When we read about the most notorious people in history, the focus rightly tends to be on the acts they committed and the experiences that made them turn out as they did. What were they like growing up? When was the tipping point for them to turn evil? What effect did their murderous ways have on the families of their victims?
It’s strange to think that infamous dictators and killers actually did something as ordinary as watching movies, but it happened. Curious about who watched Tom and Jerry while authorizing the killing of thousands of people? Or which serial killer was inspired by Darth Vader? Read on to find out…
19. Joseph Stalin – Tarzan
Joseph Stalin – the Soviet leader responsible for the ethnic cleansing and deaths of 34 to 49 million people – commissioned several propaganda movies from filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. But behind the scenes “Uncle Josef” loved 1932 jungle caper Tarzan the Ape-Man. Maybe he saw the apes in the movie as the proletariat and the evil tribal people as royalty. And that would make Stalin Tarzan, which is probably how the megalomaniacal leader saw himself…
18. Mao Zedong – Fist of Fury
The founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong was a prolific social cleanser, with 45 million dead under his rule, by some counts. But away from such atrocities, what of Zedong’s interests in cinema? Well, when he was diagnosed with cataracts, his doctors advised him to stop reading. So he got into movies instead – sound logic – and became a big Bruce Lee fan. After seeing scenes in Fist of Fury in which the kung fu legend kicked through a sign reading “Chinese and dogs not allowed,” Chairman Mao called him a hero.
17. Jeffrey Dahmer – Return of the Jedi
Dahmer killed, had sex with and cannibalized – often in that order – 17 gay men during his killing spree. Nevertheless, he still got swept up in the Star Wars fever that gripped the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s and loved Return of the Jedi. According to forensic psychologist Park Dietz, who spent 18 hours in the killer’s company, Dahmer told him that Darth Vader had inspired him to make a shrine from the skulls of his victims.
16. Adolf Hitler – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Between frothing at the mouth in rage and rousing a broken nation to become a genocidal mega-power, Hitler enjoyed kicking back with the movies of reputed fellow anti-semite Walt Disney. Snow White was his favorite, which is ironic given that the seven dwarfs would probably have fallen foul of his “Master Race” ideals on account of, well, their being dwarfs –and would’ve been shipped off to concentration camps.
15. Kim Jong-il – Rambo
The late leader of the estranged communist state of North Korea was a big movie buff, and among Kim Jong-il’s favorites was the ultra-American Rambo series. This is particularly strange considering the fact that the films depict Sly Stallone taking out scores of communist soldiers without batting an eyelid. The films are so pro-American, in fact, that staunchly conservative U.S. President Ronald Reagan loved quoting them in his speeches.
14. Richard Ramirez – The Silence of the Lambs
Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez was an angsty guy, drawing pentagrams everywhere and declaring his love for Satan. Indeed, you might dismiss him as a moody teenager if he hadn’t killed 14 people. The fact that he liked famous crime drama The Silence of the Lambs therefore isn’t too surprising. Furthermore, he was particularly captivated by the film’s cross-dressing fictional serial killer, Buffalo Bill.
13. Saddam Hussein – The Godfather
There are quite a few parallels with the deposed and deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Michael Corleone in The Godfather. For one, they were both cold and ruthless and ordered the killings of their opponents without thinking twice. No wonder Saddam loved the legendary gangster epic. However, he didn’t do as good a job of sticking to Michael’s mantra of keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.
12. Idi Amin – Tom and Jerry: The Movie
Ugandan despot Idi Amin was a volatile combination of eccentricity and homicidal mania, with a propensity for killing political opponents and keeping their heads as trophies, wearing kilts and eating bucketloads of fried chicken. The fact that he enjoyed watching Tom and Jerry cartoons is just another macabre footnote in this monstrous man’s history of madness.
11. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – Lost Highway
The perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, remain a grim symbol of America’s gun problems. Yet while videogames were blamed for their actions, not much has been made of their movie tastes. Maybe that’s because their favorite movie was Lost Highway, a surreal and puzzling David Lynch movie that’s hard to grasp, let alone blame for mass murder…
10. Muammar Gaddafi – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
The fallen Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi turned his country into a police state that violently suppressed any political opposition. Interestingly, though, his favorite movie was a strange sci-fi comedy called The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, which he dedicated an entire Libyan TV channel to, playing it on repeat. Variety criticized the film for “creating a self-contained world of its own.” Sort of like the famously deluded dictator, then…
9. Anders Breivik – Dogville
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian killer of 77 innocent people in 2011, was obsessed with the controversial Lars von Trier film Dogville. Breivik was apparently inspired by the film’s ending, in which Nicole Kidman’s abused character calls in hit-squads to murder the whole village keeping her in captivity. Von Trier has since expressed regret at having made the movie.
8. Nicolae Ceausescu – The Great Gatsby
Nicolae Ceausescu was the totalitarian leader of Romania from 1967 until the communist regime was overthrown – and he was executed – in 1989. Yet while Romania suffered under his rule, he lived a lavish lifestyle, and his homes were fitted with chandeliers and gold-plated bathroom taps. Sort of like Jay Gatsby, then – so no wonder Ceausescu was a big fan of the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby. Probably best that he wasn’t around for the dull Baz Luhrmann version…
7. Seung-Hui Cho – X-Men
The Virginia Tech high-school shooter killed 32 people in April 2007 before taking his own life, but the tastes of Seung-Hui Cho were no different to those of any other teenager of the time. His favorite movie was X-Men, while his actor of choice was Nicolas Cage.
6. Bashar al-Assad – Harry Potter
Syria’s oppressive leader Bashar al-Assad is at the center of the country’s raging civil war. You’d therefore think al-Assad would have his hands full, but a leaked email revealed that he still had time to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. And from that we can take it that he’s watched the seven previous Harry Potter movies. Which must take a hell of a lot of commitment, given his sticky situation.
5. Ian Brady – The Nuremberg Trials
Together with his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Ian Brady brutally took the lives of five children between 1963 and 1965. Interestingly, then, he had a fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany, and on his first date with Hindley he took her to see The Nuremberg Trials at the theater. The lesson from this? Never go out with someone who wants to do anything Nazi-related on a first date…
4. Benito Mussolini – Ecstasy
Fascist Italian dictator and ally of Hitler Benito Mussolini was known to be an avid cinephile. In fact, he wrote swooning letters to Hollywood star Anita Page, though his number one film was the raunchy Czech-Austrian movie Ecstasy, which was among the first dramatic films to depict sex on screen. And even though the movie was widely banned, Mussolini still had a copy in his, ahem… private collection.
3. Ronnie Lee Gardner – The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The actions of criminal Ronnie Lee Gardner were well documented in the 1980s, when he killed a man while robbing a bank and then killed an attorney with a bullet to the eye while trying to escape custody. Gardner was sentenced to death and spent his final days in a “relaxed” mood while watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What better way to take your mind off your own pending death than to spend 12 hours immersed in Middle Earth?
2. Stephen Griffiths – Scarface
Menacingly calling himself “The Crossbow Cannibal,” Stephen Griffiths killed three – and maybe more – prostitutes before eating their body parts. And, despite living in Bradford, England, Griffiths was a fan of 1980s gangster classic Scarface. That said, it’s safe to say that he had a few things in common with coke-maddened, ultra-violent crime lord Tony Montana.
1. Anwar Congo – The Godfather
An enforcer of the brutal regime in 1960s Indonesia, Anwar Congo has admitted to having killed hundreds of people. Moreover, in the incredible documentary The Act of Killing, he and his gangster pals re-enact the killings in the form of their favorite Hollywood movies. Congo counts The Godfather as one of the greats and in one scene plays a person being interrogated by gangsters, causing him to have a panic attack as the atrocity of his own crimes dawns on him.