The cast improvised virtually all of the dialogue where they sit around and tell their back stories. This includes Bill Murray's lines about "Lee Harvey" making out with a cow, and calling Sgt. Hulka a "big toe".
According to Ivan Reitman, Bill Murray insisted that Harold Ramis be cast as his friend for two reasons: 1. They were long-time friends in real life. 2. So Ramis could help Murray re-write his dialogue or help him improvise.
The cast got drunk for two weeks upon hearing of John Lennon's death. John Larroquette later admitted that he was drunk in the scene when he dressed down the company after they watched, and participated in, mud wrestling. Even after filming moved to Los Angeles, Bill Murray and Warren Oates had a drunken evening beside the grave of late actor Strother Martin.
According to Ivan Reitman in the DVD Commentary, the scene where Bill Murray is loading the rich woman's suitcases into the trunk and he hits himself in the crotch was an accident. Murray really did hit himself in the crotch with the case, thus his very real line "Oh, my balls."
Basic training in the film takes place at the fictional "Fort Arnold", which was the name of an actual army fort during the 18th century. It was named for Gen. Benedict Arnold. After Arnold was unmasked as a traitor, "Fort Arnold" was renamed "West Point".
John Larroquette improvised the dialogue where he's watching the girls in the shower through the telescope, including the odd line "Oh, God! I wish I was a loofah!" According to Larroquette, he had to explain to Ivan Reitman what a loofah was.
According to Ivan Reitman in the DVD Commentary, Columbia Pictures wanted to cut out the scene where Sgt. Hulka and John Winger have a confrontation in the latrine. The studio felt the scene was too serious, but Reitman insisted that it be left in to truly establish Sgt. Hulka's strength and authority.
A nine-minute sequence was filmed in which John and Russell take LSD and accidentally end up on a mission to fight rebels in the Colombian jungle. Columbia Pictures thought it was the best scene in the film but Ivan Reitman deleted it because he felt that it did not fit the film's tone.
Ivan Reitman improvised having the soldiers drag Warren Oates' character into the mud during the obstacle course scene. However, Oates was upset and yelled at Reitman over the incident, saying "If I'm going to get pushed into the mud, I'm going to get pushed into the mud! But don't ever pull that kind of shit again!" Reitman has never done improvisation in a film since then.
Harold Ramis was initially reluctant to play the role of Russell Ziskey and Dennis Quaid auditioned for the role, but Bill Murray was adamant about Ramis appearing in the film and said he would not do it without him. Quaid, who was married to co-star P.J. Soles at the time, appears as an extra during the graduation scene.
According to the DVD special features, the film was originally conceived as a vehicle for Cheech & Chong; Ivan Reitman has also stated that the reason this fell through was because their manager insisted (without the pair's knowledge) on a 25% share of Reitman's next five films, which he wasn't willing to give up. The script was then rewritten for Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, and most of the "stoner" humor was shifted to the "Elmo" character played by Judge Reinhold.
John Larroquette broke his nose while shooting an additional take of a scene of him running through a door. The shot shown in the film is the first take. Heavy makeup was applied to Larroquette's nose for the rest of filming.
"Do Wah Diddy Diddy", a central theme performed by cast members, was originally recorded in the U.S. by The Exciters in late 1963. During "The British Invasion" it was covered by Manfred Mann and rose to #1 U.S. Pop in July 1964. The song has become a popular cadence in the U.S. military.
According to Ivan Reitman in the DVD commentary, during the scene where the recruits receive their basic training haircuts he did not tell the actors that real Army barbers would be shaving their heads until the scene was shot. He lined all of the actors up and shot the scene as scripted to get their genuine reactions to their heads being shaved. John Candy became depressed after the scene was shot. This is why you see him picking up his hair and looking sad when he walks out of the barber shop. Since Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were bigger names at that point than the rest of the cast, they were required to cut their hair shorter, but not to shave their entire head.
The scene the morning after John Winger and MP Stella Hanson had sex in Gen. Barnicky's house, when they emerge from the trunk, is actually a lift from a cut scene when the guys and girls meet up in Germany. This lift is now something of a continuity error in the Special Edition DVD where those cut scenes in the German hotel are now restored. You can tell this because if you watch the decor of the general's bedroom and Winger and Hanson's wardrobe, it's the same clothing they're wearing in their German hotel suite and the general's decor and the suite are the same.
