Memorial Day is a national holiday that honors servicemembers who died in the line of duty (as opposed to Veteran’s Day, which honors everyone who has honorably served in the military). Though the three-day weekend is traditionally observed with warm-weather activities like BBQs and pool parties, Memorial Day is also a solemn reminder of the cost of our freedoms.
If you are interested in learning more about military history and traditions, or just having a bit of fun, here are some great movies and TV shows you can watch to commemorate Memorial Day.
Stories of Valor
If you are interested in true stories of valor, there are plenty to choose from.
Saving Private Ryan
This film remains one of the most realistic and sobering depictions of the beach landings on D-Day. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the landing at Omaha Beach alone cost $12 million to make — a full twenty minutes of the film. Tom Hanks and Matt Damon star with two performances that will definitely remind you what the men and women of World War II experienced.
This is the true story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who served in the Army during World War II. A pacifist, he refused to bear arms but managed to single-handedly rescue 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge while under attack from Japanese fighters. For his bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor — the highest honor given to members of the military.
Levity and Hoo-rah
If you want to have a little more fun, Top Gun is a classic that accurately captures the fraternity energy of fighter pilots. Starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, there’s no way to not enjoy this film. As a bonus, you can watch it in time for the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, which hits theaters today.
Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise knows how to commit to an action flick — and yet Emily Blunt still manages to steal the spotlight in Edge of Tomorrow, also known as Live Die Repeat. This film not only features a great sci-fi MacGuffin (Tom Cruise is infected by an alien enemy that allows him to repeat — and improve upon — the same day over and over again every time he dies), but it provides genuine insight into the warrior’s journey, including the loneliness, the fear, and the no way out but through mentality.
Return From War
Hollywood loves to hold war stories up on a pedestal, but there’s something to be said for films that dare to show the effects of war on veterans, who have a higher suicide rate than their civilian counterparts.
Thank You For Your Service
Starring Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, and Beulah Koale, this film is based on the true story of veterans from the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment returning home from war. It gives an unflinching look at PTSD, the struggles of returning to civilian life after combat, and the toll war takes on military families.
Cherry, starring Tom Holland, is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Army veteran Nico Walker. The film follows Holland’s character from college through war to PTSD, drug addiction, and bank robbery. It’s not an easy film to watch — but military service and the pain of war aren’t easy, either.
Veterans Making Projects
Another option is to support veterans in their creative careers after their military service.
SEAL Team is a TV series that features veterans like Tyler Grey in front of and behind the camera.
This is Us
This Is Us is another series that has invited veterans to help write military stories — and play military roles on camera. From flashbacks to the Vietnam War to current post-9/11 storylines, This Is Us has gone above and beyond to honor servicemembers in its storytelling.
It’s always clear when military veterans are consulted in filmmaking. Whether they are hired as writers, consultants, directors, or on-camera talent, they bring authenticity to projects that can one day inspire someone else to volunteer to serve.
Whatever you choose to do this Memorial Day, I hope you will take time to reflect on those who gave their lives to defend our country and our way of life.
All gave some — some gave all.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!