Nazis refer to members of the German National Socialist Party that existed between the 1920s and 1945, which became the government of Germany in 1933 under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler who led the country into the events of World War II. The notoriety surrounding the Nazi party is principally due to its ruthless suppression of occupied territories during the War and in particular its policy of racial superiority that resulted in the wholesale slaughter of six million Jewish people and other groups in concentration camps (The Holocaust). Adolf Hitler has become regarded as the epitome of evil.
The Nazi Party became so notorious it has since been outlawed in Germany, although it has featured a revival of popularity in many parts of the world among the rise in right wing extremism in the late 2010s.
This topic is not concerned with the historical reality of Nazism or the events of World War II – there are ample online resources that analyse all historical aspects of the era far more extensively than can be summarised here. Rather this topic concerns what Nazis have become in popular culture.
Nazis have become synonymous with ultimate evil. To place a villain in an S.S. uniform and/or give them a past as a Nazi is to create someone that audiences automatically associates with great evil and historical atrocity. There have been a great many genre films featuring Nazi villains, super-villains and mad scientists and another whole sub-genre that places Nazis alongside supernatural menaces like vampires and zombies.
Also popular are a series of Alternate History films based around what might have happened if the Nazis had won World War II. The 2000s have seen the rise of what might be called the Gonzo Nazi film in which Nazis are combined with madcap elements such as UFOs and moonbases.
Depictions of Nazis During World War II
There were a handful of genre examples featuring Nazis made during the actual Wartime era. These include Invisible Agent (1942) with the Invisible Man fighting Nazis; The Mysterious Doctor (1942) with a Nazi fifth column hiding inside a haunted mine in England; the East Side Kids comedy Ghosts on the Loose (1943) with Bela Lugosi as a Nazi agent who runs his operations from inside a haunted house; and Tarzan Triumphs (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan fighting Nazis in the jungle.
In the majority of these, Nazis are seen as no more than buffoonish figures who are frequently defeated by their own petty pomposity. The caricature of the cold and calculatingly evil S.S. officer would not develop for another two decades.
Probably the most notable genre efforts of the Wartime era were to be found in the short propaganda cartoons of the period in which various familiar animated characters would face Hitler in comic exploits – notedly Daffy – The Commando (1943), Donald Duck in Der Fuhrer’s Face (1943) and Bugs Bunny in Herr Meets Mare (1945). Various of the Superman and Popeye cartoons of the era had them fighting against German soldiers.
Slightly after the War was over was Mark of the Gorilla (1951) featuring Nazis dressed as apes in order to steal a treasure. In The Whip Hand (1951), a former Nazi scientist aids a Communist fifth column planning a biowarfare attack on the USA, while Red Pkanet Mars (1952) has a Nazi scientist aiding a Communist plan to fake messages from God on Mars. (These latter two featuring Nazi and Communists collaborating seem made oblivious to the fact the two were fiercely ideologically opposed in real life).
A Game of Death (1945) and Run for the Sun (1956) are both remakes of The Most Dangerous Game (1932) in which people are forced to survive with their bare hands against an armed hunter. The original features a mad Russian aristocrat that likes to hunt human game but in these versions he is topically rewritten as a Nazi.
Nazi Mad Scientists and Villains
Stories of true-life Nazi fascination with the occult and of inhumane experiments conducted in the concentration camps have made them a natural for exploitation in genre material. There have been a plethora of films featuring Nazi villains, super-villains and mad scientists.
Nazi mad scientists started to appear in the late 1950s with the likes of She Demons (1958) featuring Nazi animal hybrid experiments; The Yesterday Machine (1963) about a Nazi time machine; The Flesh Eaters (1964) about a former Nazi scientist creating flesh-eating slugs; The Frozen Dead (1966) about unthawed Nazi soldiers; The Spy in the Green Hat (1967) about a world domination scheme in which a former Nazi scientist plans to divert the weather; and a super-soldier program in S.S. Doomtrooper (2006).
One of the recurrent themes has been the idea of resurrecting Hitler (or at least his severed head) as we see in the Z movie classic They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1964), Flesh Feast (1970) with Veronica Lake as a mad scientist, The Order of the Black Eagle (1987) and The New Avengers episode The Eagle’s Nest (1976) concerning attempts to revive a cryogenically frozen Hitler. The Anschluss ’77 (1977) episode of Wonder Woman/The New Original Wonder Woman featured a clone of Hitler.
The Nazi villain gained mainstream popularity in the 1970s. This was fueled by real-world stories of Nazis hiding out in Argentina and the high-profile capture of Adolf Eichmann. This filtered through into big-budget thrillers of the era like Marathon Man (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1975), Bear Island (1979), The Formula (1980), Eye of the Needle (1981) and The Holcroft Covenant (1985). The most famous genre example among these was The Boys From Brazil (1978) in which Gregory Peck plays real-life Nazi mad scientist Josef Mengele who has managed to clone 94 copies of Hitler in an effort to recreate the Fuhrer.
