Favorite Movies Of The Most Notorious Figures In History

Perhaps the best way to complicate one's view of a notorious historical figure is to learn about their personal tastes. Even a person that you, and much of the public, may absolutely despise will have had interests that overlap with your own. Look no further than movies for some prime examples. Love Star Wars? So did a famous serial killer. The Godfather? You're in company with an Iraqi dictator. What about James Bond films? An infamous drug lord and a North Korean supreme leader were big fans - one even owned a box set. Have some warm nostalgia for cartoons like Tom and Jerry? A Ugandan despot couldn't get enough of that rascally cat and mouse.

The more ruthless the figure and wholesome the film, the more shocking the connection. Although you may be tempted to dive into the psychology of each incongruous choice, just know people are people - even the worst ones require good entertainment.


  • Adolf Hitler's first passion was world domination, but film was not too far behind. In his screening rooms in multiple abodes, Hitler watched a variety of movies, many of which were provided by Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Gabriel Over the White HouseCamille, The Rider on the White HorseMarie Antoinette, and Laurel and Hardy's Block-Heads and Way Out West are among the films he is documented to have viewed or owned.

    As for his favorite, the usual selection is King Kong, which his estranged friend Ernst Hanfstaengl said he watched and talked about often. However, the reliability of Hanfstaengl and other sources claiming King Kong as his favorite have recently come into question.

    It appears true he liked Disney - Mickey Mouse especially. Goebbels gave him 12 Mickey Mouse cartoons for Christmas 1937 and recounted in his diary "[the leader] is so happy about this treasure." Hitler had ordered five Mickey Mouse movies a few months prior. The next year, he ordered a print of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

    Many of his reported favorites, however, were flicks little known outside of Germany. These include The Nibelungs and Carl Peters.

    But a more famous potential fave is Gone with the Wind. Hitler's then bodyguard Rochus Misch recalled the leader watched it three times. Goebbels also admired it; according to Misch (as quoted in Bill Niven's Hitler and Film: The Führer’s Hidden Passion), Hitler told Goebbels Gone with the Wind "is something our own people should also be able to do."

  • It's no mystery why a dictator would be attracted to the feared yet respected Corleone Mafia family in The Godfather. Saddam Hussein, who came to rule Iraq through a purge that made Michael Corleone's look like a slow weekend in Chicago, reportedly considered that film his favorite. Journalist Adel Darwish met Hussein at a festival in Baghdad in 1972, the year of the movie's release, and recounted that "for 90 minutes [Hussein] sat talking about The Godfather." Among Hussein's takeaways were Vito Corleone prioritizing family above all else and women loving powerful men like Vito's son and successor, Michael.

    However, a couple anachronisms exist in Darwish's account. First, that he and Hussein met at the Baghdad International Arts Festival, which apparently didn't exist until 1986. It is possible he could have misremembered - or simplified - the name of the Al-Wasiti Festival, an international arts gathering that opened in Baghdad in 1972. Second, that Hussein was deputy chairman of the Ba'ath Party regional command council at the time, which "meant little," when he was actually vice president of Iraq in 1972.

    But Darwish is not the only person to have credited The Godfather as Hussein's favorite. Others include his alleged mistress Parisoula Lampsos and journalist Mark Bowden of Black Hawk Down fame. Bowden listed a few more of the despot's faves - The ConversationThe Day of the Jackal, The Old Man and the Sea, and Enemy of the State - but they likely stood in the shadow of the Mafia epic. Even director Francis Ford Coppola acknowledged Hussein's adoration and claimed a second deceased dictator for The Godfather fan club: Muammar Gaddafi.

  • As the Third Reich's minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels knew more about cinema than most world leaders. He recognized how films could win the hearts and minds of a citizenry, the best example of which was Battleship Potemkin. Goebbels first watched the Soviet propaganda film in 1928 and was blown away:

    In the evening we saw Potemkin. I have to say that this film is fabulously made. With quite magnificent crowd scenes. Technical and landscape details of succinct power. And the hard-hitting slogans are formulated so skillfully that it is impossible to contradict them. That is what is actually dangerous about this film.

    He could not get the movie out of his mind. In 1933, just weeks after becoming minister, Goebbels promoted Sergei Eisenstein's masterpiece at a film industry event:

    This is a marvelous film without equal in the cinema. The reason is its power of conviction. Anyone who had no firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after seeing the film. It shows very clearly that a work of art can be tendentious, and even the worst kind of ideas can be propagated, if this is done through the medium of an outstanding work of art.

    Of course, Goebbels established a film wing of the propaganda body, which endeavored to create a Third Reich version of PotemkinTriumph of the Will was perhaps their best effort.

  • Kim Jong-il was such a cinephile he held two filmmakers hostage and forced them to make movies. In 1978, the future supreme leader of North Korea, whose dystopian regime made sci-fi writers jealous, kidnapped Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee, holding them for eight years. During their captivity, Shin and Choi, ex-spouses who remarried at Kim's urging, produced a number of films like SaltRunaway, and the Godzilla-like Pulgasari. Rare for North Korean cinema, their films received international acclaim, as they were allowed to tread slightly outside the confines of propaganda.

    After escaping during a trip to Austria, Shin and Choi told their story and divulged Kim's film obsession. He had a collection of 15,000 movies, with his favorites being Hong Kong action flicks, James Bond, Rambo, and Friday the 13th. His favorite actors were Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery.

  • Richard Nixon is best remembered for the Watergate scandal, where members of his administration broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Building. As a result of the burglary and ensuing investigation that implicated Nixon in a flood of illegal activities, he became the first and only president to resign from office.

    As controversial as his actions were in the United States, it was overseas where he accrued a body count. Nixon's bombing campaigns of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of civilians. Some scholars believe Nixon's latter attacks on Southeast Asia were inspired by a certain film.

    Patton, a 1970 biopic about tough but effective World War II general George S. Patton, was first viewed by Nixon just before his Cambodia campaign. He watched the film multiple more times throughout the invasion. Patton executive Richard D. Zanuck was told by then US Secretary of State William P. Rogers the film came up during every conversation with the president. He once asked a delegation of 45 financial leaders, "Anybody see the movie Patton?" He went on to praise the film and the titular general's resolve. Nixon's national security advisor at the time, Henry Kissinger, wrote, "When he was pressed to the wall, [Nixon’s] romantic streak surfaced and he would see himself as a beleaguered military commander in the tradition of Patton."

    Asked by David Frost about the Patton connection, Nixon replied, "It had no effect whatever on my decisions." He admitted, though, that "the character sketch [of Patton] was fascinating."

  • Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for over 30 years and left millions of people dead. He also left millions of pen marks on scripts as the state's foremost film authority.

    After the Soviets defeated the Third Reich, Stalin snatched up the recently deceased Joseph Goebbels's movie collection. Like Goebbels's boss, Stalin would spend his evenings watching films in his private screening rooms. Many favorites have been listed for the Communist leader, including The Great Waltz, Volga-VolgaIt Happened One Night, Charlie Chaplin movies, and American Westerns.

    He also reportedly loved Tarzan, as did many in the Soviet Union when he died. "The Tarzan series alone, I daresay, did more for de-Stalinization than all Khrushchev’s speeches at the 20th Party Congress and after," wrote Russian-American Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky.

    Fittingly, Goebbels's boss had the opposite opinion of Tarzan: "Bad."