Red Dawn (1984) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • From out of the sky, Soviet, Nicaraguan, and Cuban troops begin landing on the football field of a Colorado high school. In a few seconds, the paratroopers have attacked the school and sent a group of teenagers fleeing into the mountains. Armed only with hunting rifles, pistols, and bows and arrows, the teens struggle to survive the bitter winter and the Soviet K.G.B. patrols hunting for them. Eventually, trouble arises when they kill a group of Soviet soldiers on patrol in the highlands. Soon they will wage their own guerrilla warfare against the invading Soviet troops under the banner of "Wolverines!"

  • Russia launches a surprise attack on and invasion of the U.S. A small town in Colorado experiences this first hand when Russian paratroopers land in the town and quickly take it over. A small group of teenagers from the local high school, calling themselves the "Wolverines", manage to escape into the mountains and start to fight back.

  • A film depicting the invasion of the United States from the south by Communist forces from Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union in the beginning of World War III, and then the efforts of partisans from a small Colorado town to turn back the invasion.

  • A group of high school students become guerrilla fighters when their town is invaded by Cuban and Soviet soldiers at the beginning of World War III in this apocalyptic fantasy. The pressures of their desperate existence begin to wear away at the "Wolverines'" unity as the Soviet bloc forces hunt them down.

  • It is the dawn of World War III. In mid-western America, a group of teenagers band together to defend their town, and their country, from invading Soviet forces.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • "Red Dawn" envisions an alternate history of mid-1980's America. A few title cards that precede the opening credits tell of famine in the Soviet Union, leading to food riots in Poland. The USSR subsequently invades Poland. Troubles in Central America include Cuba and Nicaragua building their armies to immense, unprecedented numbers and invade the nations of El Salvador and Honduras. A Communist revolution breaks out in Mexico. In Europe, political divisions in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) lead to the dismantling of nuclear weapons. Finally, NATO dissolves, leaving the United States with no allies or support.

    The story is set in a small Colorado mountain town called Calumet. Before an autumn school day in September a young man named Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) is dropping his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) and their friend Arturo (Doug Toby) off at school. While giving a lecture on Genghis Khan's tactics in conquering Asia, their history teacher (Frank McCrae) notices paratroopers landing outside in the school football field. Thinking they may be American soldiers who are off course, he leaves the classroom to investigate and is immediately shot and killed by one of the soldiers, who then open fire on the classroom, killing at least one student. Matt and Arturo ("Aardvark") escape the chaos when Jed pulls up, having quickly returned. They are also joined by their friends Daryl (Darren Dalton), Robert (C. Thomas Howell), and Danny (Brad Savage) . They drive through town, witnessing more of the invasion. Arturo's father is seen being chased by the invaders and tries to reach them but is apprehended in the street.

    The group drives out of town to Robert's father's wilderness store. Robert's father tells them to grab supplies for camping and gives them a few rifles and ammunition. They escape to the mountains; Jed's plan is to camp out there until the conflict is over. Back in Calumet, a Cuban colonel named Bella (Ron O'Neal) oversees the hasty occupation of the town. American forces have moved in from all sides and are attacking relentlessly. Bella orders his Cuban and Nicaraguan troops to defensive positions and orders another of his men, a Russian KGB agent, to acquire documents identifying local citizens who possess privately-owned firearms.

    The boys arrive in the mountains and set up camp. An argument erupts between Jed and the high school class president, Daryl (the Calumet's mayor's son), who insists they go back and turn themselves in. Jed orders him to leave, however, Daryl relents and stays with the group. The group also discovers that their radio has been destroyed, so their contact with the outside world is essentially cut off. While hunting deer, Robert makes a kill and drinks some of the deer's blood as part of a ritual that Jed, Matt & their father all took part in. Jed also suggests that everyone will notice a change in Robert from then on.

    A few weeks later in October, Jed, Matt, and Robert slip into Calumet to find out what has happened in their absence. They talk to a store owner, Alicia, who tells them that the Russians know who they are and tells them that the boys are being blamed for a series of violent crimes in the town. She also tells them that many people have been remanded to a holding camp at the town drive-in theater. The boys go to the camp that evening and find that it's a communist re-education camp. Jed and Matt's father (Harry Dean Stanton) is a prisoner; when they see him, he has been severely beaten. Telling his sons that he was hard on them for an occurrence like this, he also implores them to avenge him.

