This thesis explores the changing portrayal of the Vietnam veteran in major motion pictures over the past twenty years. Prior to performing the analysis, I reviewed previous literature relevant to this subject and applied the theories of conflict and symbolic interactionism to the veteran's portrayal. Concerning the actual analysis, I analyzed the content of six films that contained Vietnam veterans as central characters. The six films were: Taxi Driver (1976), The Deerhunter (1978), Coming Home (1978), Rambo: Firstblood Part II (1985), Born On The Fourth Of July (1989), and Forrest Gump (1995). I chose these particular films by following the outline provided in previous literature, in which fairly three fairly distinct periods of Vietnam War related films are identified. The four periods I chose these films from were, 1968-1976, 1977-1980, 1981-1985, and 1986-1995 (used in order to keep the study as up to date as possible). I then created a questionnaire that tested for various demographic and role descriptive variables as well as the goals, methods, victimization of the veterans; the plot resolution to the film and a character rating for each veteran was also determined. Results indicated that the relationship between the year the film was released was proportionate to the type of portrayal that the veteran(s) received. The later the film was released the more likely it was that the veteran(s) would be portrayed more sympathetically and in a more positive manner. Future research is suggested, focusing on a comparison with Vietnam veteran portrayals in major motion pictures with those concerning veterans from WWII. Also possible would be a comparison of documentary films concerning Vietnam veterans with major motion pictures depicting Vietnam veterans.


Hurst, Charles


Sociology and Anthropology

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

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