Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now

Theatrical release poster by Bob Peak
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay by
Based on Heart of Darkness by
Joseph Conrad
Narrated by
Music by
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Editing by
Studio American Zoetrope
Distributed by
Release date(s) August 15, 1979 (1979-08-15) (Film date)
August 3, 2001 (2001-08-03) (Redux)
Running time
  • 153 minutes
  • 203 minutes (Redux)
Country United States
Budget $31.5 million
Box office
  • $78,784,010 (1979)
  • $83,471,511 (2002)

Apocalypse Now is a 1979 American war film set during the Vietnam War, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The central character is US Army special operations officer Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), of MACV-SOG, an assassin sent to kill the renegade and presumed insane Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando).

Coppola's and John Milius's script is based on Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, and also draws from Michael Herr's Dispatches, the film version of Conrad's Lord Jim (which shares the same character of Marlow with Heart of Darkness), and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972).[1] The film drew attention for its lengthy and troubled production. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse documented Brando showing up on the set overweight, Sheen's heart attack, and extreme weather destroying several expensive sets. The film's release was postponed several times while Coppola edited millions of feet of footage.

On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Apocalypse Now has a 99% "Certified Fresh" rating, and was received with critical acclaim. Its cultural impact and its philosophical themes have been extensively discussed. Honored with the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, the film was also deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2001.



Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), a special operations veteran, has returned to Saigon from deployment in the field and, holed up in his room, has difficulty adjusting to life. Intelligence officers Lt. General Corman (G. D. Spradlin), Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford), and a civilian (Jerry Ziesmer) approach him with an assignment: to follow the Nung River into the remote Cambodian jungle, find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a member of the US Army Special Forces, and kill him. Once considered a model officer and future general, Kurtz turned insane, went rogue and is commanding a legion of his own Montagnard troops deep inside neutral Cambodia. Ordered to terminate the Colonel's command "with extreme prejudice", Willard joins the crew of a Navy Patrol Boat, Riverine (PBR) composed of boat commander George "Chief" Phillips (Albert Hall), and crewmen Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms), Jay "Chef" Hicks (Frederic Forrest), and Tyrone "Mr Clean" Miller (Laurence Fishburne).

Willard and the PBR crew rendezvous with reckless Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), commanding a squadron of Air Cavalry attack helicopters, for escort to the Nung River. Initially scoffing at their request for escort, Kilgore, a keen surfer, learns Johnson is a professional surfer and befriends him. When Willard suggests the Viet Cong-filled coastal mouth of the Nung River for the boat and crew to be taken, Kilgore is reluctant but accepts after learning of the excellent surfing conditions there. The beach is taken amid napalm strikes and "Ride of the Valkyries" played over the choppers' loudspeakers, after which Kilgore orders Lance and other surfers in his command to surf the beach amid enemy fire. While Kilgore nostalgically regales all around him of a previous strike, Willard gathers his men to the PBR, which has been dropped from a helicopter into the river, and they continue their journey.

While navigating upstream, the crew has a run-in with a tiger, watches a USO show featuring Playboy Playmates at a supply depot, and search a sampan, mistakenly killing almost all civilians onboard. Willard shoots the one injured survivor to prevent any delay of his mission. On reaching a US Army outpost at a bridge under constant attack, Willard is informed that an army captain named Colby (Scott Glenn) was sent to find Kurtz and is now missing. Lance and Chef are continually under the influence of drugs, and Lance in particular becomes withdrawn, smearing his face with camouflage paint and saying little. The next day, the boat is fired upon by an unseen enemy hiding in trees by the river, killing Mr Clean and causing Chief, who had a close relationship with Clean, to become increasingly hostile toward Willard.

The group resumes its journey and is ambushed again, this time by Montagnard warriors. The crew opens fire and Chief is impaled with a spear. The dying Chief tries to kill Willard by pulling him onto the spear tip, but eventually succumbs to the wound. Afterwards, Willard confides in Chef and Lance about his mission, and the two surviving crew of the boat reluctantly agree to continue their journey upriver. As they draw closer to Kurtz's camp, they see the coastline is littered with bodies. After arriving at Kurtz's outpost, Willard takes Johnson with him to the village, leaving Chef behind with orders to call in an airstrike on the village if he does not return. In the camp, the two men are met by a manic freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), who explains that Kurtz's greatness and philosophical skills inspire his people to follow him. As they proceed, they see bodies and severed heads scattered about the nearby Buddhist temple that serves as Kurtz's living quarters, and encounter the missing Captain Colby, who is nearly catatonic.

