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September 8, 2022

Inglorious Basterds Beat Breakdown

Inglourious Basterds (the strange spelling is intentional) is a 2009 war film directed by the one and only Quentin Tarantino. The film was remarkable for a few reasons, mostly due to its entirely unconventional structure and a radically new take on the war film. Unlike its popular predecessors, Inglourious Basterds brings an irreverent and exploitation style to the war genre taking inspiration from films like The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of the Navarone. Let’s break down Inglourious Basterds and find out what makes it one of the best war films of all time.

Download Inglorious Basterds screenplay

To help you follow along with Inglorious Basterds we've included the screenplay free with this blog. Check it out here and pay close attention to the characters, formating and plot.

What is Inglourious Basterds about?

Inglourious Basterds follows two parallel plotlines about assassination plots against Adolf Hitler. Just to get it out of the way, the film takes a highly irreverent attitude towards historical accuracy, so don’t worry too much about whether what happens is true to history or not. The disparate assassination plots are led by Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a Jewish-only squadron of American soldiers, and Shoshanna, a Jewish woman living a quiet life in Paris who gets the opportunity to exact her revenge on the Nazis when they want to stage a screening of a new film at her theater.

Main characters

Lt. Aldo Raine

Played by Brad Pitt, is an affable, brutal, and easy-going leader of the Basterds, the all-Jewish squadron of American soldiers exacting revenge on Nazi soldiers during the war. He’s not portrayed as being very smart or cunning, but he has a lot of charm and clear skill in the art of war.

Shoshanna Dreyfuss

Played by Melanie Laurent, is the only surviving daughter of a Jewish family that was hunted down and killed by a Nazi squadron led by Hans Landa the “Jew Hunter”. She is quiet, intelligent, and trying to keep out of Nazi attention in Paris.

Hans Landa

Played by the amazing Christoph Waltz, is a brutal, highly intelligent, and exacting leader of a Nazi squadron with a specific objective of “hunting Jews”. He presents as affable and refined, but his coldness towards wanton murder makes him a truly terrifying antagonist.

Frederick Zoller

A German sniper recently returned from the front lines where he held a tower for several days by himself and killed 250 Allied soldiers. He is hailed as a hero by the Nazi regime, and a propaganda film about his escapades is about to premiere. He is infatuated by Shoshanna and convinces the Nazi leadership to premiere the film at her theater.

The cast of Inglorious Basterds in a Nazi movie theatre.
The cast of Inglorious Basterds.

Breakdown of Inglourious Basterds

One quick caveat before I begin breaking this film down. Unlike a lot of the films we highlight on the blog, Inglourious Basterds has quite an atypical structure for a big Hollywood film. That’s not to say that it doesn’t fall under the conventional three-act structure (it very much does), but some parts of the story distort the structure, lengthening some parts and shortening others.

This breakdown should show that even if a film has a structure that seems completely alien, it can still be understood in conventional storytelling terms.

Act One

Opening: The opening of Inglourious Basterds introduces the primary antagonist, Hans Landa, in an extended opening scene that almost appears closer to a theatrical play than a film. Landa arrives on the land of a French farmer and talks with him for a while. It becomes clear that the farmer is hiding a Jewish family in the floorboards.

Landa figures out where the Jewish family is hiding and orders his soldiers to kill them. However, Shoshanna, a teenage girl, is able to escape in time as the rest of her family are killed.

Set-Up: Soon after, we are introduced to Aldo Raine, the leader of an American Jewish-only squadron called the Basterds, whose express goal is to kill as many Nazis as possible. We see the Basterds in action and their brutal methods of exacting revenge.

Inciting Incident: Meanwhile in Paris, Shoshanna has taken on a new identity and now owns a theater where she plays French films in occupied Paris. She accidentally meets Frederick Zoller, a Nazi war hero, who is infatuated with her and wants his film to premiere at her theater. And who is the head of security of the event? None other than Hans Landa, the man who killed her family.

Turn to Act Two: Shoshanna realizes that she will be able to get many high-ranking Nazi officers, including Adolf Hitler himself, in her theater, giving her the perfect opportunity to exact revenge.

Act Two

Promise of the Premise: Learning of the premiere, the Basterds ally with British intelligence to launch an attack at the same time, with similar motivations to Shoshanna. A British agent is meeting with Bridget von Hammersmark, a German film actress who is secretly an Allied agent who can get the Basterds into the premiere. However, during their meeting, the British agent accidentally draws the attention of a German officer who sees through the ruse. A firefight breaks out that kills everyone in the bar save Hammersmark.

Midpoint and Darkest Moment: The Basterds extract Hammersmark thinking that she set the British intelligence up to be shot. However, she convinces them of her loyalty by revealing that Hitler will be attending the premiere and she will help them get in. However, it would have been much easier with the fluent German-speaking British agent, and now she is only left with the Basterds who are less than well versed in German. Their plan seems more than a little hopeless.

Turn to Act Three: Regardless, fueled by a desire to seek revenge on the Nazis, Raine decides to try the plan anyways.

Act Three

Finale: The premiere is in full swing and both Shoshanna and the Basterds enact their plans. However, Landa quickly deduces that the Basterds are not who they say they are. He kills Hammersmark in a back room, imprisons Raine, and asks that he be escorted to Allied lines if he allows the Basterds to continue their assassination attempt.

Meanwhile, Zoller tries to rape Shoshanna, but she shoots him in the back. She takes mercy on him after realizing he’s still alive, giving Zoller a chance to shoot her and kill her. At the same time, Marcel, Shoshanna’s lover, and assistant is igniting a highly flammable film reel and locking the doors to the auditorium, setting the entire building ablaze. Two Basterds who made it into the screening hunt down Hitler and Goebbels, killing them both as the auditorium burns down.

Denouement: The Basterds escort Landa back to Allied territory, but before Landa can get immunity Raine forces Landa to the ground and carves a swastika into his forehead, marking him forever as a Nazi, and professing it his “masterpiece”.

The movie theatre in Inglorious Basterds being consumed by flames.
The movie theatre in Inglorious Basterds being consumed by flames.

Summing up

Inglourious Basterds has quite an unconventional structure that compresses and stretches the traditional three-act structure in unexpected ways, but hopefully, this breakdown shows that even if a film’s structure seems strange, it’s still possible to grasp with enough analysis!

Luckily, you can use Arc Studio to help you on the entire writing journey - from outline to finished product! Arc Studio provides built-in story structures so you don’t have to put in all that tedious time formatting. Try out Arc Studio today, for free!


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Inglorious Basterds Beat Breakdown
Alex D. Reid

Alex is a professional screenwriter who loves writing horror. He won the horror category at Austin Film Festival for his screenplay Delirium in 2019 and is currently studying for a Ph.D in English Literature with a focus on the horror genre

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