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Under the Radar

Top 9 Military Movies of 2017

Hollywood usually has a couple of military-themed movies set for release at Christmas, but not this year. We're done with war movies until "12 Strong," the post-9/11 horse soldiers in Afghanistan movie, comes out in January 2018.

Still, this has been an excellent year, fueled by Netflix and Amazon's willingness to make the kind of movies that we don't get from bigger studios these days.

1. Dunkirk

HARRY STYLES as Alex, ANEURIN BARNARD as Gibson and FIONN WHITEHEAD as Tommy in the Warner Bros. Pictures action thriller "DUNKIRK," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan's WWII classic isn't about strategies or maps or historical context. He tells the story of the May 1940 British evacuation at Dunkirk and turns a defeat the should have been the prelude to German victory in the war and demonstrates just how the Brits found the character to hold the line until the United States decided to join the battle at the end of 1941.

Nolan divides the story into land, sea and air components and intercuts their stories that unfold on three different timelines (one week, one day and one hour, respectively). All three stories come together seamlessly at the end of the movie and, once again, the director has made a great film that's also a puzzle.

The characters in the film don't know anything about strategy or the bigger picture of the battle. Nolan only shows what they know, creating a film that stretches the experience of the first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" to a full two hours.

‘Dunkirk’ Rethinks the War Movie: Historian Joshua Levine Shares His Experiences Working With Director Christopher Nolan

How to Watch: "Dunkirk" is getting a limited theatrical rerelease in IMAX and 70mm theaters on December 1st. That's the absolute best way to experience this movie, but you can buy it on Digital HD on December 12th and 4K Ultra HD combo pack (with Blu-ray) or Blu-ray combo pack (with DVD) on December 19th.

2. Last Flag Flying

From L to R: Laurence Fishburne as "Mueller," Bryan Cranston as "Sal" and Steve Carell as "Larry" in LAST FLAG FLYING.

Director Richard Linklater's latest movie is about three Vietnam veterans who reunite in 2003 when one of their sons is killed in Iraq. It's about the ways people change over time and the ways they never change. Over the course of the movie, the three men rediscover their old chemistry as they help their brother deal unravel the tragedy of his son's death.

It's about character more than plot but the interaction between these actors and the characters they play is really something special.

‘Last Flag Flying’ & The Ties That Bind

How to Watch: Currently playing in theaters.

3. Thank You for Your Service

Miles Teller and Beulah Kole wait (and wait some more) at the VA in "Thank You for Your Service."

"Thank You for Your Service" is a message movie about the cost of war and the burden of post-traumatic stress. For that reason, it's really tough to watch at times (especially for those dealing with post-traumatic stress).

But writer/director Jason Hall (making his directorial debut after getting an Oscar nomination for writing the "American Sniper" screenplay) is on a mission to both entertain and educate. He got great performances from a cast led by Miles Teller and great source material in David Finkel's non-fiction book about how the men of the Army's 2-16 Infantry Battalion adjusted after their return from service in Iraq.

Adam Schumann, the real soldier played by Teller in the movie, has found some peace after getting treatment, so the movie ends on a positive note after spending two hours in a brutal exposure of the lack of emotional and medical support available to many veterans who are struggling after serving in a war zone.

‘Thank You for Your Service’ Has a Message for America

Who Should – And Should Not – See ‘Thank You for Your Service’

How to Watch: It's no longer in theaters and there's no home video release date yet. We'll cover the Blu-ray/DVD release in early 2018.

4. War Machine

Brad Pitt in "War Machine."

"War Machine" is a satire, loosely based on the Rolling Stone magazine story that led to the end of General Stanley McChrystal's career. Since it's not a reverent and solemn chronicle of the war in Afghanistan, the movie generated more than a little controversy when it premiered on Netflix last spring.

Here's the thing, though. Many of us here at Military.com have heard from men and women who served in the contradictory chaos of Kabul and they think it's a hilarious portrayal of all the ridiculous struggles we've faced trying to establish a stable democracy in Afghanistan for the last sixteen years.

Pitt plays his part in an over-the-top way that makes sure that anyone who's paying attention knows that he's not starring in a serious drama. If you're laughing after the first ten minutes, you'll love the movie. If you're getting offended, turn it off. This one's not for you.

‘War Machine’: Controversy in Afghanistan, With Jokes

How to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

5. Wolf Warrior 2

"Wolf Warrior 2" is the biggest box office hit in China history and features Wu Jing returning as the director while starring in the title role. After the mayhem of the first movie, this special ops warrior just wants a quiet life in a seaside town. Of course, there's a violent gang terrorizing the area and the Wolf Warrior must save the citizens. American action movie regular Frank Grillo gets a great role as the mercenary who faces down the Wolf Warrior in the movie's climax. China is just discovering the pleasures of Chuck Norris/Arnold Schwarzenegger/Bruce Willis '80s action pictures and this movie holds it own with the best American movies from that genre.

China’s Special Forces Have Their Own ‘Wolf Warrior’

How to Watch:  Coming to Digital, Blu-ray Combo Pack & DVD December 12. The first movie is now streaming on Netflix

6. The Wall

Director Doug Liman made two excellent movies this year, "The Wall" and "American Made," his action thriller about pilot/DEA operative/drug smuggler Barry Seal. Neither was a hit and that's a shame.

"The Wall" is a low-budget thriller about two snipers trapped behind a shaky wall while they're in a life-or-death battle with a lethal Iraqi sniper. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena are the only actors on-screen for 99% of the movie and they're the only characters you hear, aside from Iraqi's radio communication with Taylor-Johnson.

Two opposing snipers talking philosophy over the radio? Yeah, that's not realistic but, then again, this isn't a movie about the particulars of battle. It's a suspense thriller and Liman and his actors manage to create an enormous amount of tension that keeps you riveted through its tight 88-minute running time.

Battling an Iraqi Sniper in ‘The Wall’

How to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

7. Sand Castle

Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green and Henry Cavill in "Sand Castle" (photo courtesy Netflix)

"Sand Castle" is based on the real experiences of a Civil Affairs unit of the 4th Infantry division in the early days of the Iraq War. U.S. troops are ordered to the outskirts of Baqubah to repair a water pumping station damaged by U.S. bombs.

The script was written by Army veteran Chris Roessner, who based it on his own experiences in Iraq. While the uneducated viewer might think the stakes aren't as high for these guys as they would be for a combat unit, Roessner's script does a great job of portraying the risks faced by every man and woman who's serving in a war zone.

Army Veteran Chris Roessner Brings the Iraq War to the Screen in ‘Sand Castle’

How to Watch: Streaming on Netflix

8. Megan Leavey

Kate Mara stars in "Megan Leavey."

"Megan Leavey" is a movie about a real-life Marine and her strong bond with a military working dog named Rex. It’s a complicated movie about the complicated experiences of a real Marine and the post-traumatic stress that both Leavey and Rex must endure.

Kate Mara plays Leavey and the movie features her combat experiences, her struggles with post-traumatic stress and her fight to allow Rex to live with her after the dog retired from combat.

‘Megan Leavey’: Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Dog Tale Explores Combat Stress

How to Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime

9. Operation Mekong

Action master Dante Lam's "Operation Mekong" was inspired by a real-life 2011 incident when two Chinese cargo ships were attacked by drug traffickers in Myanmar and the crew was killed. Rather than tell a sober story of special forces heroism, Lam uses the incident as a jumping-off point for a wild, old-school action thriller.

‘Operation Mekong’ – Chinese Special Forces Take on the Drug Cartels

How to Watch: Streaming on Netflix