When you watch Apocalypse Now, you are not merely watching a film. You are experiencing an epic emotional and spiritual journey. By the time ‘The Horror the horror’ fades out, only then are you transported back to the real world. Apocalypse Now for me is one of the greatest films every made, and is easily my favourite among the impressive line of Francis Ford Coppola’s filmography. After every viewing, I still long to go back to the chaos of war, to revisit the forsaken rivers, and the smell of ‘Napalm trees’ in the morning.
The film was released to Mixed reviews with many critics claiming it to be ‘anticlimactic’. But that’s the thing about ‘Apocalypse Now’, the whole thing is a climax that’s keeping your eyes glued to the screen, to the jungle. The film is long in its 2 and a half hour runtime and by the end of the film one gets tired. Not tired because it was too long or bored, but because the film has managed to make you see through the eyes of the characters, and their journey is painful and long.
The film is based on Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ which also happens to be one of my favourite books. But fast forward a few decades, it would be impossible to discuss ‘the greatest films of all time’ without mentioning Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’. Here is the list of films similar to Apocalypse Now that our recommendations. You can watch several of these movies like Apocalypse Now on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. Heart of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse
Heart of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse is a 1991 documentary about the makings of Apocalypse Now. The documentary uses behind the scenes footage and is narrated by Eleanor Coppola(Francis’s wife). It is not just a mere capture of whats happening behind the scenes, the documentary is structurally complete
and holds the tone very closely to the film.
While the film captures the chaos of war, the documentary perfectly encapsulates the difficulty in making the film. Watching the documentary makes you appreciate the masterpiece even more. The struggles that include sickness, bad weather, personal issues, and delays are all very well captured. The documentary also showcases the dangers and tensions of the directors ambition, as Coppola’s risks endangering his life and career in the process.
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9. Good Morning Vietnam
If you want to watch a film on the Vietnam war but in a different light-hearted approach, this is the film for you. ‘Goodmorning Vietnam’. The film is set in Saigon 1965, and stars Robin Williams who plays an irreverent Radio Dj during the war. The film does not take itself, or more precisely the subject of it too seriously. Robin Williams gives one of his best career performance for which he deservedly won the Golden globes for. He is able to balance the comedic side as well as the serious moments perfectly. Robbins is well supported by Forest Whitaker and Bruno Kirky. The 60’s soundtracks in the movie are as memorable as the dialogues. The characters are believable and the pacing of the film is done superbly.
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8. Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is not your average action packed war film. The dialogues in the film are fresh, the performances brilliant and the production is also straight up gorgeous. Kubrick initially wanted to make a film about the Holocaust but quickly scratched the plan off and went on to make a film about the war in Vietnam.
I find the film to be more powerful in multiple viewings. Kubrick is usually meticulous in his approach, a perfectionist and hence in multiple viewings, one can truly appreciate the hard work of the this mastermind. Unlike most of Kubrick’s films, full metal jacket is lighthearted, despite its dark themes, and even manages to be sarcastic and mocking at times.
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7. Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn is a film directed by Werner Herzog which was released in 2007. The film stars Christian Bale, who goes through an insane body transformation as he plays a pilot who’s plane has crashed and is captured by the Vietnamese. Perseverance is a strong trait of the film. Bale’s character is blindly optimistic, although that is the only thing that keeps him alive. He hopes against hope, even in the most hopeless of times.
Bale’s characters relationship with those around him during his imprisonment is poignant and moving. The visuals are raw and crude(which compliments the setting and themes of the film). The score hauntingly mirrors the visuals. Herzog(a method director) is very demanding with his choice of location. Rescue Dawn was shot in the jungles of Thailand, and there is no space for doubt that. The whole film is convincing and believable because of the stubbornness that Werner Herzog is as a person.
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6. The Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line is a 1998 film directed by Terrence Mallick based on the Guadalcanal campaign during WW2, based on the James Jones novel. Unlike most of the films on the list, this film is not about the Vietnam war. Despite the long running time of the film, it is beautiful with rich colours and tones, and the direction and cinematography of the film are masterfully crafted.
Like Apocalypse Now, ‘Thin Red Line’ also has a war-ravaged backdrop, but both films are in search of answers to human conflicts. A trend you will notice in war films, especially Vietnam war films is the conflict and confusion which proves as obstacle to the characters. And the conflict in the midst of the chaos turn into madness and frustration.
One shouldn’t come in to this film expecting a ‘cliche war film’. Often it has been called boring and stretched and the film also lacks a typical structure to it plot. But much like Apocalypse now, the film is bold with its pacing and intellectually challenging for a war film. After all It’s Terrence Malick.
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5. The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter is a 1978 epic war film that was written and directed Michael Cimino. The film stars Robert Deniro, Christopher Walkens, John Savage and Meryl Streep. It follows the life of three Russian-American steelworkers whose lives are changed forever after being sent to the Vietnam War. The trauma and torture of the war is showcased rigorously and the performances are precise, powerful and emotionally moving.