Willard is brought before Kurtz in the darkened temple, where Kurtz derides him as "an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill". Bound to a post, Willard watches helplessly as Kurtz drops Chef's severed head into his lap. After some time in captivity, Willard is released and given the freedom of the compound. Knowing that Willard will not leave, Kurtz lectures him on his theories of war, humanity, and civilization. As Kurtz explains his motives and philosophy while praising the ruthlessness and dedication of the Viet Cong, he asks Willard to tell his son everything about him in the event of his death. That night, as the villagers ceremonially slaughter a water buffalo, Willard enters Kurtz's chamber as Kurtz is making a recording, and attacks him with a machete. Lying mortally wounded on the ground, Kurtz whispers his final words "The horror ... the horror ..." before dying. Willard descends the stairs from Kurtz's chamber and drops his weapon. The villagers do likewise and allow Willard to take Lance by the hand and lead him to the boat. The two of them sail away as Kurtz's final words echo.[2]


  • Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard. Willard is a veteran officer who has been serving in Vietnam for three years. The soldier who escorts him at the start of the film recites that Willard is from 505th Battalion, of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, assigned to MACV-SOG. It is later stated that he worked intelligence/counterintelligence for COMSEC and the CIA, carrying out secret operations and assassinations. An attempt to re-integrate into home-front society had apparently failed prior to the time at which the movie is set, and so he returned to the war-torn jungles of Vietnam, where he seemed to feel more at home.
  • Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a highly decorated American Army Green Beret officer with the 5th Special Forces Group who goes renegade. He runs his own operations out of Cambodia and is feared by the US military as much as the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
  • Frederic Forrest as Engineman 3rd Class Jay "Chef" Hicks, a tightly wound former chef from New Orleans who is horrified by his surroundings.
  • Sam Bottoms as Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Lance B. Johnson, a former professional surfer from California who spends the majority of the journey on a drug binge.
  • Laurence Fishburne (credited as "Larry Fishburne") as Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Tyrone "Mr. Clean" Miller, the 17 year-old cocky South Bronx-born crewmember. He resents the inward nature of Willard.
  • Albert Hall as Chief Quartermaster George Phillips. The chief runs a tight ship and frequently clashes with Willard over authority. Has a father-son relationship with Clean.
  • Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore, 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment commander and surfing fanatic. Kilgore is a strong leader who loves his men dearly but has methods that appear out-of-tune with the setting of the war. His character is a composite of several characters including Colonel John B. Stockton, General James F. Hollingsworth (featured in The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong by Nicholas Tomalin), George Patton IV, also a West Point officer whom Robert Duvall knew[3] and possibly Col. David Hackworth.[4]
  • Dennis Hopper as an American photojournalist, a crazed photographer who intercuts poetry with obscene cynicism. Stranded in Kurtz's camp. Takes pictures from a camera that may or may not contain film. According to the DVD commentary of Redux, the journalist is supposed to be a real life photographer who went missing in Vietnam in 1966. Coppola stated that Hopper's character is supposed to be the real life journalist Sean Flynn years later; the real Flynn was also a character in Herr's Dispatches. The Hopper part was also based in part on the "harlequin" (patchwork) figure in Heart of Darkness that greets Marlow; Hopper repeats the harlequin's "the man's enlarged my mind" soliloquy.
  • G.D. Spradlin as Lieutenant General Corman, military intelligence (G-2) an authoritarian officer who fears Kurtz and wants him removed.
  • Jerry Ziesmer as a mysterious man in civilian attire who sits in on Willard's initial briefing, is the only one calm enough to eat during the briefing, and whose only line in the movie is the famous "Terminate with extreme prejudice".
  • Harrison Ford as Colonel Lucas, aide to Corman and general information specialist. Despite his rank, he often appears nervous and jittery regarding Kurtz and the mission.
  • Scott Glenn as Captain Richard M. Colby, previously assigned Willard's current mission before he defected to Kurtz's private army and sent a message to his wife telling her to sell everything they owned (but he goes on to tell her to sell their children, as well).
  • Bill Graham as Agent (announcer and in charge of Playmate's show)
  • Cynthia Wood (1974 Playmate of the Year) as "Playmate of the Year"
  • Linda (Beatty) Carpenter (August 1976 Playmate) as Playmate "Miss August"
  • Colleen Camp as Playmate "Miss May"
  • R. Lee Ermey as Helicopter Pilot
  • Christian Marquand as Hubert de Marais (redux version), the surrogate leader of the French residents and strong vocal opponent of American action.
  • Aurore Clément as Roxanne Sarraut-de Marais (redux version), a widow and influential figure at the plantation.
  • Roman Coppola as Francis de Marais (redux version)
  • Francis Ford Coppola (cameo) as a director filming beach combat; he shouts "Don't look at the camera, keep on fighting!" DP Vittorio Storaro plays the cameraman by Coppola's side.

Several actors who were, or later became, prominent stars have minor roles in the movie including Harrison Ford, G. D. Spradlin, Scott Glenn, R. Lee Ermey and Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne was only fourteen years old when shooting began in March 1976, and he lied about his age in order to get cast in his role.[5] Apocalypse Now took so long to finish that Fishburne was seventeen (the same age as his character) by the time of its release.


