War movies and bad military leaders go together like MRE crackers and jalapeño cheese. It’s not even that the leaders are always bad or incompetent, though some are — like Jeremy Renner’s character in “The Hurt Locker,” who seems to have a death wish that he wants to share with his entire team.
Other leaders from action flicks and war movies, like Bruce Willis’ character in “Tears of the Sun,” just aren’t real; they’re not believable or relatable in the slightest. His character is just a walking, but not talking, action figure.
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However, there are quite a few characters who hit pretty close to the mark. Here are five leaders from war movies who we’d actually follow into combat.
Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway
The consummate infantry leader, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway, played by Clint Eastwood in “Heartbreak Ridge,” is the baddest motherfucker around. He knows it, you know it, and his men know it, too — he makes sure of that.
While his training methods are a bit unorthodox — pretty sure he didn’t do an ORM before firing live rounds at his Marines — it does appear to work. When the Marines land in Grenada, it’s not the first time they’ve taken fire.
Capt. John Miller
Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan” is a quiet, humble, and self-assured commander. Battle-tested, yet compassionate, from the beaches of Normandy to far behind enemy lines, he leads from the front.
Miller wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t or hasn’t done himself. That’s a leader.
Staff Sgt. Sykes
There’s a staff noncommissioned officer like him in every unit and tons more in an infantry battalion. Tough, stern, smart, and sarcastic as hell, Jamie Foxx’s character from “Jarhead” can be both endearing and terrifying at the exact same time. When not playing fuck-fuck games, Sykes is training his Marines for combat, or leading them into it.
He even delivers a few off-the-cuff counselings and motivational speeches to the Marines when they need it, along with a few well-deserved ass-chewing.
Lt. Jordan O’Neil
She isn’t intimidated by a goddamn thing.
That’s an important quality in military leaders, and not just in combat. Military life is unfortunately full of moments where people in leadership positions back down from an argument with a superior, even though they’re right. Demi Moore’s character in “G.I. Jane,” Lt. Jordan O’Neil, doesn’t play that game.
She’s also not one to balk from a fight, and in the film’s climactic battle, she drags her wounded command master chief to cover and saves his ass.
Col. Terry L. Childers
While it may be tempting to paint Samuel L. Jackson’s character as a blood-thirsty Marine infantry officer, he’s not, though the prosecution certainly tried to present him as such during his trial in “Rules of Engagement.” Col. Terry L. Childers, while hard as nails, is not heartless. He’s the kind of leader who understands tough calls must sometimes be made, and bears responsibility for his actions, which though tragic, saved the lives of his Marines.
He also delivers one of the best war movie one-liners of all time: “Waste the motherfuckers.”
Note: A previous version of this story was published on June 29, 2016.