Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, as played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now is widely considered to be one of the most iconic cinematic villains. So it isn't a surprise that a lot of writers have based villains off him (and his literary counterpart in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) since then.
The Colonel Kurtz Copy will usually be a charismatic, megalomaniacal Dangerous Deserter with a ruthless demeanour and vague pretensions towards godhood, who operates out of an isolated, usually tropical, region, ruling it like a tyrant. Sometimes, they will have gone native, but most of the time, they are cruel and brutal tyrants to the natives, who hate and fear them.
Generally, they will have a small legion of followers under their sway who view them as something akin to a deity, who they have indoctrinated into fanatical loyalty with pseudo-religious doctrine. Generally, they will be users and abusers of their followers and consider them disposable - however, they may sometimes be fathers to their men.
Their motivations for going rogue vary - sometimes, they have had plans independent of their superiors' wishes, whilst other times, they have simply become Drunk with Power and do not want to relinquish it.
The outside world will generally regard a Colonel Kurtz copy in semi-mythical tones and The Hero will have usually been sent either to locate or terminate them - sometimes, the Colonel Kurtz Copy will attempt to sway the hero to their side.
Generally, the Colonel Kurtz Copy serves as the Big Bad, however, heroic examples do exist. If they do, expect them to be a Good is Not Nice Anti-Hero. For most of the story, they will be Orcus on His Throne, only confronting the hero in the finale.
Given his central role in the story, a work with a Colonel Kurtz Copy is likely to be a Whole-Plot Reference to Apocalypse Now — or more rarely, the work that inspired the film, Heart of Darkness. Occasionally, the Colonel Kurtz Copy will resemble Brando's portrayal of the character, both physically and vocally.
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God (which was as an influence on Apocalypse Now) has one in Don Lope de Aguirre was definitely a model for Colonel Kurtz. He is a violent Bad Boss who mutinies against his superiors and leads an expedition of conquistadors and Inca slaves on a doomed journey into the Peruvian jungle with the intent of becoming a king. Like Kurtz, he has a calm demeanor but his dialogue reveals that he is completely mad.
- In Avatar, Colonel Quaritch is a charismatic and ruthless military leader operating on a distant jungle moon, who commands a small army of loyal followers and spends most of his time tormenting the natives. Somewhat unusually for this trope, Quaritch isn't a Dangerous Deserter — however, he has practically usurped command from Selfridge, his nominal superior, and is only really interested in aiding the RDA's goals because it enables him to continue his personal war with the Na'vi.
- King Louie in The Jungle Book (who was even based off Kurtz as per Word of God). He's a charismatic, power-craving, would-be-tyrant who lives in an isolated region in a jungle setting, is introduced in shadow, and commands a small army of loyal followers. To round the homage off, he even has a Marlon Brando-sounding voice, courtesy of Christopher Walken.
- Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard from Kong: Skull Island is a downplayed example. A Vietnam War veteran initially tasked with escorting the Monarch research team to Skull Island, he ends up going rogue when King Kong kills much of his unit. Now obsessed with Revenge, he hatches a plan to kill Kong even after being informed that this would give the Skullcrawlers free reign of the island and beyond, and even nearly gets into a shootout with the other survivors who want to focus on getting back home.
- In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thanos has been retooled into a charismatic military leader with vague pretensions towards godhood and who uses pseudo-religious doctrine to sway a cadre of fanatically loyal followers. Josh Brolin has even said that he used Kurtz as an inspiration for the character.
- Planet of the Apes reboot series:
- Colonel McCullough in War for the Planet of the Apes is a charismatic and ruthless Dangerous Deserter with vague pretensions towards godhood, who commands an army of fanatically loyal followers, using psuedo-religious doctrine, who battles with and, eventually, enslaves the apes (the "natives"). Woody Harrelson has even noted the parallels to Kurtz.
- In both War and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar is a rare heroic example, being the charismatic leader of the apes, who is viewed as a messianic figure by his subjects and who rules from a hidden compound in the Muir forests. This is in contrast to his original characterization in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, where he was depicted more as a Spartacus-style revolutionary and former slave.
- Dune (2021) depicts Baron Vladimir Harkonnen this way. He's introduced rubbing his big bald head just like Kurtz was, his face is often obscured by shadows, and he speaks in a low, raspy voice.
- Back in the USSA: Basil Fotherington-Thomas (from the molesworth books) fills the Kurtz role in "Teddy Bears' Picnic", a bizarre Alternate History retelling of Apocalypse Now.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Mance Rayder is a rare heroic example - a former Night's Watchman who went native and chose to live among the wildlings as their leader. Unlike most Kurtz copies, he's a Well-Intentioned Extremist, whose motivations are to take the Wall to protect his people from the threat of the Others.
- The A-Team episode "The Doctor Is Out" has the villain Colonel Mack Stoddard. Officially a U.S. Army advisor to the Fictional Country of Cuaraguay, he's been attempting to use his influence to prepare a coup and take over the country. Fearing a negative evaluation report that will see his commission pulled (and which includes such things as "delusions of godhood"), he sent his corrupt commandos to kidnap Murdock's psychiatrist in the middle of one of Murdock's therapy sessions, which results in the A-Team coming in to stop him and save the doctor.
