10 Movies With Ex-Military Protagonists


Military members are taught to be disciplined, decisive, proactive, brave, responsible, dependable, and resourceful. Most importantly, they are taught to be skilled fighters. All these skills and attributes are very useful when it comes to problem-solving in the real world, so, in movies, war veterans are often relied upon to help erase major quagmires that either stem from their own lives or the activities outside parties.


Over the years, some great movies with ex-military protagonists have been made, and among them, the following are more entertaining than most, thanks to their captivating plots and strong production values. These movies also cover a theme or two, especially regarding mental health and the political or law enforcement landscapes. They also cut across several genres, from action to drama, making them palatable to different categories of fans.


10 The Foreigner (2017)

The Foreigner

Release Date
September 28, 2017

Director
Martin Campbell

Cast
Katie Leung, Jackie Chan, Rufus Jones, Mark Tandy, John Cronin, Caolan Byrne

Rating
R

Runtime
114

Main Genre
Action

Martin Campbell’s career has been a seesaw of bad and good films ever since he made Casino Royale. Sitting among the must-see projects in his filmography is The Foreigner, which pits the London restaurateur and Vietnam War veteran Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) against the Northern Island Deputy First Minister, Liam Hennesy (Pierce Brosnan). After Quan’s daughter is killed during a terrorist attack, Quan goes after the men responsible and finds out that Hennesy has ties to them.

The Foreigner has very few of the usual Jackie Chan slapstick stunts. Neither does the actor joke around like he normally does. However, all that is acceptable given the film’s somber tone. Chan gives a candid performance that shows how a person with special skills is likely to react in such a scenario. On top of that, this is a slightly more realistic movie, because the protagonist doesn’t miraculously become an expert at things he initially wasn’t proficient at.

Stream on Netflix

9 News of the World (2020)

News of the World

News of the World

Release Date
December 25, 2020

Director
Paul Greengrass

Cast
Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Tom Astor

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
1hr 58min

Main Genre
Action

News of the World takes audiences back to the late 1800s where former Confederate soldier Jefferson Kyle (Tom Hanks) has found a genius way to make money. He journeys from town to town, reading newspaper articles to residents for a fee because only a few people can access the news. Soon, he bumps into a girl who had been kidnapped by the Kiowa and forced to live with them for seven years. He decides to return her to her home, but encounters several threats along the way.

Directed by Paul Greengrass (best known for the Jason Bourne films), the Western drama is undoubtedly one of the movies that unfairly flopped during the pandemic. From the visuals to the emotional guardian-youngster arc, the movie thrills from all angles. Despite not getting widespread recognition, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. The action sequences are few and audiences have to wait long for them, but patience isn’t hard to embrace because the tale remains captivating all through.

Stream on Freevee

8 Walking Tall (2004)

Fresh out of the WWE, a younger Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson starred in Walking Tall as a former U.S. Army Special Forces member returning to his hometown of Kitsap County, Washington. Upon arrival, he realizes that much has changed, and a local casino owner is running things in collusion with law enforcement officers. He thus vows to fix the situation.

Walking Tall doesn’t have the strongest plot, but audiences are likely to enjoy the protagonist Chris Vaughn’s character development. Within no time, he grows from a struggling vet to a Mayor, and goes on to be quite badass in his new assignment. ‘What’s wrong with my tail lights?” a baddie once asks after Vaughn pulls him over. “They’re broken,” he responds, before smashing them. Watching him bully the lawbreakers is fun and even when they come for him, he proves more than capable of defending himself.

Stream on Prime Video

7 Gran Torino (2008)

gran torino

Gran Torino

Release Date
December 9, 2008

Director
Clint Eastwood

Cast
Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes

Rating
R

Runtime
116

Main Genre
Drama

Clint Eastwood has never stopped reminding the world why he is one of the greatest actors turned directors. In 2008, he directed and starred in Gran Torino, a movie about a Korean War veteran who has become prejudiced and disgruntled because his once great neighborhood is now full of Asian immigrants and gang members. He soon finds himself befriending a young Asian man who has been ordered to steal his Ford Torino as part of his initiation into a gang.

Grant Torino is a very inclusive film. It was the first blockbuster to feature a large Hmong American cast. The movie also offers a unique perspective on racism by trying to explain why some white people develop disdain towards other communities. For example, Eastwood’s character hates the Asian neighbor next door because, according to him, they look too similar to the men he fought against during the Korean War. Still, he grows to learn that there is no justification for the way he feels, so he slowly changes his views.

