Heartbreak Ridge
Heartbreak Ridge theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Written byJames Carabatsos
Produced byClint Eastwood
CinematographyJack N. Green
Edited byJoel Cox
Music byLennie Niehaus
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 5, 1986 (1986-12-05)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$121.7 million[2]

Heartbreak Ridge is a 1986 American war film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, who also starred in the film. The film also co-stars Marsha Mason, Everett McGill, and Mario Van Peebles. The film was released in the United States on 5 December 1986. The story centers on a U.S. Marine nearing retirement who gets a platoon of undisciplined Marines into shape and leads them during the American invasion of Grenada in 1983.

The title comes from the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in the Korean War where Eastwood's character had earned the Medal of Honor as a young soldier in the U.S. Army before he became a career Marine.


In 1983, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway is nearing mandatory retirement from the Marine Corps. He finagles a transfer back to his old Marine unit, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Second Marine Division. On the bus trip to his new assignment, he meets fellow passenger "Stitch" Jones, a wannabe rock musician who borrows money from Highway for a meal at a rest stop and then steals his bus ticket, leaving him stranded.

When Highway finally arrives at the base, more bad news awaits. His new commanding officer, Major Malcolm Powers, sees Highway as an anachronism, and assigns him to shape up the Reconnaissance Platoon that is assigned to the major's assault battalion. The Recon Marines are made up of Marines who had been allowed to slack off by their previous platoon sergeant, who was just marking time until his retirement. Among his new charges, Highway finds Corporal Jones. Highway quickly takes charge and starts the men on a rigorous training program. They make a last-ditch attempt to intimidate him with "Swede" Johanson, a Marine and body builder in the platoon just released from the brig, but their plan fails after Highway easily defeats Swede. They begin to shape up and develop esprit de corps.

Highway repeatedly clashes with Powers and Staff Sergeant Webster, the 1st Platoon platoon sergeant over his unorthodox training methods (such as firing an AK-47 over his men's 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 a supposedly elite 1st Platoon. Major Powers goes so far as to arrange things so that the Recon Marines lose in every field exercise to 1st Platoon. However, Highway is supported by his old comrade-in-arms, Sergeant Major Choozhoo, and his nominal superior officer, the college-educated but inexperienced Lieutenant Ring. 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 against their perceived common enemy.

Highway's ex-wife, Aggie, who is a barmaid working at a local beer joint, is dating the owner, whose name is Roy. Highway attempts to adapt his way of thinking to win Aggie back, even resorting to reading women's magazines to try to gain insights into the female mind. Initially, Aggie is bitter over their failed marriage, but tentatively reconciles with Highway. Then the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit is deployed for the invasion of Grenada.

After a last-minute briefing on the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2), Highway's platoon mounts their UH-1 Huey, and are dropped by helocast into the water in advance of the rest of Powers' Battalion Landing Team. While advancing inland, they come under heavy enemy fire. Highway improvises, ordering Jones to use a bulldozer to provide cover so they can advance and destroy an enemy machine gun nest. They subsequently rescue American students from a medical school. The celebration over the rescue is short-lived, as Choozhoo receives word of a key enemy position with Cubans manning it that will have to be taken to prevent further incidents. Powers, not wanting to be outdone by Highway, orders the recon platoon to advance on the position, but not to attempt any engagement or take the position until 1st Platoon arrives.

Lt. Ring and Highway advance on the position, but come under heavy artillery fire. The platoon takes cover inside an abandoned building, and the Cubans fire upon the trapped Marines. Profile is killed and his radio destroyed, cutting them off from direct communication. Ring comes up with the idea of using a telephone to make a long-distance call to Camp Lejeune to call in air support and sends Jones to repair the phone line. Ring borrows a credit card to complete the call to Lejeune, but the line is severed by enemy fire as he completes calling in the coordinates for an air-strike. Unsure if the call went through, Highway goes to put out a marker for the air support to locate the position but is fired upon and knocked unconscious. The platoon assumes Highway is dead and exit the building to engage the Cubans, but then the air support arrives and drives off the enemy. Ring and a revived Highway then decide to ignore Powers' order, advance upon and take the position, and capture and detain the Cuban soldiers.

Major Powers and Webster arrive on the scene and Powers bawls Ring and Highway out and threatens Highway with a court-martial. But the commanding officer of the regiment to which Powers' battalion belongs, Colonel Meyers (a combat veteran who had served in the same battalion as Highway in the Vietnam War), arrives on the scene by helicopter and after listening to Powers' and Highway's reports to him, commends Highway instead of Powers and reprimands the major and tells him he's being transferred back to his former support unit for discouraging the Recon Marines' aggressive fighting spirit.

When Highway and his men return to the U.S., they receive a warm reception. To Highway's mock dismay, Stitch Jones informs him that he is going to re-enlist and make a career in the Marine Corps, while Highway confides to Jones he is taking mandatory retirement. Aggie is there to welcome him back.



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.[3]

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 Stitch Jones that he and Highway were in the Army's 23rd Infantry Regiment at the time and "joined the Corps later"; the 23rd Regiment was at Heartbreak Ridge) 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. Major Powers, the battalion's inexperienced S-3 Operations Officer, is repeatedly shown disparaging and insulting Gunny Highway, as well as showing blatant favoritism regarding "his" Marines of the First Platoon. In reality, this would not have happened, 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.[4] Eastwood was paid $6 million for directing and starring in the film.[5]

Beginning in summer 1986, Heartbreak Ridge was filmed at Camp Talega (the location of the barracks), Chappo Flats (the location of the parachute rigging scene) and Mainside (the 1st Marine Division headquarters) on 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.[6] 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.[7]

The film was the 1000th to be released in Dolby Stereo.[8]


The film score was composed and conducted by American saxophonist Lennie Niehaus, who worked on over a dozen films for Eastwood. Actor Mario Van Peebles wrote the songs "Bionic Marine" and "Recon Rap", and co-wrote "I Love You (But I Ain't Stupid)" with Desmond Nakano.


Critical response

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 film 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 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]

Heartbreak Ridge holds a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. The site's consensus states: "With Heartbreak Ridge, director Clint Eastwood gets one of his best performances out of himself, even if the story struggles to engage."[15]

Several writers have described the film as imperialist propaganda glorifying the American invasion of Grenada without explaining any of the history or politics surrounding it; the only information the audience is given about the war is that the Marines are rescuing American hostages and that there are Cubans on the enemy side.[16][17] In Vietnam Images: War And Representation (1989), James Aulich and Jeffrey Walsh wrote that "Heartbreak Ridge dehistoricises actual political and economic conditions, omits many issues of imperialism or colonisation, and represents the Grenada events as a straightforward triumph of American manhood."[18][19]


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.[20]

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.[21] Revenue dropped by 41% in its second week of release, earning $4,721,454.[22] 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[22] and a worldwide total of $121,700,000.[2] It ranked 18th at the box office for 1986.[23]

Home media

The film was initially released in VHS video format on 1 April 1992.[24] The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on 1 October 2002.[25] The widescreen edition of the film was released on Blu-ray in the United States on 1 June 2010.[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b Hughes, pp. 200–201
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Heartbreak Ridge. Archived 2014-12-26 at the Wayback Machine The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ At Least Some Marines Are Gung-ho For 'Ridge' - Los Angeles Times, 3 December 1986
  5. ^ Munn, p. 212
  6. ^ St. Petersburg Times, September 3, 2006.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Mead, Bill (March 25, 2011). "Forty years of cinema innovation: Hollywood & FJI celebrate a Dolby milestone". Film Journal International. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 5, 1986). Heartbreak Ridge Movie Review. 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). Heartbreak Ridge Film Review. Variety. 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 Archived 2006-03-14 at the Wayback Machine. Apollo Movie Guide. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  15. ^ "Heartbreak Ridge (1986)" – via www.rottentomatoes.com.
  16. ^ Wilson, James Q.; DiIulio, John J. (April 24, 1995). American Government: Institutions and Policies. D.C. Heath. ISBN 9780669340884 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ "'We Should be Concerned Where and How DOD Policy and Criticism of DOD Might be' – Pentagon File on Heartbreak Ridge". 10 July 2019.
  18. ^ Aulich, James; Walsh, Jeffrey (May 15, 1989). Vietnam Images: War And Representation. Springer. ISBN 9781349199167 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Anderson, Mark Cronlund (April 24, 2007). Cowboy Imperialism and Hollywood Film. Peter Lang. ISBN 9780820495453 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ "The 59th Academy Awards (1987) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  21. ^ Heartbreak Ridge. Box Office Mojo. Weekend results for December 5–7, 1986. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  22. ^ a b "Heartbreak Ridge". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  23. ^ 1986 Domestic Grosses. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  24. ^ Heartbreak Ridge VHS Format. Amazon.com. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  25. ^ Heartbreak Ridge Widescreen DVD. Amazon.com. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  26. ^ Heartbreak Ridge Widescreen Blu-ray. Amazon.com. Retrieved 3 March 2011.