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21 Movies About PTSD and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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films about ptsd

June is PTSD Awareness Month, so it’s fitting to recognize some of the best movies about PTSD that shed light on what it can be like to live with the aftermath of trauma.

PTSD goes by many different names, such as “shellshock” and “gross stress reaction,” but it wasn’t until 1980 that the diagnostic term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Though discussion about this condition is generally associated with returning veterans, anyone that has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can suffer from the often-debilitating effects of PTSD.

Other events like sexual or physical abuse, domestic violence, a terrible car crash, the loss of a loved one, and many other situations, can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD Awareness Month, sponsored in part by the U.S. Department Veteran’s Affairs (VA), is a way to bring attention to this condition, educate our communities, and provide resources for this treatable mental illness.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

An estimated 8 percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their life, and VA data suggests that 8 million adults struggle with PTSD in a given year, though that number is likely underreported.

Unfortunately, research shows an intrinsic link between PTSD and addiction.

A 2013 study reported that about half of patients seeking treatment for addiction met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can be severe and can include some of the following:

  • Overwhelming guilt and shame
  • Anxiety, depression, and feelings of uselessness
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, and unwanted memories of the trauma
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities once enjoyed
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts, ideations, and attempts

Treatment for PTSD can be extremely effective in helping people cope with their trauma and live a productive and happy life.

So many stories of survival exist that Hollywood has produced a wide range of movies about PTSD over the years.

movies about ptsd

Here are 8 Movies About PTSD

1. Mystic River (2003)

Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon star in Mystic River, a PTSD film directed by Clint Eastwood, which is based on a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane.

Following the murder of Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter, this Boston community begins to suspect that Dave (Tim Robbins), one of their lifelong friends, is the killer.

Dave suffers from PTSD as a result of a kidnapping and sexual torture when he was younger, and he is caught between his neighbors and the police.

2. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Perhaps one of the most iconic movies about PTSD, The Deer Hunter stars Christopher Walken and Robert DeNiro in this film about three soldiers captured in Vietnam and tortured as prisoners of war.

The story unwinds as they manage to escape, but they are quickly separated.

With five Academy Awards to its name, this gripping PTSD movie stands the test of time.

3. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Set during the Iraq war, Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant William James, a specialist with the life or death responsibility of defusing bombs in The Hurt Locker.

Though Sgt. James can’t seem to function stateside with his wife and child, it soon becomes clear that he thrives on taking wartime risks, even ones that endanger the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker received Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor.

4. Iron Man 3 (2013)

PTSD has even made it into the Marvel Universe. Robert Downey Jr. portrays Iron Man, aka billionaire Tony Stark, who is suffering from flashbacks and panic attacks after defending Earth from an alien invasion.

Stark isolates himself by putting more time into developing stronger and more powerful Iron Man suits.

His emotional and physical withdrawal creates problems with his girlfriend, Pepper Potts, played by Gwenyth Paltrow. To make matters even worse, he must now find and hunt down a terrorist known as The Mandarin.

5. A Private War (2018)

Based on a true story, A Private War follows Marie Colvin, a celebrated war correspondent that has been diagnosed with PTSD.

Portrayed by actress Rosamund Pike, Colvin can’t seem to avoid chasing down violent conflicts as a way to give voice to people suffering at the hands of warlords.

Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress, A Private War was produced in part by Charlize Theron who herself has acknowledged her own struggles with PTSD.

6. Room (2015)

Held captive for seven years in a small shed and subjected to sexual violence, Joy Newsome, played by Brie Larson, attempts to save both herself and her young son, who was born while she was held prisoner, as they escape to freedom.

After gaining their freedom, her son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, experiences life outside “the room” for the first time in his life.

Larson worked with a trauma specialist as she prepared for her role in Room, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

After a tragic car accident that results in the death of his aunt, Charlie suffers from flashbacks and clinical depression that have put him in the hospital.

Upon his release, he’s nervous about his freshman year in high school.

Charlie is befriended by two high school seniors, Sam, played by Emma Watson, and her stepbrother Patrick, while both of them struggle with trauma in their own lives.

As The Perks of Being a Wallflower story unfolds, Charlie learns there’s much more to his story than even he thought.

8. I, Tonya (2018)

Based on the real life drama of Tonya Harding’s involvement in the attack on fellow Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, I, Tonya is a gritty, sometimes darkly humorous exploration of an upbringing amidst a cycle of domestic abuse.

Though PTSD is not explicitly mentioned, Harding, played by Margot Robbie, displays many of the symptoms and traits of a person that has routinely suffered from abuse and trauma.

This unique film earned Robbie an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Actress.

More Movies About PTSD Worth Watching

Here are 13 more movies about PTSD in chronological order that portray the struggles of living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Coming Home (1978)
  • Ordinary People (1980)
  • First Blood (1982)
  • Born On The Fourth of July (1989)
  • Prince of Tides (1991)
  • The Fisher King (1991)
  • Fearless (1993)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Brothers (2009)
  • American Sniper (2014)
  • Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Final Thoughts on Movies About PTSD

It can be extremely difficult for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the toll it has on their family and friends.

For those who have never experienced the pain brought about by witnessing or living through a traumatic event, it is impossible to understand how it feels to live with it on a daily basis.

Hopefully, some of these PTSD movies about trauma can shed light on the mental health issues survivors must deal with in their life.

Nobody is immune to the effects of trauma, and many celebrities and famous people with PTSD have opened up about their own experiences and have offered helpful tips they used to get through it.

PTSD Awareness Month in June is an opportunity to learn more about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and increase awareness that treatment is available to those who need it to overcome the pain of their trauma.

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