It might seem weird to armchair quarterback a bunch of armies and commanders who are 100% not real, but the whole point of a silver-screen enemy is to give our heroes something to fight against. If the heroes of the story can kill 90 enemy soldiers by throwing a handful of bullets, it’s just not a compelling fight.
We totally understand that even the United States military doesn’t have a serious operation plan for alien robot invasions or dinosaur attacks. But even if there were, the U.S. probably could do a lot better than Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich gave us credit for. We could do a lot better than these onscreen armies, against all enemies, real or imagined.
1. Val Verde (“Commando”)
Val Verde takes the top spot because it’s a two- and maybe three-time loser. The country abducted the daughter of America’s best Special Forces soldier to coax him into performing an assassination. When John Matrix finally gets to fight Val Verde’s rebel troops, an entire battalion just runs at him piecemeal.
Matrix kills what looks like Val Verde’s entire army, who can’t seem to do anything about it. He didn’t even have to aim. The only time anyone stops to aim in “Commando” is when Matrix kills a Val Verde soldier with a thrown saw blade.
Val Verde reappears in “Die Hard 2” to recruit some U.S. Special Forces soldiers of its own to help its captured dictator escape justice. There must be some bad luck in Val Verde, because the moment they stop fighting for the U.S., they get beaten by a single LAPD cop.
2. The Galactic Empire (“Star Wars”)
Despite what you see on screen, the Galactic Empire’s glory days are clearly behind it, no matter which “Star Wars” movie you’re watching. Oh, sure, you hear stories about the battles the Empire won and atrocities it committed, but rarely, if ever, are they depicted on screen.
Watching these bumbling idiot stormtroopers makes one wonder how they ever managed to pass stormtrooper basic training, let alone conquer an entire empire. The Empire’s officers aren’t much better. They keep gambling their entire civilization on building the same superweapon with the same strategy over and over, only to get routed completely by teddy bears with sticks.
3. The Night’s Watch (“Game of Thrones”)
Who in the Seven Kingdoms thought it would be a good idea to defend the continent’s most important military choke point with a bunch of criminals, outcasts and other undesirables? This is like hiring O.J. Simpson to be your babysitter. Sure, there’s no legal reason not to, but you still shouldn’t feel good about it.
The best thing about the Night’s Watch is that they know when they can’t win and probably won’t be able to hold off an invasion. But even when they try to warn the Seven Kingdoms, no one listens -- because the Night’s Watch is a bunch of criminals, outcasts and other undesirables.
4. Future Earth (“The Tomorrow War”)
When you absolutely need the manpower to fight off an alien invasion, going back in time and drafting dead people seems like a great idea. Bonus points for whoever on future Earth came up with that one. Enlisting a schoolteacher worked in “Saving Private Ryan,” it could work for the future.
Getting the troops to the fight seems a lot more difficult than time travel for these people, though. The army of the Earth of the future drops off soldiers to fight in midair, only to have them fall to their future death and/or gruesome injury. This is like making the D-Day landing from the middle of the English Channel: It’s not gonna end well.
Future Earth offers no training, no information about the enemy and will straight up bomb its draftees the moment it becomes convenient. This is especially weird for an army who desperately needs troops. They don’t even tell their troops how to kill the enemy. It's astonishing that Dan Forester did as well as he did.
5. Cobra Commandos (“G.I. Joe”)
No one can fault Cobra for thinking outside the box when it comes to creating a special operations unit designed to take on another special operations unit. But follow-through is important when creating a fighting force with a specific mission, and it seems like Cobra got pretty lax with its recruiting standards toward the end.
A paramilitary organization will be well-served with killers like Snake Eyes and spies like Baroness. It’s less well-served by a guy who dresses like a literal snake and throws snakes at people. To top it all off, they made this guy their leader. I understand the whole theme of the organization but Serpentor is a mascot, not a general.
6. Mobile Infantry (“Starship Troopers”)
Sorry, super fans, but Robert Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry in the 1997 film “Starship Troopers” is a pretty terrible fighting force. They have a lot of bravado going for them, and that’s about it. The first thing you take away from watching the movie is that the Mobile Infantry leadership really doesn’t care whether its troops live or die.
This is a unit that uses rifles to kill swarms of armored bugs that can take down 10-15 troopers before getting squashed. That’s not a great ratio. One might think an Earth that developed interstellar travel could come up with a better infantry weapon in 300 years.
If humans really were trying to win, why land troops on an enemy planet with zero objectives? Find a better way to kill a planet full of cave-dwelling bugs. Okinawa was a necessary objective in World War II, so we used flame-throwing tanks to take it. The Mobile Infantry doesn’t even consider armor.
7. Thanos’ Army (“Avengers: Endgame”)
Sure, even without the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos’ army is a force to be reckoned with, but if you review what Thanos was actually up against, you have to wonder how he was so successful for so long. The Dora Milaje go into combat with spears, Black Widow could kill Chitauri with a 9mm pistol (see “The Avengers”), and although Thor brought the lightning, my Toyota will protect me from lightning strikes.
Thanos is also possibly the worst leader in the galaxy. The moment he was actually in danger of being killed, he wasted zero time or thought in bombing the entire battlefield, including his own forces, to save his skin. Cool.
8. Any army fighting zombies
While there have been some variations on the zombie theme, most zombie hordes are just large masses slowly lurching toward groups of humans. Real military units would refer to this as a “target-rich environment.” How any armed forces could be wiped out by slow-moving masses whose main weapon is teeth is incredibly difficult to understand.
Zombies are not the first force to try a human-wave tactic. It’s happened in real-world combat more than we’d like to think, and it very seldom, if ever, works out for the human wave. Just ask the Marines who fought at the Chosin Reservoir.
9. The Corto Maltese (“The Suicide Squad”)
Corto Maltese is a small, fictional island off the coast of South America, which pretty much represents everything wrong with American foreign policy in the Cold War era. The island undergoes a coup, killing its longtime dictator and installing a military junta full of morons.
The Corto Maltese army then spends two hours being cannon fodder for superheroes, rebels and aliens large and small. Despite being a small island, the army (apparently) never even tries to wipe out a jungle-based insurgency. It also seems to prefer the small-unit tactics of Revolutionary War-era British redcoats, standing in a straight line in the open, catching projectiles with their faces.
The only time this army does anything right is when it received an entire invasion plan beforehand. Even then, it took a surprising amount of casualties for an army that knew everything in advance.
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