Red Dawn (1984)

red dawn

“Boys! Avenge me! Avenge me!”

The Scoop: 1984 PG-13, directed by John Milius and starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson

Tagline: In our time, no foreign army has ever occupied American soil.  Until now.

Summary Capsule: Colorado teens fight commies for mommy


Justin’s rating: I always wanted to be a lumberjack… er… a movie reviewer

Justin’s review: Red Dawn begins with one of those unforgettable movie moments: a classroom of Colorado students turn around to see a host of Soviet paratroopers descend, quiet as you like. The invasion is on.

As the students look on in fascination, the troops land and begin to deploy. The surrealism is broken only when a teacher comes out and is shot for… what, exactly? Is this Soviet policy, to kill all high school teachers in order to get students on their side? Then, a few seconds later, the Russians use a rocket launcher on an empty, parked school bus. Methinks the Russians are confused what constitutes a military threat.

Red Dawn is both a teen movie and a war movie. The war movie concerns the said Soviet invasion of U.S. soil, and the fight of the resistance that forms under the occupation. The teen movie is because this certain town is home to Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, and Lea Scott Thompson. It’s equal parts explosion, teen angst, kids-overcome-all plotting (wonderfully typical of the ’80s mindset), gore and drama. This film pretty much belongs to its own genre. It’s cool — any invasion where the U.S. begins on the losing side is interesting — but also hosts moments of undeniable cheeziness.

Essentially, the Soviets might be a powerful military force in this movie, but they’re also dumb as rock candy.  First of all, when you invade a country, you might want to check a map. By landing in Colorado, you’ve essentially surrounded yourself with enemy territory. Plus, the Broncos really suck. Then they start acting like spastic Nazis, placing this super-small town in a concentration camp (made out of a former drive-in movie lot), shooting citizens all higgely-piggely. If this is how they treat every small burg, I’d hate to see Denver.

Escaping the net that the Soviets lay down, the kids take to the hills, where they mope and go through rites of adulthood. One of which, no kidding, is peeing in a radiator tank. Another is drinking deer blood. Ounce for ounce, Red Dawn has more red meat than McDonald’s.

These teens form a band of guerilla fighters called the Wolverines (a tribute to their high school team), and naturally proceed to trounce the Russian military time and again. Once again, movies teach us that an untrained 13-year-old behind the trigger of a Colt pistol is more effective than an entire platoon of Soviet armor.

There’s some effort made to reiterate the point that War Is Hell, Yet Also Entertaining. A lot of people get killed, including civilians, and as much as you want the Wolverines to make the bad guys pay, you worry about them sacrificing too much of themselves in the process. The Soviets obsess over these guerrillas, bringing in a specialist and devoting the efforts of half the Red Army to put the spank on the kids. Love to see that communique: “We’d be helping to win the war, but we’re going to have to put a hold on that.  Why?  Teenagers, general.  Teenagers.”

The Russian army, conquering America one redneck town at a time. Well, give them points for thoroughness.

The Wolverines’ numbers thin out through treachery and general stupidity. I always find war movies that end up with only a small fraction of the heroes surviving to be kinda depressing. But then, it’d be unrealistic to expect them all to come out unscathed. There’s a lot of strained speeches and sappy pathos shipped via FedEx (courtesy the KGB department). If you don’t take time to mock at least sections of this movie, you’re not a true American. Or Canadian. Or whatever you are, the flipper-gills are kinda distracting. But Red Dawn is a fun fantasy invasion film, wandering through the fields of disjointed reality with reckless abandon. Whee! Too bad there wasn’t Red Dawn 2: Russian Road House.

His first battlecry of "FERRETS!" didn't quite have the oomph behind it.
His first battlecry of “FERRETS!” didn’t quite have the oomph behind it.


  • FA: Free America. Possibly one of the worst acronyms, ever.
  • Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey would reunite for Dirty Dancing
  • Russian gets shot through the back with an arrow, hehe.
  • How sawed-off shotguns get made
  • A really bad rendition of “America the Beautiful”… okay, they were innocents and all, but weren’t you a *little* happy when the Russians shot them?
  • Girls shooting heavy weapons are so hot
  • The “Soviet-American Friendship Center”
  • Camoflauge does not go well with a bright red backpack
  • Easily the funniest part is when the Russian commander is lecturing about wolverines, complete with charts and photos. The boy wants extra credit.
  • The code phrase on the radio, “John has a long mustache.” was an actual code used in World War II by the French Resistance. It’s also in the movie The Longest Day.
  • Red Dawn was the first motion picture released with the PG-13 rating, which had been created after difficulty rating some movies in 1984, most notably Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (The Flamingo Kid was the first film to be *given* a PG-13 rating, but sat on the shelves for five months before being released).
  • The original trailer that comes on the laserdisc shows a scene with a tank rolling up to a McDonald’s restaurant where enemy soldiers are eating. This scene does not appear in the final cut, and may have been removed due to a mass murder at a San Ysidro, CA McDonald’s just weeks prior to the film’s opening.
  • This film was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as having the most acts of violence of any film up to that time.

Groovy Quotes

Dad: Boys, avenge me! AVENGE ME!

Russian soldier: [subtitled insult] African baboon.

Colonel: All that hate’ll burn you up.
Robert: Keeps me warm.

Jed: Well who *is* on our side?
Colonel: Six hundred million screamin’ Chinamen.
Matt: I thought there was a billion screamin’ Chinamen.
Colonel: There was.

Robert: Wolverines!

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  1. Yeah, quite a strange animal, Justin. Oh, and the movie was a rollercoaster ride too. (Saw it prompted by the Retro Review.) It was excellent seeing all those young actors.

    Jennifer Grey firing a machine gun. I still can’t believe my eyes.

  2. Not Just John has a long Mustache. They also revived “The Chair is against the wall” The codes were used specifically for the Normandy (D-Day) Invasion. Specific phrases were for specific Underground groups to start their part of the invasion.

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