The use of a credit card to place a long distance landline fire support is based on an actual event in the Operation Urgent Fury Grenada action. A U.S. Navy SEAL rescuing the governor general placed a calling card call to SOCOM which brought an AC-130 gunship to bear on an APC that was firing on them.
The sequence involving the bulldozer is based on a real event. The officer who actually did what Eastwood portrays was John Abizaid, at the time a Captain and a Ranger Company Commander. Abizaid recently retired as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, in charge of all U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East.
The U.S. Defense Department originally supported the film, but withdrew their backing after seeing a preview in November 1986. Nevertheless, members of the Marine Corps have vouched for the film's authenticity.
The battle of Heartbreak Ridge was actually fought mostly by the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division. The battle became infamous, after the Division Commander ordered the 23rd Infantry Regiment and an attached French infantry battalion, to stage a disastrous frontal assault straight up Heartbreak Ridge. Sergeant Major Choozoo mentions that he and Gunny Highway later joined the Marines after leaving the Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment.
In the original script, Sgt. Highway was a career army officer. The U.S. Army read the script and refused to participate. The character was then changed to a Marine. The Marine Corps first cooperated, but upon viewing a first cut, quickly disowned the film because of the foul language. The portrayal of Sgt. Highway, a Medal of Honor recipient, being disparaged by his commanding officer (Maj. Powers), has been deemed controversial by enlisted and former USMC members who consider this rude and insulting.
Profile's nickname comes from the military's policy of physicians issuing "medical profiles" to soldiers who are injured. The profile informs their commander that they are restricted to light duty until they recover. Malingering troops who abuse this policy by exaggerating their symptoms are frequently given the derogatory nickname "Profile."
In the bar scene where Clint Eastwood first sees Marsha Mason after their estrangement, two men, one black the other white, are seen watching Mario Van Peebles' performance. The two men later stood up during a confrontation and gave USMC "oo-rahs". They both have military style haircuts. Both men were actually commissioned officers (1st Lieutenants) assigned to 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment (62 area-Camp Pendleton) where several of the scenes (O-course, rappelling, rifle range) were shot.
The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound. Two years after this film, another Clint Eastwood directed film, Bird (1988), which was the next movie Eastwood directed after Heartbreak Ridge (1986), actually won the Best Sound Oscar. Three of the four sound technicians who won the award were the sound designers on this movie.
Debut film as a cinematographer for Jack N. Green. As such, it was also the first film that Green acted as a director of photography for Clint Eastwood. Previously, Green had worked as a camera operator for fifteen years for D.O.P. Bruce Surtees which including movies for Eastwood. Heartbreak Ridge (1986) was a promotion for Green by Eastwood and was Clint's regular lenser up until Space Cowboys (2000).
In preparation for the film, Clint Eastwood and producer Fritz Manes did on-site research with the Marines, who showed respect for Manes due to his status as a Korean War veteran but none for Eastwood, even taking shots at the actor because he had stayed in California the whole time as a lifeguard. Eastwood threw a tantrum and became so enraged that had he had a secretary fire Manes over the telephone once production was finished. When Manes went over to Malpaso to collect his belongings, the locks on his office had been changed and his possessions were sitting outside next to a dumpster.
When Clint Eastwood made this movie, he was the Mayor of Carmel, California. The picture was the first of three films Eastwood made whilst he was the Mayor of Carmel. The others were Bird (1988) and The Dead Pool (1988).
Clint Eastwood's character, Gunnery Sergeant Tom 'Gunny' Highway, is a marine and a veteran of the Korean War's 1951 Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. That campaign was predominantly fought by the American Army and not marines. Originally, the character was from the U.S. Army, but it was changed to a marine when that armed forces declined to co-operate, and the production got support from the U.S. Marines.
The obstacle course scene and helicopter rappelling scene were shot at 62 area (Camp San Mateo) aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. The obstacle course is filled with water when a few marines jump over. A regimental working party cleaned out the course the day before the scene was shot. The Marines assigned to the detail completely cleared the hole of the weeds and vegetation that had grown over the years, using shovels and rakes, only to have it filled with water.
The scene in which GySgt Highway first meets his platoon is filmed in the real quonset huts of A Co., 1st Recon Bn, at Camp Talega on board Camp Pendleton. When Clint Eastwood throws the radio, Recon Marines from A Co, Todd Selner (standing blond) and Andrew Schneider (reading Playboy) are in the background.
Just prior to encountering the Cuban soldiers at the bridge, right-handed Eastwood uses his left hand to change the selector switch on his M-16 from single to full auto. This is a move that could easily be done with simple flick of his right thumb.
Mario Van Peebles, who plays Corporal 'Stitch' Jones in the picture, also worked on three songs for the film. Peebles wrote two songs for the movie himself, "Recon Rap" and "Bionic Marine", as well as co-composing with Desmond Nakano the song, "I Love You (But I Ain't Stupid)", which he also performed and wrote the lyrics.
In this movie, two characters are veterans of the real-life Battle of Heartbreak Ridge fought during the Korean War in 1951. Clint Eastwood's character, Gunnery Sergeant Tom 'Gunny' Highway, was awarded the Medal of Honor from this engagement.