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Iron Will

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Iron Will
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCharles Haid
Written byJohn Michael Hayes
Djordje Milicevic
Jeff Arch
Produced byPatrick Palmer
Robert Schwartz
CinematographyWilliam Wages
Edited byAndrew Doerfer
Music byJoel McNeely
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • January 14, 1994 (1994-01-14)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$21 million[1]

Iron Will is a 1994 American adventure film. It is based on the true story of Albert Campbell, a Métis teenager, who won the 1917 dog-sled race from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Saint Paul, Minnesota, a 522-mile-long stretch and part of the "Red River-St. Paul Sports Carnival Derby."[2] It is directed by Charles Haid, and stars Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, David Ogden Stiers, George Gerdes, Brian Cox, John Terry, Penelope Windust and August Schellenberg.

In the film, a teenager is thrust into adulthood when desperate family circumstances compel him to enter a lucrative yet dangerous cross-country dog race. Despite numerous odds against him, including harsh weather, hostile competitors and uncooperative dogs, he strives to continue forward; getting help from unlikely sources along the way, he is shocked to learn that not only he, but the whole country, is inspired and hopeful to see his own "iron will" come to fruition at the finish line.


In 1917, 17-year-old Will Stoneman (Mackenzie Astin) is a mail-runner for his small South Dakota town and an apprentice carpenter for his father Jack (John Terry), who creates furniture and runs the family farm. After delivering the town mail one day, Will opens a college letter and sees that he was accepted to his desired school. Despite his happiness at being accepted, he hesitates to leave his family responsibilities behind and worries about how the family will pay for it; Jack, however, encourages Will to chase his dreams. While returning with Will from a lumber run with their sled dogs, Jack drowns in a mushing accident when his sled overturns into a river. As the only son, now responsible for his mother Maggie (Penelope Windust) and his family's bill-indebted farm, Will despairs of college but protests when his mother plans to sell their valuable sled dogs. Knowing that his father was thinking of competing in an international dog-sled race with a cash prize, Will insists on making the attempt.

After a month of rigorous training from Native Indian farm hand Ned Dodd (August Schellenberg), Will travels to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to enter the race. The principal sponsor, railroad magnate J.W. Harper (David Ogden Stiers), refuses his entry as too late. American news reporter Harry Kingsley (Kevin Spacey) sees the youngster as his opportunity to win headlines and gives Will the money to pay the late fee.

During the race, Will's energy and determination win the grudging respect of the international mushers and please Harper. Kingsley writes admiring articles gushing about Will's courage and competitive zeal (nicknaming him "Iron Will"), but his stories languish on back pages while the world focuses on the European War. Will becomes increasingly tired and sick, especially after he sacrifices his lead to save an Icelandic competitor who was felled by influenza.

One of the race's co-sponsors, Angus McTeague (Brian Cox), offers a bribe to brutal Swedish competitor Borg Guillarson (George Gerdes) to do whatever it takes to force the kid out of the race. Will stands up against this attempted sabotage and realizes that Kingsley is using him as a pawn to justify embellished articles which the veteran reporter hopes will win him front-page status and a promotion from the cold North to his paper's headquarters. However, when McTeague, who has funded the attempted sabotage of Will so he can win an immense side bet, repeatedly tries to bribe Will to drop out of the race, Kingsley defends Will's honor and throws McTeague out.

On the last day of the race, Kingsley becomes concerned when he sees how serious Will's physical condition is. Kingsley urges him to drop out of the race and see a doctor, but Will insists on finishing the race. He finds himself following Borg on a dangerous shortcut to the finish line. This hazardous frosty course alongside runs a turbulent river, just like the trail that took the life of Will's father. Will remembers Ned's advice and finds the courage to trust his dog team and risk the water hazards. Borg takes the lead by continually whipping his dogs, but they quit from exhaustion and attack him when he attempts to brutalize them into continuing. Will sees Borg being savaged by his team and scares them off as he races by on the dangerous shortcut.

Will's sled overturns near the finish line and he collapses, exhausted. Then Ned awakens the spirit of his father's dog Gus with a familiar whistle with the crowd following suit. While the other racers close in, Will struggles to stand up and cross the finish line just ahead of the others. Falling to the ground, unable to stand, he is helped up by his fellow competitors and falls into his mother's arms. Spectators surround Will, applauding his heroic victory.


Iron Will was Kevin Spacey's ninth theatrical film


No. 14, the locomotive used for the film, being displayed inside the Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Much of the film was shot on location in Minnesota, mostly along the Lake Superior shoreline as well as the towns of Cloquet,Floodwood, and Meadowlands. Although the race takes place between Winnipeg and Saint Paul, neither city actually appears in the film. The Winnipeg starting point for the race was filmed in Duluth, Minnesota near the Historic Old Central High School. The Lake Superior Railroad Museum, also located in Duluth, provided their active steam locomotive of that time Duluth and Northern Minnesota 14. The “Como Park” in St. Paul finish line scenes were filmed at the train depot in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The fictional town of Birch Ridge, South Dakota was filmed at the Munger Boat Landing in Duluth’s Smithville neighborhood. The dramatic bridge scene was actually filmed on two different bridges. The Oliver Bridge in Duluth and on another railroad bridge along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Due to the general lack of mountains in Minnesota (excepting the Sawtooth Mountains), scenes in which Will goes through mountainous terrain were filmed in Montana. Additional footage was shot in Superior, Wisconsin as well as Brookston, Minnesota.

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, Iron Will took in $5,313,406. The film made a total domestic gross of $21,006,361.[1]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 67%, based on 15 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10.[3] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 58 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[4] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 2 out of 4 and wrote: "Iron Will is an Identikit plot, put together out of standard pieces. Even the scenery looks generic; there's none of the majesty of Disney's genuinely inspired dog movie, White Fang."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Iron Will". Box Office Mojo. IMDb.com, Inc.
  2. ^ Willistein, Paul (January 14, 2011). "FILMING 'IRON WILL' WAS A CONTEST AGAINST NATURE". The Morning Call. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  3. ^ "Iron Will (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2021-08-04.
  4. ^ "Iron Will". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-03-02.
  5. ^ McClintock, Pamela (August 19, 2011). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 14, 1994). "Iron Will movie review & film summary (1994)". Chicago Sun-Times.

External links[edit]