Memorial Day is intended to preserve the memory of those who died while serving in the U.S. military. It was made a federal holiday in 1971 to commemorate the men and women lost whilst fighting the Civil War and both World Wars, as well as combat to come.
Observed on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a time to honor and mourn. Over the years, filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow and Clint Eastwood, among others, have done the same — using their movies to explore the horrors of war and the heroism of our troops.
"I dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis, in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world," Bigelow said onstage when her film, The Hurt Locker, won at the 82nd Oscars. "May they come home safe."
Below, A.frame highlights 13 films to watch this Memorial Day weekend.
This Spike Lee joint follows Black vets Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin (played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) as they return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their former squad leader, "Stormin'" Norman (the late Chadwick Boseman), and the secret treasure that they buried while serving there.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and starring Kate Mara, Megan Leavey is as much a biopic about the eponymous Marine corporal and Military Police K9 handler as it is about her canine partner, Rex, with whom she served two deployments in Iraq. Leavey was awarded the Purple Heart and later petitioned the Marine Corps to adopt Rex.
Inspired by the true story of private first class Desmond T. Doss during the Battle of Okinawa, Andrew Garfield portrays the pacifistic WWII hero who saved 75 of his fellow soldiers without firing a bullet. Doss went on to became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The biographical war drama earned six Academy Award nominations, including Garfield's his first nomination for Best Actor, and went on to win two Oscars, including Best Film Editing.
The Iraq War drama stars Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie as Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts tasked with diffusing IEDs in Baghdad. The war thriller was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow — who made history by becoming the first woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director.
Clint Eastwood conceived of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima as companion pieces, portraying the same World War II battle from the opposing viewpoints of American and Japanese soldiers. Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the six men involved in raising the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The war drama was nominated for two Academy Awards.
What Michael Bay's WWII epic lacks in historical accuracy — it's a largely fictionalized account of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and ensuing Doolittle Raid — it makes up for in sweeping romance, with Kate Beckinsale's Navy nurse torn between combat pilots played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett. Pearl Harbor was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing.
Based on journalist Mark Bowden's nonfiction book of the same name, Ridley Scott's account of the doomed 1993 raid in Mogadishu and subsequent attempt to rescue downed Black Hawk crews stars an ensemble cast led by Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor, with Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, William Fichtner, Jeremy Piven and Tom Hardy.
Black Hawk Down was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two Oscars, including Best Film Editing.
Steven Spielberg's WWII drama follows Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) as he leads a troop of soldiers behind enemy lines to rescue Private Ryan (Matt Damon). Known for its graphic portrayal of war, including the depiction of the Omaha Beach assault on D-Day, Saving Private Ryan earned 11 total Academy Award nominations and won five Oscars, including Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing.
Tom Cruise earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Vietnam veteran-turned-anti-war activist Ron Kovic in this biopic. Born on the Fourth of July earned eight nominations in total and won two Oscars, including Best Director for Oliver Stone.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone drew on his own experiences serving as an infantryman in Vietnam to write and direct this tale of an optimistic Army volunteer (played by Charlie Sheen) and the opposing sergeants (Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe) vying for his soul. Platoon was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Francis Ford Coppola's seminal Vietnam War drama is a twofold journey, following Special Forces soldiers (Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and Laurence Fishburne) as they venture into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Special Forces colonel (Marlon Brando), as well as a journey into the depths of the human psyche. Apocalypse Now earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.
Robert Altman's dark comedy centers on a unit of medical personnel stationed in Uijeongbu during the Korean War, starring Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, Elliott Gould and the late Sally Kellerman (who earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her turn as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan). The film received a total of five Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three servicemen (Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell) readjusting to civilian life upon returning home from World War II. The romantic war drama was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as one Honorary Award for WWII veteran Russell for "bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures."