"These are great days we're living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss not having anyone around that's worth shooting."Full Metal Jacket
— Crazy Earl
(1987) is the story of the Vietnam War
seen through the eyes of a US Marine known to the audience as "Joker". The movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick
, is split into two parts. The first part follows Joker alongside his fellow Marine recruits through Boot Camp as they suffer under the colorful Gunnery Sergeant Hartman
, and the second part follows Joker's struggle to keep his humanity while he covers the Vietnam War as a combat correspondent during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers
by former Marine Gustav Hasford, published in 1979. The novel is split into three sections (the film merges the second and third into a single part) and features more complex writing as the story progresses.
The title refers to the type of ammunition used by military rifles. A full metal jacket is a copper coating on the outside of a bullet that prevents it from deforming or breaking apart on impact (as well as keeping it from slowly filling the rifling with lead), as is required per the Hague Convention. According to the highest moral authority on the planet, it is acceptable to shoot people with these bullets (as opposed to bullets which are designed to deform or splinter when they hit their targets, which generally makes for a much nastier wound).
This is the only major film about the Vietnam War
that focuses on urban warfare rather than the jungle.
Definitely not to be confused with Fullmetal Alchemist
or Full Metal Panic!
Provides examples of:
- Acoustic License: The scene in the helicopter where Joker is interviewing a door gunner as he strafes the countryside. Everyone can hear each other as long as they SHOUT.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Marine base at Da Nang comes under attack by the NVA as the Tet Offensive begins. The invasion is easily repelled, but this an exception in the middle of a general offensive all over the country.
- Anti-Villain: Hartman is a jerk and treats his recruits like shit. But after all he's just doing his job to motivate the recruits properly to turn them into Marines.
Hartman: My orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?
- The All Solving Hammer: At first Hartman calmly tells Pyle to place the weapon on the deck and step away. When Pyle doesn't comply, Hartman reverts to his default method of persuasion. The fact that Hartman's solution to a clearly deranged recruit pointing a loaded rifle at him is to insult him seems to imply that he had gotten it in his head that he could solve any problem by yelling at it. Partially Truth in Television; while this is standard procedure in the military, and while it's taught that nine times out of ten a show of strong force will cause a person to back down, there is a world of difference between a show of force and needlessly insulting and antagonizing a seriously disturbed man with a loaded gun. Someone having a massive mental breakdown with a loaded gun is not what standard procedure is designed for.
- Armchair Military / Marines At The Rear
- Lt. Lockhart, Joker's "Stars and Stripes" CO.
Joker: Maybe you should go out on some ops yourself, sir. I'm sure you could find a lot more blood trails and drag marks.
Lockhart: Joker, I've had my ass in the grass. Can't say I liked it much. Lots of bugs and too dangerous. As it happens, my present duties keep me where I belong; in the rear with the gear.
- When he's introduced, Rafterman is shown lamenting having to be this.
Rafterman: I hate Da Nang, Joker. I want to go out into the field. I've been in country almost three months, and all I do is take handshake shots at award ceremonies.
- Artistic License Basic Training: A few examples.
- The Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed that the recruits recite before lights out is an abridged version of the real one.
- R. Lee Ermey, formerly a real-life Drill Sergeant Nasty, once said in an interview, that a drill instructor would never slap, choke or punch a recruit (at least openly), even back in his day as a young Marine. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is also far more verbally abusive in the movie than what is permitted in real-life.
- In the book Sergeant Gerheim (as he was known) isn't near as vulgar, but calls people into his office or the showers to beat them in private. He encourages other punishments -some worse- or orders the other recruits to perform them.
Gerheim: Ready, Whiz!
:: Ermey, in an interview, once recalled that story and pointed out that any DI who ever tried something like that would never have been able to command respect among his recruits again.
- Asian Hooker Stereotype: This movie is a famous example, with it's infamous line "Me so horny. Me love you long time. Me sucky sucky".
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Likewise, "Me Love You Long Time."
- Asshole Victim: As much as Sgt. Hartman having to do his job (as mentioned above), it may be hard to feel sorry for him when he gets killed by Private Pyle.
- A-Team Firing: Sort of in the sniper scene. When Eightball is shot, the group starts shooting at the two front buildings. Then Doc Jay goes to recover him and gets shot too. Then when Animal Mother reaches them, he realizes that there's only a lone sniper, far back in a distant building, and that they've wasted bullets shooting at literally nothing.. Justified as it's meant as suppression fire.
