Follow TV Tropes


Film / Red Dawn (1984)

Go To

"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."

Red Dawn is a 1984 war movie written and directed by John Milius. A blatant product of the Red Scare, it was met with mixed-to-negative critical reception at the time of its release, but has attained cult classic status in the years since due to its amusingly unapologetic Patriotic Fervor and surprisingly grim second half.

Set in a world where communist revolutions and civil unrest have swept most of the USA's allies, the film opens on six high school students in a rural Colorado town whose school day is interrupted by what they soon realize are Soviet and Cuban paratroopers landing nearby. Panicked after seeing their teacher gunned down, they pile into a truck and flee into the mountains, led by football star Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen) and his older brother Jed (Patrick Swayze).

Over the next several months, they are joined by fellow student Toni Mason (Jennifer Grey), her sister Erica (Lea Thompson), and downed US Air Force pilot Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe). Trapped far behind enemy lines, hunted by the occupation forces, and armed only with hunting gear and scavenged Soviet equipment, the group forms a ragtag resistance movement known as the Wolverines, named for their school mascot, and begins a long and harrowing guerilla campaign against the communist invaders...

Also noted for being the first onscreen pairing of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze (who later costarred in the classic Dirty Dancing to the delight of fangirls everywhere), the first film to be released with the PG-13 rating, and (for fans of film music in general and Basil Poledouris in particular) the first soundtrack album released by Intrada.

For the 2012 remake, see Red Dawn (2012).


  • Aborted Arc: According to Lea Thompson, the relationship between Erica and Tanner was originally supposed to become romantic, but this was cut from the film after a few previews.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: When Colonel Bella writes a letter to his wife near the end of the film. It's a surprisingly touching scene.
  • Action Girl: Erica and Toni.
  • Action Survivor: All of the Wolverines. They just went into the mountains to get away from the invasion, not to become insurgents. Only Jed and Matt have a decent understanding of how to survive in the wilderness, but even they're in over their heads. They only become fighters after a chance encounter with a random patrol. The trope is then downplayed as their successes are the result of Guerilla-style ambushes. Once the Soviets get serious about finding them, it doesn't take long for them to wipe them out.
  • Analogy Backfire: Only if one assumes this was analogous to the USSR invading Afghanistan. Some mujahideen groups backed by the US and Pakistan gained experience repelling the Soviets, and after forming, the Taliban would later use those skills attacking civilians. And, ironically, Americans.
    • Then there's this:
    Colonel Ernesto Bella: [in the now-occupied Calumet, Colorado] It would seem necessary to win the support of the people. As our opponents used to say in Vietnam: "Win their hearts and minds."
    General Bratchenko: And they lost, Ernesto.
  • Anti-Villain: Colonel Bella, who is an officer in the Cuban army, but finds himself sympathizing with the Wolverines.
    • Spetznaz Colonel Strelnikov is easily the most dangerous and cunning foe the Wolverines contend with. But he is not a psycho or a mass-murderer—hell, he puts a stop to the mass executions of civilians in Calumet. He is a professional soldier doing his duty for his country in time of war. Even using Darryl's family to get to the guerillas is just combat pragmatism, using the most efficient method available to find and eliminate the enemy with minimal friendly casualties. Pretty much a Designated Villain.
  • Anyone Can Die: Even girls, subverting Men Are the Expendable Gender.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Supposedly, a Soviet-Nicaraguan-Cuban force driving north through the newly Soviet-aligned Mexico links up with Soviet paratroopers in eastern Colorado. Other Soviet forces are said to have crossed the Bering Strait, Alaska, and Canada, which is only slightly less likely than flying monkeys from Oz.
    • In-universe, the plan was too ambitious and didn't work. The planned linkup between the two groups got stopped by a decisive battle in the Canadian Rockies, after which the war stalemated.
  • Attack Backfire: When his Spetsnaz unit is brought in specifically to hunt down the Wolverines, Colonel Strelnikov calls for an immediate end to summary executions of unarmed civilians on the grounds that the executions show that they have no idea how to control the situation and further cements support for the Wolverines and spreads anger at the Soviet occupying force.
    Colonel Strelnikov: If a fox breaks into your chicken coop, do you slaughter the pig because it did nothing?
  • Axe-Crazy: Robert slides down the rungs.
  • Badass Crew: The Wolverines
  • Battle Cry: "Wolverines!" The Wolverines are the school football team. The protagonists leave the spray-painted symbol of their mascot at the site of ambushes.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Colonel Ernesto Bella, General Bratchenko, and Colonel Strelnikov. We first meet Colonel Bella, savvy and somewhat noble. Then General Bratchenko, basically the Card-Carrying Villain. Finally Colonel Strelnikov enters the picture specifically to hunt down and eliminate the Wolverines, and a vast departure from our other main bad guys in that he's the most cunning, dangerous, and knowledgeable foe they face. Bella knows how difficult dealing with a civilian resistance is because he used to be part of one, but being an insurgent has not prepared him to fight insurgents. Bratchenko just doesn't get that a massive military machine is not, by default, equipped to deal with guerilla forces. Strelnikov both understands what makes insurgents difficult to deal with and knows how to go about eliminating them with the resources available.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Cuban and Soviet troops speak Spanish and Russian respectively, with subtitles. Played for laughs in one scene when a Soviet soldier playing tourist pretends to translate a forestry sign, saying it commemorates a bloody Indian revolt. What he says is actually a history of the Colorado War. Apparently he really has Shown Their Work.
  • Bittersweet Ending, The kids lose their innocence and all but two lose their lives, though it's suggested by the Partisan Rock memorial that America eventually wins.
    • The “sweet” part is basically the equivalent of half a teaspoon of sugar to a bag of grapefruits. The awkward studio-forced epilogue only provides two bits of good news; America won the war, and Erica survived. But America was already in a very bad state by the time the movie ended and the narration outright states that the war went on for many more years. It’s likely tens of millions of Americans are dead along with hundreds of millions around the world. The world economy is likely in shambles and will probably take decades to recover. Also due to an implied gang rape, Erica was already an emotional wreck before she even appears in the movie. The events we see her go through just make it worse, and many more years of war can’t be much help. She hardly sounds upbeat during the narration. We know several characters die. The fates of everyone other than Erica are unknown. That awkward epilogue is the only thing that prevents an outright Downer Ending.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The history teacher at the beginning of the movie is the very first person killed onscreen when he walks up to some heavily armed paratroopers thinking they're U.S. soldiers training who landed in the wrong place and goes out to greet them. Aardvark (the sole non-white Wolverine) is the first Wolverine to die.
  • Book Burning: During the Wolverines' first incognito visit to Calumet post-invasion, a Red Army soldier is seen hurling stacks of books into a burning dumpster.
  • Book Dumb: When Toni asks Colonel Tanner what the capital of Texas is to confirm he's American and not a spy, he correctly answers Austin. She almost shoots him because she thinks the correct answer is Houston.
  • Broken Aesop: The "They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers" scene is probably intended to be badass but it could just as easily be interpreted as a Stealth Parody about pointless bravado.
  • Broken Bird: It's strongly implied that one (and probably both) of the girls were raped by Soviet soldiers. It's mentioned Soviet soldiers "tried to have their way with them," implying they failed, yet the girl's reactions to certain events and phrases imply something happened before the soldiers were stopped.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Jed.
  • Child Soldiers: The movie does a good job of showing how warfare can psychologically scar child soldiers.
  • Chummy Commies: Believe it or not, this trope seems to exist in the form of China of all things, who are allied with the USA against the USSR after being nuked by the Soviets. America really did go through a détente period in the 70s and 80s with China due to their mutual opposition to the USSR. Even then, however, the relationship was of the Teeth-Clenched Teamwork variety.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Wolverines!
  • *Click* Hello: "You lose."
  • Colonel Badass: Both Tanner and Bella qualify. Strelnikov also qualifies by default, being a Spetznaz operator.
  • Crapsack World:
    • Before the beginning of the story, NATO functionally collapses, the Warsaw Pact subsequently expands, and Mexico goes Communist. It gets a lot worse.
    • The entire reason the Soviets started the war was because a disastrously bad harvest was sending them into a famine, so they wanted to seize the most productive farmland on Earth: the US and Canadian agricultural heartland. Except that the front lines run right through the fertile regions of both countries. American and Canadian defenders very likely adopted "Asset Denial" (AKA Scorched Earth) tactics as they retreated, ruining the farms and ranches under Soviet occupation. Agriculture is badly disrupted, so America (and all the countries that depend on American agricultural exports) is likely to suffer a famine as well. According to the Expanded Universe, the famine ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR.
    • Washington and a half-dozen other places in the US were nuked on the first day, with millions of lives lost. The Soviets also decided to eliminate the Red Chinese wild card by going to town on them with nuclear weapons, incinerating four-hundred million people right out of the starting gate. American and Chinese counterstrikes are never mentioned in the movie, but somebody had to have done something. That many detonations will definitely cause a nuclear winter, which sure as hell won't help with the crops. Plus China is now a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and their downwind neighbors have to have felt the effects of the fallout. Also confirmed (and shown to be even worse than you thought) in the Expanded Universe.
    • The US economy is undoubtedly ruined, and the Soviet economy will be pretty much nonexistent. Never mind China. Get ready for the new Great Depression, happening worldwide.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: During the initial Soviet assault, an American chopper appears twice to attack and harass the enemy (including a rare example of The Cavalry saving the heroes at the beginning of the film). Throughout the rest of the film, the American military is repeatedly referenced to still be in the fight, if not near enough to help the Wolverines.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The USA has been taken over by the communists. Who will save us, if not teenagers? Not teenagers.
  • Death from Above: Early in the movie, a lone American helicopter shows up a couple of times to strafe or fire rockets at Soviet positions, serving as The Cavalry in a Gunship Rescue at one point. Gets an Ironic Echo towards the end when a pair of Soviet Hind gunships slaughter half the group. Also, towards the last act of the film, we see American jets doing bombing runs in "No Man's Land".
  • Deconstruction: Though often held up as a textbook example of a patriotic 80s war movie, it actually deconstructs several key aspects of such movies:
    • For starters, the kids who would become the Wolverines never intended to be insurgents. Instead, they were just terrified kids desperately trying to find a safe place to hide in the mountains. Their first encounter with Soviet troops is just bad luck by being spotted by a patrol, and that encounter then leads to the horrible reprisal of having several people from their hometown, including the father of two of them, summarily executed. Their only successful attacks are guerrilla-style ambushes, and once the Soviet military gets serious about finding them, it doesn’t take long to wipe them out.
    • Nobody is made of iron, in fact we don’t see anyone actually recovering from an injury. They’re all emotionally traumatized by having their lives turned upside down and from everything they’ve had to go through. In fact Robert, Matt, and Jed’s deaths could easily be interpreted as suicides.
    • Many things are actually shown from the enemy’s point of view and they’re not all just faceless mooks.
    • The epilogue (which was only put in at the last minute after the studio forced it) indicates that their actions had very little impact on the overall war effort and, while they have a monument, it is rarely visited, and the Wolverines are largely forgotten.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • The first group of civilians executed by way of reprisal for the Wolverines' attacks dies singing America the Beautiful in the face of the Soviet firing squad.
    • Also Robert, facing down a Mi-24 HIND helicopter with just his AK.
    • Before a civilian execution an old man amongst the corralled civilians spits at the soldiers. Averted as the man is saved by the Wolverines.
  • Dirty Communists: Averted; though the movie doesn't stint in depicting communist atrocities, some of the enemy soldiers are portrayed as human beings rather than evil faceless mooks.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Soviets retaliate for the Wolverines' attacks by mass-executing civilians (including Jed and Matt's father). Rather than serving as a deterrent, the reprisals only encourage the Wolverines to fight harder. Colonel Strelnikov eventually ends the reprisals because of their ineffectiveness.
  • Doomed Hometown: Though the town itself is not destroyed, just captured.
  • Dramatic Drop: When Matt is sent on a recon. mission following the killing of the Soviet patrol, he drops his binoculars right after the men under Col. Bella's command machinegun over a dozen unarmed civilians, including his and Jed's father, in front of a mass grave.
  • Drive-In Theater: Now used as a POW and indoctrination camp.
  • Elite Mooks: Soviet Spetsnaz are brought in to track down the Wolverines. They're as effective as all the other mooks. They may however have been the ones responsible for the ambush that got Robert and Toni killed. Colonel Strelnikov is also the one who kills Jed and Matt, although Jed kills him too.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The revelation that one of their own has betrayed them signifies a turn for the worst for the Wolverines fortunes.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Soviets initially react to insurgent attacks by murdering random civilians. Later on, a counter-insurgency expert from the Soviet VDV is sent in to deal with the insurgency, and the first thing he orders is a halt to the murder of civilians, not so much on ethical grounds, but on the grounds that they're counter-productive by turning the populace against the occupation forces.
    • Near the end, the Cuban colonel comes across one of the Wolverines evacuating one of their injured. He lets them go.
  • Exact Words: Early in the movie, there's a closeup of a "They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers" bumper sticker before the camera pulls back to reveal a Soviet soldier doing exactly that.
  • Expanded Universe: A thread on Alternate, which got to 335 pages (!) as of April 2011 before moving to its current location, is a so-called "double-blind what-if" in which posters role-play veterans of the war depicted in the movie. Much discussion on weapons and campaigns of the war, as well as on the fates of surviving movie characters; for example, Colonel Bella ended up defecting to the Allied side shortly after the events of the movie, became a U.S. citizen and helped U.S. authorities track down war criminals after the end of the war. It has its own TVTropes page.
  • Face Death with Despair: Daryl spends his last moments begging Jed not to kill him and saying a shocked, scared "you're killing me. Why are you killing me?" to Robert when he does the deed.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner:
    • "America, the Beautiful." being sung by prisoners as they're about to be executed en masse.
    • Also the Spetsnaz prisoner about to be shot by the Wolverines. "Dogface! I show you how soldier dies!"
  • Failed Future Forecast: The Soviet Union collapsed just seven years after this film was made. And it's not like it was the height of the Cold War either, despite military overspending... But then again, the movie takes place in an Alternate History anyway.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Averted with Colonel Bella, who is seen writing a heartfelt and moving letter to his wife shortly before the Wolverines attack. He survives the encounter.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Part of the final trap that decimates the Wolverines.
  • Gag Sub: There's a RiffTrax version of it.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: The Wolverines usually leave graffiti behind at the scenes of their ambushes. They also carved the names of their dead on the side of a cliff (resistance Rock) as a memorial.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Soviet Union at large.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The Red Army does pretty vile things, like executing civilians, but the Wolverines aren't above executing a defenseless enemy soldier and one of their own for selling them out. Many communist soldiers, like Colonel Bella, are very human, and collaborators are just people trying to stay alive rather than evil monsters.
  • Gunship Rescue: The movie would have been about 30 minutes long if not for an Army helicopter gunship arriving just in time to clear a path for the heroes to escape into the woods.
  • The Hero Dies: Which contributes to several more tropes being played straight.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Several.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • From a conversation between Robert and Colonel Tanner:
      Tanner: "All that hate's gonna burn you up, kid."
      Robert (carving 'kill' notches on his AKM with a balisong): "Keeps me warm."
    • Jed also shows signs of it, though he is clearly bothered by what he becomes.
  • Hope Spot: When a group of Soviet helicopter gunships attacks the Wolverines, one of the kids manages to nail one with an RPG, only for the helicopter to suffer only minor damage.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: When Action Girl Toni is fatally wounded by Hind gunships, she asks Jed to leave her a hand grenade to kill herself with, saying "I don't want to be cold". She doesn't use it though; just leaves the grenade under her body to kill the first Dirty Communist that tries to move her.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: Generally averted with mock-ups ranging from machine guns to APCs and helicopters, though a sharp-eyed weapons buff can still tell the difference. Elite Mooks use the AK-74 rifle (or at least an effective facsimile, mocked up from the same Egyptian AK copies used by the other "Soviet" extras), rarely seen in movies made before the collapse of the Iron Curtain. A mock-up of a T-72 tank was so accurate it reportedly caught the attention of two CIA men who wanted to know where it had come from.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Tanner needs one after the kids express their ignorance of common military tactical terms.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Averted after the final battle where Dirty Communists used one to track the Wolverines to their lair by having The Mole swallow the homing device.
  • Insert Grenade Here: When the group is pinned down by a tank (which doesn't see them), one of the main characters attempts this but gets hurt pretty badly when the Soviet tankers reverse this trope with a grenade of their own and is unable to complete the task. Instead he sets off a smoke grenade so that an American tank can spot the camouflaged Soviet tank and blow it (and him) up.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Played straight a few times, but largely averted and becomes very important at the end when Jed (maybe) thinks it'll happen when he's got the drop on Col. Strelnekov only for him to survive the gunshot long enough to shoot him back.
  • Invaded States of America: A shining example.
  • It's Up to You: Several adults, most notably Jed and Matt's father.
