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Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge
A black poster with a portrait shot showing the upper body of an older man dressed in a military uniform. In the background are a group of soldiers. Some of them are kneeling, and some are standing, holding rifles. Above in bold white letters, is a line that reads:
Heartbreak Ridge theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood
Written by James Carabatsos
Joseph Stinson
Music by Lennie Niehaus
Desmond Nakano
Cinematography Jack N. Green
Edited by Joel Cox
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • December 5, 1986 (1986-12-05)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million[1]
Box office $121.7 million[2]

Heartbreak Ridge is a 1986 American Technicolor war film directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, who also starred in the film. The film also co-stars Mario Van Peebles, Marsha Mason, and Everett McGill. The film was released in the United States on December 5, 1986. The story involves the actions of a small group of U.S. Marines during the American invasion of Grenada in 1983. A portion of the film was filmed on the island.

The title comes from the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in the Korean War. The character played by Eastwood received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the U.S. Army there, even though he is now a U.S. Marine.

The film has the distinction of being the 1000th film to be released in Dolby Stereo.[3]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Music and soundtrack 4
  • Release 5
    • Critical reception 5.1
    • Accolades 5.2
    • Box office 5.3
    • Home media 5.4
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood) is nearing mandatory retirement from the Marine Corps when he finagles a transfer back to his old unit. On the bus trip to his new assignment, he meets fellow passenger "Stitch" Jones (Mario Van Peebles), a flashy wannabe rock musician who borrows money for a meal at a rest stop and then steals Highway's bus ticket, leaving him stranded.

When Highway finally arrives at the base, he finds that his new Operations Officer, Major Malcolm Powers (Everett McGill), is an Annapolis graduate who transferred from Supply and has not had the "privilege" of combat. He sees Highway as an anachronism in the "new" Marine Corps and assigns him to shape up the reconnaissance platoon, which is made up of insubordinate Marines who had been allowed to slack off by their previous platoon sergeant. Among his new charges, Highway finds none other than Corporal Stitch Jones. Highway quickly takes charge of the platoon and starts the men on a rigorous training program.

During their first days of physical training, the men, especially Stitch, are angered about Highway and having to be trained and disrespect him in any way they can. The men try to get back at Highway and intimidate him, but to no avail. As a last resort, the platoon conspire to bring in "Swede" Johanson (Peter Koch), a large, heavily muscled Marine just released from the brig to beat up Highway, but their plan backfires when Highway beats up Swede, causing Swede to gain respect for Highway and request to become part of the platoon. Because Stitch and the platoon have no other ideas to intimidate Highway, they are forced to deal with being trained. The platoon eventually begins to shape up, develop esprit de corps, and slowly begin to respect him.

Highway repeatedly clashes with Major Powers and Staff Sergeant Webster (Moses Gunn) over his unorthodox training methods, such as firing live ammunition from an AK-47 over his mens' heads to familiarize them with the weapon's distinctive sound. Powers makes it clear that he views Highway's platoon as only a training tool for his own elite outfit. Major Powers goes so far as to script and make the Recon platoon lose in every field exercise. However, Highway is supported by old friend Sergeant Major Choozoo (Arlen Dean Snyder), and nominal superior officer, the college educated but awkward and inexperienced Lieutenant Ring (Boyd Gaines). After Highway's men learn that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor in the Korean War, they gain respect for him and close ranks and support him against Powers and Webster. The Recon platoon hides in the bushes to ambush Powers' platoon in an exercise using Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) gear.

Highway also has more personal problems. His ex-wife Aggie (Marsha Mason) is working as a waitress in a local bar and dating the owner, Marine-hater Roy Jennings (Bo Svenson). Highway attempts to adapt his way of thinking enough to win Aggie back, even resorting to reading Cosmopolitan magazine to gain insights into the female mind. Initially, Aggie is bitter over their failed marriage, but tentatively reconciles with Highway before his unit is activated for the invasion of Grenada.

