Good Movies about Dictators

Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Good Movies About Dictators

Muammar Gaddafi, also known as Colonel Gaddafi and the King of Kings of Africa, has been in the news a lot as of late. Of course, conducting bizarre interviews and killing off a number of your citizens will tend to have that effect. (Note: Since this article was written, Gaddafi has bit the dust.)

Gaddafi claims to hold no real office in the government of Libya, but he’s ruled the nation with an iron fist ever since a military coup in 1969. That, my friends, is what we call a dictator. While Gaddafi may deny such claims, only the most naïve would actually take him at face value.

But enough about ‘ol Muammar; This list is dedicated to good movies about dictators. All of the films listed below are based on the lives of actual people, and the depictions–while entertaining–are also predictably chilling.

Assuming you live in a free country, sit back and enjoy the list. And if you reside in the United States, keep in mind that most of these films can be delivered right to your home when you become a member of Netflix.

The Last King of Scotland (2006) – Forest Whitaker won a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin, the dictator whose rule led to the deaths of somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Ugandans. James McAvoy co-stars as Nicholas Garrigan, a fictional Scottish doctor who strikes up a friendship with Amin and slowly comes to realize the brutality being inflicted on a nation.
Idi Amin Trivia: The 6’4” Amin was the light heavyweight boxing champion on Uganda from 1951 to 1960.

The Great Dictator (1940) – The first legitimate talkie from auteur Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator also became the first feature to criticize Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Chaplin plays dual roles as a Jewish barber and a fascist dictator, the latter known as Adenoid Hynkel, leader of Tomainia. While great fun is had at the tyrannical ruler’s expense, Chaplin also manages to make a number of scathing points about the dangers of Hitler’s rule. A version of Mussolini also gets in on the satirical action, popping up as Benzino Napaloni, the ruler of Bacteria.
Adolf Hitler Trivia: The pistol Hitler used to kill himself was the same one wielded by his niece (and possible lover) during her 1931 suicide.

Downfall (2004) – Bruno Ganz delivers the most humanizing portrayal of Adolf Hitler, a feat which makes the dictator’s mad actions all the more loathsome. Following the last ten days of Hitler’s life as Soviet forces advance into Berlin, these events are witnessed through the disbelieving eyes of newly-hired secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara). Highly recommended for World War II buffs and fans of good movies about dictators.
Adolf Hitler Trivia: According to a number of reports, Hitler became addicted to amphetamines in the summer of 1942.

Mein Fuhrer (2007) – While it’s not going to be to everyone’s liking, Jewish filmmaker Dani Levy takes a comedic look at Hitler (Helge Schneider) on the eve of a 1945 New Year’s Eve speech. Depressed by Germany’s failing war efforts, the Fuhrer looks to be unable to deliver his big address to the nation. But things take a turn for the satirical when a Jewish acting coach is brought in to help him. Billed as “The bastard love child of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Mel Brooks’ The Producers.”
Adolf Hitler Trivia: During World War I, Hitler was blinded by a mustard gas attack while serving with the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment.

Stalin (1992) – Filmed during the collapse of the Soviet Union, this HBO movie stars Robert Duvall as reviled Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. From his exiles in Siberia to his death in 1953, this nearly 3-hour production paints a picture of a cold and paranoid man with little use of meaningful human contact. Duvall won a Golden Globe for his performance, as did co-stars Maximilian Schell and Joan Plowright.
Joseph Stalin Trivia: Stalin was only 5’4”, and he had a number of painters executed over he years for not making him look larger and more majestic.

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Julius Caesar (1953) – Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare, this classic Joseph L. Mankiewicz film marks the third Best Actor Oscar nomination in a row for Marlon Brando (here playing Mark Antony). He’s joined by such veterans of the stage and screen as James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassius), Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar), and Greer Garson (Calpurnia).
Julius Caesar Trivia: Of the 23 stab wounds received during his famed assassination, only one was lethal.

Comandante (2003) – Director Oliver Stone attempts to give a balanced account of Fidel Castro’s life by actually sitting down with the man in question. While I have every confidence that his regime has been responsible for the death of thousands, I still suggest watching the film to actually see Castro give his own account of events (true or not), instead of just forming a picture based on media reports.
Fidel Castro Trivia: Prior to the Bay of Pigs, a failed assassination attempt was conducted by the Mafia, with the approval of US attorney general Robert Kennedy.

Monsieur N. (2003) – Taking a number of liberties with actual history, this film about Napoleon remains suggested viewing thanks to the fine performance by Philippe Torreton as the Emperor of the French. Focusing on the last years of Napoleon’s life and his imprisonment on the isle of St. Helena, it weaves together a tale of romance and bold escape. Richard E. Grant co-stars as Sir Hudson Lowe, the man charged with keeping a former dictator imprisoned.
Napoleon Bonaparte Trivia: Usually depicted as comically short, his height (5’7”) was average for the time.

Mussolini and I (1985) – Another HBO docu-drama, this one clocks in at four hours and tells the story of Italian ruler Benito Mussolini all the way up to his eventual capture and execution. Bob Hoskins stars in the lead role, and his depiction of Mussolini is filled with all the power and pomposity you’d expect who paraded around like a peacock while supporting the efforts of Hitler. Mussolini’s family life is examined in detail, and the supporting cast includes such names as Susan Sarandon and Anthony Hopkins.
Benito Mussolini Trivia: Before he rose to power in Italy, Mussolini served as the editor of a Socialist Party newspaper and increased their circulation from 20,000 to 100,000.

Triumph of the Will (1935) – Equal parts fascinating and horrifying, Triumph of the Will is director Leni Riefenstahl’s look at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, which drew more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. Hitler himself commissioned the film, and it remains the most famous piece of cinematic propaganda to date. The score and cinematography combine to create a larger-than-life vision of the Nazi Party, and numerous speeches are included amidst imagery of Swastikas and enthralled onlookers.
Adolf Hitler Trivia: Twice rejected for enrollment at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The reason given was his “unfitness for painting.”

That wraps up our list of good movies about dictators. If you become a member of Netflix, you can have them delivered right to your door, or you can choose to stream them over your computer. Either way, just be glad you have the freedom to choose. And, yes, we do receive a commission if you join Netflix via our site, but not a single penny of it goes to fund terrorism or support Muammar Gaddafi.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 19th, 2011 at 6:02 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Good Movies about Dictators”

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April 9, 2012

Oddfilms Ike

They do build a sense of drama in Triumph of the Will. When Hitler’s about to give his speech and Nazi leaders like Hess and Goering are shown from a low-angle shot combined with the music and Hitler’s natural theatricality (especially the dramatic pause) to create a sense of grandiosity and force. When I watched that film on Turner Movie Classics one night a couple of years ago, I imagined what people in the 30s must have thought while watching. No doubt that movie did much to convince Germans of Hitler’s power, but when contrasted against Chamberlain and his umbrella, I’m sure such displays also impressed peoples around Europe with a sense of Nazi power. It’s just a shame that so many of the propaganda techniques introduced by Nazi Germany are still used by propagandists today.

May 17, 2012

Clyde Prophet

Forrest Whittaker has had such a strange career. He’ll win Oscars one year and introduce syndicated Twilight Zone episodes the next. He’s a good actor, though. A boxing champ as ruler seems like a bad idea. Just imagine if Mike Tyson suddenly emerged as a viable alternative to Mitt Romney.

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