- Ate His Gun: Private Pyle.
- Ax-Crazy: Private Pyle becomes this near the end of the first part, though he only kills one other person.
- Badass Bandolier: Animal Mother has two bandoliers of ammo for his M-60 crossed over his torso. Other Marines can also be seen carrying bandoliers holding extra ammo for their weapons as well.
- Badass Boast:
- "God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see! He plays His games, we play ours! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls!"
- The door gunner thinks his deeds are something to brag about.
Door gunner You guys ought to do a story about me sometime [...] cause I'm so fucking good! That ain't no shit, neither. I've done got me 157 dead gooks killed and 50 water buffaloes, too! Them are all certified.
- Bad Boss: Hartman is an unforgiving sergeant who goes around insulting, punching, punishing, and yelling at his recruits, would-be soldiers he intends to weed out.
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Or rather having a blanket party thrown on you makes you evil.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Inverted. A Vietnamese prostitute does not want to have sex with 8-Ball, a black Marine, at first because he is "too beaucoup."
- Big "NO!": Joker lets one out when Pyle commits suicide.
- Bittersweet Ending: The war ain't over yet, and Joker's got a whole lot more hell in store for him, he's in a world of shit, but he's not afraid and he's happy to be alive.
- Black Comedy: Plenty of Comedic Sociopathy remarks from the Marines.
: I wanted to see exotic Vietnam... the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and kill them
. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill
- Black Comedy Rape: Male on female. Not actual rape but a joke about it. While in the barracks, Stork, a white Marine jokes with Payback, a black Marine, "How do you stop five black men from raping a white woman?" Answer: "Throw them a basketball."
- Black Dude Dies First: Corporal Eightball is the one sent to do recon and the first to be gunned down by the sniper. He's helplessly aware of the trope. Black soldiers in the Vietnam War often got assigned the less desirable or more dangerous tasks as a matter of course.
"Put a nigger behind the trigger."
- Black Is Bigger in Bed: "No boom-boom with the soul brother". At one point, a hooker initially refuses to sleep with an African-American man because of his so-called "Alabama blacksnake". 8-ball has to graphically debunk it.
- Blood Knight: Joker claims that he joined the Corps to be a killer. However, he's probably being sarcastic, since he's a military journalist, and when he has to perform a Mercy Kill, he finds it very hard. Straighter examples in Animal Mother and Crazy Earl.
Crazy Earl: I will never forget this day. The day I came to Hue City and fought one million N.V.A. gooks. I love the little Commie bastards, man, I really do. These enemy grunts are as hard as slant-eyed drill instructors. These are great days we're living, bros! We are jolly green giants, walking the earth with guns. These people we wasted here today ... are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss not having anyone around that's worth shooting.
- Booby Trap: An extremely dastardly one, to boot. A stuffed rabbit attached to a hidden antipersonnel mine, the sort of thing that was all too common in the real war.
- Break the Fatty: Private Gomer Pyle gets it worse than the rest of the recruits due to being overweight and mentally slow, most of it at the hands of the original Drill Sergeant Nasty. The worst of it comes when the other recruits, pissed off after the entire platoon was punished due to Hartman finding a jelly doughnut in Pyle's foot locker, throw him a blanket party by pinning him to his bunk with a blanket and beating the crap out of him with bars of soap wrapped in bath towels. All this eventually leads to his psychotic breakdown, his murder of Hartman and his ultimate suicide.
- Brick Joke:
- In a meeting with his fellow "Stars and Stripes" personnel, Joker and the other Marines are being informed by their CO, Lt. Lockhart, of upcoming events, one of which is a USO visit by actress, Ann-Margret. A few scenes later, after being informed by Lt. Lockhart about the Tet offensive by the NVA and how bad the situation is, Joker, asks, after a few moments of silence, "Sir, does this mean that Ann-Margret's not coming?"
- The whole bit about Joker wanting to bang Cowboy's sister. It's the first thing they reminisce about when they reunite in Vietnam.
- Call Back: Several:
- Joker references actor John Wayne during both segments. First in the boot camp segment, in his very first line in the film, when he says out loud and in Wayne's voice, after Gunny Hartman's opening speech, "Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?". He repeats the line later during the Vietnam segment, while the Marines are being filmed while going into Hue to take the city back from the NVA.
