Red Dawn

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Red Dawn
Red dawn.jpg
Original theatrical poster by John Alvin
Directed byJohn Milius
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byKevin Reynolds
Music byBasil Poledouris
CinematographyRic Waite
Edited byThom Noble
Distributed byMGM/UA Entertainment Company
Release date
  • August 10, 1984 (1984-08-10)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million[2]
Box office$38 million[1]

Red Dawn is a 1984 American war film directed by John Milius, with a screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and Milius. It stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Ron O'Neal, William Smith, and Powers Boothe. It was the first film to be released in the US with a PG-13 rating[3] (under the modified rating system introduced on July 1, 1984).

The film is set in an alternate history timeline in which the United States is invaded by the Soviet Union and its Cuban and Nicaraguan allies.[4] However, the onset of World War III is 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.


The United States has gradually become strategically isolated after several European nations (except the United Kingdom) withdraw from NATO. At the same time, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact partners aggressively expand their sphere of influence. In addition, the Ukrainian wheat harvest fails while a communist coup d'etat occurs in Mexico.

On a September morning, in the small town of Calumet, Colorado, a local high school teacher pauses when he sees Soviet paratroopers landing in a nearby field. The paratroopers open fire when the teacher 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. Cuban Colonel Bella instructs the KGB to go to a local sporting goods store and obtain the records of the store's gun sales on the ATF's Form 4473, which lists citizens who have purchased firearms.

Brothers Jed and Matt Eckert, along with their friends Robert, Danny, Daryl, and Aardvark, flee into the wilderness after hastily equipping themselves at the sporting goods store owned by Robert's father. While on the way to the mountains, they run into a Soviet roadblock, but are saved by an attacking U.S. Army UH-1 helicopter gunship. After several weeks in the forest, they sneak back into town; Jed and Matt learn that their father is being held in a re-education camp. They visit the site and speak to him through the fence; Mr. Eckert orders his sons to avenge his inevitable death.

The kids visit the Masons and learn that they are behind enemy lines in "occupied America". Robert's father is revealed to have been executed because of the missing inventory from his store. The Masons charge Jed and Matt with taking care of their two granddaughters, Toni and Erica. After killing Soviet soldiers in the woods, the youths begin an armed resistance against the occupation forces, calling themselves "Wolverines", after their high school mascot. The occupation forces initially try reprisal tactics, executing groups of civilians following every Wolverine attack. During one of these mass executions, the fathers of Jed, Matt and Aardvark are killed. Daryl's father, Mayor Bates, is a collaborator and tries to appease the occupation authorities. Despite the reprisal tactics the occupation forces get nowhere.

The Wolverines find a downed pilot, Lt. Col. Andrew Tanner, who informs them of the current state of the war: several American cities, including Washington, D.C., were destroyed by nuclear strikes; the Strategic Air Command was crippled by Cuban saboteurs; and paratroopers were dropped from fake commercial airliners to seize key positions in preparation for subsequent assaults via Mexico and Alaska. The middle third of the U.S. has been taken over, but American counterattacks have halted Soviet advances along the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River and the lines have stabilized. The only remaining U.S. allies, the UK and China, are militarily crippled. Concerned about nuclear fallout, both sides refrain from the further use of nuclear weapons.

Tanner assists the Wolverines in organizing raids against the Soviets. Soon after, in a visit to the front line, Tanner and Aardvark are killed in the crossfire of a tank battle. Daryl is caught by the Soviets after being turned in by his collaborating father. 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 carrying portable radio triangulation equipment, but are ambushed by the Wolverines. The group trace the source of the signal to Daryl, who confesses and pleads for mercy, but is executed by Robert, along with a captured Soviet soldier.

The remaining Wolverines are ambushed by Mi-24 helicopter gunships, and Robert and Toni are killed. Jed and Matt attack the Soviet headquarters in Calumet to distract the troops while Danny and Erica escape. The plan works, but Jed and Matt are mortally wounded. Though Colonel Bella comes across the brothers, he is unable to bring himself to kill them and lets them go. The brothers reach a bench in the park where they spent time as kids, holding each other as they die. Danny and Erica reach the frontier of Free America.

