Red Dawn

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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The war to liberate the Mickey D's begins...At Dawn.

"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."

Red Dawn is the classic Red Scare film, released in the darkness immediately preceding glasnost.

After the opening narration, we cut to a classroom of teenagers in scenic Colorado. Their little piece of America gets invaded by Soviet and Cuban paratroopers. Six students manage to get away in Jed Eckert's truck and escape to the mountains, where they become guerillas against the new communist regime. They're joined by two girls, Toni and Erica, and later downed pilot Colonel Andy Tanner, who teaches them some basic military tactics. Oh, and they have guns.

Also noted for the first onscreen pairing of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, who later costarred in the classic Dirty Dancing to the delight of fangirls everywhere. Also the first film to be released with the PG-13 rating.

The film was remade in 2012, replacing the Reds with Rockets with Chinese Communists and then replacing them with North Korean Communists and taking place in Spokane, Washington. Not quite as plausible, but time will tell if Rule of Cool will give it a free pass. However, due to financial problems at MGM, it seemed like the film's release would be delayed indefinitely. Ironically, the film's only hope seemed to be a loan from China.

Tropes used in Red Dawn include:
  • Analogy Backfire: Only if one assumes this was analogous to the USSR invading Afghanistan. Many Taliban fighters gained experience repelling the Soviets, and would later use those skills attacking civilians.
    • And, ironically, Americans.
  • Anti-Villain: Colonel Bella, who is an officer in the invading army, but finds himself sympathizing with the guerrillas.
  • Anyone Can Die: Even girls, subverting Men Are the Expendable Gender.
  • Axe Crazy: Robert slides down the rungs.
  • Battle Cry: "Wolverines!" The Wolverines are the school football team. The protagonists leave the spray-painted symbol of their mascot at the site of ambushes.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Cuban and Russian troops speak their own language, with subtitles. Played for laughs in one scene when a Russian officer playing tourist pretends to translate a forestry sign, saying it commemorates a bloody Indian revolt.
  • Bittersweet Ending, The kids lose their innocence and All but two lose their lives, though it's suggested by the Partisan Rock memorial that America Wins the War.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The History teacher at the beginning of the movie is the very first person killed onscreen when he walks up to some heavily armed paratroopers, asking them what's going on.
    • Everyone thought it was a US military training drop which had been blown off course -- people don't automatically assume they're being invaded.
    • In addition, Aardvark, the one Latino among the Wolverines, is the first one of them to get killed.
  • Broken Bird: It's strongly implied that one of the girls was raped by Soviet soldiers.
  • Child Soldiers: The movie does a good job of showing how warfare can psychologically scar child soldiers.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling
  • China Takes Over the World North Korea Takes Over The World: the remake of the film is a slight smaller scale of this trope where the Chinese North Koreans take over America.
  • Click. "Hello.": "You lose."
  • Colonel Badass: Both Tanner and Bella qualify.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Colonel Strelnikov "The Hunter", who not only thinks of ways to track (and later trap) the Wolverines, but also orders the reprisals against civilians to stop as it only creates support for them.
  • Death From Above: Early in the movie, a lone American helicopter shows up a couple of times to strafe or fire rockets at Soviet positions, serving as The Cavalry in a Gunship Rescue at one point. Gets an Ironic Echo towards the end when a pair of Soviet Hind gunships slaughter half the group. Also, towards the last act of the film, we see American jets doing bombing runs in "No Man's Land".
  • Defiant to the End: The first group of civilians executed by way of reprisal for the Wolverines' attacks dies singing America the Beautiful in the face of the Soviet firing squad.
  • Development Hell: The remake actually managed to make it all the way through the production phase, only to get (initially) sunk by MGM's financial insolvency.
    • It was also delayed because the premise of China attacking America scared off all other major distributors, so MGM had to change the villain to North Korea in order to make it more attractive to film companies, and even then it took several months before it finally found a distributor willing to take a chance on the film.
  • Dirty Communists: Averted; though the movie doesn't stint in depicting Communist atrocities, some enemy soldiers are portrayed as human beings rather than evil faceless mooks.
  • Doomed Hometown
  • The Dragon: Soviet counter-insurgency specialist, Colonel Strelnikov "The Hunter".
    • He seems closer to the Big Bad actually.
  • Drive-In Theater: Now used as a POW and indoctrination camp.
  • Eagle Land: Type I, of course.
  • Elite Mooks: Soviet spetsnaz are brought in to track down the Wolverines. They're as effective as all the other mooks. They may however have been the ones responsible for the ambush that got Robert and Toni killed. Colonel Strelnikov is also the one who kills Jed and Matt, although Jed kills him too.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The revelation that one of their own has betrayed them signifies a turn for the worst for the Wolverines fortunes.
  • Exact Words: Early in the movie, a bumper sticker appears, with the line "They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers". The camera pulls back to show a communist soldier prying a handgun...
  • Executive Meddling: Writer-director John Milius wanted to focus on the War Is Hell aspect, while the studio pressed for a more idealized presentation. The most obvious result of this is the tacked-on epilogue, which explicitly states that Americans won the war due to bravery of fighters like the Wolverines. Without it, the movie would have left it open if the efforts of the Wolverines changed anything in the end. The darker approach shows through in several places, such as how many of the heroes meet their ends in meaningless deaths.
    • For the remake, the enemies were changed from Chinese to North Koreans. The studio claims this is because North Korea will make a scarier villain, but most observers believe this was done to avoid losing box office revenues in China. This happened after production ended, so they have to digitally alter all Chinese symbols and dub all Chinese dialogue.
      • Actually, it was mostly done to help the film secure a distributor, as no other major studio wanted to touch a film about China invading America.
  • Expanded Universe: This thread on, which got to 335 pages (!) as of April 2011 before moving to its current location, is a so-called "double-blind what-if" in which posters role-play veterans of the war depicted in the movie. Much discussion on weapons and campaigns of the war, as well as on the fates of surviving movie characters; for example, Colonel Bella ended up defecting to the Allied side shortly after the events of the movie, became a U.S. citizen and helped U.S. authorities track down war criminals after the end of the war.
  • Facing the Bullets One-Liner: God Bless America...
    • Also,