- "A world of shit". Gunny Hartman first tells the recruits during marksmanship training that this is what they will be in if they hesitate in combat. It's referred to at the end of both of segments. At the end of the boot camp segment, Joker, after, finding the crazy Leonard in the head with his rifle, tell him that if Hartman catches them, they'll "both be in a world of shit" to which Leonard replies, "I AM...in a world...of shit." At the end of the Vietnam segment, Joker says, during his closing narration, "I am in a world of shit."
- Gunny Hartman said to the recruits when they got their rifles: "You will give your rifle a girl's name! Because this is the only pussy you people are going to get! Your days of finger-banging old Mary Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over!" In the closing narration, Joker says: "My thoughts drift back to erect nipple wet dreams about Mary Jane Rottencrotch and the Great Homecoming Fuck Fantasy."
- The Real Life Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed. An abridged version is first said by the recruits in unison as they're lying in bed before lights out. It's later repeated partially and very loudly by Leonard after he snaps and is in the head with his rifle.
- Mickey Mouse is referred to at the end of both segments. At the end of the boot camp segment, Gunny Hartman yells "What is this Mickey Mouse shit." At the end of the Vietnam segment, the Marines are singing the theme song to The Mickey Mouse Club as they march away from the burning city of Hue. Also a Freeze-Frame Bonus: look toward the background of Lt. Lockhart's office at the right time and guess what you'll see? Figurines of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
- Probably the darkest call back of the whole movie. Joker gets heckled for claiming he's seen combat when the veterans listen to his badass boasts. Payback calls B.S. on him because he doesn't have the thousand-yard-stare. Much later, in the last moments of the movie, Joker wills himself to finish off a teenage sniper... and as the tension and shock from pulling the trigger wears off, he's transfixed with a thousand-yard-stare of his own.
- California Doubling: London for both Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and for Vietnam.
- Camp Follower: There are two scenes in the movie focused on prostitution.
- Cargo Ship: In-universe example. Gunny Hartman orders the recruits to give their rifle a girl's name "Because this is the only pussy you people are going to get!" Private Pyle, after he goes insane, seems more than a little doting over his rifle (Charlene, if you were wondering).
- Chewing the Scenery: "Hiiiiiiii...Jooooooookerrrrrrrr..."
- Cluster F-Bomb: The scene introducing Gunny Hartman. To be blunt, the whole movie is peppered with these, but it's fully justified in that these are Marines.
- Cold Sniper: The Viet Cong sniper at the end of the movie.
- Comical Angry Face: Hartman finds Joker's "war face" unconvincing.
- Comically Missing the Point:
Joker: How can you shoot women and children?
Door gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Hartman reacts to Pyle taking a jelly donut by... forcing him to eat while everyone else does pushups (he does so nearly crying... but goes on to actually do that when they respond by tying him down to his bunk and beat him with bars of soap).
- Coup de Grâce: Joker gives one to the teenage VC sniper despite the rest of his squad wanting to leave her to die.
- Creator Cameo: Stanley Kubrick is Murph, the voice on the other end of the radio when Joker's squad calls for tank support.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Hartman makes threats like: "I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!" and "I will gouge out your eyeballs and skullfuck you!"
- Deadly Euphemism: Openly admitted to by Lt. Lockhart when he tells one of the "Stars and Stripes" Marines to substitute the phrase "Search and Destroy" with "Sweep and Clear".
- Deadpan Snarker: Joker. (Hence, his name.) Which sticks with him after boot camp which usually doesn't happen since most nicknames are derogatory. In this case, Joker probably liked the name enough to possibly introduce himself to the other Marines at Stars and Stripes, making himself even more a Joker.
- Death by Irony:
- Gunny Hartman. More emphasis on this in the book than in the movie. In the book, when he gets shot, before he dies, he says " Private Pyle, I'm so proud." (He's glad that was finally able to make him a killer, which he had been struggling to do all through boot camp.)
- Hand Job had just qualified for a Section 8. Too bad the papers didn't get processed sooner.
- Dead Guy on Display: The Hotel company keeps a dead Vietnamese soldier resting with them. They are otherwise respectful towards him, as he is considered a Worthy Adversary.
- Deep South: Invoked by Gunny Hartman when he gives Cowboy his nickname, saying "Only steers and queers come from Texas."
- Despair Event Horizon: What Leonard is driven to.
