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Child Soldiers / Film

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Child Soldiers in movies.


Precociously Talented

Animated:

  • In The Book of Life, Joaquin becomes a part of General Posada's army at the age of 10. Somewhat justified given how the other recruits weren't exactly strong and Joaquin showed promise (mostly due to the Medal of Everlasting Life).
  • The titular character of Mulan is sixteen when she is sent off to war. Her father was the one who was meant to, but due to his physical disabilities Mulan ran off dressed as a boy instead.
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Live-Action:

  • The main characters in Barely Lethal are girls trained since they are little kids to be badass assassins, but apparently don’t go into the field until they’re teenagers.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The film adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader starts out with a teenage Edmund lying about his age to try and enlist to fight in World War II. Unfortunately, the recruiting officer can tell he's underage and turns him down. Apparently, Edmund's tried multiple times and is becoming increasingly frustrated.
  • The Italian-produced World War II film Hornets' Nest involves a group of Italian children taking up arms against the Nazis after their parents are massacred by the SS. A little on the unrealistic side, with untrained kids mowing down countless Nazis left and right, it can't quite seem to decide if it wants to show war as an adventure or as a grim reality with tragic psychological tolls that come with children becoming killers, and its efforts to have it both ways leave it feeling a bit disjointed.
  • "The Kid" from the second and third The Matrix movies enlists in Zion's defense forces despite being too young. After bluffing about his age and getting busted, he argues that "the machines don't care how old I am" and the officer reluctantly agrees to let him join up.
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    • While at death's door, said officer admits that he did the same thing when he first enlisted, as he gives The Kid the encouragement he needs to carry the rest of the mission without him.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Clone Troopers are considered combat ready at age ten, though they go through accelerated aging and look twenty.
    • You also have the Jedi. Who are sent out into the field at fourteen or younger to finish their training at the side of an experienced Jedi Knight or Master. This also includes going on whatever dangerous missions the Jedi is sent on, getting involved at the master's discretion. Now normally, the Jedi are effectively peace officers, but when the Clone Wars start up and the Jedi are thrown into Command positions, they don't stop or even seem to adjust the practice.
  • Taps: Seen during a standoff between the cadets at a military school for boys and the Army. All of the cadets are teenagers or younger and are handling live weapons.
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  • It was the plot of Toys. Kids are trained to fly military drones by arcade machines, unwittingly turning themselves into child soldiers.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark recruits a teenaged Peter Parker to help him apprehend the apparently rogue Captain and his team(which as far as Tony knew only consisted of Cap, Bucky, and the Falcon). Even in that situation, he instructed Peter to only go after Cap, whom Tony knew would go easy on him, and not the two highly-trained and likely armed ex-soldiers with him. After the battle quickly escalates(Captain America is trying to undertake a vitally important mission, and recruited some additional heroes), Tony benches Peter for the rest of the fight. Later in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony has come to realize his mistake, and tries to keep Peter out of the more serious conflicts, and it's only after he handles the Vulture single-handedly that he tries to induct him formally into the Avengers. In Avengers: Infinity War, Tony again attempts to keep Peter out of the battle when it moves into space. When Spider-Man rejoins the battle in Avengers: Endgame, nobody has any objections because all of Reality is on the line, and everyone who can fight needs to.

Just Plain Tragic

Animated:

  • Pure Ones in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. First off, they take owlets from their nests and train them to fight the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, who are damn near unstoppable. As if the "Pickers" being moonblinked wasn't bad enough, throughout the climatic fight many of them were most likely killed. To top it off, the whole thing is disturbingly similar to the Hitler Youth. And Nyra's name is Aryan with an "a" missing. Think about that for a moment.

Live-Action:

In General:

  • In USSR there were MANY films about children fighting in the underground resistance during WW2, many of them ending being either killed or executed by Germans (Young Eagle, Zoja, Fifteenth Spring etc.). Sadly this is Truth in Television.
    • Heavily subverted in the film Till the first blood where a war game in summer camp begins to resemble an actual war more and more.
    • Probably the most famous examples are Ivan's Childhood and Come and See with the child soldiers as protagonists. The least funny thing to watch in your average Friday night.
    • Another Russian film series The Elusive Avengers features four teenagers (3 boys and 1 girl) fighting in the Russian Civil War (1918-1924).

