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Hardcore (1979 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Written byPaul Schrader
Produced byBuzz Feitshans
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byTom Rolf
Music byJack Nitzsche
A-Team Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 9, 1979 (1979-02-09)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States

Hardcore is a 1979 American neo-noir thriller crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader. [1] The film stars George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, and Dick Sargent. Its plot follows a conservative Midwestern businessman whose teenage daughter goes missing in California. With the help of a prostitute, his search leads him into the illicit subculture of pornography, including snuff films.

Schrader had previously written the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), and began developing Hardcore with executive producer John Milius the same year for Warner Bros. After Warner bought out Schrader's contract and took control of the project, Warren Beatty became attached as the star and producer of the film. Clashes between Beatty and Schrader resulted in Beatty dropping out of the production, after which Scott was cast in the lead role. The film was shot on location in several California cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, as well as in Schrader's hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hardcore was released in February 1979 by Columbia Pictures.


In December 1977, Jake Van Dorn is a prosperous local businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has strong Calvinist convictions. A single parent, Van Dorn is the father of a seemingly quiet, conservative teenaged girl, Kristen, who inexplicably disappears when she goes on a church-sponsored trip to Bellflower, California. With the help of his brother-in-law, Wes, Van Dorn hires Andy Mast, an eccentric private investigator in Los Angeles, to locate Kristen.

After five months pass, in May 1978, Van Dorn has been living as usual without Kristen, until Mast unexpectedly visits him in Grand Rapids, and shows him an anonymously-produced 8 mm stag film he located in a Los Angeles sex shop. The film, which shows Kristen having sex with two young men, shocks and disturbs Van Dorn, who comes to believe that his daughter has been kidnapped and indoctrinated into sex work. When Van Dorn travels to Los Angeles, where he finds Mast cavorting with a porn star he was supposed to be investigating, Van Dorn impulsively fires him. Dissatisfied with the lack of leads from the LAPD, he strikes out on his own, visiting various sex shops, brothels and peep shows in hopes of locating Kristen.

With no results from Van Dorn's morally taxing visits to over-21 establishments, a desperate Van Dorn posts an advertisement and disguises as a pornography producer in the Los Angeles Free Press, hoping to find information about his daughter.

After many porn actors visit Van Dorn's motel, a scraggly actor named "Jism Jim", who was in the 8 mm stag film with Kristen, appears. After Van Dorn violently interrogates him, Jim directs Van Dorn to Niki, a prostitute and occasional porn actress whom he claims may know Kristen's whereabouts. Upon meeting, Niki says she has seen Kristen before and may be able to find her through her connections. Van Dorn pays Niki to accompany him in his search.

At the same time, Wes rehires Andy Mast, having visited Van Dorn and become worried about his activities in Los Angeles. Mast tracks Van Dorn and Niki for the rest of their time in California.

Chasing a rumor that Kristen was now filming porn in Mexico, their uneasy alliance moves from Los Angeles to San Diego, and the two gradually warm to each other; Niki feels protected by Van Dorn because he is a man who does not see her as merely a sex object, and he is able to speak openly to her about his deepest feelings, such as his wife leaving him. The two also discuss their wildly different views on religion and sex.

The unlikely pair ends in San Francisco, where Van Dorn learns that Kristen may be in the hands of Ratan, a dangerous sadomasochistic porn player who also procures snuff films on the black market. Niki introduces Van Dorn to Tod, a dealer and associate of Ratan. The two meet in a sex shop, where Van Dorn feigns interest in Ratan's latest snuff film, of which Tod arranges a screening in a backroom of the shop. Fearing the film may show the murder of his own daughter, Van Dorn reluctantly agrees to view it. Van Dorn is horrified by the footage, which shows Ratan stabbing a man to death before slashing the throat of a Mexican prostitute in a Tijuana motel room, but is relieved that the victim is not Kristen.

Van Dorn returns to the hotel where he is staying with Niki, and asks that she divulge Tod's address. Niki, having grown close to Van Dorn and secretly hoping he can help her escape her life on the streets, finds herself fearful of being forgotten once Van Dorn locates Kristen. As a result, she initially refuses to tell him Tod's address. Van Dorn loses his temper and strikes her, after which she reluctantly reveals the information.

