How are Russians portrayed in American movies?

How are Russians portrayed in American movies?


One of the most critical subjects in sociology relates to culture or people’s way of life. Often, people have a tendency of thinking that their respective cultures are superior to other people’s culture, thus leading them to question certain cultural aspects and practices (Kowalski 73). Cultural perceptions are communicated through the way people expresses themselves, either verbally or nonverbally about other people’s way of life. If people value persons and activities of other cultures, they present them as acceptable and pleasant in the eyes of the society. The opposite is also true, when people perceive others and their practices as unacceptable and ill, they display them as such in their talks, perceptions, behaviors, beliefs, and the way they treat them. For example, in American movie industry, Russians are often displayed as radical, extremists, merciless, evil, atrocious and brutal among other negative traits, thus the position they often play in movies as villains. This may be taken as communicative of Americans perception of Russians.

The reason for studying the concept of cultural perceptions is in an endeavor to address the problem of stereotyping that often results from negative or misguided perceptions about others and their way of life. From the perspective of Symbolic Interactionist (Blumer 78; Mead, 8-9), cultural perceptions are seen as part of the perceptions people of a certain culture have on another, also called as stereotypes, attitudes on others and expectations which are constructed through interactions with persons from target culture. Some of the perceptions are not based on facts but purely on hearsay and unfounded way of reasoning. For example, person may do something that may lead to biasness against an entire community. Adolf Hitler’s initiated holocaust against the Jews made many people perceive Germans as racial.

According to an article by Goering Elizabeth, most Americans seldom comes into contact with Russians, thus their interactions are minimal, if any, but the image most Americans have is derived from media such as film play and television. The Americans’ perception of Russians is thus misguided and unfounded and could be attributed as a source of tense relationship between people from the two cultural orientations. Symbolic interctionism posits that people act on others based on the meaning assigned to them (Kuhn 68-70). This study will use content analysis of three popular American movies in exploring the manner in which Russians are represented in the media, seeking to understand how Americans cultural perception of Russians is developed.


The study involved watching and analyzing three different movies, namely the Easterners, the Red Dawn, and the Tourist. All the three movies depict Russians as either main characters or some of the important featuring characters throughout the movies. The main purpose of the study was to seek to understand how the Russians are portrayed within American movies, thus the reason for selecting these movies is majorly because they are American and they have Russians playing different roles. In all the three movies, Russians’ roles, whether direct or indirect, were noted down.

In some incidences, they did not commit the atrocities themselves but they either acted as masterminds or as bosses who instructed others to commit the atrocities. In the three movies that I watched, the Russians were a substantial number but not the majority. They were outnumbered by the Americans but their roles were clearer in relation to the purpose of each movie.

One of the disturbing things while watching the movies was the kind of images that the movies displayed about the Russian characters. Some of these imaged were appalling and scaring, almost influencing my perception of the Russians. The data was analyzed by comparing the findings from each of the movies, whereby the common traits in the three movies were recorded and compared. The findings will be used in creating a profile about the ways Russians are presented within American movies, which will be compared with other previous findings on the same subject.

Content Analysis

This study used the Internet Media Base (IMDb) to locate the three movies although many were identified but I settled for the three because the Russians’ roles were clear cut in all the three. IMDb is a web-based data base which allows researchers to access almost half a million movies using their titles, characters, biographies, plots or even quotes. For example, using the search term “American movies”, a researcher can have an access to all the movies in the data base with American origin.

Initially, I used the search term “American” in order to identify movies that had American origin then used the search term “Russian characters” to narrow down to those movies that featured Russians. The search located almost 1200 movies from which I used two criteria for limiting the movies to what I wanted. First, I restricted my search to theater-released movies instead of movies made for TV. Then I restricted the search to those movies with more than $50 million in gross box office receipts in US. The two criteria approach was adopted in an endeavor to locate movies watched by substantial number of people. From this, a list of twenty-six movies was identified as they met the selection criteria. Then, I randomly picked three of them and analyzed their contents to complete this study.

I watched the three movies and took notes on everything that the Russians in the movies did or intended to do. One of the shortcomings of this study is that there was some form of biasness because American movies with Russians as stars were not used, thus the findings may be inclined towards displaying the target population (Russians) as villains or people possessing various negative traits.


This study sought to understand how the Russians are presented within American movies. The three movies have Russians playing all sorts occupations, including chauffer, soldiers, businessmen, bar tenders, dancers, translators, nurses and doctors among many other occupations. The Russians in all these movies are visible not as mere participants or criminals but in every walk of life. Interestingly, in some of these American movies, Russians are more conspicuous but their culture has simultaneously been made less visible. In these movies, they are not presented as a group belonging to the same culture but as business owners, acquaintances, neighbors, police officers, military people, and friends who just happen to have a Russian background.




