Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex and misunderstood condition affecting millions worldwide. PTSD can manifest in a myriad of ways, and it doesn't always present with the same symptoms.
These 25 films brilliantly captured what it's like to have PTSD with accuracy, nuance, and fully fleshed-out characters.
From combat-related trauma to the lingering effects of an abusive cult, these harrowing emotional journeys will give you some insight into what it's like to grapple with trauma long after the threat has passed.
1. Jacob's Ladder (1990)
This psychological thriller delves into the depths of Jacob's mind, blurring the lines between past and present and immersing viewers in a haunting exploration of trauma and its enduring impact. In Jacob's Ladder, a Vietnam War veteran named Jacob Singer struggles with intense hallucinations and flashbacks that plague his daily life. As he tries to make sense of his fractured reality, Jacob's experiences gradually reveal the tormenting effects of PTSD.
2. Brothers (2009)
Brothers tells the gripping story of Sam Cahill, a marine deployed to Afghanistan, whose traumatic experiences in combat leave him deeply scarred. After Sam is presumed dead, his younger brother, Tommy, steps in to support Sam's wife, Grace, and their children. What begins as emotional support suddenly blossoms into a whirlwind romance.
However, when Sam unexpectedly returns home, a complex web of emotions and unresolved trauma threatens to tear their family apart. The film powerfully portrays the intricate dynamics of PTSD, familial bonds, and the challenges faced by returning veterans.
3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket offers a gritty depiction of the Vietnam War and its psychological toll on soldiers. Following a group of Marine recruits from basic training to the battlefront, the film explores the dehumanizing effects of war and its profound impact on soldiers' mental well-being.
From the intense training sessions to the horrors of combat, Full Metal Jacket presents a stark portrayal of how the traumas of war can shape and haunt individuals long after the fighting ends.
4. Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver follows Travis Bickle, a disturbed and isolated Vietnam War veteran working as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City. Struggling with insomnia and growing disillusionment, Travis becomes obsessed with saving a young prostitute from her abusive circumstances.
As his mental state deteriorates, the film provides an unsettling exploration of PTSD, urban alienation, and the disquieting effects of violence on an individual's psyche.
5. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Set during the Vietnam War, The Deer Hunter presents an emotionally charged narrative that examines the psychological aftermath experienced by three steelworkers from Pennsylvania. The film delves into their harrowing experiences as prisoners of war, capturing the profound trauma they endure and its far-reaching impact on their lives. With themes of friendship, loyalty, and the enduring scars of war, this film offers a poignant portrayal of PTSD and its repercussions.
6. Reign Over Me (2007)
Reign Over Me revolves around the story of Charlie Fineman, a man who lost his family in the 9/11 attacks and has since retreated into a world of isolation and grief. When he reconnects with his old college roommate, Alan Johnson, the film delves into Charlie's struggle with PTSD and his attempts to find solace and healing amidst profound loss.
Through their friendship, Reign Over Me sensitively explores the journey of coping with trauma through the power of human connection.
7. First Blood (1982)
First Blood introduces us to John Rambo, a troubled and highly skilled Vietnam War veteran who becomes the target of a small-town sheriff's unwarranted hostility. As Rambo is pushed to the brink, his military training resurfaces, leading to a tense and violent confrontation.
The film examines the challenges faced by returning veterans who struggle to reintegrate into society following the atrocities they witnessed in active combat.
8. Fearless (1993)
Fearless centers around Max Klein, a survivor of a devastating plane crash who emerges seemingly unscathed physically but undergoes a profound psychological transformation. Struggling with survivor's guilt, Max embarks on a spiritual journey to find meaning and redemption. The film captures the internal battles people face as they navigate the aftermath of a traumatic event.
9. Room (2015)
Room revolves around the lives of Joy Newsome and her young son Jack, who have been held captive in a small room for several years. Following their escape, the film examines the psychological aftermath of their traumatic experience, focusing on Jack's adaptation to the outside world and Joy's struggle to cope with her painful past. Through the lens of harrowing confinement, Room offers a poignant portrayal of PTSD and resilience.
10. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
Based on the classic novel, All Quiet on the Western Front offers a thought-provoking exploration of the toll war takes on individuals and the lasting effects of PTSD. The film depicts the experiences of young German soldiers during World War I. It vividly portrays the horrors of trench warfare, showcasing the psychological trauma endured by the soldiers as they confront the harsh realities of battle.
11. Combat Shock (1984)
Combat Shock tells the story of Frankie, a Vietnam War veteran struggling to survive in a dystopian and impoverished urban landscape. Haunted by the memories of war, Frankie battles PTSD while facing the challenges of unemployment, poverty, and familial discord. The film paints a stark picture of the post-war struggles faced by veterans.
12. Cherry (2021)
Cherry follows the journey of an army medic named Cherry, who descends into a downward spiral of addiction and crime upon returning from the Iraq War. The film captures the disorienting and traumatic effects of war on Cherry's mental health as he grapples with PTSD and attempts to find solace amidst a world that feels alien to him.
