Red Heat

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Red Heat
Red Heat.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWalter Hill
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byWalter Hill
Music byJames Horner
CinematographyMatthew F. Leonetti
Edited by
  • Donn Aron
  • Carmel Davies
  • Freeman A. Davies
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • June 14, 1988 (1988-06-14) (premiere)
  • June 17, 1988 (1988-06-17)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$29 million
Box office$34,994,648 (US)

Red Heat is a 1988 American buddy cop action film directed by Walter Hill. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Moscow Militia Captain Ivan Danko, and James Belushi, as Chicago detective Art Ridzik. Finding themselves on the same case, Danko and Ridzik work as partners to catch a cunning and deadly Soviet Georgian drug kingpin, Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross), who also happens to be the killer of Danko's previous partner back in Soviet Russia.

It was the first American film given permission to shoot in Moscow's Red Square—however, most of the scenes set in the Soviet Union (with the exceptions of the establishing shots under the main titles and the final lengthy shot in Red Square behind the end credits) were actually shot in Hungary. Schwarzenegger was paid a salary of $8 million for his role in the film.[1]


Captain Ivan Danko of the Moscow Militia sets a trap for Viktor Rostavili, a Georgian drug kingpin and crime lord. The ambush severely backfires; Viktor flees the Soviet Union and comes to the U.S., after gunning down several other Moscow cops, including Danko's partner.

Loudmouthed Chicago Police Department Detective-Sergeant Art Ridzik, investigates several local murders committed by Viktor's cartel. When Viktor is arrested in Chicago, Danko is dispatched to escort him back to Moscow to face justice in the Soviet Union. Unexpectedly, Danko and Ridzik find themselves partnered together when Viktor escapes custody, gunning down Ridzik's partner, Gallagher, in the process. Danko is frustrated when his lack of a diplomatic license prohibits him from carrying a weapon. He shares his candid observations with Ridzik: "This Chicago is very strange city. Your crime is organized, but your police is not."

Danko and Ridzik pursue Viktor and his henchmen around Chicago. Finally, Danko and Viktor commandeer a couple of Greyhound buses, then engage in a high-speed chase, which concludes with Viktor's collision with a freight train. When Danko confronts him, Viktor shoots at him, only to be gunned down. Danko returns to Moscow after exchanging wristwatches with Ridzik as an act of goodwill.



The film was based on an original story by Walter Hill. He says he conceived of the idea for Red Heat because he and Arnold Schwarzenegger had long wanted to work together:

I didn't want to do sci-fi and it's tough to use Arnold credibly in an American context with his accent. I thought it would be interesting if he could play a Russian cop in the US. I wanted to do a traditional John Wayne/Clint Eastwood larger-than-life movie. You then ask the question: Will the American audience accept an unapologetic Soviet hero, someone who will not defect at the end of the movie?[2]

According to Schwarzenegger, when Hill approached him he did not have a complete script - he just had the basic premise and the opening scene where Schwarzenegger rips off a leg to discover it is wooden and that it contains cocaine. Schwarzenegger agreed to make the movie on the basis of this and Hill's track record, in particular his earlier buddy action comedy 48 Hours.[3]

The opening scene came from a script by Harry Kleiner that had been sent to Hill. Hill did not want to do the script but loved the scene and paid Kleiner for it. "I think it’s the best scene in the movie," said Hill later. "The movie, after he left Moscow, I never thought was much good, but I thought that was a terrific scene."[4]

Hill says he deliberately chose to tone down the Schwarzenegger persona, making him more realistic and less prone to wisecracks. Hill:

I had confidence in him as an actor. I didn't want him just to throw a Volkswagen over a building. Arnold has an ability to communicate that cuts through cultures and countries. They just love to see this guy win. But everyone thinks it's his muscles. It's not that at all: it's his face, his eyes. He has a face that's a throwback to a warrior from the Middle Ages or ancient Greece.[2]

Schwarzenegger says Hill told him to watch Greta Garbo's performance in Ninotchka (1939) "to get a handle on how Danko [his character] should react as a loyal Soviet in the West. I got to learn a little Russian, and it was a role for which my own accent was a plus."[3]

The music score was done by James Horner. "I told James I wanted something like you're in the Olympics and you've just won a gold medal," said Hill. "I wanted something heroic."[5]

Hill says he wanted to use buses rather than cars in the climactic action scene because it would be more interesting. "Also, I thought it was very appropriate for Arnold. He doesn't fit well in cars."[5]

He described the film as "in an odd way it's a traditional love story between these two guys.[5]

The script was constantly rewritten during the shoot. Among the writers who worked on it were Hill himself, Harry Kleiner, Troy Kennedy Martin, Steven Meerson & Peter Krikes, and John Mankiewicz & Daniel Pyne. "You've got to understand that Walter likes to create as he goes along," said a source close to the production. "Also, the project was put together quickly based on an idea of his-a Russian cop in Chicago. There was no script." A spokesman for the Writers Guild said Hill was a member in very good standing: "He does tend to hire a lot of people but he pays well above minimums and we feel he's been quite straightforward about screen credit."[6]

The first half of the opening scene was shot in Budapest's Rudas Thermal Bath. The second half was shot in Austria because Budapest had no snow.[3]


The film received a mixed to positive response from critics.[7][8] Red Heat currently holds a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10.[9]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[10]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at the top spot at the box office,[11][12] but was far outpaced by Schwarzenegger's other comedy film in 1988, Twins.

Schwarzenegger later wrote the film "wasn't the smash I'd expected. Why is hard to guess. It could be that audiences were not ready for Russia, or that my and Jim Belushi's performances were not funny enough, or that the director didn't do a good enough job. For whatever reason, it just didn't quite close the deal."[3]


  1. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (July 25, 1988). "Big Hollywood Salaries a Magnet for the Stars (And the Public)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Anne (17 June 1988). "Director Hill puts extra dimension in Hollywood themes". Chicago Tribune. p. GL.
  3. ^ a b c d Schwarzenegger, Arnold (2012). Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 341.
  4. ^ ""Tough Little Stories": Director Walter Hill at 92Y Tribeca". Filmmaker Magazine. 29 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Action man with an eye for character Dwyer, Michael. The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 13 Jan 1989: 14.
  6. ^ Klady, Leonard (25 Oct 1987). "WORK IN PROGRESS". Los Angeles Times. p. 36.
  7. ^ Hinson, Hal (17 June 1988). "Red Heat". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 17, 1998). "Red Heat". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  9. ^ "Red Heat (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  10. ^ "CinemaScore".
  11. ^ Mathews, Jack (June 21, 1988). "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE `Heat,' `Outdoors' Strong; `Big' Still Huge". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2010.
  12. ^ "'Heat' Wave At Box Office". Chicago Tribune. June 24, 1988. Retrieved November 30, 2010.

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