  • Kick the Dog: The first target of the Soviet Army is a school with no strategic military significance. They also needlessly murder non-resisting students and teachers in the process.
  • La Résistance: The Wolverines after getting their hands on numerous weapons.
  • Minion with an F in Evil:
    • Colonel Ernesto Bella is initially introduced in a way that suggests he's the movie's Big Bad. However, not only is he not in charge of the local occupying force, but is shown to be far more reasonable than his Soviet counterparts (he criticizes them for the stupid tactic of shooting civilians after every Wolverine attack, saying that they're only gaining support because of it, which he knows from having been a Cuban guerrilla during Castro's revolution). He eventually becomes increasingly disillusioned with the war to the point where after the Eckert Brothers' last stand, he momentarily holds them at gun point before letting them go and dropping his gun in disgust. In other circumstances, Bella could well have been a classic Worthy Opponent.
    • In the scene where civilian prisoners/hostages are executed after the Wolverines make their first kills of Soviet soldiers, Bella is clearly far more disgusted by the town mayor's horrified reaction than by the defiance of the executed hostages.
  • Misplaced Retribution: The Soviets respond to the killing of a Soviet patrol squad, which was done in self-defense after a chance encounter, by executing more than a dozen unarmed civilians, including friends and family of the Eckerts and the other teens. When they rename themselves the Wolverines, and conduct a guerilla campaign, the Soviets respond by ordering more and more summary executions of unarmed civilians. This ultimately backfires since the executions only lead to the Wolverines gaining more support from the conquered population, and when Col. Strelnikov and his Spetznas unit is brought in to hunt down the Wolverines, he admonishes Gen. Bratchenko and the men under his command to stop the executions, since they only serve to further support for the Wolverines, and it shows that they have no idea how to control the situation.
    Col. Strelnikov: If a fox breaks into your chicken coop, do you slaughter the pig because it did nothing?
  • Missing Backblast:
    • Averted: In the final battle, two of the American guerillas fire their RPG-7's at the command trailer used by a Soviet general. An enemy soldier who comes round the corner behind them at that precise moment falls to the ground screaming as he's been scorched by the backblast.
    • Subverted in at least one scene, where one of the Wolverines loses his hat while firing an RPG-7.
    • Averted in the opening scene, in which a pair of Soviet troops launch an RPG at Jed's truck. The gunner is seen wearing a face covering, while the assistant gunner is visibly shielding himself from the backblast.
    • Downplayed during the nighttime helicopter attack on Calumet, in which a soldier is seen firing a shoulder-launched SAM. Flames leap from both ends of the launcher when the missile is fired, however the soldier, who is kneeling with his trailing foot dangerously close to the launcher's rear end, seems none the worse for wear.
  • Monochrome Casting: Aardvark is the only Hispanic amongst the otherwise all-white Wolverines. For that matter, the history teacher is the only black man in the movie. He lasts all of three minutes. Possibly justified due to the rural setting, where minorities are rare.
    • The movie was filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico, a town where more than 80% of the population is Hispanic. The setting is changed to the fictional town of Calumet Colorado, but many rural towns in the Mountains of Colorado (with the exception of the wealthy ski resorts which Calumet clearly is not) also have large Hispanic populations.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie keeps shifting between pure Narm (often with lines about patriotism and fighting spirit) and genuinely dark moments.
  • Mr. Exposition: Downed American pilot Col. Tanner gives the Wolverines an Info Dump on the global strategic situation - which, logically, they know little about, being isolated up in the Colorado mountains. In summary:
    • In the first wave, crack Soviet Spetsnaz units parachuted in, disguised as commercial airliners just like they did in the invasion of Afghanistan, in order to seize key passes in the Rocky Mountains. This is what hit Calumet in the opening scene. They coordinated with a handful of tactical nuclear strikes meant to destroy key communication points, including Washington, D.C., Omaha, and Kansas City. Otherwise, the Soviets want to take the US in one piece so they won't use more nukes, and the US won't either on their own soil, which is why the war has been mostly limited to conventional weapons. Both sides were too afraid to use more nukes.
    • The Soviets' used their communist allies in Central America as extra manpower/cannon fodder, much as the Germans used the Romanians as auxiliaries in World War II. After taking over Mexico, the Cuban and Nicaraguan armies spearheaded an invasion into Texas (supplemented by Soviet special forces units). They're aided by Cuban infiltrators who entered the US disguised as illegal aliens, who then raided Strategic Air Command bases when the invasion began. This invasion thrust spread as far west and east as the Rockies and the Mississippi, and as far north as Cheyenne/northern Kansas.
    • The main thrust of the Soviet Army itself came over the Bering Strait, with 60 divisions organized into three main army groups. They pushed through Alaska, cut the oil pipeline, and on into Canada. Their goal was a massive pincer movement with the southern thrust to cut North America in two — but they were decisively stopped in a massive battle in the Canadian Rockies. After that, the battle lines stabilized and the war is at a stalemate.
    • Globally, due to the dissolution of NATO in their alternate history, Europe is sitting this war out and remains neutral - except for the United Kingdom, though Tanner doesn't think they can last long on their own. Meanwhile, Red China is the only other major power on the US's side (apparently as part of the Sino-Soviet rivalry) - but they have paid dearly for it, with 400 million out of 1 billion Chinese dead from Soviet nuclear strikes. While Canada isn't explicitly said to be fighting, it's a safe assumption that they're in the war too, considering the aforementioned invasion through Alaska.
  • Mutual Kill: Jed and Strelnikov.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: A variation of this comes from Colonel Bella after he spares the Eckerts who are already dying of their wounds; he eventually tosses away his rifle, revolted by his part in killing such young people as the Wolverines through all the carnage to follow the invasion.
    • Subverted with Darryl's execution. Robert puts a point-blank burst into his chest, causing Darryl to collapse onto him, leaving blood all over his white winter camo. Robert recoils momentarily, but the look on his face is not horror, but rather, "Fuck, it’s all over me. Now I gotta wash this shit." By this point, it’s been a long time since Robert cared about anything.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: One trailer shows Toni getting harassed by several Soviet soldiers, and when she tries to run away, they run after her - the implication being that they wanted to rape her - before being mowed down by her fellow Wolverines. In the actual film, those soldiers were just messing with her. Then Toni surrendered a lunch basket to them with a bomb in it, which promptly blew up their tank - only then did the soldiers give chase to her before being killed by the Wolverines.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: The Soviets and their communist allies move incredibly fast in the initial invasion. Airborne troops making it all the way to Colorado in the first wave? Implausible but possible. That doesn't quite explain how Soviet armored vehicles are already in town to support the paratroopers and set up roadblocks during the initial assault. Mexico is about 600 miles from the middle of Colorado (a 10-hour drive, assuming no stops). Apparently the Soviets were hauling ass north, ran into no resistance and didn't have to stop to refuel to make it up there without being noticed and before the school day ended.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • One of the Wolverines asks this when Jed is about to execute both a captured soldier and the mayor's completely unwilling turncoat of a son.
      Matt: What's the difference, Jed? Tell me, what's the difference between us and them?
      Jed: Because...WE LIVE HERE! (shoots soldier)
    • Colonel Bella gets his moment as well when the aftermath of a Wolverines raid reminds him of his own guerrilla fighter past during the Cuban Revolution, and past proxy wars that Cuba was involved in, such as the Nicaraguan Revolution, the Angolan Civil War, and the Salvadoran Civil War.
      Bella: I have seen this before. Nicaragua. San Salvador. Angola. Mexico. But these are my men!
  • Nuke 'em: Precision nuclear strikes wipe out silos in the Dakotas, plus key communications points like Omaha, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City (no explanation is given for how this happened with the US nuclear deterrent, except that the Soviet nukes "were a lot more accurate than we expected"). Further strikes are averted by the Soviets' need to take the United States intact. Other countries though...
    Jed Eckert: Well, who is on our side?
    Col. Tanner: Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
    Darryl Bates: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
    Col. Tanner: There were. (tosses his booze on the fire, so it gives out a great burst of flame)
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The whole movie is about this.
  • One Sided Battle: The Wolverines regularly wipe out larger forces, even though guerilla doctrine advises using a large number of guerillas to attack much smaller army units. There is some thought given to tactics however, such as making an ambushed force take cover in an area covered by claymore mines, or using the girls to plant bombs. Also by the end of the movie all except two of the Wolverines have been killed.
  • Overnight Conquest: The Soviet conquest of large parts of the USA is performed in a matter of days. Subverted in that the Americans are said to have rallied and stopped the Soviets cold on every front, leading to a bloody stalemate with a substantial portion of the country under enemy occupation.