One of the things that came out very clearly from watching the movie Eastern Promises is that the Russians were extremely atrocious and were stereotyped as alcoholics and gangsters.

Right from the opening scenes, the movie is characterized by violent Russians whereby blood is quite a common feature. The main character (Nicolai) cuts the parts of a human body as if cutting pieces of meat and seems to be enjoying every bit. At a certain point, he fights for his life and the whole area is drenched with blood as he is cut severally using a very sharp dagger and he also manages to kill the opponents with the dagger smearing blood all over the place. Killings by the Russians are quite common in the whole movie, presenting the Russians as extremely brutal and as people who enjoy killing others using the most inhumane methods such as cutting their targets’ throats.

The raping incidence narrated in the movie shows the level of brutality among the Russians. Although there is no scene showing the fourteen-year-old girl being raped by the old man, the girl’s diary that was picked by a nurse from her body tells the story of her experiences in the hands of the brutal man. The Russian elderly man who seems to be above seventy years raped and impregnated the young girl and sought to kill the child to hide all evidence of his involvement in the crime. He also sends his son’s driver to assassinate the nurse’s uncle who had read the diary and known the evils that the Russian had committed but the driver saves the man from the decreed death.




Equally evident in most of the sampled American movies is that Russians are presented as villains and as enemies of humanity, always seeking to use the most atrocious ways to destroy others or as targets of the government and other authorities.

According to a BBC article by Tom Brook, depicting the Russians as the bad guys or the criminals in films has a long history. Drawing from Chapman, a professor of film studies, Brook noted that even prior to the Cold War; the country was presented as a geopolitical threat to various western countries such as United States and some countries of Europe. Russians’ role in most American movies come out clearly as horrible personalities who deserve no mercy because they are like a disease that needs to be overcome.

In the movie, the Red Dawn, some group of soldiers led by Russians invades some towns of United States with the intention of taking control over them. Above being horrible in exercising their authority, they use force in subduing their subjects and employ excessive force in dealing with anyone who attempts to resist their power. Throughout this movie, Russians are depicted as the enemies of the people and the group of student does everything humanly possible, even risking their lives, to save the country from these villains or at least to make a difference in forcing them to leave.

Villains in movies commit all sorts of crimes thus the starts in such movies seeks to destroy, bring to justice or force to quit such enemies from continuing with their crooked behaviors. In the movie the Red Dawn, the Russians are involved in all sorts of crimes, including killing young and innocent people by shooting or by throwing bombs on them all in an endeavor to have absolute control over their region. No wonder the students are willing to die trying to defend their homeland. According to the statement by one of the student leaders, the Russians just picked a place to exercise control (meaning it was not necessary) but they were merely doing what they do best; commit crimes.


One of the themes that come out clearly in the three movies is that Russians are naturally inclined to shedding of blood and killing others. In all the movies, Russians are involved in numerous murders of both the innocent and guilty and they perceive killing as their most ideal way of expressing their displeasure or exercising justice.

In the movie, the Tourist, a group of Russian gangsters is pursuing a man known as Alexander Pears who had stolen lots of money from the group leader. Although they hope to retrieve their money from Alexander, they have one major objective; to kill him. They use the girlfriend in an attempt to draw him out from his hiding and even threaten to slaughter the girl so that he can agree to open the safe where the cash is believed to be hidden.

In the same movie, the Russian leader of the gang kills one of his men for bringing him a report of failure. The man had sent the group to hunt for Alexander and when they failed, the victim came to report it to the boss who used the man’s tie to strangle him for disappointing him. The picture displayed here about the Russians is that they are not only unforgiving but they always resort to murder if somebody offends them. The Russian mafia also felt that Alexander fiancée was of no use to them if she could not open the safe, thus they were about to disfigure her face before killing him, but fortunately Alexander came to her rescue.



Conducting this study was characterized by two major limitations that ought to be accorded greater attention in future studies on the subject. In examining every of the Russians behaviors, actions and reactions, the study could have advanced some level of bias. This is because it only critiqued the subject’s behaviors without impartially seeking to understand what would have been the response of others, including Americans faced with similar situations. Second, the choice of the movies was not as objective because it only sought for movies with Russians as villains instead of generally looking for American movies with Russians. The sample size was also too small for such a study.


This study sought to answer the question, how are Russians portrayed in American movies? Using three American movies (The Easterners, The Red Dawn and The Tourist), this study examined Russian characters in an endeavor to understand the various roles they played in the film and what was coming out clearly about their cultural orientation. Three major characteristics about the Russians were evident in the three movies: Russians as atrocious/brutal, villains and murderers. The themes are highlighted in their actions where the Russian characters kill in cold-blood, cut human pieces, enjoy being in the presence of dead body, seek only to murder their enemies and become the enemy of the state and the people.

