Red Dawn

Red Dawn
Red Dawn

Poster with title in English
Directed by John Milius
Produced by Sidney Beckerman
Buzz Feitshans
Written by John Milius
Kevin Reynolds
Starring Patrick Swayze
C. Thomas Howell
Lea Thompson
Ben Johnson
Harry Dean Stanton
Ron O'Neal
William Smith
Powers Boothe
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Ric Waite
Editing by Thom Noble
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Release date(s) August 10, 1984 (1984-08-10)
Running time 114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.2 million
Box office $40 million

Red Dawn is a 1984 American war film directed by John Milius and co-written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds. It stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey.

The film is set in an alternate 1980s in which the United States is invaded by the Soviet Union and its Latin American allies (specifically Cuba and Nicaragua).[1] However, the onset of World War III is merely in the background and not fully elaborated. The story follows a group of American high school students who resist the occupation with guerrilla warfare, calling themselves Wolverines, after their high school mascot.



An introductory text explains how the USA gradually became strategically isolated when several nations withdrew their membership in NATO. At the same time, the Warsaw Pact are aggressively expanding their sphere of influence. In addition, the Ukrainian wheat harvest fails and a communist coup occurs in Mexico.

On a September morning in the small town of Calumet, Colorado, a local high school teacher pauses mid sentence when he sees paratroopers landing in a nearby field. These are Russian paratroopers, who promptly open fire when he confronts them. Pandemonium follows as students flee amid heavy gunfire. In downtown Calumet, Cuban and Soviet troops are trying to impose order after a hasty occupation. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Bella (a Cuban officer) instructs the KGB to go to the local sporting goods store and obtain ATF Form 4473, which names citizens who own firearms.

Jed Eckert, his brother Matt, and their friends Robert, Danny, Daryl, and Aardvark flee into the wilderness after hastily equipping themselves at Robert's father's sporting goods store. While on the way to the mountains, they run into a Russian blockade, but are saved by a US Army Iroquois helicopter. After several weeks in the forest, they return to town and Jed and Matt learn that their father has been captured and is being held in a reeducation camp. They visit the site and speak to him through the fence; Mr. Eckert orders his sons to abandon him, but to "avenge" him. They then visit the Masons and learn that they are behind enemy lines in "Occupied America" (as opposed to Free America, the unoccupied zone) and that Robert's father has been executed because the guns from his store - the ones he gave to the boys - were found to be missing by the occupation authorities. The couple also charge the boys with taking care of their two granddaughters, Toni and Erica. After killing some Soviet soldiers in the woods, the youths begin an armed resistance against the occupation forces—calling themselves "Wolverines" after their high school mascot. Initially the occupation forces try reprisal tactics, executing groups of civilians following every Wolverine attack, in hopes of intimidating the local population and compelling the Wolverines to surrender or desist from further attacks. During one of these executions the Eckert brothers' father is killed.[2] Daryl's father, Calumet's mayor, a collaborator, tries to appease the occupation authorities.

The teenagers find a downed United States Air Force pilot, Lt.-Col. Andrew Tanner, and learn about the current state of the war: several cities such as Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska have been obliterated, America's Strategic Air Command has been crippled in a surprise attack by Cuban saboteurs, and the paratroopers the youths have encountered were dropped from fake commercial airliners to seize key positions in preparation for subsequent massive assaults via Mexico and Alaska. Half of America has been taken over, but American counterattacks have halted Soviet progress and the lines have stabilized. Concerned about nuclear fallout, both sides refrain from using nuclear weapons.

The colonel then assists the Wolverines in organizing raids against the Soviets. Soon after, in a visit to the front line Tanner and Aardvark are killed in a battle between Soviet T-72s and US M1 Abrams tanks. As a result of the escalating attacks, Soviet commanders now view the Wolverines as a serious threat. Using threats of torture, KGB officers force Daryl to swallow a tracking device, then release him to rejoin the guerrillas. Spetsnaz are sent into the mountains following these signals, but are ambushed and killed by the Wolverines. The group discovers that their pursuers are carrying portable radio triangulation equipment and trace the source of the signal to their friend. Daryl confesses and pleads for mercy but is executed by Robert.

