A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this controversial what-if war film features much shooting, with frequent bloodshed (though little of what would be considered gore) and explosive mayhem. Many characters die, young heroes as well as the villains. Swearing is occasional, and there is a suggestion that two underage-female characters might have been raped or molested. Hunting and killing of animals, for food as well as a sort of manhood ritual, is shown and seemingly endorsed with great enthusiasm by the filmmakers.
- Parents say
- Kids say
Dated cold war relic with some interesting ideas but if you want to see them executed well read John Marsden's Tomorrow Series i
What's the story?
Spurred on by a homeland famine and a strong leftist-disarmament movement in Europe, the USSR does the unthinkable and launches a full-scale invasion of the United States, preceded by selective nuclear strikes -- we don't see it, but apparently both Washington D.C. and a lot of China are vaporized. The Third World War is shown from the vantage of Calumet, Colorado, suddenly occupied by Russian paratroopers and their Latin-American Communist allies. Many captured citizens get herded into the local drive-in movie theater, now a mass internment-camp and propaganda center, while the town mayor cooperates with top Communist officers to keep the community going peacefully. But a group of high-school students -- including prominent players on the school football team -- have escaped into the mountains. Refusing to surrender, they form an armed resistance squad, striking back against the unprepared Soviets, using their former gridiron team name, the Wolverines.
Is it any good?
When RED DAWN premiered, critics, no surprise, divided along political lines. The left-leaning ones hated it, the right-leaning ones (especially those whose newspapers supported President Reagan) loved it. Now, with the USSR a thing of the past, the lone movie that dared show a battleground outcome to the Cold War is a mixed bag. On one hand, stiff and absurd action sequences make the courageous high-school heroes smashing the Red Army look like some kind of kiddie-park ride. On the other hand, a seemingly absurd concept of '80s American teens turned armed partisans is treated with seriousness -- no music-videos, no worrying about whether Marxism will outlaw dancing at the prom -- and a scene the Wolverines considering executing one of their own is electrifying.
Despite his sometimes-clumsy filmmaking and dramatics, the conservatism of writer-director John Milius goes deeper than just kill-the-commies stuff, with questions about sacrifice and which side in this war has the moral high ground after all. Milius' ambiguous ending (a real hack would have shown Rambo triumphantly pummeling Reds all the way back to Moscow) is both a frustrating cop-out -- and strangely appropriate.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the 1980s and the Cold War. What do parents remember? What other ways has Hollywood depicted the Cold War? How is it different from the war on terror?
Do you think Red Dawn realistically depicts what an invasion/occupation is like?
Red Dawn was made by right-leaning filmmakers, a group that (at least since the 1960s) has not maintained a very high profile. Do you think right and left leaning politics are equally represented in movies?
For kids who love action-adventure stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.