When the kids listen to the radio, one message heard is "John has a long mustache". During World War II, Radio Londres issued coded messages to the resistance in France, the most famous being "Jean a une longue moustache".
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.
Five of the 36 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 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 does not appear in the final cut, and was likely removed due to a mass murder at a McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA, weeks before the film opened.
William Smith, who plays the Spetsnaz commander Strelnikov, didn't receive any special language training for his role. Thanks to years of military service and work with both the CIA and NSA, Smith was already fluent in the Russian language and several others.
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.
The US flag in the classroom at the start of the movie, and other scenes, is a 48-star flag. This was the flag during World War II, and a symbolic reference for a movie portraying the start of World War III.
'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 CIA officers followed it to the studio and wanted to know where it had come from".
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 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).
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, DC, 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.
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".
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 "Red Dawn" as paranoid and militarist. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the NCASF, whose last president was prominent character actor John Randolph, disbanded.
Though the story takes place in Colorado, it was mostly filmed in Las Vegas, NM. 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 5 miles north of Las Vegas, NM.
Near the end of the movie Jed and Matt climb onto a flatcar that slowly moving in order to escape. The car contains 2 small anti-tank guns. Both of these guns are from WW 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.
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".
The Russian leader of the invaders is Strelnikov. In the 1965 movie 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.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The upbeat epilogue showing Partisan Rock, with the voice-over explaining that America eventually won the war, was added at the studio's insistence. John Milius for his part, viewed the ending as darkly ironic, suggesting that the characters' struggles were ultimately reduced to a lonely monument.
When Erica finds the air man, she tries to ascertain his nationality by asking him to identify the capital of Texas. When he says Austin, Erica incorrectly says Houston. The incorrect answer is an in-joke; Powers Boothe is a Texas native, and Patrick Swayze was from Houston.
The film's closing epilogue, which is the same as the inscription on the "Partisan Rock" plaque, states: "...In the early days of World War III, guerrillas - mostly children - placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation shall not perish from the earth". The second half paraphrases Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
At the end of the movie, Colonel Bella says to Jed (Patrick Swayze), "vaya con dios", which are the last words spoken to Jed. Similarly, in Point Break (1991), Keanu Reeves' character, Johnny Utah, speaks the same final words to Patrick Swayze's character, Bodhi.
Roy Jenson plays the father of Robert Morris, one of the main characters, a band of American teenagers who escape to the mountains during a Communist invasion of the United States, survive, and learn to wage a guerrilla war largely by adapting to the tribal lifestyle of the American Indian. In the Star Trek episode, Star Trek: The Omega Glory (1968), Jenson plays Cloud William, the chief of the tribe of "Yangs" (Yanks) on a parallel planet who have survived, evolved and waged a guerrilla war against the invading "Kohms" (Communists) by taking to the mountains and plains and adapting to the tribal lifestyle of the American Indian.
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, NM, 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 107-year-old Center Block Building in Las Vegas, NM, where the scene was filmed.