A Few Good Men

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A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Reiner
Screenplay byAaron Sorkin
Based onA Few Good Men
by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byRobert Leighton
Music byMarc Shaiman
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 9, 1992 (1992-12-09) (Westwood, Los Angeles)
  • December 11, 1992 (1992-12-11) (United States)
Running time
138 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$33–40 million[1][2]
Box office$243.2 million[1]

A Few Good Men is a 1992 American legal drama film based on Aaron Sorkin's 1989 play. It was written by Sorkin, directed by Rob Reiner, and produced by Reiner, David Brown and Andrew Scheinman. It stars an ensemble cast including Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, J. T. Walsh, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Kiefer Sutherland. The plot follows the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyers as they prepare a case.

Produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, the film was released by Columbia Pictures on December 11, 1992, and premiered on December 9, 1992, at Westwood, Los Angeles. It received acclaim for its screenwriting, direction, themes, and acting, particularly that of Cruise, Nicholson, and Moore. It grossed more than $243 million on a budget of $40 million, and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.[3]


At the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, Private William Santiago, a United States Marine, is tied up and beaten in the middle of the night. After he is found dead, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey are accused of his murder and face a court-martial. Their defense is assigned to United States Navy JAG Corps Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a callow lawyer with a penchant for plea bargains.

Another JAG attorney, Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway, Kaffee's superior, suspects something is amiss. Santiago died after he broke the chain of command to ask to be transferred away. Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson advocated for Santiago to be transferred, but Base Commander Colonel Nathan Jessep ordered Santiago's platoon commander, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, to "train" Santiago. Galloway suspects that Dawson and Downey carried out a "code red" order: a violent extrajudicial punishment. Galloway is bothered by Kaffee's blasé approach, and Kaffee resents Galloway's interference.

Kaffee and Galloway question Jessep and others at Guantanamo Bay and are met with contempt from the colonel. When Kaffee negotiates a plea bargain with the prosecutor, US Marine JAG Corps Captain Jack Ross, Dawson and Downey refuse, insisting that Kendrick gave them the "code red" order, that they never intended to kill Santiago, and that it would be dishonorable to pursue a plea bargain. Kaffee intends to get removed as counsel because he thinks the trial is pointless. But at the arraignment, Kaffee unexpectedly enters a plea of not guilty for the defendants. He tells Galloway that he was chosen to handle the case because he was expected to accept a plea, and the matter would then be kept quiet.

Markinson meets Kaffee in secret and says that Jessep never ordered a transfer for Santiago. The defense establishes that Dawson had been denied promotion for smuggling food to a Marine who had been sentenced to be deprived of food. Dawson is portrayed in a good light, and the defense, through Downey, proves that "code reds" had been ordered before. But under cross-examination, Downey says that he was not present when Dawson received the supposed "code red" order. Markinson, ashamed that he failed to protect a Marine under his command, commits suicide before he can testify.

Without Markinson's testimony, Kaffee believes the case lost. He returns home in a drunken stupor, lamenting that he fought the case instead of taking a deal. Galloway encourages Kaffee to call Jessep as a witness, despite the risk of being court-martialed for challenging a high-ranking officer without evidence.

At the Washington Navy Yard court, Jessep spars with Kaffee's questioning, but is unnerved when Kaffee points out a contradiction in his testimony: Jessep said that his Marines never disobey orders and that Santiago was to be transferred for his own safety. Kaffee asks why Santiago was in danger if Jessep had ordered his men to leave him alone. Disgusted by Kaffee's attitude, Jessep extols the military's, and his own, importance to national security. Finally, he bellows with contempt that he ordered the "code red". Jessep tries to leave the courtroom but is arrested.

Dawson and Downey are cleared of the murder and conspiracy charges, but found guilty of "conduct unbecoming" and will be dishonorably discharged. Downey does not understand what they did wrong; Dawson says that they failed to defend those too weak to fight for themselves. Kaffee tells Dawson that he does not need to wear a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson acknowledges Kaffee as an officer, and renders a salute. Kaffee and Ross exchange pleasantries before Ross departs to arrest Kendrick.



Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was inspired to write the source play, A Few Good Men, from a phone conversation with his sister Deborah. A graduate of Boston University Law School, she had signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps.[4] She said that she was going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who had nearly killed a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer.