The film went on to win five academy awards including Best picture and Best Director as well as marking Meryl Streep’s first ever Oscar nomination. Despite its anti-war themes, the film has faced certain level of controversy initially with critics calling it ‘fanciful and imagined.’ But the film has managed to stand to the test of time, and is now widely considered one of the greatest films of all time.
The ‘Russian roulette’ scene in the film is itself worth all the money. Everything about that scene is gold. The intensity in the scene is amazing, and De niro’s performance elevates it to a whole new level. The tension during scene is genuine and believable are the very least. And as mentioned earlier, this scene alone should be compelling enough to make you watch the film.
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4. Hamburger Hill
Hamburger Hill is possibly the most underrated film on the list. From the get go the film explodes with intensity but becomes a little sluggish after a while. But once the actions and wars takes place the film is back to its best and continues to do so consistently throughout the film. It is also probably the least remembered war film of the 80’s, but that takes nothing away from the things it is able to achieve.
If Platoon and Apocalypse Now take more of a leftist point with their portrayal of the war, ‘Hamburger Hill’ in contrast represents it more as a noble cause, and the soldiers more honourable and glorified. The film is about the ’Battle of Hamburger Hill’ which was fought between the United States and its allies(South Vietnam) against the North Vietnam forces.
The film is precise with its subjects and remains true to the story that it follows. Unlike many war films, it does not try to tell too much, and remains very consistent with its structure. With a perfect 100% score on rotten tomatoes, Hamburger Hill is one film which you should definitely check out.
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3. Casualties of Wars
Casualties of Wars is a 1989 film starring Michael J Fox and Sean Penn. The thematics of the film includes the deterioration of humanity, animalistic behaviour and the test of ones human values. Sean Penn’s character is brutal and cruel, and the character is played with absolute conviction. He is mean, intimidating and is throughout very convincing. Michael J Fox’s character on the other hand is more ‘normal’. By more normal I mean he is more relatable to us, as someone who’s never had to step into a war zone , or even dealt with chaos.
A Vietnamese lady is kidnapped by a platoon by the order of their sergeant(Sean Penn’s character). This decision is strongly objected by Erikkson(Michael J Fox’s character). And the film is presented through his traumatic flash backs. The film is brutal and violent and will stay with you for a long time. The images you see are hard to unsee, but the film offers much more than just violence. It strives to do right, despite the nightmares of life. Quentin Tarantino has gone to claim that Casualties of War is the greatest film about the Vietnam war.
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Platoon is an ‘anti war film’ directed by the master of all things ‘Vietnam war’ Mr. Oliver Stone. A part of his ‘Vietnam War Trilogy’, Platoon is the first film which sequels include ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ and Heaven & Earth. I feel Platoon is by far the best film in the series. Of course Oliver Stone is an expert in the Vietnam war, hell the screenplay is based on his experience an US infantryman in Vietnam.
One of the reasons Platoon works so well is because of its ground level view on war. Oliver Stone’s experience in the war as well as the amazing performances from Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe keeps the film feeling so real and authentic. The closest that any anti-war film has ever achieved, the film focus on the misguided and brainwashed American adventure to the jungles of Vietnam. It is a piece that showcases infantry life and delves in to character study, with conflicts and duality that the characters struggle to keep up with.
In one of the scenes, Charlie sheens character in the film encounters a handicapped Vietnamese man in a village they have raided. Sheen is expressive and loud, but you could clearly see the frustrations and vulnerability inside of him. And that Is what Platoon is all about, the inconsistencies of a human mind.
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1. Aguirre, The Wrath of God
This is not a film about the Vietnam war, hell it’s not even a film about any war. So how is one supposed to relate a film like Apocalypse Now to a film like this? Aguirre, The Wrath of God is an epic historical drama film directed by Werner Herzog (Second film on the list) that follows Spanish conquistadors, and a hundred India Slaves on their journey to find El Dorado(city made of gold). Francis Ford Coppola has mentioned several times how the film has had major influences for Apocalypse Now.
Both films are atmospheric, a journey into the unknown, unknown not only geographically but also an internal journey to madness with the rivers representing the descent. Aguirre, the wrath of God was also influenced by the Heart of Darkness, and the titular character shares similarities with that of Kurtz. Both have a madness, a ‘temptation to be God’, a delusional dream for splendour.
Even the behind the scenes stories of both films mirror each other. In Apocalypse Now, Coppola almost considered committing suicide due to his frustrations. His relationship with Marlon Brando had reached an extreme. Similarly during the shooting of ‘wrath of god’ Werner Herzog and the hotheaded Klaus Kinski were constantly on each others face. Theres a legend which says that Herzog even has Kinski on gun point when things boiled out. Aguirre, the wrath of god is the one film which feeds you with every emotion that Apocalypse Now does. The curiosity of the wilderness, the fear of the unknown, a spiritual journey that transports you to the ratchet rivers. But once the horrors end, you long for it.
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