The War Movie Enemy Series: Nazis

The War Movie Enemy Series explores the "go to" bad guys for almost every war film ever made.  From Nazis to corrupt African dictators, from the evil Soviet Empire to invading space aliens, these are the antagonists that make so many war films exciting.

Number one on the list:  Nazis.  Tom Hanks fights them in Saving Private Ryan.  Indiana Jones also fights them.  Even Roger Rabbit was supposed to go up against the Nazis at one point in time.  That Nazis are an incredibly popular enemy to choose isn't accidental.  From the concentration and extermination camps, to the crazed evil leader Adolph Hitler, there's no nuance when you're fighting Nazis.  You don't have to wonder if the enemy you're fighting is a terrorist or simply a man trying to defend his home against an invading Army.  Nazis gave the second World war a clean bifurcation between good and evil, it was easy to choose sides.  And hell, everyone likes their wars to be morally simple.

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Here are some of the best war movies to feature Nazis.


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The Great Dictator (1940)


Charlie Chaplin's best (and most successful!) film features Chaplin in a parody of Hitler.  Chaplin is in top form, and is still hilarious, even to modern eyes.  Not surprisingly, the film was banned in Germany, though it's reported that Hitler's curiosity eventually got the best of him and he ended up watching the movie; his reaction is not known, but it's not likely to have been positive.

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Cross of Iron (1977)


This is the only war film directed by Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch), and it tells the story of World War II from the perspective of Nazis, focusing on the brutal violent life of the enlisted soldier.  This is a highly contentious film, one that has been criticizes for its unrelenting violence and brutality, but one that is also praised in other quarters as the best war movie ever made.  It was, in part, the inspiration for Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds.  This is one of those films that's not entertaining in the same way as a fun light hearted comedy - but it is well done, and worth the viewing.  

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


When Indiana Jones goes running around the world to find the Ark of the Covenant, he quickly realizes he's not alone in his quest and that Nazi archeologists are behind him every step of the way.  This is a problem because the Ark of the Covenant (purportedly) contains the power of God.  Consequently, Nazi possession of said Ark of the Covenant would be an exceedingly bad day on Planet Earth.  Fortunately, we have a still young and dashing Harrison Ford to fight them for it.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic adventure movie and populated with lots of really awful Nazis that you just want to hate.

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Das Boot (1981)


Another film, told entirely from the perspective of Germans during the second World War, this one takes place in a U-boat submarine as the sub commanders and his teenage crew battle Allied Naval forces.  The film is infamous for "putting the viewer" deep inside the claustrophobic sub, the metal creaking from the weight of the water as sailors frantically run down darkened, narrow corridors, expecting death at any moment.  It's an intense film that shows Nazis for what they likely were more often than not:  Scared teenage boys simply following orders.

Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about Submarines.

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Schindler's List (1993)


Spielberg's Schindler's List was the definitive film on the Holocaust, conjuring up the real-life camp commander as a horrifying psychopath.  This is the sort of film that breaks from the tradition of Nazis as cheap villains, and instead empowers them with the true horror of their actions.  

Click here for the Best and Worst War Movies about the Holocaust.

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Apt Pupil (1998)


Based on the Stephen King short story, this film features a teenager who finds himself living next door to a Nazi fugitive.  An utterly absurd plot, rescued by Ian McKellan.

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The Reader (2008)

This film takes what has to be the most hated role in human history, that of the Nazi concentration camp guard, and gives this character a real fleshed out human personality, of wants and needs, and empathy, and love.  An emotionally complex and thoughtful film that doesn't allow the viewer to dismiss the film's antagonist's evil simply because she's a Nazi.
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Valkryie (2008)

An imperfect film, but the only one to tell the important story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a Nazi officer whom plotted the assassination of Adolf Hitler.  It's an important facet of history to understand that the Nazi army was not monolithic, and that within the German forces there were a great many men wondering at the behavior emanating from their leader.  Unfortunately, for the world, Stauffenberg was not successful in his assassination attempt.
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Inglorious Basterds (2009)


The Nazis were ripe for the Tarantino treatment, which in Inglorious Basterds meant the blood curdling performance of Christopher Waltz, a very precise, well enunciated Nazi officer assigned the task of tracking down hiding Jews.  The opening scene in the French farmhouse is nerve wracking, as the farmer engages the Nazi officer in verbal sparring, the Jews he's hiding sitting just beneath them under the floorboards.  Nazis have never been so cruel, or so brilliantly realized.

Click here for the Best and Worst Special Forces War Movies.

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The German Doctor (2013)

The German Doctor imagines life on the run for the Nazi super criminal Mengele, to the result of a wondrously deranged and disturbing film.  The source material is rich though:  Mengele really did race around South America fleeing Israeli agents, and he really did continue performing medical experiments on the people he encountered, and he really did hide in Nazi communities of thousands of people that congregated in Argentina.  A must see.