Red Dawn is an action movie about a group of teenagers who form a resistance group after the United States is invaded by the Soviet Union. Calling themselves “The Wolverines,” the kids use guerrilla warfare and stolen weapons to liberate their Midwestern hometown.
The film takes place over the course of many months, and shows the heroism and sacrifice made by ordinary citizens in the face of adversity and oppressive leadership. The movie belongs to a subgenre known as “Red Scare Cinema,” which was pretty popular during the Cold War. These “Red Scare” films always featured the Soviet Union as the antagonist, and stoked the fires of fear for many. There were plenty of these films made, some of which you likely haven’t heard of.
‘Invasion, U.S.A.’ (1952)
Invasion, U.S.A. is a movie that came out during the peak of the Cold War. The premise is much the same as Red Dawn, in that it focusses on the United States being invaded by soldiers from an unnamed communist nation. But it’s pretty obvious that this “unnamed nation” is meant to represent the Soviet Union.
But rather than focussing on a group of partisans, the film instead takes the civilian approach, portraying the lives of everyday citizens as they struggle to survive amidst the conflict. That said, the movie is more of a drama than an action thriller, but that isn’t such a bad thing because regular civilians can sometimes be overlooked in war movies.
‘Invasion U.S.A.” (1985)
Despite having the same title, this flick has nothing to do with the 1950s drama. This movie features Chuck Norris in the leading role as America is invaded by the USSR.
Critics slammed this film when it was released, and even today many consider it one of the worst 80s action movies of all time. But, hey, if you’re in the mood for some nonsensical Chuck Norris action in the style of Red Dawn, this movie might just be for you.
‘The Day After’ (1983)
This ABC-exclusive direct-to-television movie shows what would happen if the Cold War had actually ended in the exchange of nuclear weapons. It portrays the lives of soldiers and innocent civilians alike as they struggle to survive in the wake of such a devastating attack on US soil.
It’s a pretty scary movie, and was a much-needed wake-up call for its time. Like Red Dawn, the movie takes place in the rural American Midwest, and focusses instead on the brave heroes outside of the armed forces.
‘White House Down’ (2013)
White House Down is an underrated flick directed by Roland Emmerich, and stars Channing Tatum as an army veteran and Secret Service applicant who becomes trapped in a coordinated attack on the US Capital.
Mercenaries from all parts of the world are hired to kill President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), and Tatum is the only one who can save him. The movie received mixed reviews, but ultimately, felt somewhat similar to Red Dawn, as they both feature a besieged America being defended by ordinary civilians.
‘Olympus Has Fallen’ (2013)
Olympus Has Fallen came out in 2013, the same year as White House Down, which is nothing short of strange since they have the same plot. Olympus Has Fallen features an invasion by North Korean Special Forces, who attacked the White House with plans to kill the president.
A secret service agent, played by Gerard Butler, is one of the only ones to step up and take action against the invaders. He feels obliged to do so in order to clean his guilty conscience since an incident a year earlier left the president’s wife dead, and Butler was unable to save her.
‘Air Force One’ (1997)
Air Force One features Harrison Ford as the United States President who is returning from a diplomatic mission to Russia after Russian and American special forces bring down a Kazakh dictator. Those loyal to said dictator, however, aren’t quite so happy about that, and hijack the president’s plane mid-flight.
The President is then forced to do anything to survive while a team of military analysts concocts a plan to save him. Much like the other aforementioned films, this movie also portrays ordinary people fighting back against a direct attack on the United States. It’s actually a really cleverly-done film too, as much of the action revolves around wit and resourcefulness rather than tons of gunfire and explosions.
‘Red Dawn’ (2012)
The 2012 remake of Red Dawn is of course going to be similar to its predecessor. The difference is that it was adapted for a more modern tone, featuring North Korean invaders rather than the Soviet Union.
Regardless, the premise remains much the same. A group of students decide to create a partisan group called the Wolverines to fight back against the threat consuming their homeland. The difference is this one wasn’t really as good as the original. But it still might be worth checking out.
‘Escape from New York’ (1981)
Escape from New York is an underrated cult classic that takes place after a Third World War breaks out. The war is fought between the United States, and an alliance of China and the Soviet Union. However, the villains aren’t the opposing armies in this film – it’s the US government itself. As a result of the war, New York City sees a 400% increase of crime, causing the island of Manhattan to be converted into a giant prison. America becomes a police state, constantly monitoring its citizens.
A group of rebels decide to rise up against the oppressive forces and escape the mega-prison using whatever they can get their hands on. Though this movie differs from Red Dawn in that the Soviets are not the one sole enemy, it still features 80s cheese and ordinary fighters rising up against an oppressive regime in America. It’s also a pretty incredilble film.
‘Vantage Point’ (2008)
Vantage Point is a mystery thriller that centres on an assassination attempt on the American President. Multiple people in the crowd are filming the event beforehand, and several of them capture crucial clues that could help the CIA locate the parties involved that risked a direct attack on the United States.
Like Red Dawn the brave actions of a few ordinary people are key to stopping the downfall of America. Even though it might not be a full-blown action flick, it’s still a pretty exciting movie that might be worth checking out. Though it doesn’t fall into the “Red Scare” category, much of the running themes are similar to Red Dawn.
Matthew Broderick takes the leading role in WarGames, where he plays a bratty, but intelligent teenaged hacker. In the midst of one of his recreational hacks, he accidentally accesses an American AI designed to respond to a nuclear war. The problem is, the AI was never taught the distinction between a real war and a simulation.
Now it’s up to a ragtag band of kids to prevent an all-out war, and a Soviet attack on US soil. Coming out just one year before Red Dawn, it features all of its trope: an anti-communist message, teens rising up to fight a catastrophic event, and classic 80s cheesiness.
KEEP READING: From ‘The Imitation Game’ to ‘Lincoln’: 10 Iconic War Movies That Focus on Civilians and Leaders