Let’s be honest, most movies don’t get the Marines right, but that doesn’t mean some characters don’t capture what the Corps is all about.
Even among the incredible men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, Marines have a tendency to stand out. Whether it’s our cult-like affinity for adhering to regulations, our invariably over-the-top pride in our branch, our ability to hit targets from 500 yards out on iron sights, or the truck-load of ego we take with us into a fight, Marines are unquestionably a breed of their own.
In movies and television, Marines are often depicted as hellacious warfighters and disciplined professionals, but Marines themselves will be the first to tell you that, while we may work hard, we often party even harder. Marines aren’t war machines, but we are highly trained. Marines aren’t incapable of compassion, but we do often keep our emotions in check. Marines aren’t superhuman, but that won’t stop us from acting–and talking–like we are.
That swirling combination of bravado and humility, of violence and compassion, of action and introspection make Marines more complex than they’re often depicted on screens big and small. It’s just hard to cram the sort of paradox into a fictional character. Hell, it’s hard to cram that sort of paradox into a real person too–which is why, as any Marine Corps recruiter will tell you, the Corps isn’t for everyone.
So when it comes to fictional Marines, who does the best job of capturing the unique dynamic of Uncle Sam’s Devil Dogs? That’s just what we aim to find out.
Corporal Dwayne Hicks – Aliens
Hicks, as we all know him, was technically a corporal in the United States Colonial Marine Corps, which may not exist now, but just may in the far-flung future of the Aliens movies. While Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson may have some of the more memorable lines (“Game over man! Game over!”) it’s Hicks that maintains his military bearing throughout most of the film. When their unit is decimated and Corporal Hicks finds himself as the senior Marine on station, he willingly assumes the responsibility of command, contradicts the unsafe orders given by the mission’s civilian liaison, and makes a command decision based on the evidence at hand.
If you ask me, that’s some pretty good Marine-ing right there.
Walter Skinner – X-Files
Back in the 1990s, no one was cooler than the UFO-chasing FBI agents on the Fox series, The X-Files, but despite Mulder and Scully’s run ins with the supernatural, neither were particularly tough when it came time to fight. Fortunately, their boss was a Vietnam veteran U.S. Marine that had worked his way up to Assistant Director of the FBI.
Skinner didn’t only prove himself a capable fighter time and time again, he regularly put his life on the line to help the agents under his charge and frequently was stuck trying to insulate them from nefarious powers elsewhere in the U.S. government. Skinner was no pushover, and regularly dolled out disciplinary lectures, but when they needed him, Skinner was there with a solid right hook and a drive to protect his troops.
A good Marine isn’t just about the fight. A good Marine is a leader–and that’s just what Skinner is.
There are enough iterations of Jack Ryan for everyone to have a favorite. Whether you prefer Alec Baldwin’s Ryan squaring off with the best of the Soviet Navy in The Hunt for Red October or the John Krasinski’s TV version fighting modern day terrorism, there are some universal traits every character named Jack Ryan carries with them.
Ryan is the perpetual underdog, always starting his story arc as an unassuming CIA analyst and Marine veteran. Despite having all the usual Marine Corps training, a helicopter crash left Ryan with a long road to recovery and a new way of life–but that didn’t stop him from devoting himself to serving his country in any form he could.
Ryan is the perfect example of a Marine that could have done something else–with his smarts, capabilities, and drive, he could be successful in any industry. He chose service because his nation matters to the very fabric of his being. That’s what being a Marine is all about.
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This article was originally published 5/27/2020
Feature image: 20th Century Fox