Though the internet debate on the ethics of Nazi-punching (following the on-camera blow delivered to “alt-right” coiner Richard Spencer) seems to have come down firmly on the side of, “Yes, punch that Nazi!”, we recognize that, for both those who appreciate the thought but abhor the violence and those who just cannot get enough of said punching, a list of movies with a cathartic Nazi-directed ka-pow or two might be just the thing. After you’ve watched all the remixes of the punch seen round the world, savor these movies that deliver some satisfying fist-to-Nazi-face action.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Director: Steven Spielberg
You’ve surely seen as many images of Indiana Jones/Harrison Ford punching Nazis on your social media feed this past month as of Christopher Plummer ripping up a swastika flag in The Sound of Music. Indy delivers punches galore during that glorious truck chase, but don’t forget his bruising runway go-round with an oversized German who—alas, poor Indy—relishes nothing more than a good bout of fisticuffs. Indy also uses his fists to cut short an interrogation from a German officer as he’s trying to sneak aboard a sub full of Nazis. And that’s not even the end of his Nazi-punching scorecard: He tangles with several more goose-steppers in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Director: Joe Johnston
When Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), finally gets to go behind enemy lines during World War II, the POWs he frees from Nazi spin-off Hydra are skeptical this costumed character knows what he’s doing. “I’ve punched out Hitler over 200 times,” Cap explains to the puzzled men, before going on to truly earn the title of Captain America by rescuing dozens of prisoners, including best friend Bucky. The raids that follow are fast and furious as Cap effortlessly takes out scores of Hydra henchmen with his fists, feet and trusty shield. Even when he was scrawny, pre-serum 4F Steve, he could take a punch, first uttering his trademark phrase, “I could do this all day,” when getting the worst of it from a Brooklyn bully. As a superhero, he knows sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches, even if it’s just to buy time for your team to storm the enemy’s fortress.
3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
If you substitute “bashing in brains” and “scalping” for “punching,” then this Tarantino film fits the bill nicely. This wishful rewrite of World War II has a group of pissed-off Jews, led by Brad Pitt and Eli Roth, striking fear in the heart of Hitler-saluters across Europe. Not content with simply “killin’ Nat-zees,” the Basterds (simultaneously with a vengeance-driven Jewish theater owner) go out in a blaze of glory, taking down Hitler himself. Pitt survives, along with filmdom’s most loquacious Nazi, Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), who has negotiated, he thinks, surrender with immunity. But Basterd Brad has the last laugh, carving a swastika into the traitorous enemy’s forehead.
4. All Through the Night (1942)
Director: Vincent Sherman
One of Humphrey Bogart’s lighter films—even with its references to Dachau—has him playing a gangster whose quest for his favorite cheesecake leads him to art dealers Conrad Veidt and Judith Anderson. The sinister duo are, naturally, Nazis here to recruit. There’s plenty of action amidst all the comedy, with Bogart landing one sensational punch that sends a villain over a railing. The highlight is the brawl that breaks out at a Bund meeting where Bogart and William Demarest are impersonating members. As the trailer proclaimed, Bogart and his gang are “writing diplomatic history … with a baseball bat!” as Phil Silvers swats Nazis with his umbrella.
5. The Rocketeer (1991)
Director: Joe Johnston (A second appearance—the man must love directing Nazi-punching.)
This wonderfully retro comic-book movie stars Bill Campbell as young stunt pilot Cliff, who dons a mask and a jet pack to become the heroic Rocketeer. The rocket is really a Howard Hughes invention stolen by the Nazis, and they’ll do anything to get it back. Enter Errol Flynn-esque leading man Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), who’s secretly a Nazi agent. Sinclair kidnaps Cliff’s girl, aspiring actress Jenny (Jennifer Connelly), who fortunately is handy with a vase. During the climactic showdown on a Nazi zeppelin over Los Angeles, Jenny kicks a Nazi in the leg, causing enough of a distraction for Cliff to land a solid sock to Neville’s chiseled jaw. “Where’s your stuntman now, Sinclair?” The villainous actor takes the rocket, but Cliff has jerry-rigged it to explode on takeoff, resulting in one less Hitler-loving Jerry.
6. Swing Kids (1993)
Director: Thomas Carter
In 1939, Germany, jazz-loving Swing Kids Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas (Christian Bale) have no interest in joining the Hitler Youth. When Thomas hears a fellow Swing Kid is getting beaten up by some “HJs” (Hitler Jugend), he’s the only one of his friends to stop the beating with just an umbrella. He’s sobered when he realizes the grateful victim limping away is not a jazz kid, but a Jew. Circumstances force Peter to join the HJs, and Thomas joins out of solidarity. During a boxing demonstration, Thomas sees his chance to get revenge against gung-ho young Nazi Emile (Noah Wyle) who just savagely beat up his crippled friend. Thomas gets the worst of it, but despite a solid thrashing from Emile, Thomas refuses to stay down. In defeat, he defiantly sings, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Sadly, it’s just a matter of time before Thomas becomes just as pro-Nazi as Emile and the film ends with him and former best friend Peter fighting it out after a raid on a jazz club. Despite the downbeat ending, there’s a ray of hope that Thomas might yet be shaken from his newfound beliefs.
7. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
The long-simmering revenge of Auschwitz survivor Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) is the through line of this excellent X-Men prequel set in the ’60s. He search for cruel Nazi mentor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) leads him to to a bar in Argentina, where the Nazis are plentiful. In one of the movies tensest scenes, his fellow beer drinkers’ cheer turns to dread when he reveals his arm tattoo. Since his mutant power is the ability to control metal, he makes quick work of them with gun and knife.
But the real showstopper is his ultimate revenge on Shaw, in which he puts a deadly twist on a trick Shaw first asked him to do in the camps to prove his power: Move a coin with his mind. When he failed as a child, Shaw coldly shot his mother. Now, with Shaw immobilized by fellow mutant Charles (James McAvoy), Erik calmly announces, “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to move the coin.” He sends the coin—a Nazi coin—with agonizing slowness straight through Bacon’s skull. Granted, it’s not a punch, but there is a comparable sense of “just desserts.”
8. 49th Parallel (1941)
Director: Michael Powell
The far-fetched premise? A U-boat of Nazis land in Canada to sneak into the United States. All the punches happen offscreen, but that doesn’t make them any less satisfying.
In the Canadian wilds, the last two Nazis encounter naturalist Leslie Howard, whose civility they openly mock before revealing their true identity. “So that’s who you are, Nazis!” says Howard. “That explains everything. Your arrogance, your stupidity, your bad manners…” When they throw his artwork and research onto the fire, his calm never dips, merely saying, “Well, I never would have believed that grownup men could behave like spiteful little schoolboys.”
The now enraged Howard later catches up with the lower-ranked Nazi, and we hear scuffling, and (we assume) some retaliatory blows, accompanied by, “That’s for Thomas Mann. That’s for Matisse. And that’s for me!” Howard’s employees marvel, “The boss knocked him cold.” “Well, he had a fair chance,” Howard says. “One unarmed superman against one decadent Democrat. I wonder how Dr. Goebbels will explain that.”
The higher-ranking Nazi escapes via train, where he finds disgruntled serviceman Raymond Massey, who gripes, “I didn’t enlist to become a nursemaid. I enlisted to knock the hell out of the Nazis.” Massey gets his chance for some Nazi-knocking at the film’s end, as he puts up his dukes and demands his stolen uniform back. “Put ’em up, Nazi,” grins Massey. “Cuz I’m not asking for those pants. I’m just takin’ ’em.”
9. Escape in the Desert (1945)
Director: Edward A. Blatt
In this wartime remake of The Petrified Forest, escaped Nazi prisoners of war take several people hostage at a remote hotel in the desert. Dutchman Philip Dorn won’t stand for it. As he tells the female hostage who urges him to let “others” take care of the escapees, “Others? Millions of men have already been killed in Europe because for years people have been saying, ‘Others will stop the Nazis. Let other people fight them.’ That’s why today those murderers are everywhere, even here in the desert. Who else is going to stop them if we don’t?”
Dorn ultimately takes down the lead Nazi Helmut Dantine himself, first jumping aboard the Nazis’ getaway car resulting in a brief four-way fistfight, then going one-on-one with the grandpa-slapping heel. Dorn refuses to run even when Dantine levels his rifle at him. They struggle for the rifle, then Dorn lays Dantine out with a good sock. Dorn ends the beating with a series of righteous slaps, followed by one last punch. When urged by his fellow ex-hostages to “finish him off,” Dorn declines. “And be a beast like him? No. Soon with God’s help, he and all of his kind will be finished.” Originally made to benefit from a real-life Nazi POW escape, by the time the film came out, the war and the Nazis were finished.
10. Lifeboat (1944)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s tense, one-location film puts survivors of a U-boat attack and a German named Willi (Walter Slezak) in the same too-small life boat. The survivors debate helping the Nazi, especially when they learn he was the U-boat captain. A crewman of the sunken ship wants to throw Slezak overboard, but the majority vote to let him stay. Slezak’s natural unctuousness makes it almost a miracle he survives until the end of the film as the passengers fight off madness, thirst and gangrene, their numbers slowly dwindling. At night, William Bendix, who’s delirious from drinking seawater, sees Slezak has a flask of water he hasn’t shared with the others, but Slezak talks Bendix into jumping overboard to his death. When the others—including Talulah Bankhead, Hume Cronyn and Henry Hull—see Slezak sweating, they realize he’s been hoarding water. He calmly explains they should thank him for being “prepared,” but it’s too late for the furious group, who snap and start hitting and punching him en masse, then throw him off the boat. Hull, who had argued forcefully for Willi to stay aboard says, “To my dying day, I’ll never understand Willi or what he did. First he tried to kill us all with his torpedoes. Nevertheless, we fished him out of the sea and shared everything we had with him. You’d have thought he’d be grateful. All he could do was to plot against us. What do you do with people like that?”
Sharon Knolle is a film noir buff, dog lover and founder of Moviepaws.com. You can follow her on Twitter.