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6 Movies That Are Secretly About Vietnam


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By Kevin Maher

Movies are just one way America deals with the stuff it can’t quite deal with. The Vietnam war is one of the most difficult periods in America’s history. You can tell because it has been touched upon in so many different kinds of movies: historic drama (Platoon), revenge fantasy (Missing in Action), family-friendly revisionism (Disney’s Operation Dumbo Drop), and exploitation films about the “troubled Vietnam vet” (Billy Jack).

Those examples address the war explicitly, while other movies deal with the scars of war through subtext. (The same way the 2014 Godzilla isn’t about 9/11 but it’s TOTALLY about 9/11.)

Here are six movies that address the Vietnam war in their own subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways.

6. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid college professor: The Bad News Bears is about Vietnam. This sports comedy doesn’t end with the rag-tag misfits winning the big game; nope, they lose. The movie is about coming to terms with defeat.

After the Bears blow the championship, Coach Buttermaker hands out beers to the kids, saying, “You should be damn proud of yourselves.”

During the closing ceremony even the obnoxious winning team admits that the Bears “got guts, all of ya.”

Our heroes defiantly reject pity, throwing their trophy into the dirt – just like the Vietnam Vets who discarded their medals when they came home. Angry shortstop Tanner Boyle tells the Yankees they can take their apology and their trophy and shove it “straight up yer ass!” Scrawny right fielder Timmy Lupus shouts, “Just wait ’til next year!”

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Opera music swells as a dramatic closing shot of the American flag dissolves into a black-and-white photo of the Bears standing together like a platoon (and they’re just a few years younger than the boys who’d been sent to Vietnam).

The moral for the Bears (and for 1976 America) is: there’s no shame in coming in 2nd. Also, apparently in 1976 it was okay for a grown man to give kids beer.

5. Predator (1987)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Set in the fictional country Val Verde (and devoid of any real-world political baggage) Predator sends a group of men into the jungle to fight an invisible enemy. Sound familiar? How about that photo of Jesse Ventura holding a machine gun in an exploding rain forest – what does that remind you of? (Sorry to sound like Walter from The Big Lebowski, but Predator is about Vietnam.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science-fiction film was released the same summer as Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill, a big year for Vietnam movies.

In Predator, the soldiers quickly discover that they were dispatched on false pretenses—echoing the sentiment that Americans were lied to by the government. (See also: the mayor who won’t close the beaches in Jaws.)

When the mission becomes hopeless, all the heroes want is to “get to da choppa” (i.e. the last helicopter out of Saigon).

In one scene, Dutch (Arnold) tells Dillon (Carl Weathers), “You can’t win this.” (Um, yeah, you might even call it an “unwinnable war.”) Dillon replies, “Maybe I can get even”—thereby making Predator another ’80s war-revenge movie where America gets a do-over. This go-back-and-win fantasy is seen in Missing in Action (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and even a two-part episode of Magnum, P.I. (1985).



By sending movie heroes back to Vietnam (or Val Verde standing in as Vietnam) America gets a second chance; an opportunity to “win this time,” without being held back by two-faced bureaucrats and shady politicians.

When Arnold defeats the Predator and boards the chopper, er, choppa to go home, his victory provides some closure for the 1987 American audiences.

Bonus points: When Arnold goes into battle with the Predator, his mud-caked face looks just like Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.

United Artists/20th Century Fox

United Artists/20th Century Fox

4. King Kong (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Stay with me on this.

The ’76 King Kong remake has little to do with war, until its grand finale. Just like in the original, Kong stands on the roof of a skyscraper – but instead of fighting 1930s bi-planes, he’s met by flamethrowers and helicopters (two of the most iconic symbols of the Vietnam war).

A Gatling gun fires off the fatal rounds, while long-haired beardo Jeff Bridges screams in protest (as 1960s long-haired beardos were known to do).

Rumor has it, the last line of the film was originally, “Twas the military industrial complex and anti-Communism that killed the beast…” (I’m kidding, I’m kidding!)

But seriously, you have to admit it’s a pretty Nam’-ish ending.