  • Possession Implies Mastery: The Wolverines are instant experts with every weapon they capture from the Soviet troops. Justified, to an extent, because Jeb and Matt are both experienced hunters and Soviet weapons were deliberately designed to be easy to operate with little training.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: As stated above, Bella opposes killing civilians not because it is morally wrong but because it increases support for the Wolverines. Strelnikov makes a similar point in his introductory speech, decrying reprisals as "impotence" that makes the Soviets look weak.
  • Precocious Crush: Erica falls in love with older and married Colonel Tanner, though there's nothing physical between them except a bit of tussling.
  • The Quisling: Mayor Bates. Unusually for this trope, he's clearly following the enemy out of fear alone, and justifies his actions with the belief that his cooperation will make things easier on his people. He is obviously terrified and disgusted by his town's new occupiers. It's an impressively realistic portrayal of a collaborator under an occupation.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Wolverines at peak strength are two high school brothers, a cowardly friend, a bloodthirsty friend, a younger friend, a set of sisters they pick up, and a downed airman.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan inspired the film.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Robert drinks the blood of the first deer he shoots, and notes he likes the taste (Truth in Television, by the way. It's an old tradition among deer hunters that you have to drink the blood of your first kill). He eventually ends up the most Axe-Crazy of the Wolverines.
    "Then you'll be a real hunter. My dad said that once you do that, there's going to be something different about you, always."
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan... in America!
  • Red Scare: You'd never guess that the Soviet Union was teetering on the verge of collapse while this film was in production. Of course, very few at the time predicted how soon it would be gone.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Unarmed prisoners and enemy wounded are shot by the Wolverines.
  • Road Block: The Soviets set these up of course as a means of containment. The Wolverines narrowly evade one with the aid of a U.S. Army helicopter.
  • Scenery Dissonance: We are treated to many gorgeous vistas of the New Mexico Rockies and high plains, while the Soviet Union invades. Plus the scene where Toni and Robert are killed by the helicopters is filmed at iconic Ghost Ranch.
  • Shmuck Bait: The Wolverines see a Soviet truck drop some supplies on the road so clumsily that it screams too easy, yet they claim the supplies without suspicion and pay the price as a Soviet helicopter attacks.
    • Justified though since they were starving and desperate and even acknowledged the risk.
  • Shout-Out:
    • An evil Soviet soldier named Strelnikov, for one. His introduction also resembles that of Colonel Mathieu in The Battle of Algiers: first seen in a military parade, then lecturing his staff on counterinsurgency tactics.
    • In one scene, Robert imitates John Wayne flinging his scabbard off his rifle in The Searchers.
    • The code phrases broadcast by Radio Free America are a nod to those used to alert resistance groups during World War II. "John has a long mustache" was also one of the code phrases depicted in The Longest Day.
    • Also, a movie theater in Calumet is showing Alexander Nevsky before a Wolverine bombing.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of effort was put into accurately showcasing the Soviet weaponry and equipment of the era. This is especially impressive considering that Soviet weaponry was not as easily available for Hollywood studios in the 80s as it is today. The mock up T-72 used in the movie were so well made that according to the production crew, the CIA wanted to know just where they had managed to acquire it.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: In the grand scheme of things, the Wolverines think they're far more important than they are, mostly due Bratchenko's overreaction to their activity emboldening them into thinking they're making a huge difference. When Strelnikov arrives and starts treating them like a small insurgency, things start going south for the Wolverines and their impact on the war ends up being so little that they are implied to not be remembered by history.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Robert slowly becomes an example. Evidence: machine-gunning Daryl without a word nor remorse while he's begging Jed to not kill him.
  • Spot the Imposter: On being asked what the capital of Texas is, Colonel Tanner replies "Austin" and is immediately accused by Toni of being a Dirty Communist. He replies that she's seen too many movies. It doesn't help that Tanner's answer that Austin was the capital of Texas was correct, while Toni was certain that Houston was its capital. Likely a Shout-Out to a well-known incident during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Suicide Mission: Jed and Matt seem to know they will not survive their final attack on the town and headquarters.