- The protagonist of the short-lived Harsh Realm is tasked with entering the show's virtual-reality America and apprehending General Omar Santiago, a ruthless dictator and cultlike figure who controls five U.S. virtual states.
- Stargate SG-1: The first season episode "The First Commandment" is about a Stargate squad leader (and Carter's former boyfriend) who goes crazy and takes over a village on a primitive planet where the sun produces a much greater amount of radiation. He starts a cult dedicated to himself and claims that "only he" can protect the natives while he works them to death building a temple for him.
- Seinfeld, of all shows, has Elaine’s boss J. Peterman briefly become one in the episode “The Chicken Roaster”—- he goes missing in Myanmar, and when Elaine tracks him down on behalf of the company, he’s living in the jungle as a “poet warlord” who orders around the natives and asks Elaine if she’s an assassin.
- Warhammer 40,000: A Chaos Space Marine primarch is named Konrad Curze as a shout-out to Kurtz. Fittingly his overall arc resembles that of Kurtz, in that he is a charismatic visionary who becomes the tyrannical ruler of an isolated, undeveloped world and who dies surrounded by a crumbling empire of madness created by his own hands.
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown: Captain Matias Torres is an Ax-Crazy captain of the Erusean navy gone rogue, taking the opportunity to make off with the nuclear super-submarine Alicorn during the Osean attack on Artiglio Port in order to initiate his genocidal Genghis Gambit. Torres has also indoctrinated and converted the entire 330-man crew of the Alicorn into his cult-like followers during two years of isolation trapped at the bottom of the sea, all fanatically devoted to his cause to the point of carrying out suicide attacks without the slightest hint of fear.
- Colonel Blintz, the villain of the Army Men Real Time Strategy spin-off, is a pretty obvious homage to Kurtz. In game, he's a Fat Bastard who went crazy after being shot through the head and deserted the Green Army to join the Tans, setting his Tan faction up with a Cult of Personality around himself.
- Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake: Big Boss was heavily inspired by Kurtz, particularly in the way he was a defector the US government orders a hit on and sends in one soldier who fails to finish the task only to join him instead, and in his monologue about war at the end of the second game.
- Rise of the Reds: Anwar Sulaymaan relocated the Global Liberation Army from central Asia to central Africa after General Mohmar "Deathstrike" died. There, he began to turn the GLA into a nation of its own, recruiting anarchists and mercenaries taboo to traditionalists like his rival Abdul bin Yusuuf. By the game's "present" day, Sulaymaan and his Golden Lion Cell are the de facto rulers of central Africa's chaotic terra nullius, and there are rumors of locals outright worshiping him with gruesome rituals. To further the point, the update that fleshed out his region was called "Heart of Darkness".
- Deconstructed in Spec Ops: The Line, which borrows heavily from Apocalypse Now. John Konrad is the commander of a US Army battalion that attempted to evacuate the residents of Dubai before an apocalyptic sand storm buried the city in the backstory. The game opens six months later, when the storm lets up enough for a Delta Force team to enter Dubai in an attempt to contact Konrad's surviving troops. They discover, however, that Konrad has since established himself as a warlord whose soldiers brutally oppress the surviving locals. Except that it turns out that Konrad has actually shot himself out of guilt for his actions, and the Player Character had hallucinated his continued existence and voice in order to have a single convenient Hate Sink to pin their own war crimes onto.
- In World of Warcraft, Colonel Kurzen, an Arc Villain in Stranglethorn Vale is a soldier that fell under the control of Mali'Zoth, an ogre mage, driving him and his men mad, where they hide out in a small, hidden compound.
- Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has The Colonel in Beard's levels. He is in charge of the Ghost Wolves, a Special Forces squad stationed in Hawaii during the Soviet-American war in the 1980s. Before Beard's final mission, he goes on a bender and monologues about the true nature of humans and war while wearing a dismembered Panther head as a mask. He would go on to found 50 Blessings in America after the war ended.
- Animaniacs: "Hearts of Twilight" is a spoof of both Apocalypse Now and its making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse; the Warners are sent to find a director who refuses to stop working until he can finish his movie. Said director is recurring character Mr. Director, a parody of Jerry Lewis, only this time he's bald and fat like Brando's Kurtz.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Deserter" serves as a homage to Apocalypse Now, with the title deserter, Jeong-Jeong, as this trope. Another heroic example, he briefly serves as one of Aang's mentors before disappearing once again to be Back for the Finale.
- Megatron in Beast Wars is a charismatic, megalomaniacal Dangerous Deserter with a raging god complex, who commands a small cell of renagades on an isolated (in both space and time), primitive planet. Furthering the parallels, the Season 2 finale ("The Agenda") even contains multiple homages to Apocalypse Now.
- In a spoof of Apocalypse Now, the dynamic duo of Sam & Max: Freelance Police get dropped into Central Park on a mission to find the Commissioner's missing keys, and are captured by a crazed rodent expy of Kurtz who puts on a Brando imitation and commands an army of brainwashed followers. After the Freelance Police escape, the Kurtz-wannabe does an Evil Laugh and then accidentally swallows a bug, referencing an infamous outtake where Brando did exactly that.