A plaque is seen with Partisan Rock in the background, with each dead Wolverine's name inscribed upon it. The rock is fenced off and an American flag flies nearby. 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 film was originally called Ten Soldiers and was written by Kevin Reynolds. It was set in the near future as a combined force of Russians and Cubans launched an invasion of the Southwestern US. Ten children take to the hills when their small town is captured and they turn into a skilled and lethal guerrilla band.

The script was shown to MGM where senior vice-president for production, Peter Bart, who remembers it as a "sharply written anti-war movie... a sort of Lord of the Flies".[5] He took the project to the head of the studio, Frank Yablans. Bart recalls that things changed when "the chieftains at MGM got a better idea. Instead of making a poignant little antiwar movie, why not make a teen Rambo and turn the project over to John Milius, a genial and rotund filmmaker who loved war movies and also loved war? The idea was especially popular with a member of the MGM board of directors, General Alexander Haig, the former Nixon chief of staff, who yearned to supervise the film personally and develop a movie career."[5]

Milius says MGM decided to make the film because of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Milius set about rewriting the script. 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.[6]

Haig took Milius under his wing, bringing him to the Hudson Institute, the conservative think tank founded by Herman Kahn, to develop a plausible scenario. Milius saw the story as a Third World liberation struggle in reverse; Haig introduced Nicaragua and suggested that, with the collapse of NATO, a left-wing Mexican regime would participate in the Soviet invasion, effectively splitting the U.S. in half.[7] Bart says "Even Milius was taken aback by Haig's approach to the project. "This is going to end up as a jingoistic, flag-waving movie," Milius fretted. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense flatly refused to extend any cooperation whatsoever. As a result, the budget of this once $6 million movie almost tripled."[5]

Milius later said "I see this as an anti-war movie in the sense that if both sides could see this, maybe it wouldn't have to happen. I think it would be good for Americans to see what a war would be like. The film isn't even that violent – the war shows none of the horrors that could happen in World War III. In fact, everything that happened in the movie happened in World War Two."[2]


The movie was filmed in and around the city 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.[8]

Before starting work on the movie, the cast underwent an 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 intelligence officers followed it to the studio and wanted to know where it had come from".

Powers Boothe later claimed "Milius cut out the emotional life of its characters. Originally, my character was anti-war, as well as a rightist. I was supposed to be the voice of reason in that movie. But certain cuts negated my character."[9]

Lea Thompson says the original cut featured a love scene between her and Powers Boothe but it "was cut out after some previews because of the age difference. And that was the main reason I took the movie–it was such a terrific scene."[10]


Box office[edit]

Red Dawn was the 20th highest-grossing film of 1984, opening on August 10, 1984 in 1,822 theatres and taking in $8,230,381 on its first weekend. Its box office gross is $38,376,497.[1]

Critical reaction[edit]

Red Dawn received mixed reviews, receiving a score of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews.[11]

The New York Times reviewer said "to any sniveling lily-livers who suppose that John Milius... has already reached the pinnacle of movie-making machismo, a warning: Mr. Milius's Red Dawn is more rip-roaring than anything he has done before. Here is Mr. Milius at his most alarming, delivering a rootin'-tootin' scenario for World War III."[12]

MGM apologized to Alaska war veterans for the film's advertising, which claimed that no foreign troops had ever landed on US soil, thereby overlooking the Aleutian Islands Campaign.[13]

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.[14] The DVD Special Edition (2007) includes an on-screen "Carnage Counter" in a nod to this.[15]

A few days after the NCTV survey came out, 35 protestors picketed the MGM/UA building in opposition to the film.[16] John Milius said:

What these people really don't like is that the movie shows violence being perpetrated against Russian and Cuban invaders, which is what the demonstration was all about. My question is, where were all these demonstrators when the Russians shot down that airliner? Were they cheering? And what about the people being gassed and yellow-rained in Afghanistan?... There's really no pleasure in outraging these people. I suppose next some extreme right wing organisation will give me an award, which is equally ridiculous.[13]