  • Tank Goodness: One scene features a long-range duel between two Soviet T-72 tanks and an American M1 Abrams tank in the distance. One-on-one, the Abrams should have an edge over a single T-72, but the US tank is outnumbered and in the open. The Soviet tanks are camouflaged, and a mortally wounded Tanner sets off a smoke grenade to mark the Soviet's position for the American tank, while the Wolverines knock out the second one with an RPG
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Colonel Bella clearly doesn't like working with the brutish General Bratchenko, who disregards all of his advice, and tasks Bella - who admits he has zero experience in counterinsurgency - with coming up with a valid COIN strategy on his own.
  • Third Act Stupidity: Near the end of the movie, Jed gets the drop on Colonel Strelnikov by sneaking up behind him. But instead of just shooting him, he first announces his presence with a *Click* Hello and the line, "You lose." This gives Strelnikov enough time to open fire on Jed before he dies, inflicting critical injuries.
    • However it could be interpreted as a suicide
  • Took a Level in Badass: The Wolverines. They start out as fairly normal high-school kids, and end up causing the invaders all sorts of grief.
  • Villain Ball: The Soviets invade, and the first (on-screen) thing they do is shoot up a school?
  • Villains Out Shopping: As mentioned above, the Soviets act like normal guys between battles. The park scene is a great example, where they not only mis-translate a sign but take photographs shortly before the Wolverines kill them.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Radio Free America.
  • War Comes Home: The very plot is centered on this trope. High school students living in rural Colorado are invaded by the Soviet Union and her allies. They are forced to fight a guerilla war against the occupying force as the Wolverines without realizing that this invasion was but another front in the now raging World War III.
  • War Is Hell: Even when things are going well for the Wolverines, World War III is a living nightmare. We know that the communists are committing atrocities, and even see some of them, yet almost every Soviet soldier seen up close is a regular wide-eyed kid seeing the world in the army, not an evil faceless mook, so killing them is not exactly something to feel good about. Guerrilla attacks are punished by massacring civilians. The Wolverines are starving in the wilderness. The emotional toll on Matt, Aardvark, Toni, Erica, and especially Robert and Jed, is unspeakable. And according to Col. Tanner, it's a lot worse up in Denver.
    • Tanner invokes this when the kids ask him why the war started. He bitterly replies, "Maybe somebody just forgot what it was like."
  • War Memorial: The Wolverines carve the names of their fallen allies into Resistance Rock. The epilogue reveals it was turned into a formal memorial after the war.
  • Warrior Poet: When Col. Bella writes home to his sweetheart, it's nothing if not beautiful.
  • Weapons Understudies:
    • SA 330 Pumas stand in for Mi-24 Hind-A gunships since the actual chopper wasn't the sort of thing you could borrow back in the day. The mockup ended up in several other 80s films as well.
    • Valmet M78, Jatimatic, Walther PP and mockup Maadi ARMs are used as stand ins for RPK, PM-63 RAK, Makarov PM and AK-74 for the same reasons.
  • We Need a Distraction: The last stand between Jed and Matt and the Soviet army was meant to have their fire drawn on them, so that Danny and Erica can go to the allied occupied territories. It works at the cost of the brothers' lives.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Soviet invaders have no qualms of shooting unarmed high school students. Children can also be seen being taken prisoner by the Soviets and thrown into detention camps.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • When Patrick Swayze's character sneaks up on the Soviet colonel, he tries to say a clever one-liner rather than just shooting him immediately and gets shot.
    • Robert sees a Soviet helicopter approaching. He slowly gets into a Heroic Stance as the music swells. He raises his gun, aims, shouts "Wolverines!" and starts firing... and the helicopter opens fire, killing Robert instantly.
    • Even the ending, where it is implied that the Wolverines are all killed off by the Soviets, though the US still wins the war in the end.
    • The teens are able to pull off some early victories against the Russian conscripts who act mainly as policing forces and run on an inefficient doctrine. The Russians call in a expert to deal with the growing threat they pose, and he turns off the taps on their resources and then deploys special forces with more firepower and proper counter-insurgency training. Most of the teens die this way.
  • You Meddling Kids: And the Reds would have won, too.
  • Your Mom
    Spetsnaz about to be executed: Dogface! I show you how soldier dies!
    Robert: I've seen it before, pal.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The movie essentially transplanted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to a different setting, placing a group of typical American youth in the roles of the Afghan freedom fighters. Which becomes Harsher in Hindsight considering what they caused.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn the fate of Mayor Bates, who collaborated with the Soviet and Cuban occupiers and even turned his own son over to them.