Ballistic Helmets in the Movies, from World War II to the 21st century

August 14, 2018 5 min read

Ballistic Helmets in the Movies, from World War II to the 21st century

When Hollywood accurately depicts combat helmets and gear

For many of us, the first time we see aballistic helmet or other military gear is in the movies. Films depicting American soldiers in combat demonstrate the values that we hold most dear: service, sacrifice to the greater good, and patriotism. Here at Hard Head Veterans, we enjoy a good war movie as much as the next guy, and today we’re going to showcase the some notable helmet appearances in cinema. And also, if you’re directing a movie and looking to buy authentic tactical helmets that real servicemen rely on every day, you know who to call.

  1. Helmet: FAST/ATE

Actor: John Krasinski

Film:13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Photo Credit:Paramount Pictures

13 Hours tells the story of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya from the perspective of the soldiers who lived through it. John Krasinski plays the newest arrival to a secret CIA annex, where he and other CIA contractors are stationed for protective duty. Upon hearing that the nearby American diplomatic compound was under attack by Islamist militants, the soldiers left to rescue American diplomatic staff at great risk to themselves. Having arrived too late to prevent the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and staffer Sean Smith, they retreated back to the annex with the survivors, sustaining fire from militants en route and repelling their attacks on the annex until reinforcements arrived and they could be evacuated from the country. This film truly shows the chaos that the soldiers went through.

In the film, the soldiers are wearing FAST/ATE helmets throughout, as is now common for soldiers engaging in special operations. These Kevlar helmets are cut so that the ear is fully exposed, enabling the wearer to add a headset for easier communication. The cut also means the helmet is lighter, and it is designed to easily accommodate additional gear depending on the specific tactical needs. Read more about ATE helmetshere.

 Video Credit: Paramount Pictures

Helmet: Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH)

Actor: Rorke Denver

Film:Act of Valor

Photo Credit:Beliefnet

Act of Valor is a bit unusual in that it was made incooperation with the U.S. Navy, and featured performances by active-duty SEALs and SWCC. The identities of these soldiers were kept secret during filming and were not listed in the credits. Envisioned by the Pentagon as a recruiting tool,Act of Valor was the first collaboration of its kind. It tells the story of a group of SEALs deploying around the world to fight drug smugglers and Islamist terrorists, and reaches its climax in a firefight with the Islamist terrorists in an underground tunnel between the U.S. and Mexico. The movie features some of the most realistic combat scenes we’ve ever seen, though it is pretty rough watching these SEAL's & SWCC's try to act.  

Video Credit: eOnefilms

Photo Credit:Aceshowbiz

Act of Valor was made in 2012, and featured the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet, or “MICH” throughout the film. The MICH is designed to be lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor, the PASGT. This was accomplished by making the helmet shell shallower, which reduced its weight, assisted hearing, and opened up the peripheral vision of its wearer. It also replaced the two-point chin strap with a four-point retention system. The MICH provided the basis for more advanced helmets such as the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) and Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH), all of which are currently in use by the military. Check out Hard Head Veterans' version of the MICH for sale here.

  1. Helmet:Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops helmet (PASGT)

Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal


Photo Credit:IMDb

Jarhead is the story of one Marine’s deployment during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. The main character, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, goes through sniper school only to find his wish to see combat frustrated at every turn. Much of the film shows the Marines sitting in the Saudi Arabian desert during Operation Desert Shield, knowing that the war is coming and waiting for their orders. They get cabin fever, and start behaving erratically due to boredom and frustration as they cannot see the point of their mission. Later, the Marines go through the Iraqi desert during Operation Desert Storm and hope to see battle, but the only action comes from an accidental friendly-fire air attack. They find that their path has already been cleared by a very effective Air Force bombing campaign. Just when they are given a sniping mission, it is called off in favor of yet another air attack. This movie does a great job of showing how war was different for a group of soldiers for whom war was much different than what they expected.

As this movie takes place during the Persian Gulf War, the Marines are wearing the then-standard PASGT helmet. Introduced in the 1980s, the PASGT helmet was the first standard-issue helmet to be made of Kevlar instead of steel. This provided significant ballistic protection over the M1. It first saw action in Grenada, and in addition to the Gulf War was often seen in United Nations peacekeeping missions. It acquired a wide range of nicknames, such as the “Kevlar”, the “K-pot”, and the “Fritz”, the last nickname due to its resemblance to the Stahlhelm helmet worn by German soldiers in World War II. Whatever you call it, the PASGT helmet was a true advance forward, and is still used by militaries and law enforcement around the world, as well as being the basis for the Lightweight Helmet, which the Marines adopted in 2003.

Video Credit: Movieclips Classic Trailers

  1. Helmet: M1

Actor: John Wayne

Film:Sands of Iwo Jima

Photo Credit:Classic Movie Favorites

Some of you might remember being called “duke” as a boot when you forgot to fasten the chin strap on your helmet. We bet you were more careful when putting it on the next time. This figure of speech is a joking tribute to the most famous helmet in cinema, John Wayne’s M1 inSands of Iwo Jima. This classic film features John Wayne (often known as “The Duke”) as a Marine Sergeant who leads his squad of untested soldiers into some of the worst fighting of the Pacific theater, culminating in the Battle of Iwo Jima and subsequent raising of the American flag. Throughout the film and in the thick of battle, Wayne wears his M1 helmet with the straps unfastened. Ironically, he never actually served in the military, though his gruff performances in films likeSands of Iwo Jima made him an icon of the military to generations of young men.

Video Credit: YouTube Movies

TheM1 helmet made its debut during the time the movie portrays. It went on to be the standard-issue helmet to the United States military until the mid 1980’s. It saw action in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and so became an iconic symbol of the American soldier in the twentieth century. It replaced the M1917 helmet which dated from World War I, improving on it by changing the 360-degree brim to just a slight front brim, providing more coverage to the back, right and left sides of the head, and inserting a new liner and suspension system. Often called the “steel pot” by soldiers, it was so sturdy that it saw unofficial use as a camp tool for pounding stakes into the ground and as a piece of crockery for boiling water. What’s your favorite story of unofficial M1 use?

Major General Graves B. Erskine and John Wayne on the set ofSands of Iwo Jima, 1949.

Photo Credit:Graves B. Erskine Collection (COLL/3065) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections