Red Dawn is a 1984 American war film directed by John Milius and co-written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds. It stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey.
The film begins with an introductory text about how the USA gradually became (in a fictional scenario) politically isolated when the NATO members in Europe, except the United Kingdom, withdrew their membership, leaving America politically and militarily outweighed by the Warsaw Pact, who are aggressively expanding their sphere of influence. In addition the Ukranian wheat harvest fails and a revolution occurs in Mexico.
On a September morning in the small town of Calumet,Colerado, a local high school teacher pauses mid sentence when he sees paratroopers landing in a field outside the school. These paratroopers, who are Soviet Airborn Troops, open fire and kill the teacher when he goes out to confront them. Pandemonium follows as students flee amid gunfire from the troops. In downtown Calumet, Cuban and Soviet troops are trying to impose order after a hasty occupation of the town. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Bella (a Cuban officer) instructs the KGB to go to the local sporting goods store and obtain the ATF Form 4473 forms, which name citizens who have purchased firearms.
Jed Eckert, his brother Matt, and their friends Robert, Danny, Daryl, and Arturo (nicknamed Aardvark) flee into the wilderness after hastily equipping themselves at Robert's father's sporting goods store. After several weeks in the forest, they return to town and Jed and Matt learn that their father has now been captured and is being held in a Soviet reeducation camp. They visit the site and speak to him through the fence; Mr. Eckert orders his two sons to abandon him there, but to "avenge" him. They then visit their grown-up friends the Masons and learn that they are behind 40 miles of enemy lines in "Occupied America" (as opposed to Free America, the unoccupied zone) and that Robert's father has been executed for aiding guerillas because the guns from his store - the ones he gave to the boys - were found to be missing by the occupation authorities. Mr. Mason also tasks Jed and Matt with taking care of their two granddaughters, Toni and Erica. After killing Soviet soldiers on a hunting excursion, the youths begin an armed resistence against the occupation forces—calling themselves "Wolverines" after their high school mascot. Initially the occupation forces try reprisal tactics, executing groups of civilians following every Wolverine attack, in hopes of intimidating the local population and compelling the Wolverines to surrender or desist from further attacks. It is during one of these executions that the father of the Eckert brothers is killed. Daryl's father, who is also Calumet's mayor, tries to appease the occupation authorities in an attempt to save as many lives as he can. In a side plot the Cuban commander, Colonel Bella, becomes severely disillusioned with the war and the destruction it causes but feels helpless to do anything about it. The reprisals only further strengthen the will of the Wolverines to continue.
In November (2 months into the war) Erica finds a downed United States Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Tanner, and from him they learn about the current state of the war: Several key communication centers such as Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Omaha, Lebraska were obliterated by nuclear weapons, America's Strategic Air Command has been crippled in a surprise attack by undercover Cuban saboteurs, and the paratroopers the youths have encountered were dropped from fake commercial airliners to seize key positions in preparation for subsequent massive assaults via Mexico and Alaska. The Soviets' Cuban and Nicaraguan allies (supported by Russian Spetnaz) invading from Mexico occupied the Great Plains between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, as far north as a line stretching from Cheyenne through Kansas, with Denver enduring a grueling siege. Meanwhile, 60 Russian divisions crossed the Bering Strait to seize Alaska and much of Canada, intending to link up with their allies in the Great Plains, but a decisive American counterattack near the US-Canada border halted Soviet progress and the lines have stabilized. Since the Soviets need to take America intact, and since the United States is unwilling to cause such damage to its own soil, both sides refrain from further use of nuclear weapons and conventional fighting dominates the war. Tanner also explains the Warsaw Pact allies violated there agreement with Western Europe, and England is the last country in Europe not under Soviet Control, he also explains the Russians have made significant gains in Afghanistan ever since the NATO split up.
Colonel tanner then assists the Wolverines in organizing raids against the Soviets. Soon after, in an effort to get the Colonel through enemy lines, he and Aardvark are killed in a tank battle between two Soviet tanks and one US tank, taking a Soviet tank with them. Erica takes Tanner's death hardest because she was falling in love with him. As the result of the escalating and devastating guerrilla attacks, Soviet commanders now view the Wolverines as a serious threat. They decide to stop reprisals and focus on the Wolverines themselves. Capturing one of them, KGB intelligence officers force Daryl to swallow a tracking device, then release him to rejoin the guerrillas. Spetsnaz commandos are sent into the mountains following these tracking signals to eliminate the resistance, but the commandos are ambushed and killed by the Wolverines. The group discovers that their pursuers are carrying man-portable radio triangulation tracking equipment and trace the source of the signal to their friend. Daryl confesses his role and pleads for mercy, but he is executed along with a Soviet commando captured by Danny.
The Wolverines' morale erodes as they are now killing each other out of hate. By about February (6 months into the war) their supplies begin running low. The remaining Wolverines are ambushed by three Mi-24A helicopter gunships, after being baited with food left by the Soviets. The gunship attack kills Robert and leaves Toni fatally wounded. She convinces Jed to leave her a grenade, and uses it to booby trap her body. The group is now reduced to Jed, Matt, Danny, and Erica.
Determined to save at least some of their number, Jed and Matt attack the Soviet headquarters in Calumet to distract the troops while Danny and Erica escape to Free America. The plan works and Danny and Erica manage to escape, while Matt is mortally wounded. Jed encounters Colonel Strelnikov, a Soviet counterinsurgency expert and kills him, but is mortally wounded in the process. Though Colonel Bella encounters the brothers, he cannot bring himself to kill them and lets them go. Still, it is implied that the brothers die later in the town park.
The film's epilogue is narrated by Erica and suggests that the United States successfully repels the invasion some time later, it is believed that the US has also driven Warsaw Pact forces out of Western Europe, and NATO has reorganized itself. A plaque is displayed with "Partisan Rock" in the background, a rock which throughout the film has been a recurring motif as each dead comrade's name has been inscribed upon it by a member of the Wolverines. The plaque reads:
"... In the early days of World War III, guerrillas - mostly children - placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that 'this nation shall not perish from the earth.'"