With so many notable events throughout history, you can pretty much rest assured that there will always be plenty of content about any of them regardless of the medium – film, TV, books, or others.
In fact, we’ve already got a few that you can start with: comprehensive lists of TV shows about both the First World War and the Second World War!
Now, we’re back with another list of shows about a major historical event: the Vietnam War.
When this battle comes to mind, most understand it from the perspective of the Western involvement. However, at the core of the Vietnam War was an internal conflict to prevent the spread of communism from the North.
The world’s biggest political superpowers – China and the United States – were involved, and it even spilled into the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos.
There are many facets to any war, and hopefully this list of the best TV series – both scripted and documentary-style! – about the Vietnam War brings those aspects to the forefront.
Let’s get started!
The best scripted TV shows about the Vietnam War
Tour of Duty, CBS (1987 – 1990)
Tour of Duty is an Emmy award-winning military drama that shows the American involvement in the Vietnam War as they supported the south of the country.
In fact, it is one of the first TV shows to show American soldiers in combat regularly.
The series follows an infantry platoon as they’re on a tour of duty.
Through its coverage of issues such as politics, terrorism, racism, civilian deaths, sexuality, and many other heavy topics, viewers are made to understand the effects that war will have not just on soldiers, but on civilians and those around them as well.
Vietnam, Network Ten (1987)
Vietnam is an Australian miniseries with just 5 episodes, each about the length of a feature film.
The episodes follow the Goddard family – Douglas and Evelyn, and their children Phil and Megan – as Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War continues to deepen from the 1960s through to the 70s.
Phil is drafted to serve in the war with his best friend Laurie and the two are quickly disillusioned by the tragedies they witness.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Goddard family are slowly torn apart by Douglas’ connection to those making decisions about Australia’s involvement.
Through the family, the series reflects the bigger picture of social upheaval happening in the country.
Vietnam War Story, HBO (1987 – 1988)
HBO brings a spectacular series to the list with Vietnam War Story, which employed a mix of fact and creative license in its storytelling.
It came about after the success of the movie Platoon and was an attempt to further tell stories covering all aspects of the American experience in South Vietnam throughout the decade they spent there.
Vietnam War Story is an anthology series, with each episode being standalone and telling a brand new story with different characters, like soldiers telling war stories at a rundown bar.
While the originating events were real, the stories themselves were fictionalized versions of real-life experiences.
A Rumor of War, CBS (1980)
Just 5 years after the end of the war, CBS released a two-episode miniseries based on Philip Caputo’s 1977 autobiography of the same name: A Rumor of War.
Considering how soon after the war it was released, it’s one of the earliest media works to feature American combat experiences in Southeast Asia.
Caputo was a US Marine lieutenant, and A Rumor of War chronicles the events surrounding his service during the early years of the Vietnam War, as well as how he slowly becomes disillusioned as the end doesn’t seem to come any closer.
China Beach, ABC (1988 – 1991)
As a bit of a break from the frontlines, China Beach takes its viewers to the inside of yet another, though not any less important, perspective of war: the medical workers.
The show’s title is a reference to My Khe beach in Danang, Vietnam, which earned the nickname China Beach from the American and Australian soldiers based there during the war.
The setting is the fictional 510th Evacuation and R&R facility, and it follows the daily lives and jobs of the nurses, doctors, soldiers, Red Cross volunteers, and civilians who work at the hospital and are faced with the aftermath of the brutalities of war as they try to tend to the injured.
Fortunate Son, CBC (2020 – present)
This Canadian series takes its name, Fortunate Son, from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song of the same name, and is loosely inspired by the experiences of the show’s co-executive producer Tom Cox’s mother, Mary Cox.
It takes place in 1968, a few years after the United States offered its help to the war efforts, and focuses on an American expat living in British Columbia, Canada, named Ruby Howard.
Ruby and her family are part of the anti-war activist movement and must therefore help Travis Hunter, a fellow American, cross the border into Canada in order to elude being drafted into the war.
Quarry, Cinemax (2016)
Cinemax’s Quarry was in the works all the way back in 2013 with a pilot order, but production didn’t wrap up and air until three years later!