Stream on Max

6 Shooter (2007)

shooter

shooter

Release Date
March 22, 2007

Director
Antoine Fuqua

Cast
Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra

Rating
R

Runtime
124

Main Genre
Action

Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter sees top USMC Force Recon Scout Sniper, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), leaving the military after a mission in Ethiopia goes wrong. He begins living as a recluse in the Wind River Range. He is soon tricked into returning to action, thinking he is helping to stop an assassination attempt on the President, only to learn that he is being framed as the suspect.

Like most movies about assassination attempts. Shooter is heavy on action and quick in its pacing. The protagonist is the kind that fans of popular ‘80s action heroes will love because he can clean up the mess he is in, all by himself.

Antoine Fuqua boldly dives into left-wing politics too, so much so that even the villain’s mannerisms are modeled after those of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Additionally, Wahlberg gives a wonderful performance, which is no surprise, since he always shines in military-themed movies. Lone Survivor and Three Kings are proof of that.

Stream on Paramount+

5 The Transporter (2002)

the transporter

The Transporter

Release Date
October 2, 2002

Director
Corey Yuen

Cast
Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze, Francois Berleand, Ric Young, Doug Rand

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
100

Main Genre
Action

Jason Statham had been shoved into the spotlight by Guy Ritchie way before The Transporter was made, but the Corey Yeun movie is what made him a global star. In it, he plays Frank Martin, a former special forces soldier who now lives in France and works as a transporter for any kind of goods that would fit in his Audi. Whether illegal or not, he doesn’t care.

The Transporter excels because of its action sequences and one eight-minute fight scene at a garage is especially memorable. Any other director might have been tempted to trim it, but Yuen leaves it as it is, so audiences get to witness Martin employing a wide variety of techniques as he dispatches the baddies while covered in oil. The car chase sequences are also the kind that Universal might have very much loved to include in Fast & Furious. It’s no surprise that Statham was later cast in the franchise.

Stream on Hulu

4 Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Decades after they served in the Vietnam War, four veterans return to the country to locate the body of their squad leader. They also hope to find a gold fortune that he had helped them bury. The Spike Lee film has a star-studded cast that includes Delroy Lindo, Chadwick Boseman, and Jonathan Majors.

One thing that immediately strikes out about Da 5 Bloods is the age range. The squad leader is played by Chadwick Boseman, and in the same flashback scenes, the elderly actors still appear as their younger selves. Lee didn’t use de-aging and didn’t cast younger actors. As baffling as this is, it’s easier to ignore the age question, because all members of the main cast give brilliant performances. Besides that, the score is very soulful and melancholic. It’s no surprise that it was nominated for an Oscar.

Stream on Netflix

3 Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

In Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, contestants of the fictional The Apocalypse: Ultimate Survivalist gather in the West Virginia forest to face several challenges. Two of them are war veterans, so the events end up being a lot more interesting than in other instalments when a group of cannibalistic killers begins hunting down the cast and production crew.

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is the best-reviewed installment in the entire franchise and that’s mainly because of the clever nods to the real-world Survivor reality show and the use of stronger protagonists rather than average Joes and Scream Queens. Most importantly, the film avoids complicating itself. There are no twists or deep themes. It’s simply an attack and defend tale, with victory going to the parties capable of inflicting the most harm.

Rent on Apple TV+

2 White House Down (2013)

White House Down

White House Down

Release Date
June 27, 2013

Director
Roland Emmerich

Cast
Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, James Woods

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
137

Main Genre
Action

If movies are to be believed, finding a decent job after serving in the military is never easy, and in White House Down, former soldier John Cale (Channing Tatum) is not content with his current job as a police officer. He dreams of becoming a Secret Service member, but he doesn’t pass the interview. Unwilling to disappoint his daughter, he takes her on a tour of the White House and while there, terrorists attack. He thus steps up to protect President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).

The film glows because of its action sequences, but it also sheds light on the tough life that former members are normally forced to endure as they try to adjust to normal life. Even the villains are ex-Delta Force operatives, proving there is an income problem that ought to be addressed. Foxx also adds some comedic flair to the proceedings, making him the kind of cool POTUS that Americans would be glad to have in office.

Stream on Netflix

1 Hard Target (1993)

Both the hero and the main victim in Hard Target are war veterans. When the victim goes missing, her daughter seeks the help of the former United States Force Recon Marine Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to find him. While conducting their search, they realize there is a group of wealthy men hunting down homeless people for sport.

On the surface, Hard Target seems like just another ‘90s action flick by one of the major stars of the era, but it provides detailed commentary on classism, human rights, and the plight of veterans. In his role as the primary antagonist, Lance Henriksen also radiates sadism at all times, constantly coming up with hateful quotes about the poor. Additionally, Arnold Voslo — who mostly gets typecast in baddie roles — shines as the movie’s henchman-in-chief.

Rent on Apple TV+



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