Whether inspired by historical events or rooted entirely in fiction, war movies have become a staple of the entertainment industry. In most cases, it’s clear from the start which side the audience is supposed to be rooting for. This battle between good and evil provides the conflict necessary for any engaging plot. When written and performed effectively, viewers often develop a visceral hatred for the villains being portrayed on screen. Here are nine near-perfect examples:
Col. Walter Kurtz
Marlon Brando’s portrayal of the wicked Col. Walter Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam War film “Apocalypse Now” was a performance for the ages. Although Kurtz doesn’t make his debut until the movie’s final act, Brando made the most of his limited time on screen. The film, which chronicles the war from the perspective of one soldier, expertly builds the tension until the antagonist is finally revealed. As audiences everywhere agreed, it was well worth the wait.
Col. Hans Landa
One of the most complex war villains ever portrayed on the silver screen came in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.” Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of SS Col. Hans Landa didn’t fit within the parameters of most fictionalized Nazis, which made him a complex figure who tormented the fim’s heroes as well as its audience. Quentin Tarantino created a multidimensional villain, defying the tropes of so many other World War II films while challenging viewers with a unique type of evil that they would not soon forget.
Few films present such a clear battle between good and evil as those adapted from comic books. One of the best examples might be 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” In it, actor Tom Hiddleston played Loki, an antagonist you don’t need to be a comic book buff to despise. The character made appearances in several other Marvel films and was even able to weave a bit of humor into the role. Make no mistake, however, this is one bad guy who is wicked to the core.
Maj. Heinrich Strasser
Although “Casablanca'' is often remembered for its romantic plot, there is plenty of tension brewing beneath the surface. At the root of it all was Maj. Heinrich Strasser, portrayed masterfully by actor Conrad Veidt. An unrepentant Nazi who targeted good guy Victor Lazlo throughout the film, this 1942 classic arrived in cinemas even as U.S. and Allied soldiers were fighting real-life Nazis in battles overseas.
Another Marvel film, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” took some historical liberties in presenting an organization loosely connected to the Nazis. At its helm was Johann Schmidt, a villain determined to turn Hydra into the most powerful evil entity humankind has ever seen. When it comes to deserving the title of “supervillain,” actor Hugo Weaving’s powerful performance certainly fits the bill.
Many people continue to question America’s extended involvement in the Vietnam War. Similarly, the film “Platoon” left many viewers with nagging uncertainties. That was due in large part to actor Kevin Dillon’s disturbing portrayal of a U.S. soldier known simply as Bunny. His atrocities are too vulgar to describe in detail here, but suffice it to say that his psychopathic treatment of innocent Vietnamese civilians was enough to earn him a spot in this ignoble list.
Among the earliest of all war films is 1930’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Although Professor Kantorek made only a brief appearance in the film and the novel on which it was based, his influence could be felt throughout. He pressured young men to fight for Germany, thus contributing to the brutality that came to define World War I. Years later, Nazis burned the classic book because of its gritty portrayal of war.
While many fans might identify Darth Vader as the worst “Star Wars” villain, the argument could be made that his ruthless boss Sheev Palpatine actually deserves that dubious distinction. It was not until the prequels were released that audiences got to know the bloodthirsty tactician cloaked in a pitch-black robe. When those films revealed his role in empowering the franchise’s Dark Side enemies, his status as a cinematic villain was secured.
It’s not often that a war movie can be classified as a comedy, but that is exactly what director Robert Altman created with the 1970 film “M.A.S.H.” Although it was set during the Korean War, there wasn’t much combat depicted on screen. Instead, the primary villain came in the form of surgeon Franklin Burns. From his first appearance, actor Robert Duvall created a maniacal character that tormented the film’s protagonists until he was carried away in a straitjacket. Sometimes, the villain and the hero are technically on the same side.