Despite that, its run was short-lived and lasted just one season before its cancellation.
Quarry focuses less on the actual Vietnam War and more on the life of one individual whose life after it was changed forever.
Mac Conway is a Vietnam War Marine veteran who served two tours before returning to his home in Memphis, only to find that he’s been shunned by everyone, including his loved ones.
That leads him to get roped into a life of lies, corruption, and killing as he becomes a hitman for the mysterious Broker.
Sword of Honour, Network Seven (1986)
Sword of Honor is an Australian miniseries that aired for just one season in 1986.
Though there were only four episodes, each was about 100 minutes.
The series primarily follows Tony Lawrence, as well as his brother-in-law and best friend Frank Vittorio, as they join the battle right as it’s about to escalate.
They were both so young and though highly qualified, nothing could have prepared them from the horrors of war that they were yet to face.
After being ripped apart from their families and laying their lives on the line, they come back home and must learn to deal with the profound effects of the war in their own ways.
You Can’t See ‘Round Corners, Seven Network (1967)
When it comes to films and series, we’re more accustomed to seeing a TV show that is made based on, inspired by, or as a sequel to a movie.
It’s the other way around with You Can’t See ‘Round Corners, however, as the series was eventually adapted into a film two years after it aired.
The Australian series is based on the 1947 novel by Jon Cleary, with the timeline updated to be set during the Vietnam War, and follows the young Frankie McCoy, a small-time bookie who is about to be drafted to the war but defects after training.
This, on top of the trouble he gets into as a bookie, has both the military and the cops hot on his tail.
Frankie’s House, ITV (1992)
Journalism during the Vietnam War will always start an interesting conversation, as there are those who believe the media didn’t play a particularly positive role in the US’ involvement.
Frankie’s House sheds a light on the other side: of the dedicated journalists who will brave the dangers and aftermath to be on the frontlines to capture the truth that only a photo can.
This four-episode miniseries is the story of famed British photojournalist Tim Page, whose photographs of the Vietnam War have gone down in history, and his relationship with fellow photojournalist Sam Flynn while they were both out on the battlefield.
The Six O’Clock Follies, NBC (1980)
After all the gripping, historical war dramas on the list, NBC’s The Six O’Clock Follies is the first (and only) comedy series.
Though one could argue that it’s more of a workplace sitcom, The Six O’Clock Follies was set in Saigon in the midst of the war in 1967.
On top of that, it centered on the production and operations of The AFVN News and Sports, a radio program that ran every day at 6 o’clock for the Armed Forces Vietnam Network and was operated by two soldiers and a weather girl.
During their downtime, the radio crew heads to Midas Bar, the local pub owned by the program’s director as well.
The Sympathizer, HBO (upcoming)
Robert Downey Jr. is making his return to the small screen with HBO’s The Sympathizer, an ‘espionage thriller and cross-culture satire’ adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
The series follows a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the final days of the Vietnam War and his exile to the United States.
The lead cast and many other roles are still unknown, but Downey will be playing multiple supporting roles with each aimed “…to represent a different arm of the American establishment.”
There’s no news yet on when it will be airing, but The Sympathizer is definitely one to look out for!
The best Vietnam War docuseries
The Vietnam War, PBS (2017)
We’re kicking off the unscripted portion of this list with The Vietnam War, a 10-part (18-hour) documentary series that really takes its viewers through every aspect of the war from beginning to end.
Each episode covers a certain time period of a few years from 1958 to beyond 1973, allowing the story to truly develop and unfold clearly.
The series uses interviews, testimonials, home videos, photographs, TV broadcasts from that time, archive footage, and even secret audio recordings of the Kennedy household to show a comprehensive history of how America contributed to the war efforts, told from the perspectives of those who both supported and opposed it.
Battlefield: Vietnam, PBS (1999)
Battlefield: Vietnam is part of a bigger anthology documentary series from PBS which explores all the notable battles fought mostly throughout the Second World War and Vietnam War.
Each season employs the use of personal accounts from veterans and survivors, additional tactical details, background information on technology, details on smaller surrounding battles, and archival footage to provide a narrative of war.
The third season was Battlefield: Vietnam, which covered all smaller battles that raged between 1954 and 1975.
The series goes through a brief history, the military tactics used, and even some of the critical mistakes made by the United States.
Vietnam: 50 Years Remembered, Amazon Prime Video (2015)
Contrary to what most would believe, the United States wasn’t involved in the Vietnam War right off the bat.
No, they joined the war efforts a decade later in 1965; in honor of the 50th anniversary of this date, a seven-episode documentary series was released.
Vietnam: 50 Years Remembered used the personal stories of those involved in the US efforts including officials and veterans to detail the events in the battle over the decade that the US was part of the frontlines.
Included as well were details on the battles, strategies, and politics that changed as the presidency switched throughout the war.
Vietnam: A Television History, PBS (1983)
Though technically classified a miniseries, Vietnam: A Television History paints a comprehensive picture thanks to its 13-episode span; despite it being aired back in the 80s, the impact of it was large enough that it was rebroadcast a little over a decade later in 1997.
In fact, Vietnam: A Television History was the network’s most successful documentary until that time.
The docuseries comes from journalist and foreign correspondent Stanley Karnow and like many others, showcases the war efforts from the American perspective.
This also includes a history of Vietnam in the years immediately leading up to the start of the war, to show what led to it in the first place.
Battleground Vietnam: War in the Jungle, AppleTV+ (2005)
Battleground Vietnam: War in the Jungle is yet another documentary miniseries, this time with just eight episodes, that attempts to provide an in-depth narrative of the history of the Vietnam War.
The series covers the period from 1954 to 1975 and shines ‘a spotlight on U.S. government deceptions, the horrors of jungle warfare, and the war’s human toll’, according to the official logline.
Throughout the episodes, viewers bear witness to how the war began and how America became involved, the battles fought and the heroes who fought them, and the price everyone involved had to pay.
Vietnam in HD, History Channel (2011)
Outside of the United States, this six-episode documentary series from the History Channel is known as Vietnam Lost Films; locally it’s known as Vietnam in HD.
From the titles alone, you might be able to guess that the documentary is structured using found footage of the front lines, perhaps by officials or correspondents who witnessed it all.
Intertwined with this footage are retellings of the experiences of thirteen individuals who played different roles in the war: a combat reporter, decorated heroes, a nurse, founding member of the National League of Families, and more – all portrayed by an ensemble cast.
Unseen Images: The Vietnam War, France 3 (1997)
Despite all the resources and media that has been made about the Vietnam War, both fictional and not, we wouldn’t really be able to fully know the whole picture, not when there is always so much hidden behind closed doors.
The French-made documentary Unseen Images: The Vietnam War attempts to somewhat lift that secret veil through its three parts, and the raw honesty through which it does has been highly praised by the Vietnamese.
The docuseries uses archive footage from combat cameramen that was previously classified but now, the thousands of hours of footage provides an even more shocking view of the Vietnam War.
Wings Over Vietnam: The Missions, Discovery Channel (1998)
Discovery Channel’s three-part documentary series Wings Over Vietnam: The Missions is part of the network’s DC Wings series, which focuses on various parts of the US Air Force.
This one, in particular, homed in on the USAF’s role in the Vietnam War – the various aircraft vessels and used and for what purpose.
A stellar combination of rare flight footage while in air combat, first-hand accounts and testimonials from surviving veterans and pilots, and graphically rendered explanations of strategy make for a detailed view of the Vietnam War from the air. It’s truly something you’ve never seen before!
1968: The Year That Changed America, CNN (2018)
CNN’s four-part documentary titled 1968: The Year That Changed America comes from the Emmy Award-winning producers Gary Goetzman, Mark Herzog, and actor Tom Hanks.
The title alone should clue you in: it covers one of the most pivotal years in recent American history when the country experienced shifts in politics both domestic and international, as well as social changes that have deep impacts to this day.
The Vietnam War is at the center of the first episode, and subsequent episodes covered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. alongside the tumultuous presidential election of that year.