Nazis became comic caricatures by about the time of tv’s Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71) and later tv’s ‘Allo ‘Allo (1982-92). More comic-bookish and one-dimensional Nazi villains feature in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Rocketeer (1991).
In the completely ridiculous arena, Under the Rainbow (1981) features dwarf Nazi spies invading the set during the shooting of The Wizard of Oz (1939). The animated Valiant (2005), a talking animals film about Wartime carrier pigeons, features Nazi villains in the form of talking falcons, while The Spirit (2008) casts Samuel L. Jackson as a Nazi villain. The Hitler’s Last Secret (1978) episode of The Tomorrow People revealed that Hitler was actually an intergalactic alien dictator.
The first season of the tv series Wonder Woman/The New Original Wonder Woman (1975-9) was set during the World War II era and regularly featured Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) against Nazi villains and mad scientists. The first Nazi super-villains appeared in the series with Baroness Paula von Gunther in the episode Wonder Woman Meets Baroness von Gunther (1977) and the title character in Fausta The Nazi Wonder Woman (1977). Subsequent Nazi super-villains include the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Klaus Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw in X: First Class (2011) and Stormfront in tv’s The Boys (2019- ).
Although no overt connection was ever made, the Nazis served as inspiration for Terry Nation’s creation of The Daleks, the cold inhuman beings in machine casings who exterminate all in their way that became the most famous nemeses of tv’s Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005- ). The connection is at its most direct in the episode Genesis of the Daleks (1975), an origin story that shows how the Daleks are created as genetically superior beings during the midst of a race war.
The 2000s seem to be the point when the Nazi villain died off due to the simple fact that anyone surviving for the sixty plus years after World War II would be very old by that point. A few remaining very old Nazis still remain in the likes of Apt Pupil (1998), The Crimson Rivers (2000), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Frontier(s) (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), as well as the Doctor Who episode Silver Nemesis (1989). There have been a sporadic number of Nazi villains that still turn up but usually in adventures that take place in the past such as in Hannibal Rising (2007), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and X: First Class (2011). So far, we have yet to have any depictions of villains from among the neo-Nazi revival of the late 2010s.
The 1970s also saw the rise of the so-called Nazisploilation genre with the infamous Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) offering a catalogue of tortures and softcore interludes set in a concentration camp as lorded over by sadistic, hyper-sexed commandant Dyanne Thorne. This was followed by a spate of sequels and other morally reprehensible films offering similar sado-sexual catalogues of Nazi tortures that includes titles such as The Beast in Heat/SS Hell Camp (1977), Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977) and SS Experiment Camp (1977).
The 1970s also gave us the first Nazi zombie film with Shock Waves (1977) featuring a troupe of undead Stormtroopers on a tropical island. The Nazi zombie genre produced a number of sporadic variations over the next few years with the cheap likes of Night of the Zombies (1981), Oasis of the Zombies (1981) and Zombie Lake (1981), while Hell Hunters (1987) had Nazi mad scientist George Lazenby creating zombies in the jungle.
The Nazi zombie film saw a revival in the 2000s/10s with the likes of the quite good Outpost (2007) and sequels, the Norwegian splatter comedy Dead Snow (2009) and sequel, War of the Dead (2011) and Bunker of the Dead (2015), which included a zombified Hitler.
Nazi zombies also briefly turn up in Rob Zombie’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009). Mutation (1999) concerns the present-day discovery of a Nazi formula that creates zombies and plentiful gory meltdowns.
Nazis and The Supernatural
The first film to combine Nazis with supernatural elements was the vampire film Nightmare in Blood (1977), which gave its vampire a background as a Nazi mad scientist and had the vampire hunter a Jewish concentration camp survivor. Soon after came Death Ship (1980) about a ghost ship haunted by Nazi atrocities performed aboard it.
Although not a success at the time, The Keep (1983) proved to highly influential. It gave us the fascinating idea of Nazis as nominal heroes up against an ancient monster imprisoned in a Mediaeval fort in Romania. There have been a number of films that have borrowed from The Keep featuring Nazis in a fortified locales combatting occult and other supernatural forces with The Bunker (2001), The Devil’s Rock (2011), Panzer Chocolate (2013) and sort of in Ghosts of War (2020) with G.I.’s dealing with ghosts killed by Germans in a French chateau.
Nazi vampires feature in Frostbite (2006), Town Creek (2008), Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2011) and Blubberella (2011), while vampires turned up aboard a German ship in Blood Vessel (2019) and aboard a U-boat in the comedic Subferatu (2020). T.M.A. (2009), The Unborn (2009) and Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) feature places haunted by the ghosts of Nazi atrocities.
Urotsukidoji II: Legend of the Demon Womb (1989) and Hellboy (2004) features Nazi attempts to conjure occult forces. Puppetmaster III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991) and several of the subsequent sequels pits the Puppetmaster and his living toys against Nazis who are seeking to create miniature stormtroopers, while The Toymaker (2017) features Nazis hunting an occult book that can bring toys to life. Bulletproof Monk (2003) features Nazis seeking Tibetan scrolls of immortality.