    The next morning, the group next goes to the ranch of their father's friend, Mr. Mason (Ben Johnson), who's property lies far enough outside Calumet to go unnoticed. Mason informs the boys that a large portion of the western United States has been occupied by Soviet and Cuban forces and they are all 40 miles behind enemy lines. Beyond the Soviet/Cuban front lies "FA" or "Free America." They also tell Robert that his father was killed by the enemy; while gathering their supplies at his father's store before fleeing to the mountains, the group also took several rifles. The Soviet authorities had Robert's father publicly executed for providing insurgents (the boys) with weapons. Mason doesn't know what happened to Robert's mother. Robert breaks down and a distressed Jed feels obvious guilt for their deaths. Mason tells the boys that they are not at fault and that the lesson learned from the incident (symbolizing that of US government registration of privately-owned firearms) should sink in to them all. Before they leave, Mason gives them a radio and also asks that the boys take his teenage granddaughters with them. The two new additions are Toni (Jennifer Grey) and her sister Erica (Lea Thompson) who ride back to the camp with them.

    Meanwhile, Daryl's father, Calumet's mayor, Bates (Lane Smith), a collaborationist of sorts, tries to appease the occupation authorities under Colonel Bella. He offers his assistance in getting the citizens of his town to adhere to the new laws that Bella imposes.

    Back in the woods, the group hears a radio announcement from the Free Zone that tells them the war is far from over ("John has a long mustache") and the combat is at a standstill ("The chair is against the wall"). The next day, the group sees a Russian patrol of three soldiers headed toward their position. While taking in the sites, the patrol sees the group and attempts to arrest them. Jed, Robert & the others kill them all. Robert later talks of his enjoyment in killing them, probably seeking revenge for the deaths of his parents. Jed remarks that they cannot return to town ever again because they'll be hunted.

    In reprisal, Colonel Bella orders the killing of several of the town's residents after they dig graves for the dead Soviets. A mass execution takes place, one that Matt witnesses from a distance. Among those killed are his and Arturo's fathers. Also present is Daryl's father, who is visibly sickened. Jed later tells everyone not to cry over their families deaths.

    In retaliation, the teens continue their guerrilla campaign, dubbing themselves "Wolverines" after their high school football team's mascot. They ambush Soviet and Cuban patrols, shoot up armored columns, and raid local armories to steal weapons such as AK-47 rifles, sniper rifles, land mines, RPG launchers, among many other weapons.

    A month later, Erica, while on patrol, sees a pilot land nearby by parachute. The pilot is an Air Force Colonel, named Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe), who joins the team and fills them in on the events of the war. The occupying forces are made up of Cuban and Soviet commando forces who invaded from both Mexico and Canada. The Soviet forces crossed into Alaska (cutting the Alaska oil pipeline). Tactical nuclear weapons were used to take out key U.S. nuclear missile and communication locations however, by this time the front lines of combat have mostly stabilized. Tanner tells the teens that the United States' only allies are Great Britain, who are suffering huge defeats, and about 600 million Chinese. When Daryl says that China's population is supposed to be over one billion, Tanner implies that they've been defeated by the Soviets as well, perhaps by mass slaughter in combat or by nuclear weapons.

    The team invites the Colonel to join their guerrilla efforts. Tanner also teaches them basic tactics for attacking larger targets; they attack an airbase located near the re-education camp. They free the prisoners and destroy a few key military targets. Tanner later notices Robert carving hash marks into the stock of his AK-47 rifle for every enemy soldier he kills. Tanner tells the boy that "all that killing is gonna burn you up inside." Robert replies, "Yeah, but it keeps me warm."

    Jed takes Tanner to meet Mr. Mason where he tells them both that there are rumors of the Soviets dropping special forces units into the occupied zone to hunt the Wolverines. There is also talk of sending in American Special Forces troops to aide them. Jed believes their only chance to survive the war is to cross the front lines into Free America. Tanner decides to show them the way out of the occupied territory.

