ByJason Howell, writer at
Jason Howell

Have you ever seen a certain actor and thought that every time you see that person, they’re playing a soldier? Whether through typecasting or simply their overall tough-guy personas, some actors have had multiple tours of duty in the Armed Forces of Hollywood. Here are five actors that have played numerous military roles on film and television.

Note: for this list, I limited myself to these more current actors. The reader may recall a number of other deserving names, most notably the great John Wayne, who could easily fill an entire article on his own.

1. William Shatner

Shatner as Lt. Col. Chipman in "The Andersonville Trial" [Credit: PBS]
Shatner as Lt. Col. Chipman in "The Andersonville Trial" [Credit: PBS]

Mention the name of William Shatner, and millions of nerds around the world will instantly say “Captain Kirk!” Even with Chris Pine’s ongoing presence in the reboot, for lifelong Trekkies, Shatner is the true embodiment of Star Trek’s most famous Captain.

If you’re a fan of the original Kirk, you may be thinking, “He’s Captain Kirk! What more does he need?” Yes, that role is the most noteworthy when considering him for this list, with his time playing the character on television as well as in multiple films. But Shatner has had other military roles which deserve to be noted.

In the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, based on the famous trials of Nazi officials, Shatner played US Army Captain Byers, assigned to the American party hearing the cases. In the 1970 TV movie The Andersonville Trial, based on the play chronicling the actual trial of the commander of the notorious Confederate prison camp, Shatner played Lt. Col. Norton Chipman, the chief JAG prosecutor.

Shatner’s other military roles include:

  • Col. / Brig. Gen. Jeff Barton in episodes of The Outer Limits in 1963
  • Maj. Kurt Brown in a 1965 episode of the WWII drama 12 O’Clock High
  • Lt. Col. Josef Gronke in the 1970 TV movie Sole Survivor
  • Master Sgt. Buford Cole in a 1977 episode of The Oregon Trail
  • Commander Buck Murdock of the lunar base in 1982's Airplane II: The Sequel
  • Major Robert Carson in 2001’s Falcon Down
  • General Shanker in 2013’s Escape from Planet Earth

2. Michael Ironside

Ironside as General Lane in "Smallville" [Credit: Warner Bros]
Ironside as General Lane in "Smallville" [Credit: Warner Bros]

Michael Ironside is known for playing both villains and “tough guy” heroes ─ his breakthrough role being the cynical anti-hero Ham Tyler in the 1984 miniseries V: The Final Battle (which he reprises in V: the Series).

Superhero fans may recognize Ironside, either by appearance or by voice. He is the voice of Darkseid in Superman: The Animated Series and the father of Captain Cold in a 2015 episode of The Flash. Among other superhero roles, he has some military credits, most notably as General Sam Lane, the father of Lois Lane in Smallville.

Ironside plays Col. Burton C. Andrus, the Commandant of the Nuremberg Prison, in 2000’s Nuremberg. He also plays General Douglas MacArthur in the 2016 Netflix miniseries Tokyo Trial, another WWII period piece depicting the military tribunal for the leaders of the Empire of Japan.

Ironside’s other military roles include:

  • LCDR Richard "Jester" Heatherly in 1986’s Top Gun
  • Major Paul Hackett in 1987’s Extreme Prejudice
  • General Katana in 1991’s Highlander II: The Quickening
  • Lt. Col. Stone in 1995’s Major Payne
  • Captain Oliver Hudson in the 1995-1996 season of seaQuest
  • Lt. Jean Rasczak in 1997’s Starship Troopers
  • General Amberson in 2003’s Maximum Velocity
  • Admiral Constantine Stark in 2003-04 episodes of Andromeda
  • Col. Gauge in 2008’s Mutants
  • General Ashdown in 2009’s Terminator Salvation

3. Robert Patrick

Patrick as Col. Sumner in "Stargate Atlantis" [Credit: MGM]
Patrick as Col. Sumner in "Stargate Atlantis" [Credit: MGM]

Robert Patrick has been called one of the great heavies in Hollywood, and has been praised by fans, critics and co-stars for his work ethic, personality, and consistent performances.