This study also related to cultural perceptions about other people, which lead to stereotype. The image of Russians constructed in American movies is not necessarily true and may have created a wrong impression about Russians in the eyes of Americans. Most Americans rarely get an opportunity to interact with Russians to discover otherwise; thus, to them what they see on media is most possibly true of Russians.

Future studies on how Russians are portrayed in American movies should seek to be as objective as possible by using random sampling in identifying movies for analysis. This away, all forms of bias will be eliminated making it possible to generalize the findings. Moreover, future studies on the subject should seek to compare the reactions of the Russians with that of other actors in the movie in order to determine whether Russians conduct was uniquely inclined towards evil or ill behaviors. Equally important, the number of movies used in arriving at the conclusion is too small compared to the number of American movies in which Russians feature. Thus, future studies ought to increase the sample size to have a more dependable data.

Works Cited

Blumer, Herbert. Symbolic interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969.

Brook, Tom. “Hollywood stereotypes: Why are Russians the bad guys?” BBC News, 5 Nov. 5 2014: Print.

Kowalski, Dean. (2012). Moral Theory at the Movies: An Introduction to Ethics. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kuhn, Manford and McPartland Thomas. “An empirical investigation of self-attitudes.” American Sociological Review, 19.1, (1954): 68-76.

Mead, George. Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.


Notes from Movies  

The Easterners

At the beginning of the movie, a young Russian man is forced by an elderly Russian to use the penknife he is using to shave a customer to cut the customer’s throat, which he does killing him. The elderly man seems to be enjoying the killing of the customer all in the endeavor to instill courage in the young Russian.

In another episode, a Russian man who had ordered the killing of the client shows no remorse over the dead man’s body and even eats in the presence of the body and enjoys just watching it as its being dried. Another man who is referred to as the undertaker cuts the various parts of the dead man’s body and removes items such as the wallet and seems to be really enjoying ‘working’ on the body.

The unremorseful man who had ordered the killing also forces a friend of his to rape a young girl who works in a pub that he owns. To him, raping the young girl is a proof of loyalty thus would recommend him to the father for a job opportunity.

The movie revolves around a diary that one of the nurses who helped a young girl to deliver found in her body. The girl had written about her experience in the hands of a Russian who had raped her resulting to the pregnancy.

In a different episode, the young man who was used to kill the man at the beginning of the movie is killed by the Russians brothers of the dead man. The manner in which they cut his throat shows extensive level of sadism.

In the fight between the brothers (Russians) of the man who was killed and the undertaker (also a Russian), the slaughtering of each other is a clear display of atrocity.

The Red Dawn

In the introductory part of the movie, the Russian paratroopers land in a field and starts shooting at innocent civilians inflicting fear and causing panic in the town. Some few students escape into the forest amidst heavy gunfire from the merciless Russians.

The leader of the Russians and his troop traces the whereabouts of the students and shoots at the father of some of the fleeing youths because the father encourages them to fight the invaders.

A woman who owns a shop in town helps two fleeing students with some clothes so that they can escape from the invading Russians but when she is discovered, the Russians do not take her through the legal justice system but they intend to execute her in public only for the group of fleeing students to save her just before the shooting.

The violence of the Russians is further displayed when the drops bombs across the forest with the aim of killing the students that they perceive as rebels. Despite the fact that they have enough machinery to hunt and arrest the students, their objective is to kill them for fighting back.

The atrocity of the Russians is also displayed in their pointblank shooting of their targets without being remorseful.

The sadism of the Russians is also displayed when they put a tracking device on one of the students so that they can track where they go. This is not done through a medical surgery but by shooting at him a bullet that has a tracking device.


The Tourist

In the movie, The Tourist, some Russian mafias are pursuing an American teacher whom they have mistaken for a man known as Alexander whom had stolen money from their boss. Their intention is clearly more than recovering their boss’ money but killing the man for stealing from them. In several occasions, they shot at him blindly, injuring several other people without much concern about their actions.

The Russian boss cold-bloodedly kills one of the men that he had sent to hunt for the thief because of bringing him a report of failure. He uses the man’s tie to strangle him and show no pity or remorse as he does so. Immediately after killing him he goes back to what he was doing fitting his clothes and the first question he asks the bodyguards is whether the suit he was fitting looks alright on him.

The Russian mafias were just about to slaughter Alexander’s fiancée because she did not have the code of opening the safe where Alexander had saved the money. Were it not that they were shot at by the police officers, they would have disfigured her face with a knife and eventually killed her. They had also vowed to kill her even if they recovered their cash from Alexander showing their level of animosity.