The Wolverines' morale erodes as the war of attrition takes its toll. The remaining members are ambushed by three Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships after being baited by a truck dropping supplies on the road, and Robert and Toni are killed, leaving the group reduced to four.

Determined to save at least some of their number, Jed and Matt attack the Soviet headquarters in Calumet to distract the troops while Danny and Erica escape to liberated territory. The plan works, as Danny and Erica escape, while Jed and Matt are wounded. Though Colonel Bella encounters the brothers, he cannot bring himself to kill them and lets them go. Still, it is implied that the brothers die in the park where the two spent time as kids.

The film's epilogue is narrated by Erica and suggests that the United States repelled the invasion some time later. A plaque is displayed with "Partisan Rock" in the background, which has been a recurring motif throughout the film as each dead comrade's name has been inscribed upon it. The plaque reads:

...In the early days of World War III, guerrillas - mostly children - placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation shall not perish from the earth.



The script for Red Dawn was written by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds from a story by Reynolds. The original story, called Ten Soldiers, was more akin to Lord of the Flies, the classic novel about the aggressive nature of man, than to the action film it eventually became. Some of the changes included a shift in focus from conflict within the group to conflict between the teens and their oppressors, and the acceleration of the ages of some of the characters from early teens to high school age and beyond.

The movie was filmed in and around the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Many of the buildings and structures which appeared in the film, including a historic Fred Harvey Company hotel adjacent to the train depot, the train yard, and a building near downtown, which was repainted with the name of "Calumet, Colorado", are still there today. An old Safeway grocery store was converted to a sound stage and used for several scenes in the movie.[3]

Before starting work on the movie, the cast underwent a realistic intensive eight-week military training course. During that time, production crews designed and built special combat vehicles in Newhall, California. Soldier of Fortune reported that the movie's T-72 tank was such a precise replica that "while it was being carted around Los Angeles, two CIA officers followed it to the studio and wanted to know where it had come from".


Red Dawn was the 20th highest grossing film of 1984, opening on 10 August 1984 in 1,822 theatres and taking in $8,230,381 on its first weekend. Its box office gross is $38,376,497.[4] It was the first film to be released in the US with a Motion Picture Association of America PG-13 rating.[2]

Red Dawn received mixed reviews, receiving a score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes.[5]

At the time it was released, Red Dawn was considered the most violent film by the Guinness Book of Records and The National Coalition on Television Violence, with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute.[6] The DVD Special Edition (2007) includes an on-screen "Carnage Counter" in a nod to this.[7]

National Review Online has named the film #15 in its list of "The Best Conservative Movies."[8]

Adam Arseneau at the website DVD Verdict opined that the film "often feels like a Republican wet dream manifested into a surrealistic Orwellian nightmare".[7]

According to Jesse Walker of Reason:

The film outraged liberal critics, but further to the left it had some supporters. In a piece for The Nation, Andrew Kopkind called it "the most convincing story about popular resistance to imperial oppression since the inimitable Battle of Algiers," adding that he'd "take the Wolverines from Colorado over a small circle of friends from Harvard Square in any revolutionary situation I can imagine."[9]

References in the film

  • The NRA slogan "I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead fingers" is seen on a truck's bumper sticker as the paratroopers take over Calumet before a dead man's M1911 pistol is taken from him.[10]
  • The movie being shown to American prisoners at the Soviet camp near Calumet is Alexander Nevsky (1938),[11] Eisenstein's Soviet anti-Nazi classic. It is also playing (for free) in the town cinema across from the drugstore.[12]
  • One of the radio announcements is "John has a long mustache", which is the same message the French resistance gets before D-Day in The Longest Day (1962).
  • Much of the story is set in the Arapaho National Forest and before the Soviet invasion, a group of characters refer specifically to the Colorado War, which was fought there between the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indian insurgencies and the occupying U.S. government.[13]