Sorkin wrote much of his story on cocktail napkins while bartending at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.[5] He and his roommates had purchased a Macintosh 512K; when he returned home, he would empty his pockets of the napkins and type them into the computer, forming a basis from which he wrote many drafts.[6]

In 1988, Sorkin sold his play's film rights to producer David Brown before it premiered, in a deal reportedly "well into six figures".[7] Brown had read a New York Times article about Sorkin's one-act play Hidden in This Picture, and he learned that Sorkin also had a play called A Few Good Men that was having off-Broadway readings.[8] Brown was producing a few projects at TriStar Pictures, and tried to interest them in adapting A Few Good Men, but his proposal was declined due to the lack of star actors. In 1990, Variety announced that the film would be financed by Groupe Canal+ and Brown's company World Film Services. Brown received a call from Alan Horn at Castle Rock Entertainment, who was anxious to make the film. Rob Reiner, a producing partner at Castle Rock, opted to direct.[8]

Reiner and Sorkin spent eight months writing the screenplay. William Goldman did an uncredited rewrite; Sorkin liked his changes so much that he incorporated them into the stage version. One of the most significant changes was the removal of a forged logbook that served as the trial's "smoking gun" in the play.[9]

The film had a production budget of between $33 and 40 million.[1][2] Tom Cruise was cast as Kaffee on March 22, 1991, and was given a $12.5 million salary. Demi Moore was cast as Galloway.[10] Wolfgang Bodison was a film location scout when he was asked to take part in a screen test for the part of Dawson.[11] James Woods auditioned to play Jessep, but Jack Nicholson was cast. Nicholson was paid $5 million for 10 days of shooting, earning $500,000 a day.[10] Nicholson said, "it was one of the few times when it was money well spent." He later criticized Columbia Pictures for moving the film's release date to directly compete with his other film that year, Hoffa.

The film starts with a performance of "Semper Fidelis" by a U.S. Marine Corps marching band. A Silent Drill was performed by the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets Fish Drill Team (portraying the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon).[12][13]

Commentators have suggested several former Navy JAG lawyers who might have been the model for Kaffee. These include Don Marcari, now an attorney in Virginia; former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias; Chris Johnson, now practicing in California; and Walter Bansley III, now practicing in Connecticut. But Sorkin has said, "The character of Dan Kaffee in A Few Good Men is entirely fictional and was not inspired by any particular individual."[14][15][16][17][18]

Cruise said that he modeled his performance on Church of Scientology chairman David Miscavige, with whom he is friends.[19] Cruise insisted on using the church's Clearsound sound reproduction technology, which he claimed captured his voice better.[10]

Filming began on October 21, 1991, at the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C. The film's Guantanamo Bay scenes were filmed in Southern California at Crystal Cove State Park, Fort MacArthur, and Naval Air Station Point Mugu. Although 200 off-duty Marines were allowed to serve as extras for the film, the U.S. Department of Defense denied the production permission to film at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The courtroom scenes were filmed at Culver Studios in Culver City, California.[10]


Box office

A Few Good Men premiered at the Odeon Cinema, Manchester, England,[20] and opened on December 11, 1992, in 1,925 theaters. It grossed $15,517,468 in its opening weekend and was the top film at the box office for the next three weeks. Overall, it grossed $141,340,178 in the U.S. and $101,900,000 internationally for a total of $243,240,178.[21]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, A Few Good Men has an approval rating of 84% based on 67 reviews, with an average rating of 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An old-fashioned courtroom drama with a contemporary edge, A Few Good Men succeeds on the strength of its stars, with Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and especially Jack Nicholson delivering powerful performances that more than compensate for the predictable plot."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 62 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[23] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, one of fewer than 60 films in the history of the service to earn that grade.[24]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "That the performances are uniformly outstanding is a tribute to Rob Reiner (Misery), who directs with masterly assurance, fusing suspense and character to create a movie that literally vibrates with energy."[25] Richard Schickel in Time called it "an extraordinarily well-made movie, which wastes no words or images in telling a conventional but compelling story."[26] Todd McCarthy in Variety magazine predicted, "The same histrionic fireworks that gripped theater audiences will prove even more compelling to filmgoers due to the star power and dramatic screw-tightening."[27] Roger Ebert was less enthusiastic in the Chicago Sun-Times, giving it two-and-a-half out of four stars and finding its major flaw was revealing the courtroom strategy to the audience before the climactic scene between Cruise and Nicholson. Ebert wrote, "In many ways this is a good film, with the potential to be even better than that. The flaws are mostly at the screenplay level; the film doesn't make us work, doesn't allow us to figure out things for ourselves, is afraid we'll miss things if they're not spelled out."[28]

Widescreenings noted that for Kaffee, "Sorkin interestingly takes the opposite approach of Top Gun", in which Cruise also played the protagonist. In Top Gun, Cruise plays Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a "hotshot military underachiever who makes mistakes because he is trying to outperform his late father. Where Maverick needs to rein in the discipline, Daniel Kaffee needs to let it go, finally see what he can do." Sorkin and Reiner were praised in gradually unveiling Kaffee's potential in the film.[29]

