From the moment of America’s entry into World War Two in 1942, the Axis powers were up against a determined and resourceful foe: Hollywood. As US bombers flew into battle with Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable daubed on their fuselages, Tinseltown unleashed a series of big-screen American heroes into action against Nazi Germany. There were grizzled veterans on the run from their past (John Bramble in Five Graves To Cairo), everymen caught in moral mazes (Saboteur’s Barry Kane), and grizzled everymen in moral mazes (the iconic Rick Blaine in Casablanca). The ordinary Joe took the fight to Adolf but the damage to the Nazi war effort – a spy captured here, a plot foiled there – was hardly the stuff to put the dictator in a end-of-Downfall mood. But with the advent of blockbusters, that all changed. Hollywood has upped the ante massively on the Third Reich. Just as well, because, as Indy and more recently Captain America have discovered, Hitler has started thinking bigger too. With Cap currently tearing the Nazis a new one, what better time to look at the new breed of war winners?
Nazi plan: To take possession of the Ark of the Covenant and get seriously biblical on the Allied war machine.
The Nazis’ efforts to harness the power of the supernatural are well documented: they’d have ridden into battle on the horse from Rentaghost if it’d given them a tactical edge. No big surprise, then, to find them rooting around the Well of Souls in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. They’re trying to lay their filthy Nazi hands on the Ark of the Covenant, a kind of spiritual Hadron Collider with which to smite all their enemies to death.
That’s the plan, anyway. Alas for Major Toht (Ronald Lacey), treacherous archaeologist René Belloq (Paul Freeman), their army of goose-stepping goons and old Adolf himself, a certain Henry "Indiana" Jones (Harrison Ford) stands between them and their evil schemes. The Nazi plan unfolds long before war is declared so there’s every chance the good guys could have been caught napping - but happily for us, Indy hates Nazis. Everyone’s favourite fedora-wearing archaeologist combines the dash of a Hollywood matinee hero with the grizzled daring of an ‘80s action star and a handy whip. It’s all too much for the might of the Wehrmacht, who also slightly overestimate how much God might want to join their team. Cue melty faces all round.
In Berlin by? Christmas.
Nazi plan: To take possession of the Holy Grail and get seriously biblical on the Allied war machine.
The Nazis are at it again a couple of years later, prepping for the Second World War by stocking up on Old Testament weaponry. Their quest for the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade may have been short on clopping coconuts and Trojan rabbits but legend has it that it was grounded in Himmler’s real-life schemes. In 1939 an SS expedition lead by bonkers occultist Ernst Schäfer scoured Tibet for the life-giving chalice. Unlike those Nazi scientists, who got cold and went home again, the movie’s SS fanatic Ernst Vogel (Michael Byrne) is foiled by Indy, his dad (Sean Connery) and even the Almighty himself in his choice of bling-free crockery.
Once again, the Third Reich’s efforts are directly inverse to their success. So while they’ve got tanks, fighters and an endless supply of goose-stepping fascists to call upon, the Jones boys rely on the methods of Charlemagne and recruit “the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky”. It's a bit like being defeated by an episode of The Blue Planet. Hitler’s boys press on to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon where they learn the hard way that God hates them almost as much as Indy does.
In Berlin by? Hitler’s next book signing.
Nazi plan: To steal the blueprints to Howard Hughes' rocket pack and use it to invade America.
Prior to Captain America, Joe Johnston’s first Nazi smackdown owed a little more to those wartime propaganda flicks: black-and-white spy thrillers in which America was awash with suspicious, suited men with notepads and funny accents. The Rocketeer, one part Saboteur to two parts Commando Cody, is the first superhero movie to take the fight to the Nazis. Stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) stands between Nazi Germany and its dastardly plan to turn Mount Rushmore into Mount Reichsmore.
Donning a rocketpack, and with more than a little help from his whipsmart gal Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly), the Rocketeer unmasks movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) as a German spy, sabotages the Nazi zeppelin and saves the day. The presence of Errol Flynn-alike movie star Sinclair in the nazi ranks is a subversive touch, but Hollywood’s stars-and-stripes patriotism ultimately sees Hitler take another smack on the kisser.
In Berlin by? The time it takes to fill up those rocket tanks.
Nazi plan: To use the Enigma cipher machine to send encrypted messages between embattled Nazi units, presumably using words like “achtung” and “dummkopf”.
Accusing Hollywood blockbusters of playing fast and loose with history is like accusing tabloids of lacking nuance or hippos of enjoying the occasional mud bath. It’s pretty self-evident. Then again, when you’ve got Harvey Keitel, Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton and Jon Bon Jovi on your team, who needs boring old details like facts?