    They go to the front lines of combat where an M1 Abrams American tank is engaged in a fierce battle with a few Soviet T-62 tanks. Tanner tells Jed that they'll have to cross the no-man's land between the tanks to reach the free zone where Soviet jets are dropping napalm. As they prepare to move forward, another Soviet tank moves up to their position, unaware that Tanner and the team are nearby. The tank begins to fire on the American tank and Tanner sees an opportunity to disable the enemy. In the skirmish, Arturo is killed and Tanner is critically wounded by a grenade. Before he succumbs to his injuries, he is able to mark the tank with a colored smoke bomb, making it visible to the American forces. They destroy the tank and Tanner along with it. Back in camp, Erica becomes deeply depressed over his loss, having been attracted to him. A small funeral is held for Tanner and Arturo. Their names are carved by the team into a nearby rock as a memorial.

    Meanwhile, Colonel Bella and his superior, the Russian Cossack Major General Bratchenko (Vladek Sheybal), call in a Soviet special forces team to hunt the Wolverines. Before they move in, their commander, Major Strelnikov (William Smith), orders the forces in the area to cease their reprisals and atrocities against the local population, saying terror tactics like those will not win the conflict for them in the long term.

    The Soviet commandos move into the mountains, using a tracking device to find the Wolverines, however, the teens are waiting for them and kill most of the commandos. One is left alive and is interrogated by the group. They discover the tracking device, which reveals that the Daryl is a traitor, having stolen away from the team and into town to see his father despite Jed's strictest orders. While there, he had been forced to swallow a tracing bug and reveal his and his friends' location in the mountains. The team makes a tough decision to execute both Daryl and the Soviet prisoner. Jed, enraged by the Soviet invasion, kills the soldier and turns his gun on Daryl, but is unable to kill him. Robert steps up and very casually and coldly and shoots Daryl, leaving the team horrified at his callousness in executing a friend.

    By March of the following year, after five months of fighting, the Wolverines are physically and emotionally weakened, however, by the attacks and other events, and their morale erodes as the war of attrition continues. Even though the American civilians are increasingly resistant to Soviet rule, the occupation forces are pushing the resistance of the Wolverines to the breaking point.

    A few days later, while observing a small detachment of Soviet vehicles, Jed notices that they drop a few cartons of food and calls off their attack. They scrounge what's there and take it back to their camp. However, the food has somehow been bugged and three heavily armed Soviet Mi-24 Hind helicopters move in and attack the group. Toni is shot immediately and is taken to cover by Jed. The rest of the group also makes it to cover, however, Robert's horse is shot out from under him. He makes a final stand, damaging one chopper with an RPG, killing the door gunner, and firing his rifle at a second. He is killed in a hail of gunfire. Jed and the seriously wounded Toni share a final moment and Jed leaves her a grenade. Later, when the Soviets find her dead body, the grenade has been left live under her and goes off, taking at least one Russian soldier with it.

    Jed adds Toni's and Robert's names to those already on the memorial rock. Tired and demoralized by the loss of their friends, Jed and Matt prepare an suicidal attack on the Soviet headquarters in Calumet itself which will serve as a diversion allowing Erica and Danny to escape to Free America. During the climatic final battle, many Soviet, Cuban, and enemy soldiers and officers are killed during the fighting. Jed and Matt kill Bratchenko and blow up his communications trailer with RPG's. While trying to escape on a nearby train, Matt is shot by the pursuing Strelnikov. Jed sneaks up on Strelnikov and the two shoot each other simultaneously at close range. Strelnikov is killed and Jed is wounded in his side. Colonel Bella sees Jed holding his brother, but does not shoot them and lets him pass. Jed takes his fatally wounded brother to a bench in the town's empty, snowy park square and cradles him as he dies. Jed refuses to leave Matt behind and stays, holding his dead brother while waiting to die or for the Soviet troops to find and finish him off. At the same time, Bella, equally war weary and hoping to leave the prolonged conflict, returns to his headquarters and finishes writing out a letter of resignation from the Cuban Army.

    The film closes with Erica and Danny being the only two survivors of the original team. They make their way to Free America territory in the Great Plains. Erica narrates the final scene of the film, saying that the war eventually ended. She adds that she often visits a memorial to their friends called "Partisan Rock", but no one else ever visits. The memorial has an inscription that invokes the words of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The memorial, its inscription, and the presence of an American flag indicate America won the war.

    The plaque reads: "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 should not perish from the earth."

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