Awards and honors

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Academy Awards[30] Best Picture David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Film Editing Robert Leighton Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline and Robert Eber Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Robert Leighton Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Awards[31] Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Robert Richardson Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Marc Shaiman Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Motion Picture David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Best Director Rob Reiner Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin Won
Best Film Editing Robert Leighton Nominated
Best Original Score Marc Shaiman Nominated
Best Cast Ensemble Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[32] Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[33] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Rob Reiner Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[34] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Tom Cruise Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Rob Reiner Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Rob Reiner Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Movie Won
Best Male Performance Tom Cruise Nominated
Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Female Performance Demi Moore Nominated
Most Desirable Male Tom Cruise Nominated
Best Villain Jack Nicholson Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Wolfgang Bodison Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[35] Top Ten Films 4th Place
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[36] Best Supporting Actor Runner-up
People's Choice Awards Favorite Motion Picture Won
Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture Won
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[37] Best Picture 7th Place
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Won

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media

A Few Good Men was released on VHS and Laserdisc by Columbia TriStar Home Video on June 30, 1993, and released on DVD on October 7, 1997. The VHS was again released along with a DVD release on May 29, 2001, and later a Blu-Ray release followed on September 8, 2007. The Double Feature of the film and Jerry Maguire was released on DVD on December 29, 2009, by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. A 4K UHD Blu-Ray release occurred on April 24, 2018.[41]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "A Few Good Men (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "A Few Good Men – budget". Nash Information Services. Archived from the original on September 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  3. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards". oscars.org. Archived from the original on November 16, 2016. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Glaberson, William (September 15, 2011). ""4 Lawyers Claim to be the hero in a few good men," New York Times. 9.16.2011". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  5. ^ "London Shows – A Few Good Men". thisistheatre.com. E&OE. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  6. ^ "Aaron Sorkin interview". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  7. ^ Henry III, William (November 27, 1989). "Marine Life". Time. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Prigge, Steven (October 2004). Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews with Top Film Producers. McFarland & Company. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-7864-1929-6.
  9. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (December 6, 1992). "FILM; Rob Reiner's March To 'A Few Good Men'". The New York Times. Section 2. p. 1. Retrieved June 8, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ a b c d "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  11. ^ Noted in A Few Good Men DVD commentary
  12. ^ Daily Dose of Aggie History (December 11, 2016). "Dec. 11, 1992: A&M Fish Drill Team appears in 'A Few Good Men'". myAggieNation.com. Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  13. ^ Nading, Tanya (February 11, 2001). "Corps Fish Drill Team reinstated – Front Page". College Media Network. Archived from the original on June 23, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  14. ^ Glauber, Bill (April 10, 1994). "Ex-Marine who felt 'A Few Good Men' maligned him is mysteriously murdered". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on November 26, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  15. ^ Gisick, Michael (May 10, 2007). "Fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias embraces the media in his quest for vindication". The Albuquerque Tribune. Archived from the original on November 5, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Johnson, Christopher D. "Christopher D. Johnson, Esquire". Archived from the original on May 13, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  17. ^ Beach, Randall (March 18, 2009). "Allegation delays homicide trial". New Haven Register. Archived from the original on March 3, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  18. ^ "Lawyer Didn't Act Like a "Few Good Men," Cops Say". NBC Connecticut. August 26, 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  19. ^ Wright, Lawrence (2013). Going clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief. New York. ISBN 978-0-307-70066-7. OCLC 818318033.
  20. ^ "Historic Odeon faces final curtain". Manchester Evening News. February 15, 2007. Archived from the original on October 23, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  21. ^ "A Few Good Men – box office data". Nash Information Services, LLC. Archived from the original on September 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  22. ^ "A Few Good Men (1992)". Fandango. Archived from the original on November 28, 2020. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  23. ^ "A Few Good Men reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on September 11, 2010. Retrieved July 25, 2009.
  24. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. Archived from the original on September 16, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  25. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes – A Few Good Men review". Flixster Inc. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  26. ^ Schickel, Richard (December 14, 1992). "Close-Order Moral Drill". Time Monday, Dec. 14, 1992. Time, Inc. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  27. ^ McCarthy, Todd (November 12, 1992). "A Few Good Men – Review". RBI, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  28. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 11, 1992). "A Few Good Men". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  29. ^ "Review and analysis: A Few Good Men". Archived from the original on December 29, 2020. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  30. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  31. ^ "The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography". Archived from the original on August 2, 2011.
  32. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  33. ^ "45th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  34. ^ "A Few Good Men – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  35. ^ "1992 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  36. ^ "1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  37. ^ "1992 SEFA Awards". sefca.net. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  38. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  39. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 13, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  40. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Courtroom Drama". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  41. ^ "A Few Good Men DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Archived from the original on May 9, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.

External links