War movies are some of the most compelling cinema in existence. There’s something about the glory of the battlefield and the bravery of the men who fight on it that never ceases to light a fire under our asses and inspire us to be good, brave and fierce. Hell, even works of fiction like Saving Private Ryan and Fury are considered esteemed classics by action fans and history nerds alike. The same can be said for war heroes; while nothing beats a real-life hero of history, we also love an expertly crafted character story that’s rooted in history, but based on fiction. In fact, we get giddy just talking about it. Here are the six best fictional war heroes of all time.
1. John Rambo: Right out the gate, we’re coming in hot with everyone’s favorite fictional war hero, Rambo. Though loosely based on an actual war hero named Audie Murphy (who was probably the baddest motherfucker ever, by the way), Rambo’s action-packed exploits are things of legend. John Rambo is a U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret sent to Vietnam as part of the special Studies and Observations Group. Rambo gets away with plenty of insane shit (In one movie, he literally takes out a guy in a helicopter by throwing a rock at him and, in another, he shoots a dude in the face with a bow and arrow, who falls into a rice patty and inexplicably explodes—it’s just… brilliant), but Rambo also taught us about loyalty, courage, bravery, honor and being the baddest badass we can be. Plus, Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Rambo solidified him as a cultural icon that people still talk about today.
2. Forrest Gump: Aside from being one of the most beautiful films about America’s cultural landscape in the mid- to late-20th Century, Forrest Gump’s main character of the same name is probably one of the kindest, most humanistic and genuinely likable war heroes the cinema has ever known. Actor Tom Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work as Forrest Gump, but even without Hanks, Gump was brilliant. Gump is viewed throughout the film as a bumbling idiot, and when he grows up to join the U.S. Army, he’s sent to fight in Vietnam. His endearingly simple attitude toward life—and the importance of friendship, love, duty, loyalty and brotherhood—prove well on the battlefield, where in just doing what he believes is right, he saves five other members of his platoon from certain death. For his tremendous bravery, he is awarded the Medal of Honor, right before showing President Lyndon B. Johnson his ass. The film itself is perfect, and Forrest Gump emerges from it not just as one of our favorite war heroes, but our favorite fictional on-screen characters of all time.
3. Captain John Miller: In stark contrast to his work as the innocently aloof Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks reprised his role of war hero a few years later in Saving Private Ryan as witty, dedicated and deadly strategic U.S. Army Ranger Captain John H. Miller. Throughout the film, which takes place in the heat of World War II, the audience looks on as Miller dedicates his life and the lives of his Battalion to carrying out their mission of finding Private James Francis Ryan and sending him home to his mother. We see him transform into the leader every service member aspires to be, while also watching him stumble under the brutal weight of war. While viewers see Captain Miller in all types of light, one thing remains constant: He’s a good man, a brave man and a hero.
4. Don “Wardaddy” Collier: Perhaps no human conflict in the history of man is used to demonstrate the fact that war is hell more than World War II, and the 2014 Box Office hit Fury is a primary example of just what our men went through during the conflict. While the entire cast of Fury was excellent in their roles—yes, even you, Shia LaBeouf—Brad Pitt, for his role as Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, emerged as our favorite. First of all, Sgt. Collier was a fucking teeth-gritting brute who never turned down a chance to fight the enemy, no matter how tall the deck was stacked against him. He was a strategic fighter and battlefield genius who looked death in the face several times throughout the film, and his steadfast no-bullshit dedication to his duty—and to keeping his men safe—earned him a reputation as one of the best and most battle-hardened leaders in the 66th Armored.
5. Lieutenant Aldo Raine: Quentin Tarantino’s sixth studio film Inglorious Basterds, though loved by many for its positively Tarantino-esque storytelling, violence and action, is not known for its historical accuracy. Hitler dies at the end, for Christ’s sake. However, through its clearly fictional plot emerges one of Hollywood’s greatest ever war heroes: Lieutenant Aldo “The Apache” Raine. Lt. Raine is everything you’d want from a rootin’, tootin’, dick-kickin’, Nazi-killin’ sombitch, complete with a dramatic underbite, furrowed brows, a deep Southern drawl and an affinity for collecting Nazi scalps. We could go on and on about why we love him so much, but we think he does a fine job luring viewers into his greatness on his own: “My name is Lt. Aldo Raine, and I’m puttin’ together a special team. And I need me eight soldiers. Eight—Jewish-American—soldiers. Now, y’all might’ve heard rumors about the armada happening soon. Well, we’ll be leavin’ a little earlier. We’re gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians and, once we’re in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin’ guerilla army, we’re gonna be doin’ one thing, and one thing only: Killin’ Nazis.”
6. Captain America: Of course, how could we ever forget Marvel Comics’ Captain America? While we don’t really see Captain America fighting off Nazis in all the modern Avengers films, it’s a known fact that his entire backstory revolves around his involvement as a patriotic super-soldier who kicked Nazi ass up and down Europe during WWII. In fact, Captain America was conceived in 1940, and Captain America Comics #1 was released in March 1941, right in the middle of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Even so, his portrayal by Chris Evans in all the most recent film iterations has given an entirely new generation of comic fans the opportunity to love and admire one of the single-greatest superheroes (and war heroes) of all time.