Louis Gossett, Jr.'s Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award win was the first Oscar in that category won by an African-American, and the first for an African-American in any acting category since Sidney Poitier's Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963).
Paula (Debra Winger) shows Zach (Richard Gere) a photograph of her biological father, revealing that he was an Officer Candidate. The picture was actually of Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart, when he graduated from Pensacola.
Lisa Eilbacher said the hardest part about doing her obstacle course scenes, was pretending she was out of shape. In fact, reports were that she was in the best physical condition of all the actors.
Producer Don Simpson unsuccessfully demanded that the ballad "Up Where We Belong" be cut from the film, saying, "The song is no good. It isn't a hit." The song later became the number one song on the Billboard chart, and won the Academy Award for Best Song. He wanted a similar song called "On The Wings Of Love" by Jeffrey Osborne. The song was released a few months later. It peaked at number twenty-nine on the Billboard charts.
Richard Gere said to Barbara Walters he did the movie strictly for the money. It wound up being his biggest box-office hit until Pretty Woman (1990).
Debra Winger negotiated her own contract (no agent) before she had seen the revised script, and was not happy when she found out that she would be doing a nude scene. She asked to be covered up for the scene, but was told that since she hadn't thought to ask for a "no nudity" clause in her contract, she would have to do the scene as written.
The script languished around Hollywood for almost eight years with no studio willing to finance it. Finally at Paramount Pictures, former executive, and then Disney CEO, Michael Eisner was very much against the film, but relented after much persuasion by Producer Don Simpson. The final budget was only a mere six million dollars, part of it is due to Navy's refusal to support the production, and the scepticism of the studio on whether it would be a commercial success.
Director Taylor Hackford purposely kept Louis Gossett, Jr. living in separate quarters from the rest of the cast to further his character's intimidating presence as a drill instructor.
Initially the M.P.A.A. gave he film an X-rating because of the sex scene in which Debra Winger was on top of Richard Gere, and moved her hips in a way the censors did not approve. Thought was given to an appeal, but ultimately Taylor Hackford and Paramount Pictures opted to move in from the wide shot to closer one, making it less objectionable in the censor's eyes.
Casting the role of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley was very difficult. First, none of the A-list actors approached for the part (including Jack Nicholson) were interested. Second, Mandy Patinkin gave an audition that the producers loved, but Director Taylor Hackford nixed their plan to cast Patinkin, because he felt the actor was "too ethnic" to play a drill instructor. Finally, the producers did research in Pensacola, Florida and learned that all of the top drill instructors there were African-Americans. This led to Louis Gossett, Jr. being cast for the role that would win him an Academy Award.
According to Louis Gossett, Jr. in his book "An Actor and a Gentleman", Richard Gere and Debra Winger did not get along during filming, and would distance themselves from each other significantly while the camera wasn't rolling. Publicly, she called him a "brick wall" while he admitted there was "tension" between them. Even though Gere was playing the title role and had top billing and more screentime, he reacted badly when he realized that Winger had the acting chops and charisma to steal every scene she was in, resulting in an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Thirty years later, Gere was complimentary towards Winger when he said that she was much more open to the camera than he was, and he appreciated the fact that she presented him with an award at the Rome Film Festival.
Although she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in this film, and it remains her biggest commercial success to date, Debra Winger despises the movie, and has said she likes to deny that she ever had any involvement in it to begin with.
According to "High Concept", Charles Fleming's biography of Producer Don Simpson, Simpson was alleged to have said to the auditioning Debra Winger, "There may be somebody else for this part. I need somebody fuckable. You're not fuckable enough."