Van Dorn tracks Tod to a seedy San Francisco bondage fetish house and chases him through the building, eventually beating Tod into giving him Ratan's location. Van Dorn and Mast track Ratan to a nearby nightclub, where he is watching a live sex show, with a young woman revealing to be Kristen. Van Dorn confronts Ratan, Kristen flees and Ratan slashes Van Dorn with a knife. Mast shoots Ratan as he flees the nightclub, and Ratan collapses and dies in the entryway to a porn theater as horrified pedestrians watch just as the police arrive.

In the nightclub basement, Van Dorn finds Kristen scared and angry, who claims that she made these decisions of her own volition, and felt loved and appreciated in a way that the emotionally distant Van Dorn never offered despite his claims that she was forced into pornography in the first place. Despondent and tearful, Van Dorn is able to convince Kristen to come back with him, with Tod arrested and Ratan dead Kristen has no choice. As the two prepare to return home, while Van Dorn spots Niki among the crowd of onlookers. He begins to make a token offer of gratitude, but it is clear to both that her usefulness to him, and thus their relationship, is now over. She walks away, resigned to continuing her life on the streets.




Paul Schrader partly based the screenplay for Hardcore on his own experience growing up in the Calvinist church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he studied theology at Calvin College.[2] Having recently written the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Schrader began preparing Hardcore alongside executive producer John Milius at Warner Bros.[2] After a shift in the studio's management, Schrader was paid a sum of $500,000 to terminate his contract, after which Warren Beatty was attached as both the star and producer.[2]

Milius later commented on the project, stating it was "a wonderful script that turned out to be a lousy movie. I blame Paul's direction for that."[3] In the original version of the screenplay, the film ended with Jake never locating his daughter, and later learning of her death in a car accident.[4]


Beatty clashed with Schrader in the pre-production stages of the film, resulting in Beatty leaving the project in August 1976.[2] Beatty had wanted Schrader to reshape the script so that his character was searching for his missing girlfriend rather than his daughter, as Beatty felt he was too young at the time to portray the father of a teenager.[4] According to director Schrader, "He wouldn't take me as a director... No good. I held out. I turned down a very large sum of money. I went after [George C.] Scott and I got him. One of the greatest actors in the world."[5]

Schrader originally cast Diana Scarwid in the role of Niki, but the studio rejected her for the role, deeming her not attractive enough, after which Season Hubley was cast.[4] Ilah Davis, a first-time actress, was cast as Kristen Van Dorn as Schrader felt "she was not conventionally beautiful, and was the sort of person who could be lured by flattery," mirroring her character's story.[4]


Principal photography of Hardcore took place on February 6, 1978 largely in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, with additional photography occurring in Schrader's hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where part of the film is set.[2] Schrader featured his own childhood church and a factory where he was employed as filming locations, and also cast his parents in uncredited bit parts.[2] By Schrader's account, the shoot in Grand Rapids was unpleasant, as locals expressed disapproval for the film and its depiction of the community as highly provincial and socially antiquated.[2]

By Schrader's account, Scott was in low spirits while shooting the film, which Schrader attributed to his recent commercial failures directing Rage (1972) and The Savage Is Loose (1974).[4] "George, at this time, was not a terribly happy man," said Schrader.[4] In his contract, Scott stipulated that the production include five break days for the actor due to his drinking problem at the time.[4] Scott and Schrader often clashed on set, with Scott once proclaiming that, while a great writer, Schrader was a terrible director and that the film "was a piece of shit."[4]


Critical response[edit]

Despite arguing that the climax lapses into action film cliches, Roger Ebert nonetheless gave the movie a four-out-of-four-star review for its "moments of pure revelation", particularly in the scenes between Scott and Hubley.[6] Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "both a rich film of ideas and of strikingly real characters". He thought George C. Scott gave "one of his finest performances" in the film.[7] Variety called it "a very good film" and predicted that no matter what each individual audience member's attitudes toward pornography and religion were, "nobody's going to be bored".[8] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in a mixed review that Schrader "demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to the realities of the American heritage that are seldom even thought about on screen, much less dramatized. His characters are complex. Unfortunately the melodrama seldom matches their complexity. It is blunt, clumsy—melodrama that seems not to reflect life but the ways lives are led in the movies."[9]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was negative, explaining that Taxi Driver worked because "the protagonist, Travis Bickle, had a fear and hatred of sex so feverishly sensual that we experienced his tensions, his explosiveness. But in Hardcore, Jake feels no lust, so there's no enticement—and no contest. The Dutch Reformation Church has won the battle for his soul before the film's first frame." She added, "there something a little batty about the way Jake strides through hell swinging his fists, like a Calvinist John Wayne."[10] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "strong but finally disappointing stuff", explaining, "Quite apart from the plot concoctions that leave reality so far behind, the exasperation of Hardcore is that the confrontation has never quite come off. The daughter, whose feelings are presumably crucial to an understanding of the story, is never more than a cipher and a symbol."[11] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "absorbing but unsatisfying", finding that the reconciliation at the end "violates too much of what we've been led to believe".[12]

