Lee Marvin – “The Dirty Dozen”

Lee Marvin leads a dozen convicted murderers (Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland and Jim Brown) on a mass assassination mission of Nazi officers in a classic war flick that clearly influenced Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

20. Louis Gossett Jr. – “An Officer and a Gentleman”

Louis Gossett Jr. won an Oscar as the strict drill sergeant, while Richard Gere swept Debra Winger off her feet to the Oscar-winning tune “Up Where We Belong.”

19. Jim Caviezel – “The Thin Red Line”

Breaking a 20-year hiatus after “Days of Heaven” (1978), the elusive Terrence Malick returned for this existential take on World War II, starring Sean Penn and Jim Caviezel.

18. Tom Cruise – “Born on the Fourth of July”

After winning Best Picture and Best Director for “Platoon,” Oliver Stone won his second Best Director for this account of Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), who evolves from all-American boy to paralyzed Vietnam War protester, proving that patriotism comes in many forms.

17. Robin Williams – “Good Morning Vietnam”

“Goooood morning, Vietnam!” Cosmic comedy treat Robin Williams spits improvised fire to kick off this hilariously harrowing tale by filmmaker Barry Levinson about a hyper disc jockey charged with waking up the troops every morning of the Vietnam War.

16. Donald Sutherland – “M*A*S*H”

Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H” boasted a daring approach of multiple characters spitting jokes over top of each other and bold “Last Supper” imagery of medics operating in the Korean War. Donald Sutherland was the original Hawkeye before Alan Alda in the hit TV series that boasted the most-watched finale ever.

15. Montgomery Clift – “From Here to Eternity”

Few moments are as touching as Montgomery Clift playing “Taps” for a fallen Frank Sinatra in this romantic military tale co-starring Burt Lancaster.

14. Gary Cooper — “Sergeant York”

Long before “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gary Cooper delivered one of his finest performances in the true story of a pacifist who goes to World War I, using his down-home turkey hunting skills to save his platoon.

13. Kirk Douglas — “Paths of Glory”

Kirk Douglas delivered one of his greatest performances as a World War I officer, first marching through the trenches, then defending French soldiers accused of cowardice in a life-or-death court-martial case.

12. William Holden – “Stalag 17”

William Holden deservedly won an Oscar as a suspected informant inside a German POW camp where two escaping Americans are killed in this twisty classic by the masterful Billy Wilder.

11. Steve McQueen – “The Great Escape”

Steve McQueen leads a deep cast of James Garner, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance and Richard Attenborough in this entertaining romp about Allied prisoners digging out of a German POW camp.

10. Fredric March – “The Best Years of Our Lives”

William Wyler’s under-seen masterpiece deserves equal status as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which it beat for Best Picture with its examination of World War II vets (Fredric March, Harold Russell, Dana Andrews) returning to small-town America, only to realize that their families are irreparably changed.

9. Robert De Niro – “The Deer Hunter”

Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken star in this war epic divided into three parts: a blue-collar wedding in Pennsylvania, shocking Russian Roulette in Vietnam and wounded warriors coming home to a juicy subplot: “Who’s the father?”

8. Willem Dafoe – “Platoon”

After fighting in Vietnam himself, Oliver Stone won Best Picture and Best Director for this anti-war treatise, in which Charlie Sheen is caught between rival officers Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, all set to Samuel Barber’s haunting “Adagio for Strings.”

7. R. Lee Ermey – “Full Metal Jacket”

Stanley Kubrick’s profound anti-war statement opens with the side-splitting humor of R. Lee Ermey’s military boot camp, then turns on a dime with Private Pyle’s shocking violence and a Nancy Sinatra tune that drops us into the horrific war zone of Vietnam.

6. Alec Guinness – “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

Alec Guinness was never better than his Oscar-winning role as a British colonel forced to build a bridge in a Japanese POW camp, all while William Holden’s U.S. solider plots to blow it up.

5. Peter O’Toole – “Lawrence of Arabia”

David Lean’s desert treatise remains the gold standard of epic filmmaking. Peter O’Toole shines as the WWI British commander T.E. Lawrence riding to Maurice Jarre’s iconic score, while colonial bureaucrats carve up the Middle East with effects to this very day.

4. Denzel Washington — “Glory”

Denzel Washington won his first Oscar alongside Morgan Freeman in this true story of the Union Army’s first all-black regiment fighting for their own freedom from slavery during the Civil War. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

3. Tom Hanks – “Saving Private Ryan”

Easily the greatest World War II movie ever made, Steven Spielberg deservedly won his second Best Director Oscar by crafting unforgettable sequences, from the harrowing D-Day invasion, to the suspenseful sniper showdown, to the heartbreaking bridge climax as Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon, “Earn this.”

2. Robert Duvall – “Apocalypse Now”

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Francis Ford Coppola adapts Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” through the lens of Vietnam, as Martin Sheen moves upriver to kill Marlon Brando, while Robert Duvall flies helicopters to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in this acid-trip meditation on “the horror” and insanity of war.

1. George C. Scott – “Patton”

Francis Ford Coppola penned an Oscar-winning script for Best Actor champ George C. Scott, who inhabits the “blood and guts” World War II general George Patton with a gruff demeanor during his memorable rallying cry in front of a giant American flag.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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