Good stories need a good villain, and for well over half a century, Russian commies and their surrogates have fared quite well at Hollywood casting calls. The diversity of Russian villains over time, as our short video makes clear, has been astonishing. Russian villains have been idealistic true believers, femme fatales, muscular soldiers, clever scientists, shady billionaires, and cartoon characters.
What’s more, as both Kati Marton and Jonathan Haslam write in this Inquiry, one of the more haunting aspects of the Russian menace was its ability to lure some of our own best and brightest to join Moscow’s cause. And Hollywood has gleefully mined this leitmotif of the mole, betraying us from within.
The unexpected demise of the USSR and the fading of the Cold War in the early 1990s led to a crisis in storytelling. New bad guys were given auditions—a French industrial espionage thriller, anyone?—or Russian villains were preserved, in ever more convoluted plots. Often the villains conspiring against the U.S. at a time of ostensible peace between our two countries had gone rogue, a state within the state seeking to bring back the old days of confrontation.
But with Vladimir Putin setting such a defiant tone to the relationship these days, Hollywood can go back to once again embracing cleaner story lines.
The evil empire lives on.
This video is part of a Zócalo Inquiry, The Russian Menace in the American Imagination. It was produced by Zócalo Public Square executive editor Andrés Martinez, and edited by Xavier Smith, a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.