R Lee Ermey's role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman was iconic, but here are 9 other on-screen soldiers that captivated us
Not many can claim such a fame for a 40-minute screen time like the 74-year-old did in the 1987 movie, but others have come close
Many know R. Lee Ermey as a former marine who made a career in Hollywood playing hard-nosed military man Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket'. When Ermey's death was reported on Sunday morning, many took to social media to honor his legendary role. Not many can claim such a fame for a 40-minute screen time like the 74-year-old did in the 1987 movie.
His commanding monologue in the opening scenes of the movie and his role in entirety led to high acclaim, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
His acting was all about commanding attention, with a performance of sheer dominance. He even improvised on the sets with abuses that were irresistibly epic. He owned the scenes with these memorable dialogues:
“You’re so ugly you could be a modern-art masterpiece!”
“What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn’t your mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?”
“I want that head so sanitary that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump!”
“I will give you three seconds, exactly three f—king seconds, to wipe that stupid grin off your face or I will gouge out your eyeballs and skullf—k you!”
"If these words hurt you, then what are sticks and stones — and guns and grenades — going to do? Steel yourself; put your emotions on ice; kill your self-pity; or you won’t survive."
His iconic role has been etched in our minds ever since we saw him on screen, and while we waited for his return, we saw other soldier cum sergeant roles of various actors who did match up to his oratory skills, but were still in some way incomparable to his.
Here are ten other actors who played similar roles and aced the performances with their sheer talent.
1. Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes played by Tom Berenger in Platoon
Though the primary antagonist of this 1986 anti-war film is hated for his harsh personality, he is equally loved for his charisma when it comes to commanding loyalty.
The US Army sergeant serving in the Vietnam War is despised throughout the movie for his villainous acts, including shooting the wife of a village leader and holding his daughter at gunpoint, destroying their village and killing his own co-commander.
But despite it all, he is loved for the monologue where he expounds his idea of war, concluding that if the war machine breaks down, the men fighting the war break down too.
Barnes meets an unfaithful death, eliciting pity even among those wishing he had died.
After an attack by the North Vietnamese Army where he gets fatally wounded, he asks fellow soldier Chris Taylor, who despises him for calling him a "simple son-of-a-bitch" and was the only one who knew he killed his co-commander, to get medical aid.
But looking at his face, he tells Chris Taylor to "do it" and three gunshots follow and the much-hated sergeant is no more.
2. Captain John H. Miller played by Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan
A thirty-year-old American serving in the 2nd Rangers Battalion of the United States Army during World War Two, holding the rank of Captain is the protagonist.
As the hero and the captain, he has an assertive character but is well loved by his team. Prior to joining the army, he worked as a school teacher teaching "a thousand kids" like Private Ryan so he is capable of handling the men. They inadvertently look up to him and craft rumors of Miller being an invincible and a true soldier.
But unlike other captains with a heart of steel, Miller has a vulnerable side to his persona but he tries to hide it. He privately cries at his loss and follies and does not feel good about losing many men to save one.
He justifies it through a "sacrifice the few to save the many" philosophy, and hence is internally against the mission to rescue Ryan, as "the mission is the man" so he "better be worth it, because [he] wouldn't trade 10 Ryan's for one Vechhio or Caparzo."
3. Virgil Hilts, aka 'The Cooler King' played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape
The impetuous and insolent, but mentally tough as nails, Virgil Hilts is an American Air Force captain captured by the Germans during World War II. Inspired by the true story of William Ash, Hilts takes great pleasure in aggravating the German guards, and his disruptive antics often end up with them throwing him in solitary confinement, or “the cooler” – hence his nickname.
Hilts already has 18 attempted escapes under his belt when he is transferred to a maximum-security POW camp for 250 ne’er-do-well Allied prisoners. Determined to divert German resources and manpower from the front lines, the prisoners hatch an escape plan, and Hilts must sacrifice his personal escape plans for the greater good.
As a true hero, he invites conflicts with open arms as if to prove a point. His spirit is adamant even in the most bleak of circumstances, and no matter how much punishment he endures, the Germans can never break him.
4. Sergeant Thomas Highway played by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge
Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway is a hard-nosed, hard-living Marine gunnery sergeant nearing mandatory retirement from the Marine Corps, and who is assigned to take command of a spoiled platoon called the 'Recon'.
The platoon is made up of undisciplined Marines who had been allowed to slack off by their previous platoon sergeant, an old veteran who was just about to retire. Highway quickly takes charge and starts the men on a rigorous training program.
They make a last-ditch attempt to intimidate him with "Swede" Johanson, a heavily muscled Marine just released from the brig, but their plan fails after Highway easily defeats Swede. They begin to shape up and start developing esprit de corps.
Highway repeatedly clashes with Powers and Staff Sergeant Webster over his unorthodox training methods such as firing an AK-47 over his men's heads to familiarize them with the weapon's distinctive sound.
But after Highway's men learn that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor in the Korean War, they gain respect for him and close ranks against their perceived common enemy.