The basic training scenes were filmed at Fort Knox, KY. Fort Knox is home to the U.S. Army Armor Center, which trains new tank crewmen and armored cavalry troopers. The barracks in the film are still at Fort Knox, but have been gutted since the film was shot there and converted into an urban warfare training course. As of 2010, the United States Army Armor School is being moved to Fort Benning, GA, as part of the United States' BRAC program.
Ivan Reitman requested Joe Flaherty for the part of the border guard. However, due to a mix-up, Joseph X. Flaherty was accidentally cast in the role. Reitman was able to contact the Flaherty that he originally wanted. The other Flaherty was given a small role as Sgt. Crocker.
The last sentence the platoon shouts during their performance at graduation, "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", is a sentence that was popularly used to test typewriters and telegraph machines because it contains every letter of the alphabet at least once.
Conrad Dunn remembered John Candy inviting the men in the platoon to his house while filming was underway for a homemade spaghetti dinner and to watch the famous Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Durán "No Más" boxing match (November 25, 1980). He recalled that he and Candy were the only two cast members who knew the lyrics to the song "Doo Wah Diddy", and taught them to the rest of the company. "I really enjoyed playing Psycho", he said.
Ivan Reitman was a fan of the westerns that Warren Oates had been in and wanted someone who was strong and that everyone respected to control the film's misfit platoon. Judge Reinhold said that during filming Oates would tell stories about working on films like The Wild Bunch (1969) and they would be enthralled. Reitman wanted "a little bit of weight in the center", and had a serious argument between Hulka and Winger. It was not played for laughs and allowed Bill Murray to do something he had not done before.
There is a poster-sized picture mounted under the rim of the basketball net in Winger's apartment. It is a picture of Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith of the University of Louisville Cardinals cutting down the net after they won the 1980 NCAA basketball championship. The movie was filmed in Louisville, KY.
John Winger's use of the phrase "We are the wretched refuse" to describe how the platoon was made up of men from around the world is a reference to a poem, "The New Colossus", by 19th-century American poet Emma Lazarus. "The New Colossus", describing the Statue of Liberty, appears on a plaque at the base of the statue.
Near the end of the film, an image of an army newspaper indicates that Capt. Stillman (John Larroquette) was transferred to the Arctic command. This is later referenced in an episode of Night Court (1984), in which Dan Fielding (Larroquette) reveals he is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. By the end of the episode, his commanding officer orders him transferred for duty in the Arctic Circle.
Harold Ramis admitted sneaking in veiled references to the Vietnam War in his early films as a writer/director. In one scene of "Stripes" Bill Murray's character exhorts his comrades, "But we're American soldiers! We've been kicking ass for 200 years! We're ten and one!" Ramis said the "one" represented America's loss in Vietnam and was his oblique commentary on the conflict.
In the final homecoming scene at the airport, although it is not mentioned, Captain Stillman has been demoted and wears the single silver bar of First Lieutenant, and his aide, Corporal Tyson - In credits as Stillman's Aide - has been promoted, and is wearing the three stripes of a Sergeant.
In one of the basic training scenes we hear the platoon (led by Bill Murray) singing a jingle from the armed forces recruitment television commercials from the late 1970s and early 1980s. It went, "Pick a service, pick a challenge, set yourself apart, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines! What a great place, it's a great place to start!"
In 1993 Bill Murray reflected, "I'm still a little queasy that I actually made a movie where I carry a machine gun. But I felt if you were rescuing your friends it was okay. It wasn't Reds (1981) or anything, but it captured what it was like on an Army base: It was cold, you had to wear the same green clothes, you had to do a lot of physical stuff, you got treated pretty badly, and had bad coffee".
Before appearing in Stripes, Judge Reinhold's previous film appearance was in the low-budget "Running Scared"(1980) in which he plays a soldier leaving the Army after two years in Panama. In Stripes he plays Elmo one of the recruits entering the Army in Basic Training.
Timothy Busfield, John Larroquette and John Diehl all went on to appear in The West Wing (1999). Busfield, who has a minor role in this film, is a central character for most of "The West Wing"'s seven-year run. Laroquette and Diehl both have central roles in this film but have minor roles in "The West Wing".
The aircraft at the end of the movie that the heroes from Czechoslovakia disembark from is a US Air Force North American T-39A-1-NA Sabreliner, serial number 61-0642, a military variant of the Sabreliner commercial business jet.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Director Ivan Reitman admits to being embarrassed by the third act of the film. But Reitman had determined that a film about the Army needed to have a war and thereby created a conflict with Czechoslovakia, his birthplace.