He is well known for his villainous roles, especially the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. His role as FBI Agent John Doggett in The X-Files helped secure his reputation in the industry. But he has also had several military roles, most notably Col. Tom Ryan in the 2006-09 series The Unit.

Patrick’s other military roles include:

  • Major John Skokes in 1995-96 episodes of The Outer Limits
  • Col. Lee Banning in 1998’s Tactical Assault
  • Col. Marshall Sumner in the pilot for Stargate Atlantis
  • Col. Chandler Johnson in 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers
  • Col. Merton Bell in 2009-10 episodes of NCIS
  • Col. Keller in a 2010 episode of Chuck
  • Master Chief Joseph Prosser in the 2012 series Last Resort

The grandson of a veteran and a lifelong supporter of the military, Patrick recently appeared in the annual National Memorial Day Concert which airs on PBS, in which he gave a monologue as Colonel Richard Cole, the last surviving member of WWII's famed Doolittle Raiders. Patrick is also actively involved with the USO.

4. Stephen Lang

Lang in "Beyond Glory" [Credit: Gravitas]
Lang in "Beyond Glory" [Credit: Gravitas]

This Hollywood heavyweight is renowned for his roles in films such as Ike Clanton in 1993’s Tombstone. Originally a stage actor appearing on Broadway, Lang was the first to play Colonel Nathan Jessup (the guy who says "You can't handle the truth!") in A Few Good Men before the role was made famous on film by Jack Nicholson. More recently, he was the villainous Col. Miles Quaritch in 2009’s Avatar, which he is set to reprise in planned sequels.

Lang’s other military roles include:

  • Major General George E. Picket in 1993’s Gettysburg
  • The voice of George Washington in the 1997 PBS miniseries Liberty! The American Revolution
  • General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in 2003’s Gods and Generals
  • General Hopgood in 2009’s The Men Who Star at Goats
  • Commander Nathaniel Taylor in the 2011 series Terra Nova
  • Major Gavins in 2014’s Jarhead 2: Field of Fire
  • Major General Emil Reinhardt in 2016’s Beyond Valkyrie: Dawn of the Fourth Reich

Lang also stars in the 2015 documentary Beyond Glory which chronicles his one-man show about Medal of Honor recipients. The show was first staged in 2004, and Lang credits it for his casting in other roles, such as Avatar.

5. Clint Eastwood

Eastwood as Gunnery Sgt. Highway in "Heartbreak Ridge" [Credit: Warner Bros]
Eastwood as Gunnery Sgt. Highway in "Heartbreak Ridge" [Credit: Warner Bros]

It is worth noting in this post that Clint Eastwood is actually a military veteran, drafted by the Army during the Korean War and stationed at Fort Ord in California.

The oldest actor appearing on this list, Eastwood has also been the most prolific. With a career in film spanning over 50 years, he has been involved with more than 70 films through acting, directing, and producing. He has been renowned for roles such as the title character in the Dirty Harry franchise and as "the Man with No Name" in the spaghetti western Dollars Trilogy. But he has also had worn a lot of uniforms on screen.

His military roles include:

  • Jonesy in 1955’s Francis in the Navy
  • Jet squadron leader in 1955’s Tarantula
  • Marine medic in 1956’s Away All Boats
  • Lt. Jack Rice in 1956’s The First Traveling Saleslady
  • Dumbo pilot in 1957’s Escapade in Japan
  • George Moseley in 1958’s Lafayette Escadrille
  • Lt. Schaffer in 1968’s Where Eagles Dare
  • Private Kelly in 1970’s Kelly’s Heroes
  • Gunnery Sgt. Thomas 'Gunny' Highway in 1986’s Heartbreak Ridge

Eastwood has also produced and directed military films such as 2006's Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and 2014's American Sniper.

Did your favorite make this list? Who is your favorite actor to have a career playing military roles?

[Source: Huffington Post]


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