Specific Movies:

  • The South Korean film 71:Into The Fire is the story of 71 student-soldiers who have to hold a strategic point for 11 hours. Only one has seen combat before, and over the course of the movie all but 23 die. And while it's tragic enough to see the teenage soldiers discover War Is Hell, the film has a brief scene where the protagonists prepare to shoot a North Korean commando and see that he's only 12 years old.
  • And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself. The Hollywood producers making a movie that casts General Villa's revolution in a heroic light lambast how his evil Federal opponents don't discriminate in killing children. No mention is made that Villa was conscripting those children into his army and sending them to attack Federal machine guns.
  • Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron is revealed to having been raised a Tyke Bomb for the Russian military.
  • Beasts of No Nation is about child soldiers conscripted to fight in a rebel military force in a war-torn African country.
  • Blood Diamond shows the kidnapping and indoctrination of the son of one of the main characters. Includes the real-life practice of giving kids amphetamines to kill any feeling of fear or guilt — and killing their relatives so they can't go back. Also features children killing children with AK-47s.
  • In the 1959 German movie Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group of seven Hitler Youth tragically try to defend their hometown from American tank troops. All but one get killed.
    • Even more tragic, the bridge had no strategic importance, their teacher had them send there in order to keep them away from actual fighting. Additional the bridge was meant to be destroyed anyway to block the Americans entering and taking the town. The bridge gets saved in the end - allowing the American troops to enter the town. More tragic, the story was based on an actual event, upon the personal report of a surviving veteran who in his own youth experienced a similar situation in World War II.
    • The film was remade in 2008 — and the remake is even morer depressing and sad than the original. In the end the actual bridge, which is still in existnce, is shown.
  • City of God prominently features children fighting in drug wars the projects of Rio de Janiero. Children are shown killing each other, dealing and using drugs, and in one shocking scene, a child is forced to execute one of his friends by the villain.
  • Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron features a Russian boy soldier who is captured by the German characters.
    • He was later released by the protagonist, to promptly be shot by a passing Russian soldier. Cue Protagonist BSOD.
  • The Deserter: During the attack on the smaller Apache camp, the only Apache survivor is a young boy. kaleb orders him killed, but none of the squad can bring themselves to it. The boy breaks free, grabs a knife and stabs Tattinger before fleeing into the night. After the main battle, Natachai presents the captured boy to Kaleb and asks if he still wants to kill him. Kaleb stares at the boy but does nothing as the boy runs away.
  • In Doctor Zhivago, during the Russian Civil War, the Red Army unit in which Zhivago is serving as a medical officer comes under fire from a (presumably White) machine-gun nest in the distance. The Reds shoot all their attackers dead, then approach the nest and find that, while they are wearing some sort of uniform, they are only boys, except for one old man. One Red looks closer at a uniform and says, astonished, "St. Michael's Military School?!" To the dead old man: "You rotten bastard!"
  • Downfall features as one of the POV characters a schoolboy from the Hitler Youth who is defending Berlin from the Red Army. Additionally, a teenage girl is manning an 88mm gun at the Battle of Berlin. When everything appears hopeless, her not-much-older comrade shoots her at her own request, then kills himself.
  • In Fury (2014), there's one scene where a trio of Hitler Youth run up to a column of American tanks with a Panzerfaust. One of the characters, Norman, sees them but hesitates to shoot. This results in the kids blasting the tank in front of them to kingdom come, and incinerating the unfortunate crew. War Daddy then pops up the hatch, mows the kids down with his rifle and berates Norman for getting the tank crew killed.
    "You see that? See what a kid can do? That's your fault! That's your fucking fault! Next German you see with a weapon, you rake the dogshit out of 'em! I don't care if it's a baby with a butter knife in one hand and momma's titty in the other, YOU CHOP HIM UP!!!"
