Seven Amazing Drill Sergeants in Movies

To my utter amazement, I cannot believe we’ve never done an article on drill sergeants in movies before.  This yet another type of character that we as civilians like to learn about through cinema.

You kind of wonder how hard these guys are on soldier in real life.   Movies always have their funny ways of emulating them. Some serious. Some comical.

But all in all I think we always have an interest in these characters.   Here are seven amazing drill sergeants in movies….

Sgt Hartman – Full Metal Jacket

Played by R Lee Ermey,  this is probably one of it not the best drill sergeants in the history of cinema.   The dialogue that comes from his mouth is absolutely incredible.    Hell there’s no way we could post it on here because of the lewdness of it all but let’s just say it’s hilarious.   And let’s also not forget that Ermey was a military man himself.   And it sure as hell shows.

Sgt. Emil Foley – Officer and a Gentleman

Louis Gosset Jr. in what many people consider to be his best role of all time.  I happen to agree.  Foley is a ruthless, tough acting drill sergeant but you know the guy has a heart.   And you know deep down how much he cares.   I love the scene where he kicks Richard Gere in the you know what.

Sgt. Toomey – Biloxi Blues

People never seem to know about this amazing Christopher Walken role.   In it he plays a funny, wacky drill sergeant during World War II.  His job is to mold a bunch of total jackasses into army shape.  Along the way he’s hilarious but strict and comical in the way he disciplines his men.

Sgt. Hulka – Stripes

Who doesn’t love Hulka?  Stripes is one of the best comedic Army movies of all time and Hulka was the perfect guy to spearhead leadership in this poor excuse for a platoon.

Mckinney – Cadence

I’m not 100% sure if Mckinney was even a drill sergeant in this movie but I put him in here anyway because he acted as such.   Played by Martin Sheen, he’s a tough acting, big drinking military man who’s out to prove himself and to prove to Private Bean (Charlie Sheen) that he’s as good as anyone else.

Sgt. Cass – Renaissance Man

A very underrated role by Gregory Hines.   Cass is trying to mold his recruits into soldiers while he’s at odds with Danny Devito’s character who is trying to educated these boys.   Hines and Devito are constantly butting heads on whose philosophy is better.   But you see that Hines has a compassionate side.

Sgt. Apone – Aliens

Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews) was the squad leader of the team that went to investigate LV-426. Apone was far more liked and respected than his C.O, Lieutenant Gorman. During the first incursion into the atmospheric processor, he enforced Gorman’s orders not to use pulse rifle and smartgun ammunition. Shortly after finding a still-alive cocooned colonist whose chest bursts to reveal an alien, Apone grabbed a flamethrower from Frost to incinerate it

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  1. Minor Edits (from a Marine).
    Full Metal Jacket. It’s GySgt Hartman (or Gunny). It’s Drill Instructor not Drill Sergeant in the Marines. They get a bit techy about it. Trust me.

    Same for Officer and a Gentleman. Actually technically for officer’s school it’s Sergeant Instructors if I remember correctly. It’s been a few years.

    As for Aliens, Apone is a GySgt (Gunnery Sergeant or Gunny) and he wasn’t really a DI, but a Platoon Sergeant. And as such doesn’t really fit in this list. Zim from the book Starship Troopers would be a good fit, but the movie was an abortion of classic scifi.

    And yes, its all fiction so I’m being far to anal.


  2. I’m not a huge fan, but I think Viggo Mortensen was one of the better movie Drill Instructors(although I think he may have been a Master Chief) in G.I. Jane.

  3. For enlisted navy, they are RDC’s (Recruit Division Commanders) generally E-5 to E-7 and are too ugly and retarded to be recruiters, hence getting stuck with a terrible shore billet.

  4. Al Matthews (Apone) was a Marine in real life too. Served combat duty in Vietnam. He was actually the first black Marine meritoriously promoted to the rank of Sergeant. And, he’s a folk singer.

  5. Bert- Not only was Ermey a Drill instructor, his lines are almost all completely his own. He was originally just a technical adviser until Kubrick witnessed him tearing into film extras in an instructional video for the actor who was supposed to play the role. I guess he figured, f- getting an actor when you got the real thing. More amazingly, Ermey would get his scenes done in very few takes. That is almost unheard of for a Kubrick film…so either Kubrick was happy with his performance or he was just intimidated. The Marines actually gave him an honorary post retirement to E-7 for his film work.

    No other branch would have done that. Hell, my old branch, the navy only lets crap like “Top Gun” get produced. That film could only be less accurate if they had Tom Cruise riding a unicorn into an air battle.

  6. Just to be clear as a former Marine, it is incorrect to say “in the Marines”. No one is “IN” the Marines. If you were to enlist, it would be in the “MARINE CORPS”.

    In regards to Sergeant Ermey (USMC Ret), during a Marine Corps DI School cycle, at least twice, part of your training is to yell at a tree for up to 15 minutes without stopping. You learn to be creative, as you aren’t allowed to swear at recruits anymore.

    My Senior DI used to say God Dern Fricken at least every three sentences. Lima Co, PLT 3039 Apr24-Jul20 1990. Ooh Rah.

    Major Payne is a very glaring omission for this article, while as said above, Apone (A Platoon Sgt) and McKinney (Brig Chief/SNCOIC) don’t belong.

  7. Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway in Heartbreak Ridge is a glaring enough omission that I felt compelled to reiterate what someone else already pointed out.


  9. In 1987, he was involved in a jeep accident during the making of Full Metal Jacket (1987). At 1:00 am one morning, he skidded off the road, breaking all the ribs on his left side. He refused to pass out and kept flashing his car lights until a motorist stopped. In some scenes in the movie, he does not move his left arm at all.
    That! My Friends is a real man!

  10. Tough talk has its place in the training regimen and instructors at times use some Gunny Hartman techniques to make certain points, but the military recognizes that mentoring is a more effective teaching tool than abuse.

    From my own experience, the most accurate portrayals of drill sergeants were R. Lee Ermy as SGT Loyce in Boys in Company C (his first film role) and Louis Gossett, Jr’s Foley character, mentioned in the article.

    While he was not a drill sergeant, the Apone character should get an honorable mention here. Al Matthews was spot on as a platoon sergeant. I was wondering how an actor could have been so credible in such a role. Perhaps his six years in the Marine Corps and his Vietnam combat experience helped.

  11. Cool list.

    As for myself, my list of the best movie sergeants would go like this…

    1) GySgt Hartman – Full Metal Jacket
    2) GySgt. Tom Highway – Heartbreak Ridge
    3) GySgt. Emil Foley – An Officer and A Gentleman
    4) GySgt Jack Burns – Death Before Dishonor
    5) SSgt. Ezekiel Anderson – Tour of Duty
    6) SSgt. John “Reaper” Grimm – Doom
    7) SSgt. Michael Nantz – Battle: Los Angeles
    8) Sgt. Elias Grodin – Platoon
    9) Sgt. “Chip” Saunders – Combat (TV series)
    10) Sgt. Charlie Zim – Starship Troopers

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