After a last-minute briefing in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, Highway's platoon mounts their UH-1 Huey, and are dropped by helocast into the water in advance of the rest of the Battalion Landing Team. While advancing inland, they come under heavy fire. Highway improvises, ordering Jones to use a bulldozer to provide cover so they can advance on and destroy an enemy machine gun nest. They subsequently rescue American students from a medical school. Later, when they are trapped in a building by enemy armor and infantry, radioman Profile (Tom Villard) is killed and his radio destroyed, cutting them off from direct communication. Lieutenant Ring shows previously unexhibited leadership qualities and comes up with an idea of using a telephone to make a long distance call to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to call in air support, while one of the men uses his personal credit card to pay for the call. Later, despite Powers's explicit orders to the contrary, the men take out a key position and capture enemy soldiers. When Powers finds out, he chews them out and threatens Highway and Ring with a court martial, before his commanding officer, Colonel Meyers, arrives and reprimands Powers for discouraging initiative and fighting spirit.

When Highway and his men return to the United States, they are met by a warm reception. Aggie is there to welcome him back, and to Highway's dismay, Jones informs him that he is going to make a career for himself in the Marines, while Highway takes his mandatory retirement.



Screenwriter James Carabatsos, a Vietnam veteran of the 1st Cavalry Division, was inspired by an account of American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division using a pay telephone and a credit card to call in fire support during the invasion of Grenada, and fashioned a script of a Korean War veteran career Army non-commissioned officer passing on his values to a new generation of soldiers. Eastwood was interested in the script and asked his producer, Fritz Manes, to contact the US Army with a view of filming the movie at Fort Bragg.[4]

However, the Army read the script and refused to participate, due to Highway being portrayed as a hard drinker, divorced from his wife, and using unapproved motivational methods to his troops, an image the Army did not want. The Army called the character a "stereotype" of World War II and Korean War attitudes that did not exist in the modern army and also did not like the obscene dialogue and lack of reference to women in the army. Eastwood pleaded his case to an Army general, contending that while the point of the film was that Highway was a throwback to a previous generation, there were values in the World War II and Korean War era army that were worth emulating.

Eastwood approached the United States Marine Corps, which expressed some reservations about some parts of the film, but provided support. The character was then changed to a Marine (this raised some conceptual difficulties, given that the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge primarily involved the Army. This is explained very briefly in the film when Sergeant Major Choozoo tells Jones that he and Highway were in the 23rd Infantry Regiment at the time and "joined the Corps later"). The Marine Corps first cooperated with the film project by allowing much of the filming to be done at Camp Pendleton. The Marines planned to use it to promote its "Toys for Tots" campaign, but upon viewing a first cut, quickly disowned the film because of the language. Marines who viewed the film cited numerous issues with the way they were portrayed. Highway's commanding officer is repeatedly shown disparaging and insulting him. In reality, this would have been extremely unlikely, given Highway's Medal of Honor. Much of the "training" done before the Grenada invasion was highly inaccurate, including the fact that Highway's Marine Recon unit did not have a Navy Corpsman to deal with his men if injured. Even on a relatively small budget, the technical advice was poor. The Defense Department originally supported the film, but withdrew its backing after seeing a preview in November 1986.[5] Eastwood was paid $6 million for directing and starring in the film.[6]

Beginning in summer 1986, Heartbreak Ridge was filmed at California's Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, the former campus of the San Diego Military Academy, SDMA Solana Beach and Puerto Rico's Vieques Island.[1]

The sequence involving the bulldozer is based on a real event during the invasion of Grenada involving Army General John Abizaid, former commander of US Central Command.[7] The American attack on Grenada is in some respects accurate, although it was really U.S. Army Rangers that secured the University medical school. The scene in which Lieutenant Ring must resort to using a credit card in order to communicate with his commanders was also based on real-life events involving Army paratroopers.[8]

Music and soundtrack

The score for the film was originally composed by American saxophonist Lennie Niehaus and Desmond Nakano. Actor Mario Van Peebles wrote "Bionic Marine" and "Recon Rap," and co-wrote "I Love You (But I Ain't Stupid)" with Desmond Nakano.

The final scene of the movie in which Highway's platoon returns to the United States features the 1st Marine Division Band (a fact which betrays the reality that the scene was filmed on the West Coast, not at Cherry Point where the scene is intended to take place).


