Just Patrick Swayze killing commies in Red Dawn (1984).

Red Dawn (1984), starring Patrick Swayze and an ensemble cast, is an awesome action movie, not just a good one but a great one, from top to bottom, just a fantastic Easter egg of pop culture, referenced in everything from Family Guy to The Goldbergs, it’s had a remake and inspired a generation of creatives from movie makers to video games developers… Now the question is – why?

Because John Milius

Well first of all it’s directed and co written by action movie titan John Milius who helped to bring Dirty Harry (1971), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Conan the Barbarian (1982) to the screen. Red Dawn is an epic movie full of amazing wide screen shots from the get go. Some, quite frankly, iconic. Those Soviet paratroopers landing in the school yard and wreaking havoc grab you and the movie doesn’t let go till the end.

MGM making Milius the director of the project really gave the film a solid foundation, very different from the original concept of the movie which was going to be a little anti-war arthouse movie. Milius’ rewrites on the script are masterful both in plot and in dialogue… The scenario for Red Dawn was in part developed by an USA government think-tank called the Hudson Institute – and that plausibility really comes across on the screen.

As plausible as the nightmare of the movie’s plot is, what the movie is not, is a flag waving jingoistic bit of propaganda and that comes through in the very human and emotionally complex dialogue which is rare for an action movie.

Ultimate Performances

At the end of the day a script for a movie is only as good as the actors that deliver it. It has some excellent actors and in my humble opinion this movie has the best performances of some of the actors’ careers. Every performance in Red Dawn is a perfect mix of emotions and every actor shows the mix of anxiety, panic and the moral choices  that these young resistance fighters have to make. This movie is Patrick Swayze’s greatest role as the Wolverines leader Jed.

And Charlie Sheen’s performance as the stoic and pragmatic brother to Jed, Matt, which is powerful, especially in a moment when he has to deal with a traitor in the group.

Lea Thompson’s performance as Erica is one of the most underrated action heroine roles ever, she was taking commie names long before the early 00s craze of action movies with strong female characters. Also the main cast is supported by excellent roles. Everyone from Harry Dean Stanton to Doug Toby, but my action movie awards for best supporting actors in this case are the always entertaining late Powers Boothe as Lt. Col Andrew Tanner and Ron O’Neal as Bella who is probably one of the most three dimensional villains committed to screen in action movies.

What About the Action?

And being as this is an article about action movies on an action movie website let’s talk about the movie’s action… Which is great, one thing you realise is how awesome it is to see non-computer generated antics, the set pieces are so well constructed in Red Dawn, especially a scene where the Wolverines are caught in the crossfire in a tank battle.

The action moves the movie on perfectly and serves the movie in every way. It is is visually impressive, especially the ambush with Mi-24s helicopters helped by Basil Poledouris‘ pounding score.

Red Dawn is a flick that plays with expectations, both with its politics and its place as an action film but this enhances the watching experience. Red Dawn, unlike, many action movies of the 80s deals with themes such as child soldiers and our personal responsibility to protect freedom. It’s a incredible movie, if you haven’t seen it in a while go rewatch it… If you have never seen it – what  are you waiting for? Go Wolverines!!!


Growing up in the 80s Ian Young highlight of the week used to be when the mobile video store (a van with some videos in it) came down his street, it was more often than not that he rented these titles so frequently that the tapes disintegrated. He will also roundhouse kick anyone who says Cannon Films’ Masters of the Universe isn’t the greatest film ever made!

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