In Jonathan Mostow’s alternative history, the crew of US submarine S-33 (really British destroyer HMS Bulldog) ping ping their way across the Atlantic, seize U-571 (really U-110) capture an intact Enigma machine (this bit’s right), see off both the crew and a circling Nazi destroyer before returning home for a tea, medals and a celebratory singalong of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. In fairness to Mostow and co, a movie in which a British sailor picking up a small wooden box and taking it back to England might not have had the multiplexes teeming. Either way, it’s one in the eye for Adolf.
In Berlin by? They don’t need to actually go there, they can stay home and eavesdrop.
Nazi plan: To use the devious skills of Grigori Rasputin to open the gates of hell and unleash the full banshee-mad might of the Ogdru Jahad on the Allies. Unfortunately they need to go to Scotland to do it.
“The Fuhrer doesn’t look kindly on failure,” warns a leather-clad SS goon as evil boffin monk Rasputin (Karel Roden) makes a few last-minute tweaks to his portal-opening device, adding yet another line to the Fuhrer’s Not-Looking-Kindly-On list (honourable exception: tiny Alsatian puppies). See, if there’s one thing movie Nazis can’t get enough of, it’s dabbling in the dark arts. Having the best tanks and fighter jets before everyone else isn’t enough: they want the tanks, the jets and the Seven Gods of Chaos.
But does it end well? Nein. Rasputin, Karl Kroenen and their henchnazis are foiled by a timely raid by ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and a squad of GIs. Just to compound things, they unwittingly conjure a tiny demon nemesis from the beyond. Kroenen may be Hitler’s top assassin – presumably there’s quite a lot of competition for that kind of thing – but thanks to Hellboy, he goes the way of Arnim Zola, Red Panzer, Agent Axis and the goose-stepping ranks of comic-book Nazis. It’s another win for Hollywood… sorry, Hell-ywood.
In Berlin by? Big Red is only a baby demon – invading Germany is a lot to ask, even with a concrete fist.
Nazi plan: Invade Blighty, depose Churchill and have everyone speaking German before you can say: “Die sauerkraut ist in mein lederhosen.”
On-screen Germans have invaded Britain before in small numbers – think The Eagle Has Landed or spy thriller The Eye Of The Needle. This full-on animated Britskreig shows why: the entire country is inhabited by gun-toting lunatics… as if the rain and endless helpings of Spam isn’t enough reason to invade somewhere sunnier instead. Still, here’s proof that walloping Jerry isn’t just Hollywood’s domain, we Limeys can mix it up too. Farmer Chris (Ewan McGregor), a Tommy gun-brandishing Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) and a handful of Punjabis lead a Dad’s Army of random Brits against the massed ranks of the Nazi invaders. On paper it’s no contest; on screen the Germans get served once again.
In Berlin by? Just after last orders.
Nazi plan: To harness the power of a mysterious tesseract in Norway and use it to create mega-weapons to vaporise enemies of the Reich. Except Hydra’s Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has other plans for it…
Movie Nazis have tried time and again to succeed where their real-life counterparts failed, turning to an array of supernatural McGuffins to crush their righteous adversaries. The latest could be their most daring to date: an ancient device so powerful it makes the Allspark look like a pack of AA batteries. It's too powerful, in fact, for Schmidt – aka ‘Red Skull’ – and his boffin assistant Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) to share with the actual Nazis. Schmidt goes seriously off-message, frying a few SS men and setting about plotting the annihilation of America’s major cities. Luckily Hollywood has its greatest Nazi-busting superhero standing by in the ripped and awesome shape of Marvel’s Captain America (Chris Evans) and his crew of Howling Commandos. The world’s most all-American hero against the world’s most evil Nazi? Surely it's the most propagandery thing ever. Oh, hang on…
In Berlin by? Yesterday.
Nazi plan: To have a quiet night at the movies.
Quentin Tarantino's grindhouse war pic sees Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his band of basterds single-handedly kill the Nazi high command and, presumably, win the war in the process. They make it all look ridiculously easy - give or take some espionage charades - waltzing (no pun intended) into occupied France, taking a few scalps and ambushing Hitler and chums mid-propaganda flick. It's all rooted in a fantastical 'other' history, like The Dirty Dozen on PCP or Where Eagles Dare staggering out of a French bar with 'Conan' stuck to its head. Not even the combined might of Broadsword and Danny Boy can hold a candle to the straight-to-the-point war-winningness of this killer cadre.
In Berlin by? No need, Berlin's come to them.
Nazi plan: To not be invaded by a clawed maniac.
By the time June 6, 1944 rolls around, movie Nazis have been outwitted, outmatched and generally battered by an array of Hollywood heroes. Next to join the party is Wolverine himself, whose jaunt through two centuries of warfare sees him wash up on the D-Day beaches with stogie clamped in mouth and carnage in mind. He's also got Sabretooth along for the ride. It's only a brief glimpse of the Normandy landings we see in the movie, but we can't imagine it ended with Wolvie sitting on the beach building sandcastles with ze Germans. After all: "He's the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice."
In Berlin by? No time... it's on to Vietnam.