In a 2013 interview, Richard Gere said that he and Louis Gossett, Jr. were specially trained for the karate scenes that are used in the basic training sequences in the film. Gere had apparently mastered his karate moves, while Gossett reportedly continued to struggle with them after being trained. Frustrated, by accident, Gere accidentally kicked Gossett in the groin during filming, to which Gossett responded by leaving the set very abruptly. He did not show up again to the set for another two days afterwards. In order to keep filming moving forward and not fall behind, Gere and Director Taylor Hackford, called upon another African-American karate expert who stood in as a double for Gossett, so the scene could wrap up filming. Despite this incident, Gere has said he takes full responsibility for it, even all these years later, and that it has not ruined a mutual friendship between he and Gossett. He has said he and Gossett still see each other on occasion and reminisce about how much they enjoyed making this film together.
Former Marine drill instructor turned actor R. Lee Ermey coached Louis Gossett, Jr. for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Foley. Ermey played a tough and profane drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (1987) (and previously in The Boys in Company C). Ironically, he was initially hired as a coach for that movie as well, before landing the role.
The motel scenes were filmed at the Tides Motel in Port Townsend, Washington. The room they used still has a wooden plaque on the door commemorating its use in the movie.
Richard Gere balked at shooting the ending of the film, in which Zack arrives at Paula's factory wearing his Naval dress whites and carries her off the factory floor. Gere thought the ending would not work because it was too sentimental. Taylor Hackford agreed with Gere until, during a rehearsal, the extras playing the workers began to cheer and cry. When Gere saw the scene later, with the music underneath it ("Up Where We Belong") at the right tempo, he said it gave him chills. Gere is now convinced Hackford made the right decision. Screenwriter Michael Hauge, in his book "Writing Screenplays That Sell", echoed this opinion: "I don't believe that those who criticized this Cinderella-style ending were paying very close attention to who exactly is rescuing whom."
John Denver was offered and turned down the lead role. He later said it read like a "1950's movie".
Zack tells Paula that he will later be stationed in Beeville, Texas to learn to fly jets. Beeville was actually home, until the mid nineties, of Naval Air Station Chase Field, where Navy pilots trained. The base has since been closed, and the site converted into prison transfer units, and a trustee camp. It is near the site of a maximum security prison.
In the original script, Mayo's dad, Byron (Robert Loggia) visited his son during training, and had a much bigger role.
During the scene at T.J.'s, where Zack says goodbye to Paula, Seegar says "I can still taste that bug!" This refers to a deleted survival training scene (included in the novelization) where Zack goads Seegar into eating a bug that is crawling on the roof of their shelter, then is forced to eat one himself to avoid disgrace.
One of three early-to-mid 1980s movies directed by Taylor Hackford with a hit song associated with the picture. In White Nights (1985), the songs were "Say You, Say Me" written and performed by Lionel Richie and "Separate Lives" written by Stephen Bishop and performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin; in Against All Odds (1984), the song was "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" sung by Phil Collins; and in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), the song was "Up Where We Belong" sung by Joe Cocker. All of these themes were Oscar nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award. The ones performed by Collins did not win, but the Richie and Cocker songs did take home the gold statuette.
The role of Foley was originally written as a short and white Southerner, based on Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart's own drill instructor.
Dwight Yoakam was a lead singer in the band at the ball singing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'round the Ole Oak Tree".
At the beginning of the movie, when a young Zack was mugged by a group of young Filipinos, their lines actually meant, "Gut the son of a bitch", and then, "How much did we get? How much?"
Eric Roberts was seriously considered for the lead role, but his manager, Bill Treusch, attended the meetings between Eric and Taylor Hackford, which led Hackford to finally have reservations that Treusch would not allow for a vital director and actor relationship to develop between Taylor and Eric.
Jeff Bridges was Taylor Hackford's original choice for the lead role, but he had to turn it down, due to a busy schedule. Bridges played the leading man in Hackford's Against All Odds (1984).
Though not stated, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley is a Vietnam War veteran, which is shown by his medal ribbons which includes the "Vietnam Service Medal" with three Campaign Stars, "Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ 1960's device" and "Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation". Foley also holds a "Bronze Star" with a Valor (V) added, a "Purple Heart", "Presidential Unit Citation", "National Defense Service Medal", "Combat Action Ribbon", and more.