- Dies Wide Open: Cowboy.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Which drove Kubrick absolutely bonkers. Even when he tried to make war as shitty as possible, some people still got off to things like the heli gunner shooting the civilians, and the dehumanizing boot camp led by the Drill Sergeant Nasty.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is the Trope Codifier and is close to an Unbuilt Trope since he fails to notice the Sanity Slippage of one of his recruits and the instruction goes horribly right for him. Ermey was an actual Marine Drill instructor in the sixties and his performance is Truth in Television; Marine drill instructors regularly use very similar hilarious instruction in an attempt to get officer candidates to smile, laugh, or otherwise break attention. Originally brought in to advise the actor playing GySgt. Hartman on how to be more convincing, he recorded a videotape of himself yelling insults at a group of British Royal Marines. His performance was so impressive that he got the role instead. Ermey was allowed to write or ad-lib many of his own lines by acknowledged Control Freak Stanley Kubrick and later got promoted to Gunnery Sergeant - in 2002, 30 years after he had already been discharged.
- Empathy Doll Shot: Subverted. One of the Marines finds an oversized stuffed rabbit lying in the rubble of Hue, and picks it up out of confusion. It's attached to an antipersonnel mine. Boom.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: The Time Skip after boot camp is illustrated by Joker sporting a full head of relatively wild hair.
- False Dichotomy: Only two things come from Texas...
- The Film of the Book: Based on the novel, "The Short Timers" by Gustav Hasford.
- Flowery Insults: Hartman's whole shtick.
- Freudian Excuse: Invoked by Gunny Hartman to Leonard/Pyle. Doubles as Famous Last Words, as Leonard kills him after.
Hartman: What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn't mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?
- General Ripper: The colonel who gives Joker grief over the peace-symbol button he's wearing.
"Inside every Vietnamese is an American fighting to get out."
- The Generic Guy: Doc Jay, Donlon and Rock.
- Genre Savvy: Cowboy knows better than to try recovering the wounded Marines shot by the sniper because he knows from experience that the sniper is just trying to lure them into the line of fire one by one. Animal Mother, on the other hand, though not Genre Blind, just doesn't care. After all, his best friends are getting shot up.
- Joker handles Pyle's breakdown decidedly better than Hartman did. Calling Pyle by his real name (Leonard) is probably what spared him a similar fate since Pyle had his gun pointed at Joker up until that point.
- Girlish Pigtails: The Sniper. And they're braided.
- Gone Horribly Right: Hartman's goal is to turn the new recruits into remorseless killing machines. In Pyle's case, he succeeds all too well.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Averted for the most part, it's a Kubrick film, but played straight with The Sniper's death.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Sergeant Hartman.
- Halfway Plot Switch: Joker and Cowboy are the only things connecting the boot camp plotline to the Vietnam plotline.
- Hand Gun: Joker pulls out a pistol when confronting the sniper after finding out his rifle is out of ammo. Later uses it to finish her off.
- Hates Everyone Equally: Part of the job for a Drill Sergeant Nasty, according to Hartman:
Gunnery Sgt. Hartman: Because I am hard, you will not like me. The more you hate me the more you will learn. I am hard, but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers! Here you are all equally worthless!
- Hate Sink: Lee Ermey was trying to play Hartman as this. Some didn't get it.
- Hope Spot: Leonard actually starts improving as a marine when Hartman puts him under the tutelage of Joker. Then Hartman finds that jelly donut in Leonard's footlocker and it all goes seriously downhill from there...
- I Call It Charlene: Enforced by GySgt Hartman, taken very seriously by Pvt. Pyle.
- I Know Mortal Kombat: Joked about by Joker when he meets Animal Mother.
Animal Mother: You seen any combat?
Joker: Seen a little on TV.
- Important Haircut: The opening montage is of new recruits with many varied hairstyles, colours, lengths, etc undergoing the ritual head shave of the Marines, emerging with identical buzzcuts.
- Intimidation Demonstration: After a Vietnamese boy steals a camera and tosses it to his friend on a bike, he turns around and starts doing a series of palm strikes in the air and making fierce screams, then does a spin kick. Joker then proceeds to imitate him from a distance.
- Ironic Nickname: Hartman nicknames a black recruit "Private Snowball."
- Irony: Joker puts a peace sign in his helmet, on which is written "Born to Kill" ("I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.")
- Courtesy of Sgt. Hartman: "There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers."
- Just Plane Wrong: A minor offender - the helicopter which transports Joker and Rafter Man to Hue is British built Westland Wessex - a licence variant of Sikorsky HUS-1/UH-34 used by the USMC in the war, but powered by turboshaft engines and thus with minor yet visible visual differences.
