Red Dawn at 35: The Guns of the Great American Classic

Opening 35 years ago this week, the film Red Dawn brought World War III to a small American town and the town fought back. Written and directed by noted Hollywood gun guy John Milius — legend has it that 1911-toting bowling purist Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski was partially based on him — the motion picture’s opening act involves Soviet paratroopers dropping on an American high school unannounced, looking to turn the Cold War hot. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, teens who managed to give said Russki sky soldiers the slip begin to reach for the glove compartments and gun racks as signs mount that the invasion is on.

(Caution, big-time spoilers below if you have never seen the film, but then again it has been out for 35 years, so just what are you waiting for?)


Remington Rand M1911A1 (9)

Two World Wars…make it a third (Photo: Richard Taylor/

Other than the invaders’ guns put into action as soon as their chutes collapsed — which are a mix of CZ75 and Tokarev TT-33 pistols and Egyptian Maadi ARMs and Finnish Valmet M78s made up to look like Soviet AKs and RPKs — the first American iron firing back is an M1911A1 GI pried from the literal “cold dead hands” of an armed citizen downtown who played the “Not today, comrade,” card when it came to reeducation camp residency. As the venerable longslide made the first two world wars, it is fitting that it showed up in the opening act of the third.

Colt Single Action

You wouldn't think the Colt Single Action Army would see so much use against Soviets and their Latin American commie allies, but it does (Photo: Colt)

You wouldn’t think the Colt Single Action Army would see so much use against Soviets and their Latin American commie allies, but it does (Photo: Colt)

Former high school football standout Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze), upon grabbing his little brother and assorted soon-to-be-partisan friends from the Soviet drop zone in his sweet Chevy step side, stops off at a gas station/market just outside of town. There, the crew empties friendly shop owner Mr. Morris’s displays of hunting guns and ammo — something increasingly rare in gas stations today. Then, as youth are pulling stumps for the mountains with Mr. Morris cautioning them to not come back, Jed asks his little brother to fetch a vintage Colt 1873 from the truck’s glove box and check to make sure that it is loaded.

“It’s already loaded,” says Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen).

Oh, you knew it was.

According to IMFDB, aforementioned film-used Colt belonged to Milius himself and in the movie, it is featured prominently, getting more screen time than some of the top-billed actors. Jed, getting “pretty lean on feelings,” even uses it in the film’s final climactic big boss-style showdown, to evict Soviet partisan hunter, Col. Strelnikov, from his meat suit.

Smith & Wesson K-frame Model 15

SW model 15 gunscom

Fill your hands with a S&W Model 15 K38, the next best thing for when your F-15 is on the fritz

Dropping in with shot down US Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew “Andy” Tanner (Powers Boothe) is a classic blued Smith & Wesson K-frame, specifically a .38 special Model 15. An upgrade to Smith’s Model 10 M&P series of swing-out cylinder medium-framed revolvers, the wheel gun was a staple of the USAF as a bailout gun for pilots and Security Police — and is only now being totally replaced in service by the Sig M18.

Despite access to plenty of captured Warsaw Pact gear, Tanner still carries the big Smith in a raid on a Soviet airstrip although he later picks up a 1911. Why not a Makarov? Because nobody wants that Russki stuff in 1984, that’s why.

Remington 870 Wingmaster

Remington 870 Wingmaster 12

The Remington 870 Wingmaster: for those who ask why they should be different.

Among the extensive collection of common sporting guns borrowed by the crew from Mr. Morris in the opening scenes — a Ruger M77, Winchester pump, and Marlin 336 .30-.30 lever action all make an appearance — a Remington 870 Wingmaster is present and gets a non-NFA-compliant trim to make it handier. Hard to submit Form 1s from behind the lines in Soviet-occupied Colorado. The gun comes in handy when young Robert Morris (C. Thomas Howell) springs from a spider hole to zap a pretty rapey Soviet tank crew who were caught in a feint trap.

Honorable mentions

While not as central to the plot, other great guns make cameos such as the FN FAL, M16, and Ruger Mini-14. Of note, Strelnikov even carries a super cool Finnish-made Jatimatic SMG, a gun that had only debuted a year or two before the film was made and a very unlikely choice for a Soviet super-soldier rocking his babushka’s sunglasses.

Besides the cloned AKs and RPKs, lots of other clones appear in the film including an M60 machine gun, mocked up to look like a Soviet DShK HMG and a wild array of aircraft and vehicles that look closer to something from a Mad Max film than actual Warsaw Pact armor. While today it would be a snap to buy a whole platoon of working T-55 tanks and even a few actual MiGs, such hardware was tough to come by in 1984 during the most frigid part of the Cold War.

Either way, remember the days when John had a long mustache next time you visit Partisan Rock and don’t ever mention that “other” Red Dawn movie again.

Red Dawn Wolverines

(Photo: Chris Eger/

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