Soon after the Gun Owners of America announced that they were honoring Milius for "dramatically depicting the importance in our time of the Second Amendment."[17]

Later reputation[edit]

National Review Online has named the film No. 15 in its list of the "Best Conservative Movies."[18] Adam Arseneau at the website DVD Verdict opined that the film "often feels like a Republican wet dream manifested into a surrealistic Orwellian nightmare".[15]

According to Jesse Walker of Reason,

The film outraged liberal critics, but further to the left it had some supporters. In a witty and perceptive 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."[19]

Libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard argued that the film was "not so much pro-war as it is anti-State." Rothbard gave the film a generally positive review, while expressing some reservations with the story:

One big problem with the picture is that there is no sense that successful guerrilla war feeds on itself; in real life the ranks of the guerrillas would start to swell, and this would defeat the search-and-destroy concept. In Red Dawn, on the other hand, there are only the same half-dozen teenagers, and the inevitable attrition makes the struggle seem hopeless when it need not be.

Another problem is that there is no character development through action, so that, except for the leader, all the high school kids seem indistinguishable. As a result, there is no impulse to mourn as each one falls by the wayside.[20]

Home media[edit]

Red Dawn has been variously released across a variety of formats.

  • 1985: Red Dawn released on VHS.[21] It was also released at the same time on PAL and Betamax.
  • 1985: The first Laserdisc release.[22] The film would be released several times on this format, with the latest in April 1994.[23]
  • 1998: First DVD release. [24]
  • In 2007 a two-disc DVD Collector's Edition was released. Unusual among the "extras" are interviews of residents recalling the filming of the movie.[25]
  • In 2015, a DVD release featured Red Dawn with the 2012 remake.[26] Another release the same year excluded the remake. [27]
  • In 2017, the Collector's Edition was released on Blu-ray.[28]

References in the film[edit]

The movie being shown to American prisoners at the re-education camp is Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938).[29]

Much of the story is set in the Arapaho National Forest, and a group of Soviet soldiers refer to the Colorado War, which was fought there between the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes and the US government.[30]


The film's score was composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris; it was the first soundtrack album to be released (on LP and compact disc) by Intrada Records. The label issued the complete score in 2007.

Operation Red Dawn[edit]

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."[31]

Cultural influence[edit]

Red Dawn has been referenced by and influenced a number of other mediums including music, film, and video games.

Film and television[edit]

  • Numerous references occur in the movie Hot Tub Time Machine,[32][33] including the movie playing in the Ski Patrol station and being watched by Blaine, who considers it one of the best movies of all time.[34]
  • "Grey Dawn" is a South Park episode which parodies Red Dawn where the old people of the town, fed up with how they are treated, take over the quiet Colorado town.[35][36][37]


Several musical acts have used the name "Red Dawn",[38] including:

Video games[edit]

Red Dawn has influenced a number of 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.[40]
  • 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.[41]
  • Homefront, is a video game by Red Dawn's writer John Milius, about a North Korean invasion of America and borrows heavily from the movie.[42] [43] One notable "easter egg" relating to the film is a large billboard at a school sport stadium which reads "Go Wolverines!!!". In turn, the plot of the 2012 remake of Red Dawn borrows heavily from Homefront, including the use of a united Korean threat, the use of rural and suburban settings for the primary action, and partisan warfare.[44]


The remake takes place in a slightly altered version of the modern day (c. 2012), with North Korea invading the United States. Milius did not like the remake, and criticised it as "terrible" after reading an original script where the villains were Chinese.