13. Thank You For Your Service (2017)
Based on a true story, Thank You for Your Service explores the lives of American soldiers returning from Iraq and their struggles with PTSD.
The film delves into the challenges these veterans face as they attempt to reintegrate into civilian life while battling the invisible wounds of war, with a focus on the emotional and psychological toll of combat that sheds light on the complexities of PTSD and the urgent need for support and understanding.
14. The Hurt Locker (2008)
The Hurt Locker follows an elite bomb disposal unit in Iraq and the psychological toll experienced by its members. The film captures the adrenaline-fueled reality of their work and the constant threat of danger, which leads to increasing stress and trauma.
Through its gripping portrayal of a soldier's experiences in a war zone, The Hurt Locker offers a realistic depiction of the challenges and psychological impact faced by those on the front lines.
15. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2017)
Martha Marcy May Marlene explores the aftermath of a traumatic event that shattered Martha's life. The film depicts her struggles with memory loss and fragmented recollections. As Mary grapples with her past, the film skillfully portrays the nuances of PTSD and the quest for healing and self-discovery.
16. Ordinary People (1980)
Ordinary People revolves around the Jarrett family, who are coping with the tragic death of their eldest son. The film primarily focuses on Conrad, the surviving son, as he battles survivor's guilt and the weight of unprocessed trauma.
With a sensitive exploration of grief, guilt, and the impact of loss, the film highlights the complexity of PTSD within the context of family dynamics and the struggle to rebuild shattered lives.
17. Mystic River (2003)
Mystic River introduces us to the lives of three childhood friends whose paths converge once again when tragedy strikes. As they confront a heinous crime, the film explores the lingering effects of past trauma and its impact on their present lives.
Focusing on the psychological aftermath of childhood trauma and its ripple effects on individuals, Mystic River provides a compelling portrayal of the long-lasting scars of PTSD.
18. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, a high school freshman struggling with past trauma and mental health issues. As he navigates the complexities of adolescence, Charlie forms friendships that help him confront his inner demons and find solace. The film sensitively portrays the challenges of living with PTSD as a young person, emphasizing the importance of empathy, support, and self-acceptance.
19. The Fisher King (1991)
The Fisher King centers around two men, Parry and Jack, who form an unlikely bond as they grapple with their own personal traumas. Parry, a former professor plagued by guilt and delusions, and Jack, a radio shock jock struggling with his own demons, embark on a redemptive quest for healing.
Through a blend of fantasy and reality, the film explores how trauma can shape lives and the potential for redemption and connection in the face of deep emotional wounds.
20. Max Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where Max Rockatansky forms an uneasy alliance with Imperator Furiosa to escape the tyrannical rule of a warlord. As Max and Furiosa navigate a dangerous wasteland, the film depicts the psychological toll of living in a chaotic and violent world.
Through its visceral action sequences and exploration of survival instincts, the film offers a unique perspective on the effects of constant danger and trauma on individuals.
21. Harsh Times (2005)
Harsh Times follows Jim Davis, an ex-Army Ranger struggling with unemployment, anger issues, and the lingering traumas of war. As he spirals deeper into self-destructive behavior, the film offers an unflinching portrayal of the challenges faced by veterans as they attempt to reconcile their wartime experiences with civilian life.
22. The Soloist (2009)
The Soloist tells the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a former musical prodigy living on the streets of Los Angeles with mental health challenges. When journalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel's talent, he embarks on a mission to help him overcome his obstacles.
The film explores the intersection of mental illness and trauma, shedding light on the struggles faced by individuals dealing with the repercussions of their past while highlighting the power of art and human connection.
23. Jarhead (2005)
Jarhead offers an unfiltered look into the experiences of U.S. Marines during the Gulf War. Through the eyes of Anthony Swofford, a young Marine sniper, the film explores the psychological strain, boredom, and camaraderie experienced by soldiers in a war zone.
As the soldiers grapple with the anticipation and monotony of war, Jarhead provides a nuanced portrayal of the emotional toll of combat and PTSD's complexities.
24. Till the End of Time (1946)
Set in the aftermath of World War II, Till the End of Time follows the lives of three veterans as they struggle to reintegrate into civilian society. The film delves into their individual battles with PTSD, as well as their efforts to find purpose, love, and stability amidst the challenges of post-war life.
25. Man Down (2015)
In Man Down, we follow Gabriel Drummer, a Marine who returns from his Afghanistan deployment only to discover his hometown in ruins and his family nowhere to be found. As Gabriel grapples with the aftermath of war and confronts his inner demons, Man Down sheds light on the harrowing struggles veterans endure as they embark on a desperate quest for healing and redemption.
Jaimee Marshall is a writer who hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia but has spent the past few years living abroad in Australia. She considers herself a bit of a movie buff with a knack for horror and clever sci-fi flicks. When she isn't watching or writing about movies, she's probably either posting political memes, cooking vegan food, or being active. She covers entertainment news, and reviews films and television for Wealth of Geeks. You can also catch her deep dives on sociopolitical issues at Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, and Her Campus or watch her appearance on Popcorned Planet, where she discusses heated issues like due process in our current social climate.