In popular culture

Video games

  • The plot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 includes an invasion of the United States by an ultra-nationalist Russia, where members of the United States Army's 75th Ranger Regiment have to repel the attack. The achievement "Red Dawn" is awarded for completing the American "Wolverines!" and "Exodus" missions in Veteran difficulty. "Wolverines!" itself is a reference to the movie.[18]
  • Freedom Fighters is a 2003 video game that takes place during a Soviet invasion of New York. This game is based heavily on Red Dawn in terms of characters, costumes and design, and the last mission closely resembles one of the final scenes when the Wolverines attack the Soviet base.[19]
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has several references to the film, including someone mocking the film on the radio, asking if people would go hide and call themselves Wolverines in the midst of a Soviet invasion.[20]
  • Homefront, a video game also written by John Milius, is about a North Korean invasion of America.[21]
  • Much of the plot of the video game World in Conflict involves the player fighting off a Soviet invasion of the United States in Seattle, where the Soviets occupy the area in a manner similar to that of Red Dawn, especially with the Soviets having to deal with American guerrillas in the countryside.[22]

Operation Red Dawn

The operation to capture former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was named Operation Red Dawn and its targets were dubbed Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2. Army Captain Geoffrey McMurray, who named the mission, said the naming "was so fitting because it was a patriotic, pro-American movie." Milius approved of the naming: "I was deeply flattered and honored. It's nice to have a lasting legacy."[23]


See also


  1. ^ Richard E. Sincere, Jr. (October 1984). "Schoolkids Battle Red Army in Red Dawn". Journal of Civil Defense (The American Civil Defense Association): 17. 
  2. ^ a b Fernandez, Jay A.; Borys Kit (2008-07-09). "'Red Dawn' redo lands director, scribe; MGM will remake the 1984 action drama". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  3. ^ "Red Dawn Movie Filming Locations - The 80s Movies Rewind". Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Rotten Tomatoes (film review website)
  6. ^ "Red Dawn Condemned As Rife With Violence". The New York Times. 1984-09-04. 
  7. ^ a b Arseneau, Adam (6 August 2007). "Red Dawn: Collector's Edition". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Miller, John (February 23, 2009). "The Best Conservative Movies". National Review Online. Retrieved August 19, 2009.  (Access note: Login required)
  9. ^ Walker, Jesse (January 28, 2008). "The Ghost of Rambo". Reason. 
  10. ^ Name (2009-03-09). "Interview with John Milius « The Implied Observer". Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  11. ^ "Red Dawn DVD Rental, Rent Red Dawn Movie Online". 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  12. ^ "Original ''New York Times'' review". Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  13. ^ Stephen Prince (1992). Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film. Praeger Paperback. p. 57. ISBN 0275936627. 
  14. ^ Dan Iverson (2006-09-25). "Family Guy: "Hell Comes to Quahog" Review - TV Review at IGN". Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  15. ^ Critic, Movie (2010-03-25). "'Hot Tub Time Machine': At last, a fun, idiotic movie that lives up to its name". Chicago Tribune. 
  16. ^ "DIALOGUE DRAFT - "My Heavy Meddle"". Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  17. ^ "Grey Dawn (Season 7, Episode 10) - Episode Guide". South Park Studios. 2003-11-05. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  18. ^ Mark Bozon (2009-10-02). "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Achievements Unveiled - Xbox 360 News at IGN". Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  19. ^ var authorId = "36494934" by Aaron Boulding (2003-09-22). "Freedom Fighters - PlayStation 2 Review at IGN". Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  20. ^ "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC) Commercials Script by Eifersucht86". GameFAQs. 2003-01-09. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  21. ^ "News: Video game set to take place in Montrose (Montrose, CO)". 2010-01-14. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  22. ^ 5542&pid=960374
  23. ^ "Red Dawn Imitated Art". USA Today. 2003-12-17. 

External links

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