Spetsnaz about to be executed: Dogface! I show you how soldier dies!

Tanner: "All that hate's going to burn you up, kid."
Robert (carving 'kill' notches on his AK-47 with a balisong): "Keeps me warm."

  • Improperly Placed Firearms / Rare Vehicles / Just Plane Wrong: Generally averted with mock-ups ranging from machine guns to APCs and helicopters, though a sharp-eyed weapons buff can still tell the difference. Elite Mooks use the AK74 rifle (or at least an effective facsimile, mocked up from the same Egyptian AK copies used by the other "Soviet" extras), rarely seen in movies made before the collapse of the Iron Curtain. A mock-up of a T72 tank was so accurate it reportedly caught the attention of two CIA men who wanted to know where it had come from.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Tanner needs one after the kids express their ignorance of common military tactical terms.
  • Insert Grenade Here: When the group is pinned down by a tank (which doesn't see them) one of the main characters attempts this but gets hurt pretty badly and is unable to complete the task. Instead he sets off a smoke grenade so that friendly fire can spot the tank and blow it (and him) up.
  • Invaded States of America: Shining example.
  • It's Up to You
  • Just Plane Wrong: SA 330 Pumas stand in for Mi-24 Hind-A gunships since the actual chopper wasn't the sort of thing you could borrow back in the day.
  • La Résistance
  • The Laws and Customs of War: A captured soldier starts giving his name and rank, and gets promptly beaten up.

"No-one gives a damn who you are!"

    • In the same scene,

"This violates the Geneva Convention!"
"I've never heard of it!"

  • Minion with an F In Evil: Colonel Ernesto Bella is initially introduced in a way that suggests he's the movie's Big Bad. However, not only is he not in charge of the local occupying force, but is shown to be far more reasonable than his Soviet counterparts (he criticizes them for the stupid tactic of shooting civilians after every Wolverine attack, saying that they're only gaining support because of it). He eventually becomes increasingly disillusioned with the war to the point where after the Eckert Brothers' last stand, he momentarily holds them at gun point before letting them go and dropping his gun in disgust. In other circumstances, Bella could well have been a classic Worthy Opponent.
    • In the scene where civilian prisoners/hostages are executed after the Wolverines make their first kills of Soviet soldiers, Bella is clearly far more disgusted by the town mayor's horrified reaction than by the defiance of the executed hostages.
  • Missing Backblast: Averted: In the final battle two of the American guerillas fire their RPG-7's at the command trailer used by a Soviet general. An enemy soldier who comes round the corner behind them at that precise moment falls to the ground screaming as he's been scorched by the backblast.
    • Subverted in at least one scene, where one of the Wolverines loses his hat while firing an RPG-7.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie keeps shifting between pure Narm (often with lines about patriotism and fighting spirit) and genuinely dark moments.
  • Not So Different:
    • The Soviet soldiers in general. When they're not getting shot or blown up, they talk about their families, goof around, invent hilarious translations for English signage, and otherwise act a little like tourists.
    • Subverted however of the Wolverines asks this when Jed is about to execute both a captured soldier and The Mayor's completely unwilling turncoat of a son.