The film was condemned by the United States Catholic Conference for its profanity, nudity, and depiction of Christianity.[2]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 78% based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Director Paul Schrader's preoccupations with alienation and faith are given a compelling avatar in George C. Scott's superb performance, although some audiences may find Hardcore too soft to live up to its provocative promise."[13]


Award Date Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Berlin International Film Festival 1979 Golden Bear Hardcore Nominated [14]
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards 1979 Worst Film Hardcore Nominated [15]
Worst Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role George C. Scott Nominated [16]
Worst Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Ilah Davis Nominated

Home media[edit]

Hardcore was available on VHS during the 1980s from Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment and later RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. In the 1990s, it was reissued on Columbia TriStar Home Video. In 2004, the film received a DVD release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.[17]

In August 2016, the film received a U.S. release on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3,000 copies.[18] The disc has a commentary track from Schrader and critics Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer, and Paul Scrabo.[18] Jack Nitzsche's soundtrack for Hardcore has never been officially released, but Twilight Time's Blu-ray re-issue features an isolated score audio track. The British distributor Indicator Films released a limited edition region-free Blu-ray and DVD combination set in 2017,[19] which was followed by a standard Blu-ray-only release in 2018.[20] In June 2023, Kino Lorber announced a forthcoming special edition Blu-ray scheduled for release on August 22, 2023.[21]

The film has also been available for streaming and digital download through Amazon.com, Apple's iTunes Store, Vudu, and other online media.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.[page needed]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Hardcore". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved June 16, 2023.
  3. ^ Tarantino, Quentin (April 11, 2020). "Tarantino on Milius". New Beverly Cinema. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Hunter, Rob. "35 Things We Learned from Paul Schrader's Hardcore Commentary". Film School Rejects. Archived from the original on June 16, 2023.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 12, 1978). "Paul Schrader: "Hard Core"". RogerEbert (Interview). Archived from the original on April 3, 2016.
  6. ^ "Hardcore Movie Review & Film Summary (1979)". Chicago Sun-Times. January 1, 1979. Archived from the original on February 4, 2012.
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 23, 1979). "'Hardcore': Rich, human story". Chicago Tribune. Section 4, pp. 1, 4.
  8. ^ "Film Reviews: Hardcore". Variety. February 14, 1979. p. 23. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 11, 1979). "'Hardcore': Bring Your Own Morality". The New York Times. p. D15.
  10. ^ Kael, Pauline (February 19, 1979). "The Current Cinema: No Comment". The New Yorker. pp. 124, 126. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  11. ^ Champlin, Charles (February 16, 1979). "George C. Scott in 'Hardcore'"". Los Angeles Times. p. IV-1.
  12. ^ Arnold, Gary (February 1, 1979). "Absorbing Search". The Washington Post. pp. C1, C7. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  13. ^ "Hardcore". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012.
  14. ^ "29th Berlin International Film Festival 1979". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  15. ^ "The Stinkers 1979 Ballot". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Archived from the original on October 11, 2003.
  16. ^ "Stinkers Ballot Expansion Project: 1979". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005.
  17. ^ Erickson, Glenn (October 6, 2004). "Hardcore (1979)". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on June 17, 2023.
  18. ^ a b Kluger, Bryan (October 20, 2016). "Hardcore Blu-ray Review". High-Def Digest. Archived from the original on June 16, 2023.
  19. ^ "Hardcore Blu-ray (United Kingdom) Indicator Series Limited Edition / Blu-ray + DVD". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on June 16, 2023.
  20. ^ "Hardcore Blu-ray (United Kingdom) Indicator Series". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on June 16, 2023.
  21. ^ "Hardcore (Special Edition) Blu-ray". Kino Lorber. Archived from the original on June 16, 2023.

External links[edit]