- Karma Houdini: The Door Gunner.
- Kick the Dog: The Door Gunner is not happy enough killing unarmed civilians, he also goes out of his way to kill their water buffaloes, all of said kills being certified.
- Kill Him Already: The discussion over the VC sniper.
- Kubrick Stare: Pvt. Pyle, before his suicide.
- Large Ham: Hartman, of course.
- Lead The Target
- Little Miss Badass: The sniper.
- Malaproper: Lee Harvey Oswald shot "from that book suppository building, sir!"
- Mama Bear: Rafterman's mom, as mentioned by Joker, when Rafterman is lamenting being stuck in the rear.
Rafterman: A high school girl could do my job. I want to get out into the shit. I want to get some trigger time.
Joker: If you get killed, your mom will find me after I rotate back to the world and she'll beat the shit out of me. That's a negative, Rafterman.
- Man Hug: Joker and Cowboy share a rather heartfelt one when they are reunited.
- Meaningful Name / Punny Name: Courtesy of The Nicknamer Sgt. Hartman, some soldiers are Only Known by Their Nickname:
- Private Joker, "a fucking comedian".
- Private Cowboy: from Texas, where "steers and queers" roam the plains.
- The Medic: Doc Jay.
- Mercy Kill: The VC sniper asks for this. Joker eventually performs it, and the rest of the squad compliment him on his cold-blooded killing, when it was really an act of mercy.
- Military Maverick: Animal Mother, who responds to Cowboy's order to stay put with "Fuck you".
- Mood Whiplash:
- In-universe, done intentionally by Joker. In a meeting with his fellow "Stars and Stripes" Marines, after being informed by Lt. Lockhart about the Tet offensive by the NVA and how bad the situation is, Joker, asks, after a few moments of silence, "Sir, does this mean that Ann Margaret's not coming?"
- There are numerous mood whiplashes in the film: 1. The opening 3-4 minutes with the heads being shaved followed by Hartman's rant are somewhat amusing. We could all relate to Pyle's stupid little grin, until he choked him and asked "are you through grinning yet?" He was, and so was the audience. 2. Rounds and rounds of fire being exchanged, cease fire, tense moments of silence.....Then "Surfer Bird." 3. Standing over the body of their dead commander: "you're going home now". "Semper Fi". "We're mean Marines sir". "Better you than me."
- After the horrific Murder-Suicide, the next shot is of the hooker walking to the tune of "These Boots Are Make for Walkin'".
- More Dakka:
- Animal Mother and his M60.
- The Door Gunner taking potshots at civilians.
- Murder-Suicide: After Private Pyle kills Sgt. Hartman, he seems to realize that he'll be severely punished, perhaps even executed, for his crime, and shoots himself in the mouth. Or, he's just in a World of Shit and doesn't want to live anymore regardless.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Pyle is Driven to Suicide after he shoots Hartman, realizing what punishments could lie ahead.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits!:
- After meeting Joker, Hartman sarcastically tells him that "you can come over to my house and fuck my sister." Followed by a punch to Joker's gut.
- Subverted; while cleaning the head (bathroom) Joker says to Cowboy "I wanna slip my tube steak into your sister. What'll you take in trade?" to which Cowboy simply replies "What've you got?" Cowboy later brings it up again in Vietnam, when he ask if Joker has been getting any to which Joker replies, "Only your sister".
- Naïve Newcomer: Rafterman receives a healthy dose of exposition.
- Never Trust a Trailer: Not quite a trailer, but the film was promoted with an official Stupid Statement Dance Mix of the same title which was a big hit in the UK. Not only did it imply the film was more of a knockabout comedy, it was also entirely unrepresentative of the movie's actual soundtrack.
- Nice Hat: Sgt Hartman is never once seen without his hat. Even in the bathroom confrontation. (Truth in Television: Try and find a USMC Drill Instructor without his campaign cover. While Marines don't wear covers indoors except under arms, DI's are a notable exception.)
- The Nicknamer: GySgt. Hartman. His nicknames stick, even after the candidates graduate from boot camp.
- Nicknaming the Enemy: The Marines casually use the disparaging word "gook" more often than "Vietnamese". The neutral moniker "Charlie" is also used sporadically.
- No Indoor Voice: Hartman yells at the top of his voice when he gets his dander up.