Matt: "What's the difference, Jed? Tell me, what's the difference between us and them?"
Jed: "Because... WE LIVE HERE!" (shoots soldier)

    • Colonel Bella gets his moment as well when the aftermath of a Wolverines raid reminds him of his own guerrilla fighter past:

Bella: "I have seen this before. But these are my men!"

  • Nuke'Em: Precision nuclear strikes wipe out silos in the Dakotas, plus key communications points like Omaha, Washington, and Kansas City. Further strikes are averted by the Soviets' need to take the United States intact. Other countries though...

Jed Eckert: "Well, who is on our side?"
Col. Tanner: "Six hundred million screaming Chinamen."
Darryl Bates: "Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen."
Col. Tanner: "There were." (tosses his booze on the fire, so it gives out a great burst of flame)

    • This exchange may become Harsher in Hindsight or Hilarious in Hindsight with the remake, since the Chinese are were the prospective villains.
    • It's never explained what happened to the rest of the Nuclear Triad, like the SSBN's each of which carry at least a dozen Missles and most of which are likely carrying mutiple warheads. Or the Nuclear Armed B-52's, which were often kept on Airborne Alert during the Cold War. Apparently the subs and bombers decided to sit out the war as well.
      • It's an implied part of the backstory: one of the divergent points in this timeline was greater success by the nuclear disarmament activists in the 80s, as witness the political dissolution of NATO. Apparently this is the timeline where they succeeded in their goal, successfully applied political pressure to make the US dismantle the majority of its strategic deterrents... and then the Law of Unintended Consequences bit everyone smack in the ass.
  • One Sided Battle: The Wolverines regularly wipe out larger forces, even though guerilla doctrine advises using a large number of guerillas to attack much smaller army units. There is some thought given to tactics however, such as making an ambushed force take cover in an area covered by claymore mines, or using the girls to plant bombs. Also by the end of the movie all except two of the Wolverines have been killed.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: As stated above, Bella opposes killing civilians not because it is morally wrong but because it increases support for the Wolverines.
  • Precocious Crush: Toni falls in love with older and married Colonel Tanner, though there's nothing physical between them except a bit of tussling.
  • The Quisling: Mayor Bates. Unusually for this trope, he's clearly following the enemy out of fear alone, and is obviously terrified and disgusted by his town's new occupiers.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan inspired the film.
  • Reality Ensues: At times it's shown that it takes more than just waving a gun around to fight a war.
  • Reality Subtext: The current political climate necessitated the change of the antagonists in the remake from China to North Korea.
    • The notion of using Chinese in the first place for the remake due to the Dissolution of Soviet Union. Noted that China was originally an ally of the U.S. also fitting the affiliation of China towards the end of the Cold War.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Robert drinks the blood of the first deer he shoots, and notes he likes the taste. He eventually ends up the most Axe Crazy of the Wolverines.

"Then you'll be a real hunter. My dad said that once you do that, there's going to be something different about you, always."

Spetsnaz about to be executed: Dogface! I show you how soldier dies!
Robert: I've seen it before, pal.

  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The movie essentially transplanted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to a different setting, placing a group of typical American youth in the roles of the Afghan freedom fighters.
    • The activities of the Wolverines would, under conventional interpretations of international law, fall under "guerrilla" and not "terrorist". They only attacked valid military targets, and while several of their actions violated the provisions for treatment of prisoners under Geneva III, the Soviet occupiers would have forfeited their Geneva Conventions protected status by their own far more blatant violations of Geneva IV re: their treatment of the occupied townsfolk and brutal reprisals.