There was a strange feeling to the whole thing. They were fans of the movie so they put in stuff they thought was neat. It's all about neat action scenes, and has nothing to do with story.... There's only one example in 4,000 years of Chinese territorial adventurism, and that was in 1979, when they invaded Vietnam, and to put it mildly they got their [butts] handed to them... Why would China want us? They sell us stuff. We're a market. I would have done it about Mexico.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Red Dawn (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Goldstein, Patrick (August 16, 1984). "'RED DAWN' IS MILIUS' KIND OF MOVIE: JOHN MILIUS". Los Angeles Times. p. i1.
  3. ^ Fernandez, Jay A.; Borys Kit (July 9, 2008). "'Red Dawn' redo lands director, scribe; MGM will remake the 1984 action drama". The Hollywood Reporter.
  4. ^ Richard E. Sincere, Jr. (October 1984). "Schoolkids Battle Red Army in Red Dawn". Journal of Civil Defense. The American Civil Defense Association: 17.
  5. ^ a b c Bart, Peter (September 28, 2009). "First Look: Famous Firings a Tough Ax to Follow". Variety. p. 2.
  6. ^ Shaw, Tony (2007). Hollywood's Cold War. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748630738.
  7. ^ Hoberman, J. (November 2012). "The North Koreans Are Coming!". Film Comment (48.6 ed.). pp. 52–54, 56.
  8. ^ "Red Dawn Movie Filming Locations". The 80s Movies Rewind. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  9. ^ Baltake, Joe (July 18, 1985). "ACTOR FINDS SUCCESS IN THE WILDS". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 51.
  10. ^ Mann, Roderick (February 28, 1987). "THOMPSON'S AGE OF DISCONTENT". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  11. ^ "Red Dawn". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet. "FILM: 'RED DAWN,' ON WORLD WAR III". Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  13. ^ a b London, Michael. "FILM CLIPS: DeLOREAN REJECTS 1ST BID FOR FILM BIOGRAPHY FILM CLIPS: DeLOREAN". Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] September 19, 1984: i1.
  14. ^ "Red Dawn Condemned As Rife With Violence". The New York Times. September 4, 1984.
  15. ^ a b Arseneau, Adam (August 6, 2007). "Red Dawn: Collector's Edition". DVD Verdict. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  16. ^ Pond, Steve (September 13, 1984). "'Red Dawn' Under Fire: Dateline Hollywood". The Washington Post. p. E7.
  17. ^ London, Michael (January 2, 1985). "OFF-CAMERA HOLLYWOOD HIGHLIGHTS". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  18. ^ Miller, John (February 23, 2009). "The Best Conservative Movies". National Review. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  19. ^ Walker, Jesse (January 28, 2008). "The Ghost of Rambo". Reason.
  20. ^ Murray Rothbard (July–August 1984). "Red Dawn". Libertarian Forum. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 10, 1984). "Red Dawn (1984)". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  30. ^ Stephen Prince (1992). Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film. Praeger. p. 57. ISBN 0-275-93662-7.
  31. ^ "Red Dawn Imitated Art". USA Today. December 17, 2003.
  32. ^ Critic, Movie (2010-03-25). "'Hot Tub Time Machine': At last, a fun, idiotic movie that lives up to its name". Chicago Tribune.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Grey Dawn (Season 7, Episode 10) - Episode Guide". South Park Studios. Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  36. ^
  37. ^ "red+dawn"+%2B"grey+dawn"&source=bl&ots=Gz89vzPm-1&sig=O6tT85msnrk279MJvGWFLRvs-ww&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjX0ofH74DeAhVs4oMKHfCKCq44FBDoATACegQIBxAB#v=onepage&q="red%20dawn"%20%2B"grey%20dawn"&f=false Music in Television: Channels of Listening. Routledge. 2011. p. 162.
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Achievement Guide". Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  41. ^ Aaron Boulding (2003-09-22). "Freedom Fighters - PlayStation 2 Review at IGN". Retrieved 2011-08-27.
  42. ^ "News: Video game set to take place in Montrose (Montrose, CO)". 2010-01-14. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  43. ^ "Homefront: Red Dawn's ugly baby". March 26, 2011. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  44. ^ Narcisse, Evan. "The New Red Dawn Movie Channels a Little Bit of Homefront". Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  45. ^ "Original 'Red Dawn' director takes aim at the remake". Los Angeles Times. March 26, 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2017.

External links[edit]