- Nothing Personal: Discussed by Joker and Rafterman about the South Vietnamese.
Rafterman: You know what really pisses me off about these people?
Rafterman: We're supposed to be helping them, and they shit all over us every chance they get. I just can't feature that.
Joker: Don't take it too hard, Rafterman, it's just business.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Cowboy actually wanted to leave Eightball and Doc Jay behind, realizing that they couldn't save them anyway, and the sniper is trying to lure the rest of the Marines out. However, Animal Mother refused to follow his orders.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: The door gunner for the Americans. The mass grave for the Vietcong.
- Oh, Crap:
- Hartman, upon being informed that Private Pyle has a full magazine, and is locked and loaded.
- Joker as well when he realizes the same.
Joker: "Are those live rounds?"
- Animal Mother, when his attempt to Rescue Eightball and Doc Jay leads to their deaths and a near-miss with the sniper.
- Joker, when he tries to shoot the VC sniper in the back, only to hear a click, indicating he's out of ammo and which lets the sniper know he's there.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Most of the Marines. Joker, Cowboy, Rafterman, Animal Mother, and 8Ball.
- Parental Incest: Joked about by Cowboy after he meets up with Joker in Vietnam.
Cowboy: Been getting any?
Joker: Only your sister.
Cowboy: Well, better my sister than my mom, and my mom ain't bad.
- Pet the Dog: Hartman gives Pyle a genuine compliment as he observes him at the rifle range.
Hartman: Outstanding, Private Pyle. I think we finally found something that you do well!
- There is a cruel subversion earlier on. At one point Hartman sings Happy Birthday to the parade, implying that it is a special day for one of the recruits, only he ends it with "Happy Birthday Dear Jesus" and it's Christmas... with no letters or presents, just a mandatory chapel service.
- Pinned Down: By a sniper. The end result isn't pretty.
- Politically Correct History: Averted.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Leonard does it twice, "Seven-six-two millimeter. Full. Metal. Jacket." and "I * AM* ... in a world... of shit."
- A Real Man Is a Killer: An implicit motto of the Corps, which serves to underscore the dehumanization motifs. The recruits stop being pukes and maggots when they become Marines, the Marines want killers, not robots and a full-fledged Marine only hatches after gaining the Thousand-Yard Stare, often associated with his first kill.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Part of a Drill Sergeant Nasty's job. Most of Gunny Hartman's dialogue is this, but especially his opening speech upon meeting the new recruits.
- Rated M for Manly
- Refuge in Audacity: When confronted by Hartman, Joker sticks to his skepticism regarding the Virgin Mary because he (correctly) identifies the situation as a Morton's Fork where he would be punished more if he changes his stance. Hartman is impressed and immediately promotes him to squad leader.
Sgt. Hartman: Private Joker is silly and he's ignorant but he has guts, and guts is enough.
- Reveille: Reveille is featured in the boot camp act.
- Right Hand Versus Left Hand: Private Pyle has trouble distinguishing left from right. So Hartman decides to slap a sense of direction into him.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Animal Mother's hail of gunfire, punctuated by bellicose swearing as he chases after the sniper.
- Sadistic Choice: As a result of the Pinned Down situation described above. Do you watch your friend scream in agony as a sniper continues to riddle his body with bullets, or run out to help him, likely getting yourself killed as well as a result?
- Sanity Slippage: Pvt. Pyle can't hack it until he gets broken, gradually becoming a deranged and alienated sociopath afterwards.
- Scenery Gorn: The bombed out city of Hue.
- Schmuck Bait: Crazy Earl falls for a booby-trapped stuffed rabbit in the middle of a wrecked building, and dies when he trips the bomb.
- Screw the War, We're Partying!:
- Whoring and comparing body counts are the most popular hobbies in 'Nam.
- Inverted by the Viet Cong; they launch the Tet offensive during the Vietnamese New Year to surprise the Americans, who had assumed the party would halt the warring. Joker brings up rumors about a breaking of the cease-fire agreement, but his Lieutenant disregards it.
- Semper Fi: Gunny Hartman believes that the Marines are an elite unit of killers. However, the Marines we see in Vietnam are largely disorganized and demotivated, and they aren't very effective against the VC sniper who turns out to be a teenage girl.
- Severed Head Sports: A deleted scene showed soldiers playing soccer with a severed head.
- She's Got Legs: The Da Nang prostitute.
- Shoot Everything That Moves: The door gunner certainly qualifies. "Anyone who runs is a VC! Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined VC!"
