Red Dawn (1984) Movie Poster Image

Red Dawn (1984)

Controversial, bloody 1980s WWIII film with teen heroes.
Popular with kids
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Release Year: 1984
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Surface message of patriotism and fighting for your country/freedom are underscored by more complex lessons, about striving against impossible odds and even taking doomed or hopeless stands for what is correct. War and partisan insurgency are shown not to be a children's game when the Wolverines face having to execute one of their own.

Positive role models

All young characters seem act mature and disciplined, though it's declared that the strongest ones paid a price -- miserable childhoods learning survival skills under a strict dad. Both Communists and Wolverine forces are mixed whites and Latinos; only the Wolverines have a few girls fighting along with them.


Shooting and explosions in abundance, with spattering blood (but little gore) more often than not. One character (and a deer) shot with an arrow. Inference that the invading Soviet soldiers have raped women and girls.


Indistinct glimpse of one Russian looking at a magazine centerfold.


"S--t," "bastard," and "SOB."


Product labels include Coors beer, Chevron gas, Buck knives.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some beer drinking.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 10, 1984
DVD/Streaming release date:July 17, 2007
Cast:C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Patrick Swayze
Director:John Milius
Run time:114 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13

This review of Red Dawn (1984) was written by

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Adult Written byropemaker January 7, 2011
The original review on this page said there were a few prophanities, but failed to mention at least 3 blasphemies against God ( GD) which is much worse than sh** or bullsh** or a**. I stopped watching the movie because of this. The storyline is very interesting, but I was so disappointed at the blasphemy I couldn't finish the move. Blessed be the name of God forever.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Adult Written byTracerBullet June 3, 2010

Dated cold war relic with some interesting ideas but if you want to see them executed well read John Marsden's Tomorrow Series i

Safe and comforting should not be the words that first spring to mind when reviewing a movie like Red Dawn, a film that advertises itself as a terrifying peek into an all too possible, at least to 1984 cinema goers, alternate reality, but they are the first that sprung to mine as the end credits rolled. The "what would ordinary, everyday teenagers do if their country was suddenly, and without warning, invaded" premise is a thought provoking and a scary one. The answers Red Dawn gives to it are not. Turns out ordinary, everyday teenagers will basically behave like good little patriots; they will be brave, strong and keep the all American ideals of Mom's homemade apple pie foremost in their hearts; they will make the difficult choices that have to be made, without flinching, and when death comes it will be in a glorious last stand against the oppressor. All feel good stuff. Patriotism isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as a substitute for character development. Not Good. One thing Red Dawn does have plenty of however is action, most of which is pretty tame as far a blood and guts standpoint. Young boys will love it though older folks may find it a bit blandly staged and shot. Far more satisfying is Australian author John Marsden's "Tomorrow, When the War Began" and its sequels (look them up) which tells a similar story but with none of Red Dawn's faults. Read them instead.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 16 years old Written byluke3854 July 22, 2010

Great movie

Great movie to start, But there is some violence since i dont want to spoil the movie ill just tell you that there is some blood but no gore. Some of the best role models ever. need to see this i suggest 10 years old
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models