This 100%-Rated 1987 War Movie is the Most Accurate, Real Historian Says

This 100%-Rated 1987 War Movie is the Most Accurate, Real Historian Says
Image credit: Legion-Media

And it's criminally underrated, too.


  • 1987's Hamburger Hill is based on a real battle that took place in 1969.
  • Military historian Bill Allison says that the movie is one of the most accurate films made about the Vietnam War.
  • Unfortunately the movie was released at the same time as several similar films.

There have been a lot of fantastic movies about the Vietnam War, including Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978).

While war movies all have varying degrees of accuracy, there is one film about Vietnam that was remarkably true to life and flew under the radar in spite of rave reviews from critics. John Irvin's Hamburger Hill may be coming back to the spotlight, thanks to some recent praise for its attention to historical accuracy.

What's It About?

Based on a rather depressing true story, Hamburger Hill covers ten days at war as an American infantry squad tries to take a notoriously steep and well-fortified hill in Vietnam. In between waves of attack, the American soldiers – some seasoned vets and some rookies – are left to deal with spiraling morale, racial tensions, and the news of antiwar sentiment back home. Lt. Frantz (Dylan McDermott) heads the company, and leans on his cool-headed medical officer Doc (Courtney B. Vance) to keep everyone together.

In real life as well as in the movie, the American army fought a battle of attrition at Hamburger Hill, which had little strategic value. According to analysts, the army believed at the time that it was worth losing good men to take out as many People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces as possible.

In the end, 72 American soldiers were killed and more than 300 were wounded, while more than 600 PAVN soldiers died. The US unloaded more than 500 tons of ordnance over the course of the fight. But after the battle was won, Hamburger Hill was quickly abandoned for its lack of strategic value.

Unusual Accuracy

In Insider's YouTube series 'How Real Is It?', military historian Bill Allison took a look at several Vietnam War movie scenes. He praised Hamburger Hill's depiction of the historical battle, and was able to break down the film's use of munitions and booby traps – all of which were really used at the battle. Allison says:

'Booby traps are synonymous with Vietnam… One of the most gruesome ones is they dig a hole and they put in two rotors with punji stakes in it. And as your leg, your foot goes down in it, it rolls down and it chews your calf up. Pretty gruesome stuff. The PAVN's got more equipment, so they can do more explosive-type things… So that's kind of why, in [the movie], you've got more of the explosive-type stuff.'

Allison concluded by saying Hamburger Hill is one of his favorite Vietnam War films, no doubt due in part to its excellent attention to historical detail.

Why Haven't You Heard of It?

Hamburger Hill had the misfortune to be released in a banner year for Vietnam War movies. 1987 saw not only Hamburger Hill in theatres, but also Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and the Robin Williams vehicle Good Morning, Vietnam. It didn't help that Oliver Stone's Platoon had been a smash hit the year before.

In spite of critics loving the movie (it has a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), audiences didn't turn out for it the way they did the celeb-filled Platoon or the hilarious Good Morning, Vietnam. Neither did the movie win awards like Full Metal Jacket, so over time it slid into obscurity.

It's times like this when it's good to live in a time of streaming. Although it has been underappreciated in the past, Hamburger Hill is ripe for rediscovery.

You can watch Hamburger Hill for free with a Paramount Plus subscription, or you can rent it on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Source: YouTube.