He even succeeds in winning back his ex-wife and when he and his unit are deployed for the invasion of Grenada, they emerge victorious.
5. Sergeant Hulka played by Warren Oates in Stripes
A year before his death, Warren Oates co-starred with Bill Murray in the 1981 American buddy military comedy film Stripes.
Taking over the role of the drill sergeant, Sgt. Hulka, Oates skillfully played the straight man to Murray's comedic character, still remembered by the audience. Considered as one of the most beloved comedies to come in the latter part of the 20th century, Sgt. Hulka stands out during training and becomes the leader of the platoon.
Murray's John Winger gives a speech about how an army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe, and how he can be the big toe whenever Sgt. Hulka isn’t there. While we never learn Sgt. Hulka’s first name, we learn to never call him “sir.” As Hulka himself puts it, “You don’t say sir to me, I’m a sergeant, I work for a living!”
6. Judy Benjamin played by Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin
The 1980 American comedy is ranked 82 on the American Film Institute's "100 Funniest Movies" poll, and 59 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".
The story revolves around 28-year-old Judy from a sheltered wealthy family whose lifelong dream is to "marry a professional man," but she ends up joining the US Army after her new husband dies on their wedding night during sex.
Adrift, Benjamin meets an Army recruiter, SFC James Ballard, who leads her to believe military life will provide the "family" she seeks. He also tells her that the service is glamorous, comparing it to a spa vacation. She has a rude awakening upon arriving in boot camp. Judy wants to quit almost immediately and is astonished to learn that she cannot, contrary to the assertions of her recruiting sergeant.
But she learns to love and accept her life in the army and refuses to go back home when her financially secure parents come to pick her up at Fort Biloxi. The love she meets in Paris, for whom she gives up her army career, also ends up disappointing her so she leaves him at the altar and goes away to live her own life.
7. Emily Foley played by Louis Gossett Jr in An Officer And The Gentleman
The 1982 movie is remembered for its iconic romantic scenes, but also has an iconic character in the form of a strict Sergeant who goes by the name of Emily Foley, who is quick to break the balls of new trainees.
The navy tale is centered on a selfish, hard-hearted loner Zack Mayo, who becomes a much, much better man, thanks to the rigors of basic training from Emily Foley and the love of a good woman, Paula.
After Zack joins the Navy with the specific intention of becoming a jet pilot, Foley's mocking criticism goads him to be a good person. He first comes across as a villain as Zack Mayo fears the sergeant but his strictness makes him the man he becomes at the end of the movie.
8. Sergeant Toomy played by Christopher Walken in Biloxi Blues
We meet the hard nosed Sgt. Toomey who makes it clear in the very first scene of the movie that he will break the soldiers by turning the strong against the weak and vise versa. Toomey is like a torture tool of humiliation and guilt, but he is also a man with his own wounded pride. You don’t want to feel sympathetic for him, but you can’t help it either.
We see his softness beneath the hard exterior when we feel that out of all of the men in the company, he is the one who loves them the most, but cannot be in the army for long because of his emotional attachment. Sergeant Toomey is the commanding officer of the new recruits in Biloxi and is well respected, tough, and highly decorated for his service to his country.
9. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore played by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now
The 1979 movie birthed the famous line "Charlie don't surf". Kilgore is the Commanding Officer of 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment, who likes to surf and make war. He does both with the same upbeat and gets amped to the strains of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner. Kilgore loves the thrill of the fight and has an air of absurdity, leading him to do things like send his soldiers out to surf in the middle of a battle and play Ride of the Valkyries during an airborne attack.
In one scene, Kilgore takes Willard and crew to the mouth of the river when Lance Johnson asks about the surfing there. Even though there's a major Viet Cong fighting force nearby, the surfing entices Kilgore. He wants to see Lance—who's a famous surfer—in action.
So, to the sound of Wagner, they fly into battle discussing the relative merit of heavy vs. light boards, as rockets explode and machine guns pound the village below. Although they're attacking Viet Cong soldiers, it's hard to distinguish the civilians in the village from the soldiers. The US Air Cavalry wins the day, and they land on the beach. Kilgore insists that it's okay to surf, despite the fact that the battle's still raging. He orders his men into their surfing gear. When they protest that Charlie is still out there shooting, Kilgore just shouts, "Charlie don't surf".
10. Major TJ King Kong played by Slim Pickens in Dr Strangelove
Named after the giant gorilla King Kong, he is just a patriotic cowboy from Texas, who pilots the only bomber that fails to receive the recall code, and thus continues flying to its targets in Soviet Union.
His plane’s radio is damaged by enemy fire, making them unable to receive the recall code, and are able to deliver the payload. Major Kong as a profoundly loyal officer, is determined to fulfill his duty at all cost, but nevertheless struggling to come to terms with the idea of detonating a nuclear weapon.
When his nuclear payload becomes stuck in position and unable to drop, Major Kong has to manually free the missile. Perhaps the most famous image from the film is that of Major Kong riding the missile down through the sky like a rodeo bull, waving his cowboy hat and hee-yawin’ his way to oblivion.