There's rarely a middle ground with military films. Either they're masterpieces worthy of every accolade given or they're so bad that troops turn them into drinking games, taking a shot every time something completely unrealistic happens.
Great military films take an in-depth look at actual service members and veterans and are written based on real experiences. The laughable, however, just take a quick glance at how other war films have done it and copy the wrong notes. This is how we end up with so many awful cliches that may work in a film, but would never happen in the real world.
1. Choice of mission
Many films use some variation of Mission: Impossible's "your mission, should you choose to accept it..." line. Sure, that works for Ethan Hunt — because he's not a soldier and is able to make choices.
Troops don't have that luxury. If the commander says it, that's an order.
Using the TV series just to remind everyone Mission: Impossible existed before Tom Cruise.
2. Troops were secretly the bad guys all along
This one is most prevalent among movies set in some post-apocalyptic world. It turns out our reluctant protagonist now has to fight the "big bad" U.S. military because... uh... reasons?
Let's take, for example, nearly every single zombie film. So, the world has already come to an end. At this point, the military would be too busy trying to restore order with some sort of martial law, but in the movies, the military is most concerned with figuring how to best weaponize zombies against their enemies (ignoring the fact that, if the world ended, the enemy was probably also ended by zombies). Once this revelation comes to light, everyone in the platoon is just totally cool with gunning down the protagonists.
Seriously, why are the only loyal and obedient soldiers evil?
3. Walking off post (while deployed)
To be completely fair to the modern war films that do this, yes: troops get more time off than most people think. We're not on patrol every single waking moment of a deployment. That doesn't mean, however, that we have the free time, ability, or desire to walk off-post to grab a beer.
There's been one high-profile individual who's done this and, uh, let's just say that the military community doesn't think highly of it.
Yeah, there're many other things wrong with The Hurt Locker, but those have been pointed out a million and a half times.
4. Vehicles are always breaking down
It feels like whenever our heroes need to make a big break for it, the damn vehicle craps out on them.
Seriously, this cliche rears its head more often than a teenager trips as they try to escape Jason Voorhees. There are mechanics in the military and they do take pride in their work.
Even great films can't avoid cliches.
5. Saying the phrase, "with all due respect"
Characters find the courage within themselves to stand up to the high-ranking officer and say something that starts with, "with all due respect..." Suddenly, they're given free reign to say whatever's on their mind.
Nope. That's a really quick way to get demoted. The line works in Talladega Nights because it's not a war film. But even in Talladega Nights, they acknowledge that the line is, basically, worthless.
Ricky Bobby is basically every E-3 in the military.
6. Everything about the phrase, "if I told you, I'd have to kill you"
On film, how do show a spy tiptoeing around the fact that they're a spy? Ah, yes! By having them almost tell someone in a bar — perfect!
Actual agents don't even tell their families that they're spies, let alone some random person at the bar. Thankfully, the granddaddy of all film spies, James Bond, doesn't stoop that low.
It happens far more than you'd think.
7. No one is willing to fight until the protagonist gives a speech
It's the darkest moment of the film. The good guys have nearly lost and the enemy is all around them. There's only one person with the newfound courage to rally the troops. They stand in front of everyone and deliver a passionate speech. Those words inspire in everyone the courage they need to stand up and win. Our hero did it! Everyone lived and the bad guys lost. Roll credits...
Actual speeches before troops go out and "fight the good fight" usually involve safety briefs, radio frequencies, and contingency plans. In real life, nobody needs some Academy-Award winning speech before fighting the bad guys.
"Now that you mention it... Yeah, I do like freedom."
*Bonus* Famous last words
To be completely real for a moment, I can almost guarantee the phrase "what the f*ck?" is a much more common set of last words than, "tell my wife... *cough* I love her."