Who is the all-time best military character from TV and movies?

You will decide in Military Times' new Battle Bracket, timed alongside that other March bracket competition

Round 1 voting is open now for our Clash of Characters bracket: militarytimes.com/battle-bracket. Sixty-four of your favorite fictional military characters from film and TV are squaring off to determine the best ever. Rambo, Reacher, Gunny Hartman and even Gomer Pyle made the list. Share the link, and campaign for your favorites, on social media with the hashtag #BattleBracket.

In previous years we've determined conclusively that "Full Metal Jacket" and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier are the greatest military movie and the greatest piece of military equipment ever. That's respectively, of course, although " Carrier" has its fans.

A full-field breakdown is below. First-round voting will close on or near March 16; check back then to see results and vote on Round 2.


John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo series) vs. Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Alien series)

  • Different styles, different enemy, same result -- a lot of sequels. 
Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal, Under Siege series) vs. Col. William Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Street Fighter)

  • Seagal had some help from serious star power in the first "Under Siege" (Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey), as did Van Damme (Raul Julia). 
Brad Pitt Punch-out: Lt. Aldo Raine (Inglourious Basterds) vs. Staff Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Fury)

  • Pitt's next turn in uniform comes in May on Netflix.

Chuck Norris Eliminator: Maj. Scott McCoy (Delta Force) vs. Col. James Braddock (Missing in Action series)

Capt. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Avengers series) vs. "Roadblock" (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe: Retaliation)

  • Look for Evans in a series of Marvel Universe-based films in the coming years. Look for Johnson in pretty much everything else.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher series) vs. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson, The Patriot)

  • Both characters are more than shoot-'em-up stars, but they leave an impressive body count.
Lt. Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen, Hot Shots! series) vs. Sgt. Maj. Gene Vandenham (Ross Patterson, Range 15)

  • Harley's antics were seen as over-the-top for his day, but he never had to battle zombies, nor deploy with this level of hair product.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Showdown: Maj. Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Predator) vs. Col. John Matrix (Commando)


Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men) vs. Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker)

  • Nicholson's character brought depth and malice to a courtroom battle with Tom Cruise. Renner's character brought some harsh words from the military community.
Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith, Independence Day) vs. Sgt. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, The Terminator)

  • Both save the world from takeover and/or destruction ... at least until the sequel. Only one can move on.
Captain First Rank Marko Ramius (Sean Connery, The Hunt for Red October) vs.  Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington, Crimson Tide)

  • It's the bracket's only sub-on-sub showdown. "Crazy Ivan's" are allowed and encouraged.
Capt. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) vs. Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg, Shooter)

  • Crowe's film was part of the actor's six-year run that included "Cinderella Man," "Gladiator" and "A Beautiful Mind." Wahlberg would go on to enter the nonfiction realm in "Lone Survivor."
Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) vs. Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan, Courage Under Fire)

  • These two met up in an earlier clash pitting Joe versus a volcano. They also starred opposite one another in 1998's "You've Got Mail," with the then-nearly absurd premise that the lovelorn could find romance via something called "The Internet."
Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump) vs. Ensign Zack Mayo (Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman)

  • Sinise's continuing commitment to the military has manifested itself in many forms, including a 2007 honor from the GI Film Festival. Mayo's presence in this part of the bracket is best explained thusly:

Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves) vs. Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis, Tears of the Sun)

  • Costner's frontier epic took home eight Oscars. Willis has been in and out of uniform for his acting career, including a stint as Gen. Joe Colton, better known as the original G.I. Joe.  
When Tom Cruises Collide: Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Top Gun) vs. Capt. Nathan Algren (The Last Samurai)

  • A testament to the actor's range as the movies cross eras and services, and feature notably different amounts of beach volleyball.

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket) vs. Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge)
Lt. j.g. Douglas Roberts (Henry Fonda, Mr. Roberts) vs. Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny)
  • Whichever naval officer advances from this sea-service showdown will be welcomed into the second round by an angry gunny.
Sgt. Oddball (Donald Sutherland, Kelly's Heroes) vs. "Angel Eyes" (Lee Van Cleef, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
  • Both follow hard-and-fast rules for successful supporting characters: Be memorable in your own right and, if at all possible, work with Clint Eastwood.
John Wayne Shootout: Col. Mike Kirby (The Green Berets) vs. Sgt. John Stryker (Sands of Iwo Jima)
  • Wayne's military roles could've filled up an entire side of the bracket. A reader poll narrowed them to these classics.
"Platoon" Pair-off: Staff Sgt. Robert Barnes (Tom Berenger) vs. Sgt. Elias Grodin (Willam Dafoe)
  • Choose a side from this Oliver Stone drama, but whoever wins will face "The Duke" in the second round.
Maj. John Reisman (Lee Marvin, The Dirty Dozen) vs. Capt. Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen, The Great Escape)
  • Two classic actors who stood apart from two remarkable ensemble casts.
John Winger (Bill Murray, Stripes) vs. Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott, Dr. Strangelove)
  • The showdown that proves military absurdity can exist regardless of generation or paygrade.
"Apocalypse Now" Redux: Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) vs. Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall)
  • The classic is back in the news as game developers seek millions to bring it into a new medium.


Star Trek Takedown: Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) vs. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)

  • Quite the comfort to fans of this series that once this matchup is over, nobody will ever need to debate it online again. Fun fact: Stewart's take on Macbeth-as-military-general was part of PBS's "Great Performances" series in 2010, and Shatner remains the only actor to appear in both "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Range 15." 
MASH Mayhem: Capt. B.F. "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) vs. Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit)

  • Our pick of two characters from the acclaimed series that lasted longer than the war it portrays. Apologies to the Blake/Burns/Klinger/O'Reilly/Potter/etc. fans.
Master Sgt. Ernest Bilko (Phil Silvers, The Phil Silvers Show) vs. Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine, McHale's Navy)

Col. Robert Hogan (Bob Crane, Hogan's Heroes) vs. Pvt. Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors, Gomer Pyle, USMC)

  • Hogan outwitted the hapless Nazis guarding Stalag 13. Pyle and "outwitted" didn't come up in the same sentence much.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, NCIS) vs. Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (George Peppard, The A-Team)

  • Smith, the TV character, was a Medal of Honor recipient. The award was downgraded for the 2010 movie. Harmon's no stranger to military showdowns, having played opposite Sean Connery in "The Presidio."
Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge (Kelsey Grammer, Down Periscope) vs. Ted Striker (Robert Hays, Airplane series)

  • Grammer navigated a sea of star power that include naval officers played by Rip Torn, Bruce Dern and William H. Macy. Hays' co-stars weren't too shabby, either: Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen and a memorable turn by Ethel Merman as Lt. Hurwitz. 

Pvt. Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin) vs. Lt. Jordan O'Neill (Demi Moore, G.I. Jane)

  • Feminine star power is hard to come by on this list, but both stories showed (very, very) different versions of perseverance.
Lord Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse, Star Wars series) vs. Lt. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien, Starship Troopers series)
  • Not to stack the deck, but Vader starred in a 2012 Navy homecoming video that also serves as one heck of an "Empire Strikes Back" spoiler alert:

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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