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Given the outsized role that film and television have in shaping our perceptions, last week, we took a moment to ask our readers what movies or shows inspired them to join the military. Well, ask and you shall receive. 

Some of America’s most popular military movies obviously made the list. 

Saving Private Ryan, seeing how they all came from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, how much they cared for each other and about each other,” wrote reader Lucas Kayser. 

Chris Reid, another respondent, said “it would be a toss up between Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. They played a role for sure but my grandfather who was an infantryman in WWII then combat medic played the biggest roll.” 

Movies and television shows like Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers were both popular responses, which shouldn’t be surprising considering they’re some of the most commercially successful war movies of all time. And each film, in their own way, captures enduring aspects of military culture, whether they’re moments of belligerence, heroism in the face of random death and violence, or the resolve of individual service members to endure.

Though it wasn’t just high drama that got folks off the couch and into the recruiting office. At least a couple of readers were brave enough to admit that they were won over by blockbusters like Top Gun

“Top Gun, I’m embarrassed to admit,” said reader John Ryon, along with a photo of some Air Force pilots doing what is presumably their best Maverick and Iceman impressions for the camera. 

And, hey, no shame in that. Top Gun was popular enough that the Navy had recruiters waiting outside theaters in 1986, and they’re doing it again in 2022 — even the Air Force is trying to get in on the action and snag a few potential wannabe pilots. 

How ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Black Hawk Down’ and other films inspired a generation to join the military
(Image courtesy of John M. Ryon via Facebook)

However, it’s worth noting that what you see on screen is not always what you’ll see if you actually join the military, as one reader learned all too well.

“I always say that I didn’t know much about the Navy before I joined; all I knew was I saw the original Top Gun and I thought the people on the flight deck are cool. The recruiter got me a job we’re I’d be able to ‘pick whatever job I want,’ and I said I wanted to work on the flight deck, and they told me I could do that, then I got to my ship and they told me I couldn’t choose that job,” wrote reader Jacob Hunt. This sounds like a very accurate recounting of the Navy recruiting process indeed. 

Interestingly enough, some of the most popular responses were movies that, at least in theory, are not necessarily released with recruiting in mind, such as comedies, and anti-war polemics. 

Apparently quite a few people saw Bill Murray talking about all the razzle dazzle of “Army training, sir!” and thought, ‘Hey, sign me up.’

“Actually, Stripes,” said reader James Voss. “Ironically I was sent to Fort Knox for basic, where it was filmed.”

Just make sure to lighten up, Francis

“Ironically Platoon, which kinda was an anti-war movie,” wrote reader Peter Capshaw. 

Likewise, I’m not sure Full Metal Jacket is supposed to make you think joining the Marine Corps is the best life decision, given the incredibly dark nature of the film, but many readers apparently found the idea of R. Lee Ermey screaming obscenities in their face to be quite inspiring. Ditto for Starship Troopers

As French film director François Truffaut once supposedly said, perhaps “There’s no such thing as an anti-war film.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum from hard-hitting dramas about war, there was this, from reader Tim Lae who said he joined after watching one of the all-time greats when it comes to cheesing it up, 1980s style. 

Hot Shots. Or maybe it was Hot Shots: Part Deux,” wrote Lae. 

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