Entirely in a category of its own is Hanussen (1988) about the real-life figure of Erik-Jan Hanussen, a Jewish clairvoyant and psychic who had remarkable success in Germany during the Nazi era. Incarnated in an excellent performance from Klaus-Maria Brandauer, the film sees Hanussen’s clairvoyant and hypnotic abilities as real.
Nazi Rule Alternate History
Also popular has been the Alternate History theme in which Nazis win World War II. This was first shown in the remarkable It Happened Here (1965), which depicts in documentary-like fashion England under Nazi rule.
We have seen subsequent variations on this in such works as the British mini-series An Englishman’s Castle (1978), another depiction of England under Nazi rule; Philadelphia Experiment II (1993), which offered a glimpse of a Nazi-ruled USA; Fatherland (1994) depicting a Nazi empire in the 1960s and one S.S. officer’s discovery of The Holocaust, which has been covered up; SS-GB (2017), another excellent depiction of England under Nazi rule; and the tv series The Man in the High Castle (2015-9) showing a defeated USA divided between Nazi and Japanese rule. The animated Freedom Fighters – The Ray (2018) was a superhero film set in a Nazi rule alternate history.
The anime Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998) is set in an alternate history of a Nazi-ruled Japan. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) is set inside an imagined 1930s of Raygun Gothic and features the battle against a Nazi super-villain. Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003) features temporal police trying to stop a time traveller from assassinating Hitler, while a similar plot features in the Doctor Who episode Let’s Kill Hitler (2011). Jackboots on Whitehall (2010) was a puppet film that imagines a Nazi invasion of England.
In the The Twilight Zone episode He’s Alive (1963), Hitler becomes an invisible companion advising Neo-Nazi Dennis Hopper, while in The Empty Mirror (1997) a still-alive Adolf Hitler reminisces on his life.
In the Star Trek episode Patterns of Force (1968), The Enterrpise crew discover that a history professor has recreated Nazi Germany on an alien planet with himself as the Fuhrer.
The Plot Against America (2020) is an alternate history that does not concern itself with Nazi rule per se but features a timeline where Nazi sympathiser Charles Lindbergh comes to power and refuses to drag the US into the War in Europe, while normalising relationships with Nazi Germany, while C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004) also shows a USA where no Civil War occurred and slavery remains in effect in the present becoming friendly with Nazi Germany.
The Gonzo Nazi Film
There should also be mention made of what could be termed the Gonzo Nazi film, combining Nazis with elements of the entirely absurd, including examples such as:-
– An American Werewolf in London (1981) containing a dream sequence with Nazi werewolves, as well as Rob Zombie’s spoof trailer Werewolf Women of the S.S. in Grindhouse (2007)
– Zone Troopers (1986) with GIs and Nazis encountering a crashed UFO behind enemy lines
– Blubberella (2011), an incredibly bad taste parody from Uwe Boll (who also plays Hitler) with a plus-size heroine fighting Nazi vampires
– The Diary of Anne Frankenstein episode of Chillerama (2011) combining Hitler, Anne Frank’s diary and the Frankenstein monster
– Dead Ball (2011), a Japanese splatter film about a deadly baseball tournament inside a prison ruled by a Japanese Nazi warden
– Iron Sky (2012) with Nazis surviving in a moonbase flying fleets of UFOs and spacegoing Zeppelins to invade Earth, and the sequel Iron Sky: The Coming Race (2018), which added a Hollow Earth and Nazi lizard people (including a dinosaur-riding lizard person Hitler) to the mix
– The H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion episode of The ABCs of Death (2012), a furry fandom interpretation of a WWII adventure
– Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012) with Nazis, UFOs and the head of a revived Adolf Hitler atop a cyborg body
– The 25th Reich (2012) involving UFOs, time travel and a Nazi ruled futures
– Frankenstein’s Army (2013) where a Nazi scientist creates a plethora of hybrids and deformed creations
– Yoga Hosers (2016) with miniature cloned Nazis made out of bratwurst
– Werewolves of the Third Reich (2017) with Dr Mengele attempting to breed Nazi werewolves
– The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018) where the titular assassin (Sam Elliott) tells his life story and how he killed both
– Jojo Rabbit (2019), a story about a young Nazi boy with a cartoonishly exaggerated Adolf Hitler for an invisible companion and his friendship with a young Jewish girl
– Sky Sharks (2020) featuring Nazis zombies flying genetically-engineered killer sharks
- It Happened Here (1965)
- Shock Waves (1977)
- The Boys From Brazil (1978)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- The Keep (1983)
- Hanussen (1988)
- Outpost (2007)
- Iron Sky (2012)
- Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012)
- Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
- SS-GB (2017)
- Sky Sharks (2020)
A full list of titles can be found here Nazis Archives