The plot, a Soviet and Cuban invasion from Mexico, was based on C.I.A. and War College studies of U.S. weaknesses at the time.
Five of the thirty-six paratroopers in the beginning of the movie did get blown as much as a mile off course during filming. One of them got stuck in a tree. He had to convince locals that he wasn't really an enemy soldier.
The film made the Guinness Book of Records for having the most acts of violence of any film up to that time. According to their calculations, one hundred thirty-four acts of violence occur per hour, or 2.23 per minute.
Patrick Swayze got frostnip during filming. A few years later, he said it still felt like someone shoving toothpicks up his fingernails when he got too cold.
"Red Dawn" was the given code name of the military operation in Iraq that captured Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003. Writer and Director John Milius felt honored by that.
Patrick Swayze stayed in character throughout filming. He said, "I became Jed Eckert".
The cast underwent an intensive eight-week military training course before filming started.
According to Powers Boothe, Charlie Sheen came up to him during one scene and asked if he was doing a good job. Boothe reassured him that he was doing okay.
William Smith, who played the Spetsnaz commander Strelnikov, didn't receive any special language training for his role. Thanks to years of military service, and working with the C.I.A. and N.S.A., Smith was already fluent in Russian and several other languages.
Many of the fighting techniques the actors learned came from Native American tribes, like the Apaches.
Two C.I.A. men came to the set, having received reports of Russian tanks in the area. They were relieved to hear the tanks were just for a movie.
There are no computer graphics effects, chroma key composites or miniatures in the movie, all of the explosions are real and in actual size.
The sprocket wheel on all modern tanks is in the rear. The replica Soviet equipment was mostly American M-48 tanks. Driving the tanks backward and adding a fiberglass turret gave the replicas a more authentic look.
The original trailer, on the LaserDisc release, includes a scene with a tank rolling up to a McDonald's where enemy soldiers are eating. The scene did not appear in the final cut, and was likely removed due to a mass murder at a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California, a few weeks before the film opened.
The first motion picture released with an MPAA PG-13 rating, on August 10, 1984. (The Flamingo Kid (1984), the first film to get a PG-13 rating, sat on the shelves for five months before release.)
The actors trained using real weapons so that they wouldn't make mistakes using the prop ones. Lea Thompson recalled, "We went to a firing range and there was every kind of gun you could imagine."
As it got colder, the actors and actresses had to adapt to freezing temperatures, often well below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-17.7 degrees Celsius).
During their boot camp training, the actors only got to eat when their instructor felt they earned it.
C. Thomas Howell had been a rodeo cowboy. He helped teach the rest of the cast to ride horses.
The U.S. flag in the classroom at the start of the movie, and other scenes, is a forty-eight-star flag. This was the flag during World War II, and a symbolic reference for a movie portraying the start of World War III.
The story was originally to be set in the real town of Calumet, Michigan. It was moved to a fictionalized version of Calumet, Colorado. Colorado was a more central location within the United States which better fit the story and Calumet, Colorado is actually a tiny former mining town abandoned in the 1970s.
Because of the extremely cold conditions, the cast and crew all had to wear Everest assault suits.
Soldier of Fortune Magazine said that the film's T-72 tank was such a good replica that "while it was being carted around Los Angeles, two C.I.A. officers followed it to the studio and wanted to know where it had come from."
The napalm was created by filling a plastic plumbing tube with gasoline and setting it off in sections.
The illustration of Genghis Khan in the high school classroom at the beginning of the film is a caricature of Writer and Director John Milius.
The blast from an exploding jet was so strong, it knocked five trailers off their foundations.
The original movie tagline said, "In our time, no foreign army has ever occupied American soil." Some historians believe that is historically inaccurate. British troops occupied American territory during the War of 1812. They occupied an area outside of New Orleans, and occupied and burned large parts of Washington, D.C., including the White House, in 1814. Japanese forces occupied several islands off the coast of Alaska during World War II. However, the statement "In our time" (within a viewer's lifetime) is technically correct. No viewer was alive during the War of 1812, and Alaska was still a territory when Japan invaded. It became a state in 1959.
In the film, Toni (Jennifer Grey) sneaks into town and blows up the "Soviet-American Friendship Center". The real-life National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (NCASF), a left-wing organization composed of Soviet and Communist sympathizers, angrily denounced this movie as paranoid and militarist. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the NCASF, whose last President was John Randolph, disbanded.
Though the story takes place in Colorado, it was mostly filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico. In the short montage of destroyed Soviet vehicles that have been tagged with Wolverines graffiti, a highway sign in the background (with a large fish on it) advertises Storrie Lake, a New Mexico state park about five miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
The ivory gripped revolver passed down to Jed (Patrick Swayze) from his granddaddy is a model 1873 Colt Single Action Army also known as the Colt Peacemaker. This is a Wild West era weapon that has to be manually thumb cocked for every shot. Though woefully antiquated compared to the other firearms in this movie, the Peacemaker was a rugged, reliable and accurate weapon and its .45-caliber cartridge packed a serious punch. The weapon remains so popular that Colt still manufactures them to this day and a dozen other companies offer clones.
The movie theater in the movie is showing Alexander Nevsky (1938), about a Russian Prince fighting off an invading army.
The production crew built a gas station. Tourists driving by tried to fill up there, thinking it was real.
The film's opening prologue states: "Soviet Union suffers worst wheat harvest in 55 years. Labor and food riots in Poland. Soviet troops invade. Cuba and Nicaragua reach troop strength goals of 500,000. El Salvador and Honduras fall. Greens party gains control of West German Parliament. Demands withdrawal of nuclear weapons from European soil. Mexico plunged into revolution. NATO dissolves. United States stands alone".
The Soviet Mi-24 Hind helicopters featured in this film are modified Sud-Aviation SA 330 Pumas fitted with bolt-on wings like the actual Hind helicopters. Similarly-modified Pumas also appeared as Soviet Hind helicopters in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988).
John Milius gave most of his notes to the actors through Patrick Swayze. Swayze said, "Of course, a lot of times it didn't make me very popular with the actors."
Some movie posters for the film featured a long text preamble that read: "8:44 A.M. A full scale military invasion by foreign troops begins. Total surprise. Almost total success. A gang of high school kids become the last line of defense."
A love scene between the characters played by Lea Thompson and Powers Boothe was filmed but cut after preview audiences noted that they found the age difference uncomfortable.
Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, and Darren Dalton appeared in The Outsiders (1983).
Emilio Estevez was originally cast as Jed, but had to drop out due to other filming commitments.
The Russian text seen in red lettering above the movie's title in the film and on movie posters is Russian for "Red Dawn".
Near the end of the movie, Jed and Matt climb onto a flatcar that slowly moving in order to escape. The car contains two small anti-tank guns. Both of these guns are from World War II, and although different in appearance, both are 37mm in caliber. The one with the flat rectangular shield is an American M3, and the one with the sloped shield is a German Pak 36.
Powers Boothe's character was originally written as a proud military man who was also anti-war, and who served as the movie's "voice of reason." Boothe was less than thrilled when the character was made into a less complex and more conventional warrior.
This movie was banned from theaters in Finland during its release. The reasons for the ban were excessive violence, disagreements with Finland's foreign policy, and the film being deemed "too anti-Soviet." The film was later released in video format.
All of the military vehicles were supplied by Veluzat Motion Picture Rentals, run by two brothers. Renauld Veluzat: "(John Milius) knew the serial numbers of every vehicle."
The line "John has a long mustache" was also used as a message to the underground in The Longest Day (1962). It was broadcast in French ("Jean a de longues moustaches") by the BBC.
After the boot camp, in order to get into the mindset of how a guerrilla fighter employs their tactics, John Milius had the cast become an opposing force for the National Guard's exercises.
The AK-47's used in the film are Egyptian Maadi ARM rifles. In 1983 roughly 2000 of the rifles we imported to the USA by Steyr. A large number of these first imports were used in film and were even converted to have automatic fire for the purposes of the movie. The rifles are the closest to a Russian production AK-47 that you can own in the USA, because they were made on Russian machines using Russian raw materials and under the guidance and supervision of Russian gunsmiths and factory managers. Among collectors the Egyptian Maadi ARM imported by Steyr are highly sought after.
When three Russian soldiers drive up into the mountains near where the Wolverines are hiding, they stop at a sign for "Arapaho National Forest" (located in north central Colorado, where the film is set). However, at the bottom of the sign is the legend "Highest Point: Hermit's Peak, 10,212 feet." Hermit's Peak (in the Santa Fe National Forest) is located near Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the film was mostly shot. The highest point in Arapaho National Forest is Mount Evans (14,271 feet).
In the movie, the Wolverines bomb the invaders' regional headquarters. On August 3, 2006, heavy thunderstorms destroyed the one hundred seven-year-old Center Block Building in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the scene was filmed.
Captain Dale Dye was the military adviser for this film, he was also in charge of putting the cast and soviet troop extras through boot camp. Dale Dye also advised films such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Platoon. Charlie Sheen would see Dale Dye again when he was cast as the main actor in Platoon, 2 years later.
An old Safeway grocery store in Las Vegas, New Mexico was converted to a soundstage, and used for several scenes.
Second of two films that Patrick Swayze made with John Milius. The other being Uncommon Valor (1983).
The Russian leader of the invaders is Strelnikov. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), schoolteacher Pasha Antipov (Tom Courtenay) assumes the name Strelnikov when he becomes a leader of the Red Partisans during the Russian Revolution.
Lane Smith, who portrayed mayor Bates whom collaborates with the enemy in this movie also portrays a collaborating politician in another production. He portrayed the self-proclaimed mayor of Los Angeles in V (1984). He was a collaborator with the series antagonists The Visitors. His character's last name in that series was also Bates.
The movie was released in 1984, the same as the title of a George Orwell novel about Communism taking over the world.
Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Darren Dalton and William Smith. appeared in The Outsiders (1983).
Frank McRae, Ben Johnson, and Harry Dean Stanton all costarred in Dillinger (1973), which was also directed by John Milius.
Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell also appeared together in The Outsiders (1983) and Grandview, U.S.A. (1984).
Originally, the setting was set in Michigan before changing to Colorado. One of the Michigan elements kept was the mascot of the high school, and adopted for Jed's group, the Wolverines. Wolverines is also used for the University of Michigan. Bella was the main antagonist of the Jed's group, and played by Ron O'Neal. O'Neal briefly attended The Ohio State University, the archrival of the Michigan Wolverines.