- Lawrence of what? of Arabia? [...] only sailors and faggots are called Lawrence.
- Gomer Pyle is a young character in The Andy Griffith Show, who left to join the Marines in his own spinoff sitcom.
- Joker's fondness of John Wayne. His "pilgrim" imitation comes from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
- The lateral travelling shots where a crew is filming the soldiers is an homage to a similar scene in Apocalypse Now.
- There are several loving homages to the 1957 film The DI, staring Jack Webb.
- Joker name drops Carl Jung, whose psychological theory emphasizes that a healthy man embraces his feminine side. Contrary to that, the film is awash in symbolic (and at the end, very literal) instances of degradation and destruction of the feminine, because according to the Marine Corps, A Real Man Is a Killer.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot:
- Shown Their Work: Except for some minor inaccuracies here and there, the film shows Kubrick's usual meticulousness applied to a military setting. It's a testament to the work that even decades after its 1987 release, modern recruits get some savviness about what to expect in training thanks to the film, which is a period piece of the 60s.
- Slasher Smile: Pvt. Pyle sports one when Joker finds him with his rifle.
- Sociopathic Marine: Omnipresent, and usually of type 1 and/or 3.
- Where do we start... Animal Mother is probably the most spectacular example, as is the Door Gunner.
- The entire point of the film. See how Leonard has to become crazy to be a good soldier. This is keeping with the concept of dehumanization.
- Hartman gloats about the Marine-taught shooting prowess of Austin sniper Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald. Doubly obnoxious because Whitman's massacre would have been barely a year old by the time the movie was set.
- Hartman himself gets a few minor examples in that some of the disciplinary tactics he reserves for Pyle arguably cross into psychological abuse territory.
- Sock It To Them: The infamous "blanket party" scene, where everyone puts a bar of soap in a sock, and participates in a run-by pummeling of Leonard.
- Sound Off: You'll hear some Jody calls during the first act, and you'll also hear the Mickey Mouse Club theme song used as a marching song in the second act.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- The film opens with the song "Hello Vietnam" by Johnnie Wright, which idealistically describes the war in Vietnam as a noble endeavor to preserve freedom.
- "Surfin Bird" by The Trashmen plays as the camera pans over a bleak, wasteland-like firing line.
Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?
- In the actual Vietnam War, an obscene variant of that song was popular among troops, with the famous refrain being replaced with "F-U-C-K-E-D A-G-A-I-N!"
- "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups plays before the Marine base gets attacked by the NVA in the Tet offensive.
- Nancy Sinatra's feminist anthem "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" with a Da Nang prostitute.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Rafterman is run over by a tank in the book.
- Cowboy is spared in the sense that his death is much quicker (by a single shot) in the film. In the book, he runs into the ambush and mercy-kills the wounded men, but before he can kill himself, the sniper shoots his pistol out of his hand and wounds him repeatedly. Joker then mercy-kills him in turn.
- Starter Villain: Hartman is only there for the first act but he's as close to a villain as the movie gets.
- Strawman News Media: Minor examples of both of Type 2 and Type 3 with Lt. Lockhart. He explains to Joker that the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper needs to run positive stories about the war because of the negative stories being run by the media back in the States.
Lockhart: Joker, I've told you, we run two basic stories here; grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants; winning of hearts and minds—okay? And combat action that results in a kill; winning the war.
Lockhart: Joker, maybe you'd like our guys to read the paper and feel bad. I mean, in case you didn't know it, this is not a particularly popular war, and it's our job to report the news that the "why-are-we-here" civilian newsmen ignore.
- Streetwalker: The Da Nang prostitute.
- Take That: Hartman unleashing his inner critic on Lawrence:
Hartman: You're so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!
- Tank Goodness: Played straight during the scenes where the Marines are approaching Hue and entering Hue. Subverted during the Pinned Down scene where Cowboy attempts to call in tank support only to be told they have to wait.
- Tanks, but No Tanks: Also a minor offender - during combat in Hue City, the tanks employed are actually light tanks M41 Walker Bulldognote , not M48 Patton medium tanks used by the USMC tank battalions in the Real Life battle. On the other hand, M41 is visually quite similar to M48, and both camera angles used and editing made very difficult to actually notice the difference when casually watching the film.
