God, I love eyepatches. There’s something both sexy and dangerous about this piece of eyewear that’s been sported by stereotypical pirates for years (not that I find pirates sexy, mind you). If you share my love for this unusual facial accessory, you’ll want to check out this list of great eyepatch movies. From sinister Nazis to pissed-off women on a quest for revenge, the eyepatch has been a vital movie prop throughout the decades.
Before we continue, it should be noted that eyepatches are worn by more than just parrot-loving swashbucklers and movie badasses. In the days of old, sailors would wear an eyepatch over one good eye when above deck. Then, when descending into the darkened bowels of the ship, they would switch it to the other eye, the now-uncovered eye already being accustomed to the dark. Let me tell you, those old-timey sailors were some smart cats. But I digress…
Here’s a brief list of some of the real-life people who’ve sported an eye patch, whether for fashion or function:
- David Bowie
- John Ford
- Sammy Davis Jr.
- James Joyce
- Fritz Lang
- Raoul Walsh
- Slick Rick
- Nicholas Ray
Now here’s that list of great eye patch movies that I’ve been promising:
- Valkyrie (2008) – Tom Cruise looks great in an eyepatch while playing real-life WWII German officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the chief conspirators involved in the last unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler. Even though it’s obvious from the beginning that von Stauffenberg and his allies are going to meet a bad end, director Bryan Singer does a solid job of drawing out the inevitable. The eyepatch wasn’t the only handicap that von Stauffenberg had to overcome: he was also missing his right hand and a couple of fingers on his left. While none of them wear eyepatches, the excellent supporting cast is comprised of Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and Eddie Izzard.
- Escape from New York (1981) – When it comes to eyepatches and badasses, this John Carpenter film is perhaps the perfect melding of the two. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken, a former member of the U.S. Special Forces who lost his eye in the legendary Word War III Battle of Leningrad. Now indulging in a life of crime, he’s apprehended and sentenced to life on the prison island of Manhattan. But then the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) crashes somewhere in New York City, and Plissken is offered a full pardon to go in and rescue him. Along the way, he’ll participate in a gladiatorial match, dodge underground cannibals, and race against the clock to keep the microscopic devices planted near his carotid arteries from exploding. One of the iconic action figures from the 1980s.
- True Grit (1969) – John Wayne stars as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, an aging, drunken lawman who proudly sports an eyepatch for all to see. He’s recruited by a 14-year-old girl (Kim Darby) to track down her father’s killer, and the duo are joined along the way by an ambitious Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell). They have to wade through a whole host of Old West cutthroats, including actors such as Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall. But their efforts paid off: Cogburn got his man (surprise), and Wayne would win the Academy Award for Best Actor. During his acceptance speech, he noted, “If I’d known that, I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” A ringing endorsement for great eyepatch movies.
- White Heaven and Hell (1974) – After being framed and disgraced, former samurai Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is forced to lead the life of an assassin while caring for his young son, Daigoro. As Ogami pushes a baby cart across the countryside and seeks revenge against the treacherous Yagyu clan, he’s pursued by every manner of bizarre killer that the Japanese landscape can muster. It all comes to a head in the mountains of northern Japan, where Itto and son must take on all the remaining forces of Yagyu (Itto had been killing them off in the five previous installments of the series), including skiing ninjas. The eyepatch comes into play through Retsudo (Minoru Ohki), the crazy-haired leader of the diabolical ninja clan. Fans of samurai movies will want to see this one immediately, as our hero kills more people that any other character in a single movie. Actually, I would suggest you start at the beginning of the series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance.
- Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) – Uma Thurman is The Bride, a former assassin who was ambushed by her former teammates on her wedding day and left in a coma. Now, years later, she’s back for revenge. One of her targets is Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), an eyepatch-wearing bitch who also goes by the codename California Mountain Snake (her eye was plucked out when she disrespected her perpetually cranky martial arts teacher). The two women finally have their showdown in a mobile home in Texas, and it’s a catfight for the ages.
- Thriller–A Cruel Picture (1973) – Also known as They Call Her One Eye, this Swedish exploitation film stars Christina Lindberg as Madeleine, a young women who’s mute thanks to an incident of sexual assault during her childhood. But things only get worse, as a stranger who offers a ride gets her hooked on heroin and becomes her pimp. Then she gets stabbed in the eye (after refusing the sexual advances of a client), requiring the use of an eyepatch from that point on. But when Madeleine has finally reached her limit, it’s time for some payback. Over 30 years later, the lead character would serve as something of an inspiration for Elle Driver, the previous entry on this list.
- The Eagle Has Landed (1976) – Robert Duvall always looks like he means business, but he’s especially fierce in a Nazi uniform and eyepatch. He plays Radl, an officer given the task of coming up with a plan to kidnap Winston Churchill and deliver him to Berlin. So he turns to Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland), a member of the IRA, and Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine), a decidedly anti-Nazi German soldier, to carry out the mission. What follows is an exciting thriller filled with lots of WWII combat and appearances from Donald Pleasence, Treat Williams, Larry Hagman, and Jenny Agutter.
- Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – The Coen brothers take Homer’s Odyssey and set it in Mississippi during the Great Depression. George Clooney is Ulysses Everett McGill, a prison escapee who’s looking for the $1.2 million he supposedly hid before he went away. Joining him are Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), a couple of simple-minded cons eager to share in the loot. When the gang isn’t dealing with seductive sirens or a menacing policeman, they have to contend with Big Dan Teague (John Goodman), a massive Bible salesman who wears an eyepatch and serves as the film’s version of the legendary Cyclops.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) – An overlooked film that was one of the first to be completely shot on a digital backlot, Sky Captain stars Jude Law as a 1939 hotshot pilot who must thwart the schemes of a sinister scientist (Laurence Olivier, courtesy of modern technology) and his army of giant robots. Angelina Jolie co-stars as Commander Franky Cook, immediately becoming the hottest woman to ever wear an eyepatch on the big screen. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Gambon, and Bai Ling.
- Captain Ron (1992) – This Martin Short comedy may not be for everyone, but it does feature Kurt Russell wearing an eyepatch as a modern-day seafaring scoundrel. The film has gained a cult following over the years thanks to Russell’s wacky performance, and it even inspired a 2007 gathering known as “Ron Con” to celebrate the film’s 15th anniversary. For his part, Russell devised the eyepatch look as a nod to his Snake Plissken character (the second entry on our list).
There are a number of other great eyepatch movies out there, but this list contains some of the best. Watch them, love them, and then buy an eyepatch to show your solidarity. Talking like a pirate is optional. Talking like Snake Plissken is mandatory.