Adolf Hitler has long been the go-to guy when you need an evil comparison. I would wager that most people in positions of power have been called “Hitler” at some point or another. Not to mention that Hitler, and the whole Nazi Reich, were the perfect bad guys. Homogeneous (by their own efforts), sharply dressed in intimidating uniforms, a very eye-catching logo and distinct greeting gesture (quite the opposite of “Live Long and Prosper”), and a coldly mechanical and unstoppable war machine bent on global domination *evil laugh.* You can’t write a better fictitious villain or enemy if you tried.
That’s why many writers and filmmakers haven’t tried. Sometimes the Nazis appear in entertainment as themselves, utilizing science or even magic for their nefarious ends, e.g., Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Rocketeer, Hellboy, Captain America. The new hit series on Amazon Prime The Man in the High Castle takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazi Reich has triumphed over its enemies and now essentially rules the world, and most of the USA. Russians and Chinese make frequent appearances in movies and books as the bad guys, but the fear they impart is often due to their geographic and population size and historically anti-freedom ideologies, but since we have seen Communism fail time and again, these countries have lost much of their villainous appeal.
In a baffling reversal of fortunes, Germany is now an essential American ally, as well as being a model country of Western values and structure. There is little question that Europe would collapse if Germany were removed from the picture. On the other side of the world, Japan has also gotten its act together and has become the most advanced and one of the most prosperous countries on the planet in just a few short decades after total devastation. However, the Japanese have always lacked that je ne sais quois the Nazi Germans had that made them such appealing bad guys from a storytelling perspective.
That’s because they were truly terrifying. Atrocities have been committed by countless regimes across history, and the Japanese were massacring hordes in their own campaigns, but the concentration camps became the icon of modern villainy. Genocide and extermination have been attempted numerous times in the past, but the Nazis seemed to have a real shot at making it a worldwide reality. They were cruelly godless, targeting God’s chosen people and other races and cultures in an attempt to create a “Master Race.” How often have we seen a dastardly villain monologue about similar goals? The Nazis didn’t come up with the idea, but they made it melodramatic.
It’s no secret that the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars saga draws heavily from the Nazi Reich. I mean, they even have “stormtroopers.” The uniforms, the “Death March,” the emotionless, calculating plans for galactic domination…Hitler would have been proud. There have been many comparisons between Emperor Palpatine and Hitler, with Darth Vader being compared to Heydrich or Himmler.
With today’s global political climate churning up talk of “populism,” “nationalism,” “alt-right,” and the “police state,” will we see more Nazi-inspired villainy?