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

Red Dawn actors
(MGM Studios)

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.