The five most kick-ass R. Lee Ermey movie roles

R Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket

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If there’s a character actor on the planet that’s better at yelling loudly at people onscreen than R. Lee Ermey, I’d be very surprised. The retired United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor-turned actor has been around for a long time and has racked up some of the most easily recognizable performances in cinematic history. In honor of Ermey’s most famous role (as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman) in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” hitting Blu-ray this week in a fabulous 25th Anniversary Digibook Collection, we decided to run down the actor’s top five greatest, and most memorable, performances. Company…. Halt!

“Willard” (2003)

Glen Morgan’s 2003 re-imagining of the 1971 rat-loving film “Willard” is easily one of the most underrated horror films of the last decade. A true slow burn of a film, “Willard” boasts amazing performances by the ultra-creepy Crispin Glover, R. Lee Ermey, Laura Elena Harring, and hundreds of rats both real and CGI. And while Glover’s offbeat performance as the eccentric outsider tasked with taking care of his sickly, cantankerous mother is often praised as the film’s greatest asset (and for good reason), R. Lee Ermey’s turn as Willard’s jerk of a boss is nearly as impressive. If there’s anything that Ermey does well, it’s berate people, humiliate them, and play up the mean old crank in his characters, and Frank Martin is no exception. By the time he eventually bites it, at the hands of many an angry rat, the audience is thrilled to see him go. It’s a testament to Ermey’s performance that he not only effectively gets under the skin of his fellow characters, but he also drives the audience equally as mad. Bonus points goes to “Willard” for an ingenious and absolutely perfect use of Michael Jackson’s classic song “Ben.”

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003)

Nobody really wanted to give Marcus Nispel and Michael Bay’s remake of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” a shot, and I don’t really blame them. The 1974 original is a seminal film in the genre and one that is nearly possible to replicate. What audiences didn’t count on, however, was that Nispel’s vision would actually be pretty interesting. His version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” might not be the original, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a fun re-imagining of the film and one that stands on its own pretty well. And much of that success is due to R. Lee Ermey’s turn as the no-nonsense Sheriff Hoyt. He’s loud, angry, and obnoxious but he’s also one of the highlights of the film. Ermey makes the character evil to the core and, again, it’s a relief when he’s finally dispatched (this time via the hulking mass of a car being driven over his body repeatedly).

“Toy Story” Series (1995, 1999, 2010)

And so we come to the softer side of R. Lee Ermey. Since the film “Toy Story” film in 1995 until the most recent entry in the series hit theaters in 2010, Ermey has played the leader of the plastic Army men, Sarge, to perfection. It’s not nearly the biggest part in a huge ensemble of excellent voice actors (the Army men don’t exactly have a ton of screen time in the series), but it’s a memorable one that helped introduce the grizzled voice of the character actor to a whole new generation of kids raised on Pixar awesomeness. Imagine an extremely toned-down version of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and you’ll have a good idea of what Ermey is doing here. Fun stuff.

“Se7en” (1995)

Probably one of the most overlooked roles in Ermey’s illustrious career is that of the police captain in David Fincher’s 1995 hit “Se7en.” Ermey takes the limited role and makes it his own in a way that only R. Lee Ermey could do. The captain is quick-witted, impatient, and smarmy in a way that’s completely unique and captivating. He’s a no-nonsense guy that doesn’t want to deal with all the B.S. and just wants to close his cases – something that neither Mills (Brad Pitt) nor Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are making easy for him. Ermey’s role in “Se7en” is another one of those character actor parts that might make audiences say, “Hey, I know that guy! He’s that guy from that movie!” but it’s also an important one that’s help make the Fincher thriller a classic.

“Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

R. Lee Ermey’s role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket” is easily the actor’s (and, I would argue, cinema’s) most memorable characters. The foul-mouthed, sharp-tongued Marine is the piece of the puzzle that keeps the first half of Kubrick’s film together and has become so ubiquitous in pop culture that it’s been parodied, copied, and even turned into an Internet meme numerous times. What is perhaps most amazing in all of this, however, is the fact that Ermey wasn’t even supposed to play the drill instructor role when Kubrick was first putting together his classic. He was simply a technical advisor on the film until the legendary director heard the actor going on a drill instructor tirade and knew he was perfect for Hartman. So impressed, Kubrick even relinquished some of his storied control of the product by letting Ermey write and ad-lib much of his own dialogue. We’d say it worked. Ermey’s scenes in “Full Metal Jacket” are some of the most recognizable in cinematic history.

What’s your favorite R. Lee Ermey movie role? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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