3. Rocky (1976)

United Artists

United Artists

The Rambo movies famously show Stallone returning to Vietnam to win the war on his own terms, but Rocky is closer to the spirit of The Bad News Bears.

The film’s down-and-out protagonist reflects the so-called “malaise” in 1970s America, something President Jimmy Carter would later call a “crisis of confidence.”

Rocky Balboa’s most inspiring dialogue seems to address more than boxing:

Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.

Whoa. It’s as if he’s describing America overcoming a 19-year military conflict in Southeast Asia!


At the end of the film, Rocky doesn’t win his big fight, but that’s almost beside the point. He never gave up. Rocky is a hero for going the distance. To paraphrase The Dark Knight — a movie that, had it come out in the 1970s, would’ve totally been about Vietnam — he’s not the hero America deserves but the hero we need right now. (“Now” being one year after the end of a war that devastated the country.)

2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Bryanston Pictures

Bryanston Pictures

Most film scholars and snarky blogs will focus on the chainsaw as a metaphorical penis. That’s fine, but I’m gonna take a different angle here.

Watch almost any grindhouse horror movie from the ’70s and you can see why people attribute the graphic violence to the war in Vietnam: the cruelty, the gore, the savagery. Those early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper movies make the shower scene in Psycho look quaint.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre captures the terror of Vietnam in the doomed teenagers who find themselves stranded in a frightening foreign wasteland, being chased by maniacs.

At the same time, the movie is about the haves and have-nots: the middle class teenagers represent the college kids who avoided the draft, while the cannibal family are the working-class boys who were shipped across the Pacific and took part in true horror.

Actor Edwin Neal (who played The Hitchhiker) has stated that the filming conditions were so awful that filming the movie was the worst experience of his life, adding, “…and I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was.”

It’s hard to NOT see some the Vietnam influence in the movie. 12 years later, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) introduces Chop-Top, Leatherface’s brother who served in Vietnam during the events of the first film. But I’ll save that for another pseudo-academic essay blog post that some commenters are bound to hate.

Cannon Films

Cannon Films

1. Fearless Frank (1967)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

The final entry in this list is kinda hard to find. (It’s also kinda hard to watch. But if you insist, here’s a link to stream it on Amazon.)

Philip Kaufman’s Fearless Frank is a low-budget parody of TV’s Batman – because, yeah, the 1966 Batman wasn’t campy enough.

The story unfolds like a comic-strip version of Midnight Cowboy: Jon Voight plays a country boy coming to the big city – but instead of becoming a hooker, he becomes a superhero. (Two sides, same coin – am I right?)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

At 77 minutes long, the kitschy humor starts to run thin, which could explain the crazy-ass turn no one saw coming: Fearless Frank, the lead character(!), leaps off a Chicago skyscraper and kills himself. (This isn’t some weird dream I had, it just sounds like one.) With Fearless Frank dead, he’s replaced by his evil doppelganger “False Frank.” This brooding look-alike (who’s covered with big scars, a la Frankenstein’s Monster) leaves the city and goes back to Frank’s home in the country.

In the final scene False Frank boards a rowboat and drifts up the river, an undeniable homage to Apocalypse Now (except that, y’know, Apocalypse Now wouldn’t be filmed for another 12 years).

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

With this bizarre third act, Fearless Frank is less like Midnight Cowboy meets The Caped Crusader and more like Coming Home, a far more acclaimed Jon Voight film that tells the story of a scarred Vietnam Vet’s homecoming. The camera holds on Frank’s crying face as the narrator offers this somber conclusion:

Everyone was proud of Frank. Ma and Pa were there, too. And although they felt that he had changed, they couldn’t tell how… they just drift onward, they do not seem to know where they’re going, nor do they care. And no one will ever see them again.

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

If this superhero story were any more bleak it could be DC’s next Zack Snyder-directed blockbuster.

The heavy plot twist makes Fearless Frank more than a one-note parody, but I’m guessing the biting satire might’ve been what kept it from getting a wide release in 1967. (That and the fact that it’s not very good.)

So there you have it, six movies that are secretly about Vietnam. Did we forget any? Let us know in the comments.


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…