- Tempting Fate: Happens subtly. "I am fucking bored to death, man!" Not for long, you aren't.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Payback says that you can see that Joker is a new guy, because he haven't got the thousand-yard stare. "A Marine gets it after he's been in the shit for too long. It's like... it's like you've really seen beyond. I got it. All field Marines got it." Joker ends up getting it too after he kills the Viet Cong sniper.
- That's an Order: Said by Cowboy to Animal Mother when Cowboy tells him to wait for the tank and not to try recovering the wounded Marines shot by the sniper, to which Animal Mother responds with a big "fuck you".
- Title Drop: Courtesy of Leonard, as he talks lovingly (and creepily) about the ammunition for his rifle. So very Kubrickian.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Yes, continue to taunt the broken and apparently psychotic recruit who is pointing a loaded weapon at you.
- Noble as it may be, when you've just seen someone shot by a sniper, it's probably wise not to walk into the same line of fire to recover him.
- Hey, Cowboy, maybe you shouldn't hide behind the part of the wall with a big hole in it. *BAM* Never mind.
- Took a Level in Badass: Pyle, believe it or not. He loses weight and learns how to act like a Marine after he gets a harsh lesson in conformity from his fellow recruits. Unfortunately, he turns Ax-Crazy at the same time.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Played with by Gunny Hartman when he tells a black recruit named Private Snowball that Snowball won't like that "they don't serve fried chicken and watermelon on a daily basis in my mess hall", referring to the foods that black people are stereotyped as liking.
- Training from Hell: The first act of the movie which focuses on the recruits going through US Marine Corps boot camp which is generally considered the toughest initial training of the American military branches. Though the only one the audience really sees it as being "from hell" for is Pyle.
- Traumatic Haircut: Boot camp, opening scene. You even see a small thicket of hair piled up on the floor afterward.
- Try Not to Die: Otherwise "you'll be in a world of shit, because Marines are not allowed to die without permission!"
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: The film ends on this note: Animal Mother is the new squad leader.
- Unusual Euphemism:
- Lt. Lockhart refers to a combat kill as a "weenie".
- Also somewhat inverted by Hartman's threat to "gouge out your eyeballs and skullfuck you!"
- Urban Warfare: Rather unusually for a film set in The Vietnam War, most of the combat scenes take place in an urban environment.
- Verbal Tic: Door gunner. "Get some, get some, yeah, get some, get some, get some, get some!" Interestingly enough, in the time it takes him to say "get some", three shots are fired. Not just a tic, but fire discipline.
- The Vietnam War: Obviously. The events can be dated by the Tet Offensive. The second segment takes place in 1968 and the instruction in 1967.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: During the scene with a mass grave of Vietnamese casualties, Joker says the bodies are being covered in lime, a comment that might confuse viewers unfamiliar with chemistry. It's also known as "quicklime" or calcium oxide, a powder that readily absorbs water from moist air or skin. The result is calcium hydroxide, an extremely corrosive chemical that quickly destroys body tissues.
- War Is Glorious: During his speech upon meeting the new recruits, Hartman tells them that if they get through boot camp, they "will be a minister of death praying for war."
- War Is Hell: "Ain't war hell?" Asked by the door gunner in regards to shooting civilians, but done so in a manner that clearly doesn't match the question, laying bare just what kind of guy he is.
- Where Da White Women At?: While in the barracks, Stork, a white Marine, jokes with Payback, a black Marine, "How do you stop five black men from raping a white woman?" Answer: "Throw them a basketball."
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Private Pyle.
- Worthy Adversary:
Crazy Earl: These enemy grunts are as hard as slant-eyed drill instructors.... These people we wasted here today ... are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we're gonna miss not having anyone around that's worth shooting.
- Would Hit a Girl / Would Hurt a Child: The Door Gunner.
Joker: How can you shoot women and children?
Door Gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much. (Laughing) Ain't war hell?
- Also Joker, who finds it extremely uneasy to kill the wounded sniper, who turned out to be a teenage girl.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted big time, again with the Door Gunner.
Door Gunner: Anyone who runs is a VC! Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined VC!
- You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious: Joker calls Pyle by his real name, Lawrence, when he's trying to help him and steer him away from his Despair Event Horizon. It doesn't work.
- You Gotta Be Shitting Me!: Said by Hartman to Joker, as he's reading off the new Marines' MOS's (jobs), and sees that Joker's is basic military journalism.
- You Are in Command Now: Cowboy after his squad leader is killed in action.
- You No Take Candle: The Vietnamese prostitute.