There are tough roles, and then there’s playing Hitler. The last thing you want is to be typecast in that role, after all. But a few brave actors have stepped up to the task, pasting on the square mustache for both realistic portrayals and broad parodies. For Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, German actor Martin Wuttke joins the select group of daring performers below. All heil these guys! (Too soon?)
David Bamber, Valkyrie (2008)
Though he doesn’t say much in this “Tom Cruise tries to kill Hilter” thriller, Bamber’s slumped, sickly Hitler is one for the ages. Director Bryan Singer has said he was struck by Bamber’s eyes during auditions for the role, which reminded him of Hitler’s intense persona. Bamber also nails Hitler’s hunched posture, and he’s the only British actor in the movie who even attempts a German accent.
Bruno Ganz, Downfall (2004)
Swiss actor Ganz’s performance in Downfall
is so uncanny, you’d think you were watching a documentary. The movie
dramatizes the final days of Hitler’s life in a
Berlin bunker, with the weathered Ganz mimicing his every mannerism. Ganz’s deadly serious performance has inspired scores
of Internet parodies, with Hitler discussing everything from presidential elections to proper Xbox etiquette.
Noah Taylor, Max (2002)
runs with the “Hitler was a frustrated painter” theory by dramatizing his early friendship with a fictional art
dealer (John Cusack). Oddball actor Taylor (Shine) gives a performance that transcends mere mimicry, and the movie doesn’t sugarcoat young
Adolf’s growing anti-Semitism. How different might history might have been if
anyone had actually bought one of his paintings? Eh, it’s hard to feel too sorry for the guy.
Christopher Carroll, Little Nicky (2000)
Hitler’s role in this Adam Sandler comedy is really a
gross-out cameo: History’s most hated man turns up in Hell (wearing a
maid’s outfit) where he submits to daily abuse from Satan. Carroll looks the part well enough, but the less said
about his torture, which involves the improper use of a giant
pineapple, the better.
Michael Sheard, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Indy has a brush with German history in one of the best scenes in any Indiana Jones movie. Posing as an officer at a Nazi rally, Indiana Jones literally bumps into der Fuhrer while caught up in the crowd. Sheard’s rigid, spot-on Hitler gives Indy the once over, takes his diary and autographs it before moving along. Little does Adolf know that he just signed the Holy Grail diary the Nazis are after!
Jeremy Black, The Boys from Brazil (1978)
This actioner — in which Laurence Olivier’s Nazi hunter tries to stop Gregory Peck’s
Josef Mengele from creating Hitler clones — is one seriously insane movie. Black plays all of the movie’s
little Hitlers, and is particularly terrifying at the end when he attacks his maker. The movie asks the question,
“What would you do if you met a young Hitler?” Here’s a better one: Whatever happened to Jeremy Black?
Alec Guinness, Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973)
1973 movie is another that dramatizes Hitler’s final days, showing how
his constituents abandoned him as World War II raged on. Guinness
definitely looks the part, and gives another strong
performance. The filmmakers take a few liberties, but Star Wars
fans will get a kick out of seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi as Hitler blowing out
candles on his last birthday cake. Everyone else will wonder why Hitler
suddenly has a British accent.
Dick Shawn, The Producers (1968)
can thank Mel Brooks for turning Hitler into a
go-to comedy reference with his infamous “Springtime for Hitler”
musical number. Goose-stepping Nazi chorus girls, dancing stormtroopers
forming a swastika — they’re all here and all uncomfortably hilarious.
Of course, Dick Shawn’s flamboyant beatnik Adolf is a hit with a crowd
that think it’s seeing a broad satire and not a production intended to be a flop.
Charlie Chaplin (as Adenoid Hynkel), The Great Dictator (1940)
great Chaplin gives us one of the most memorable movie Hitlers, though
he isn’t technically playing der Fuhrer. Chaplin takes on two roles in
the film, one of which is Hitler stand-in Adenoid Hynkel, dictator
of Tomainia. Chaplin famously parodies Hitler’s speeches, and then there’s the balletic dance with an inflatable globe
that only Chaplin could pull off. The movie is still a
brilliant, unparalleled satire today.