In the United Kingdom, Paramount Pictures successfully linked with Triumph Motorcycles (Meriden) Ltd. to do a mutual promotion. Cinemas showing the film would be promoted at their local Triumph dealer and T140E Triumph Bonnevilles supplied by the dealer would be displayed in cinema foyers.
The role of Paula was originally given to Sigourney Weaver, then to Anjelica Huston, and later to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who dropped out to do Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) instead. Eventually, Debra Winger replaced Leigh for the role of Paula. Rebecca De Mornay, Meg Ryan, and Geena Davis auditioned for the role.
As Zack is leaving his father's place in the beginning, the battleships New Jersey (62), Missouri (63), and the aircraft carrier Hornet can be seen in the shipyard in the background. All three ships are now museums.
Richard Gere rides a 750cc Triumph T140E Bonneville introduced halfway in the 1978 selling season. Two T140E Bonnevilles were supplied by Dewey's Cycle Shop in Seattle, Washington. One had Receipt no.16787 dated April 8, 1981 as sold to Paramount Pictures.
Part of a mini-cycle of Hollywood movies made during the early 1980s centering around military cadet training. The pictures include Taps (1981), Stripes (1981), Private Benjamin (1980), Up the Academy (1980), The Lords of Discipline (1983), and this movie. Then the mid to late 1980s saw a few more: Biloxi Blues (1988), Top Gun (1986), Heartbreak Ridge (1986), and Full Metal Jacket (1987).
The decompression chamber was one of the only sets constructed for the film and as of 2013, it is still intact in the basement of building number 225 of the Fort Worden State Park. It can be seen through the windows of the building's basement.
Louis Gossett Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for this film from his only Academy Award nomination.
The "Are you calling me a Ewe" lecture that Louis Gossett Jr. gives to David Keith was used a decade earlier, sans the cursing and sexual references, on the series Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.
The U.S. Navy did not permit filming at NAS Pensacola, Florida, the site of the actual Aviation Officer Candidate School in 1981. Deactivated U.S. Army base Fort Worden stood in for the location of the school, an actual Naval Air Station in the Puget Sound area, NAS Whidbey Island. However, that installation, which is still an operating air station today, was and is a "fleet" base for operational combat aircraft and squadrons under the cognizance of Naval Air Force Pacific, not a Naval Air Training Command installation.
The blimp hangar used for the famous fight scene between Louis Gossett, Jr. and Richard Gere is located at Fort Worden State Park and as of 2013 is still intact, but has been converted into a twelve hundred-seat performing arts center, called the "McCurdy Pavilion".
An invasion that never came: a large portion of the filming was done at Fort Warden State Park, opposite nearby Fort Casey on Whidbey Island. Both of these parks were originally military installations with massive gun batteries designed to repel what was then thought during World War II to be an almost certain invasion of Japanese troops into Puget Sound. But due to the massive American response in 1942, the lack of an effective enemy supply route, the lack of troops, and the vast oceanic distances between mainland Japan and mainland U.S., a Japanese invasion never happened.
In the beginning of the movie, Louis Gossett Jr's drill sergeant character tells the recruits they've been "listening to Mick Jagger music and bad-mouthing your country," and at the end, Mick Jagger is replaced with, "Punk Rock music."
A real motel room in Port Townsend, The Tides Inn on Water Street (48.1105°N 122.765°W), was used for the film. Today, there is a plaque outside the room commemorating this (although the room has been extensively refurbished in the interim). Some early scenes of the movie were filmed in Bremerton, with ships of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the background.
The ribbon bar on Sgt. Foley's uniform reveals the following medals: Bronze Star with combat device V, Purple Heart, Navy Marine Corps Combat Action, Navy Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Navy Marine Corps Meritorious Unit Commendation, Marine Corps Good Conduct with 3 bronze stars, Marine Corps Expeditionary Ribbon, National Defense Service, Vietnam Service with 3 bronze stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.