  • The whole Harry Potter series is about kids getting caught up in their elders' war and recruited/forced to fight in it in various capacities. This is an instance of "Precociously Talented Type" and "Just Plain Tragic Type" combined.
  • Glimpsed in The Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, there is a scene where the soldiers suit up to defend Helm's Deep and we see a number of people being armed are very young boys needed to up their soldier count. Mercifully, we're never shown the kids doing any actually combat besides throwing stones at the besiegers from the wall.
    Gimli: Some of these men have seen too many winters.
    Legolas: Or too few.
  • Lord of War: West African dictator André Baptiste has a military unit composed entirely of child soldiers which he calls the "Kalashnikov Kids" and his "Boys Brigade".
  • In Master and Commander (see also the example from Aubrey-Maturin novels in the Literature section, below), a 12-year-old midshipman loses an arm to enemy fire in the opening scene of the film. Captain Aubrey is very solicitous of him thereafter, giving him a book with an engraving of the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral Nelson, and leaving him in command of the HMS Surprise when the other officers board a French vessel; and the boy remains so game an officer that a case could be made for including this under the "Precociously Talented Type". But, still! This is Truth in Television. In fact, most officers of the Royal Navy in that period probably started out as midshipmen in their teens or younger.
  • In Pacific Rim, the Australian Jaeger consists of father-son duo, Hercules and Chuck Hansen. It's revealed that Chuck enlisted in the Jaeger Academy at 12 and was only 16 when he first deployed in Striker Eureka, replacing his belligerent uncle on the frontlines. And despite having the highest Kaiju kill count in history at 21, Chuck is also shown to have a Hair-Trigger Temper, terrible communication skills, and a double dose of Daddy Issues and Survivor's Guilt in regards to his father choosing to save him over his mother. He later pulls a Heroic Sacrifice and blows up Striker Eureka to take down two Kaiju so Gipsy Danger can seal the Breach.
    Rob Kazinsky: From a very, very young age, Chuck grew up trained to be a Jaeger pilot. Herc was never a father to him and he spent more time with machines than he did people. It really affected him.
  • The German film Stalingrad (1993) has Kolya, a Russian child who is captured by the platoon after attempting to attack them with a grenade.
  • Taken to the extreme in Starship Troopers. The Federation's news reels gleefully encourage children to "do their part" in the war with the Bugs. The whole point of the film is that it presents an ideal fascist society as envisioned by a fascist, and reveals it as vacuous and horrifying in doing so. In a later blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene, Rico's fresh troops are teenagers, some as young as fourteen, one of many hints suggesting that the Bugs are winning the war and humanity is doomed.
  • Star Wars:
    • In The Force Awakens'', the First Order conscripts its stormtroopers from children taken away from their families, training and conditioning them into soldiers until adulthood.
    • In Rogue One it turns out that at least some Rebel Alliance cells resorted to recruiting children. Jyn was one of Saw Gerrera's best soldiers at the age of sixteen, while Cassian claims to have been fighting since he was six.
  • In The Straight Story (David Lynch's most logical film yet), one scene has Alvin Straight recounting his experiences in WWII, in which he had to kill a bunch of Hitler Youth.
  • In Taps, cadets at a Military School find out that the useless adults are planning to close the school and sell the land to condo developers. With the school's commander in the hospital, they decide that they will not allow this to happen and barricade themselves within its walls with weapons from the well-stocked armory. This leads to the inevitable standoff with the national guard.
  • Subverted with young John Connor, particularly in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While the back story is that Sarah has been raising John in the jungle and teaching him about weapons and military tactics, Word of God on the DVD commentary points out that John is never shown firing a gun.
  • The Salvadorean film Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) has the Salvadorean Army routinely go into middle schools, read a list full of boys aged 12 and up, who are then press-ganged into fighting the Marxist guerillas in the countryside, who are seen using preteen boys in supporting roles, but implied to also use them for frontline combat.


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