Critical reception

Reaction to the film was generally positive. Among reviews, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, gave the film three stars and noted how the movie has "as much energy and color as any action picture this year, and it contains truly amazing dialogue." Ebert also complimented director Eastwood mentioning how he "caresses the material as if he didn't know B movies have gone out of style."[9] Paul Attanasio of the Washington Post agreed saying, "Those with an endless appetite for this sort of tough-man-tender-chicken melodrama will enjoy watching Clint go up against these young punks and outrun, outshoot, outdrink and outpunch them, in the process lending an idea of what it means to be a . . . Marine."[10] Another Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley, offered a different view, commenting that it was "always fun to see misguided machismo properly channeled into service of God, country or the National Hockey League. Isn't that the trouble with combat movies these days? From Top Gun to First Blood to Clint Eastwood's entertaining action drama Heartbreak Ridge, the empty-foxhole syndrome makes for non-endings."[11] The staff at Variety Magazine, added to the encouraging reviews, saying that the film "offers another vintage Clint Eastwood performance. There are enough mumbled half-liners in this contemporary war pic to satisfy those die-hards eager to see just how he portrays the consummate marine veteran."[12] Vincent Canby of The New York Times expressed his satisfaction with the film, writing that "Eastwood's performance is one of the richest he's ever given. It's funny, laid-back, seemingly effortless, the sort that separates actors who are run-of-the-mill from those who have earned the right to be identified as stars."[13]

In terms of negative feedback, reviewer Derek Smith of the Apollo Movie Guide wrote that there was "not enough substance to Gunny to make him interesting enough to be the central character of a film, and since the movie offers nothing new or fresh, it just feels dull and uninteresting."[14]


The film won the BMI Film Music Award for Lennie Niehaus and the Image Award in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Mario Van Peebles. The film also received a nomination, from the Academy Awards for Best Sound for Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, Vern Poore and Bill Nelson.[15]

Box office

At its widest distribution in the U.S., the film was screened at 1,647 theaters grossing $8,100,840 in its opening weekend. During that first weekend, the film opened in second place behind Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.[16] Revenue dropped by 41% in its second week of release, earning $4,721,454.[17] During its final weekend showing in theaters, the film grossed $1,040,729. It went on to take in a total of $42,724,017 in ticket sales during a seven-week theatrical run[18] and a worldwide total of $121,700,000.[2] It ranked 18th at the box office for 1986.[19]

Home media

The film was initially released in VHS video format on April 1, 1992.[20] The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on October 1, 2002.[21] The widescreen edition of the film was released on Blu-ray in the United States on June 1, 2010.[22]


  1. ^ a b Hughes, pp.200-201
  2. ^ a b .Heartbreak RidgeBox Office Information for The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Mead, Bill (March 25, 2011). "Forty years of cinema innovation: Hollywood & FJI celebrate a Dolby milestone".  
  4. ^ Suid, Laurence M. (June 14, 2002). Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film. pp. 558–559. ISBN 978-0-8131-9018-1.
  5. ^ At Least Some Marines Are Gung-ho For 'Ridge' - Los Angeles Times, 3 December 1986
  6. ^ Munn, p. 212
  7. ^ St. Petersburg Times, September 3, 2006.
  8. ^ Dumbrell, John & Barrett, David M. (March 1991). The Making of U.S. Foreign Policy: American Democracy and Foreign Policy. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7190-3187-8.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 1986). Movie ReviewHeartbreak Ridge. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  10. ^ Attanasio, Paul (December 5, 1986). 'Heartbreak Ridge'. Washington Post. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  11. ^ Kempley, Rita (December 5, 1986). 'Heartbreak Ridge'. Washington Post. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  12. ^ Variety Staff, (January 1, 1986). Film ReviewHeartbreak Ridge. Variety Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  13. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 5, 1986). FILM: CLINT EASTWOOD IN 'HEARTBREAK RIDGE'. The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  14. ^ Smith, Derek (May 24, 2003). Heartbreak Ridge. Apollo Movie Guide. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  15. ^ "The 59th Academy Awards (1987) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  16. ^ Heartbreak Ridge. Box Office Mojo. Weekend results for December 5–7, 1986. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  17. ^ Heartbreak Ridge. Box Office Mojo. Box office details. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  18. ^ Heartbreak Ridge. Box Office Mojo. Box office business. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  19. ^ 1986 Domestic Grosses. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  20. ^ Heartbreak Ridge VHS Format. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  21. ^ Heartbreak Ridge Widescreen DVD. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  22. ^ Heartbreak Ridge Widescreen Blu-ray. Retrieved March 3, 2011.


  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London:  
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books.  

External links

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