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Red Dawn

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This article is about the 1984 film. For the 2012 remake, see Red Dawn (2012 film). For other uses, see Red Dawn (disambiguation).
Red Dawn
Red dawn.jpg
Original theatrical poster by John Alvin
Directed by John Milius
Produced by Sidney Beckerman
Buzz Feitshans
Screenplay by John Milius
Kevin Reynolds
Story by Kevin Reynolds
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Ric Waite
Edited by Thom Noble
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Release dates
  • August 10, 1984 (1984-08-10)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.2 million
Box office $38,376,497[1]

Red Dawn is a 1984 American war film directed by John Milius, filmed in Metrocolor and Panavision, and co-written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds. It stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, and Jennifer Grey. It is notable for being the first film to be released in the US with a Motion Picture Association of America PG-13 rating.[2]

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.[3] 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 (Ron O'Neal) 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 (Patrick Swayze) and Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen), along with their friends Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Danny (Brad Savage), Daryl (Darren Dalton), and Aardvark (Doug Toby), flee into the wilderness after hastily equipping themselves at a 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 (Harry Dean Stanton) 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 (Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Lea Thompson). 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 (Lane Smith), 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 (Powers Boothe), who informs them of the current state of the war: several American cities, including Washington, D.C., were obliterated 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 after Jed executes a captured Soviet soldier.

The remaining members 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 wounded. Though Colonel Bella comes across the brothers, he is unable to bring himself to kill them and lets them go. Nevertheless, it is implied the brothers die in the park where they spent time as kids.

Erica narrates that the U.S. repelled the Soviet invasion some time later. A plaque is seen with Partisan Rock in the background, with each dead (presumed) 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 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.[4]

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.[5]

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 received mixed reviews, receiving a score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes.[6] 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]

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.[7] The DVD Special Edition (2007) includes an on-screen "Carnage Counter" in a nod to this.[8]

National Review Online has named the film #15 in its list of "The Best Conservative Movies."[9] Adam Arseneau at the website DVD Verdict opined that the film "often feels like a Republican wet dream manifested into a surrealistic Orwellian nightmare".[8]

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."[10]

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.[11]

References in the film


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.

In popular culture

Operation Red Dawn

Main article: 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."[18]


Main article: Red Dawn (2012 film)

The remake takes place in a slightly altered version of the modern day (c. 2012), with North Korea invading the United States.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Red Dawn (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ Fernandez, Jay A.; Borys Kit (July 9, 2008). "'Red Dawn' redo lands director, scribe; MGM will remake the 1984 action drama". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  3. ^ Richard E. Sincere, Jr. (October 1984). "Schoolkids Battle Red Army in Red Dawn". Journal of Civil Defense. The American Civil Defense Association: 17. 
  4. ^ Shaw, Tony (2007). Hollywood's Cold War. Edinburgh University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780748630738. 
  5. ^ "Red Dawn Movie Filming Locations". The 80s Movies Rewind. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Red Dawn". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Red Dawn Condemned As Rife With Violence". The New York Times. September 4, 1984. 
  8. ^ a b Arseneau, Adam (August 6, 2007). "Red Dawn: Collector's Edition". DVD Verdict. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  9. ^ Miller, John (February 23, 2009). "The Best Conservative Movies". National Review Online. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ Walker, Jesse (January 28, 2008). "The Ghost of Rambo". Reason. 
  11. ^ Murray Rothbard (July–August 1984). "Red Dawn". Libertarian Forum. Retrieved October 9, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Interview with John Milius « The Implied Observer". March 9, 2009. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 10, 1984). "Red Dawn (1984) FILM: 'RED DAWN,' ON WORLD WAR III". Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Stephen Prince (1992). Visions of Empire: Political Imagery in Contemporary American Film. Praeger. p. 57. ISBN 0-275-93662-7. 
  16. ^ "Grey Dawn (Season 7, Episode 10) – Episode Guide". South Park Studios. November 5, 2003. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  17. ^ "News: Video game set to take place in Montrose (Montrose, CO)". January 14, 2010. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Red Dawn Imitated Art". USA Today. December 17, 2003. 

External links