On August 10, 1984, one of the greatest war movies of the Cold War generation was released in theaters nationwide. Red Dawn is the story of a group of high school kids who take to the mountains as partisans to fight the Red Army and the Cubans after they invade the western half of the United States. The invasion begins with the Red Army invading Alaska while the Cuban and Nicaraguan Army march up through Mexico.
I was a young 20-something SAR swimmer in the Navy when the movie hit the theaters and it seemed like my whole Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter squadron saw the movie in the first week it was out. We absolutely loved it.
Of course, the urban sophisticates who review movies for a living were not too kind to the film. Making no bones about despising Americans who love their country while also fearing upsetting those who hated America (the Soviets) critics panned the film. Kurt Ellis at the Hollywood reporter just dripped with condescension, calling the movie full of “rabble-rousing ammunition and “full of grand heroic flourishes that border on the self-parodic.” The Austin Chronicle Review read, “it’s just a childishly simplistic masturbatory fantasy for right-wing hebephrenics that’s mostly safe enough to play the White House.”
By the way, “hebephrenics” suffer from a form of schizophrenia characterized by incoherence and delusions lacking an underlying theme.
I had to look that up.
A Fan Favorite
Audiences liked the movie well enough, though. It opened against really huge box office winners like Ghost Busters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins. As you can see, 1984 saw the release of many great movies.
Red Dawn cost $17 million to make and pulled in more than $38 million at the box office. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of money, consider this: Red Dawn earned as much money as The Terminator did.
The critics really didn’t matter to John Milius, the director of Red Dawn. He had also written Apocalypse Now (which reviewers loved as an anti-war film, of course), Conan The Barbarian, Jeremiah Johnson, The Wind and the Lion, and the first Dirty Harry movie. The critics couldn’t lay a glove on him. All of these movies live on decades later. They must still command a premium price for replay since most of them are only available on premium streaming services some 40-50 years after their release in theaters.
Red Dawn works as a movie because it is simple and represents the simple values of patriotism, love of family, friends, and freedom. Today, the movie is still widely quoted by people, and “WOLVERINES!” is the inside joke of my generation which we shout inside when we just don’t feel like returning our shopping cart to the other side of the parking lot.
Some Fun Facts About ‘Red Dawn’
Although the movie takes place in Colorado, it was actually filmed in the suburbs of Las Vegas and New Mexico. Quite a few of the filming locations still exist today.
The Soviet weapons were movie props of T-52 main battle tanks, ZSU-23 Shilkas, jeeps, and a BRDM2 armored car. Apparently, the BTR-60 in the movie was the real thing.
While the crew was preparing the props it got a visit from federal agents wondering what they were doing with a small arsenal of Soviet weaponry in a parking lot. That must have been fun to watch.
And a Very Bad Remake
In 2012 Hollywood tried to cash in on the “masturbatory fantasy for right-wing hebephrenics” with a remake of Red Dawn but they made the big mistake of standing the Chinese in as the bad guys. The critics, who had fallen on their fainting couches at the notion of insulting our Soviet enemies in 1984, now did not China to be angered.
Hollywood didn’t even wait to release the movie. They were so intimidated at the fear China would be mean to them, they painstakingly used CGI to replace every ChiCom symbol with North Korean communists.
Hollywood likes to pretend it’s woke and above such things as money, but they really are the most nakedly greedy capitalists you could ever find driving a Prius to their private jets.
And that fecklessness cost Hollywood a likely box office hit and a loss of nearly $16 million, to which I would just yell,