Although inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the film deviates extensively from its source material. The novella, based on Conrad's real experiences as a steam paddleboat captain in Africa, is set in the Congo Free State during the 19th century.[6] Kurtz and Marlow (who is named Willard in the movie) both work for a Belgian trading company that brutally exploits its native African workers.

When Marlow arrives at Kurtz's outpost, he discovers that Kurtz has gone insane and is lording over a small tribe as a god. The novella ends with Kurtz dying on the trip back and the narrator musing about the darkness of the human psyche: "the heart of an immense darkness".

In the novella, Marlow is the pilot of a river boat sent to collect ivory from Kurtz's outpost, only gradually becoming infatuated with Kurtz. In fact, when he discovers Kurtz in terrible health, Marlow makes an effort to bring him home safely. In the movie, Willard is an assassin dispatched to kill Kurtz. Nevertheless, the depiction of Kurtz as a god-like leader of a tribe of natives and his malarial fever, Kurtz's written exclamation "Exterminate the brutes!" (which appears in the film as "Drop the bomb. Exterminate them All!") and his last words "The horror! The horror!" are taken from Conrad's novella.

Coppola argues that many episodes in the film—the spear and arrow attack on the boat, for example—respect the spirit of the novella and in particular its critique of the concepts of civilization and progress. Other episodes adapted by Coppola, the Playboy bunnies (Sirens) exit, the lost souls, "taking me home" attempting to reach the boat and Kurtz' tribe of (white-faced) natives parting the canoes (gates of Hell) for Willard, (with Chef and Lance) to enter the camp are likened to Virgil and "The Inferno" (Divine Comedy) by Dante. While Coppola replaced European colonialism with American interventionism, the message of Conrad's book is still clear.[7]

Coppola's interpretation of the iconic Kurtz character is often speculated to have been modeled after Tony Poe, a highly decorated Vietnam-era Paramilitary Officer from the CIA's Special Activities Division.[8] Poe's actions in Vietnam and in the 'Secret War' in neighbouring Laos, in particular his highly unorthodox and often savage methods of waging war show many similarities to those of the fictional Kurtz; for example, Poe was known to drop severed heads into enemy-controlled villages as a form of psychological warfare and use human ears to record the number of enemies his indigenous troops had killed. He would send these ears back to his superiors as proof of the efficacy of his operations deep inside Laos.[9][10] Coppola, however, denies that Poe was a primary influence and instead says the character was loosely based on Special Forces Colonel Robert B. Rheault, whose 1969 arrest over the murder of a suspected double agent Thai Khac Chuyen in Nha Trang generated substantial contemporary news coverage.[11]

Use of T.S. Eliot's poetry

In the film, shortly before his death, Colonel Kurtz recites most of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men." Not only is Kurtz in the novel characterized as "hollow at the core", the poem is preceded in printed editions by the epigraph "Mistah Kurtz - he dead", a quotation from Conrad's Heart of Darkness which was the inspiration for the film.

In addition, two books seen opened on Kurtz' desk in the film are From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston and The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer, the two books that Eliot cited as the chief sources and inspiration for his poem "The Waste Land."

When Willard is first introduced to Dennis Hopper's character, the photojournalist describes his own worth in relation to that of Kurtz with "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas", from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."


While working as an assistant for Francis Ford Coppola on The Rain People, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg encouraged their friend and filmmaker John Milius to write a Vietnam War film.[12] Milius came up with the idea for adapting the plot of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War setting.[13] He had no desire to direct the film and felt that George Lucas was the right person for the job. However, filmmaker Carroll Ballard claims that Apocalypse Now was his idea in 1967 before Milius had written his screenplay. Ballard had a deal with producer Joel Landon and they tried to get the rights to Conrad's book but were unsuccessful. Lucas acquired the rights but failed to tell Ballard and Landon.[13]


Coppola gave Milius $15,000 to write the screenplay with the promise of an additional $10,000 if it was green-lit.[14] Milius claims that he wrote the screenplay in 1969[13] and it was originally called The Psychedelic Soldier.[15] He wanted to use Conrad's novel as "a sort of allegory. It would have been too simple to have followed the book completely".[14] He based the character of Willard and some of Kurtz on a friend of his, Fred Rexer, who had experienced, first-hand, the scene related by Marlon Brando's character where the arms of villagers are hacked off by the Viet Cong. At one point, Coppola told Milius, "write every scene you ever wanted to go into that movie",[13] and he wrote ten drafts, amounting to over a thousand pages.[16] Milius changed the film's title to Apocalypse Now after being inspired by a button badge popular with hippies during the 1960s that said "Nirvana Now". He was also influenced by an article written by Michael Herr entitled, "The Battle for Khe Sanh", which referred to drugs, rock 'n' roll, and people calling airstrikes down on themselves.[13]


Coppola was drawn to Milius' script, which he described as "a comedy and a terrifying psychological horror story".[17] George Lucas was originally interested in directing and planned to shoot it after making THX 1138 with principal photography to start in 1971. He planned to shoot the film in the rice fields between Stockton and Sacramento, California.[14] His friend and producer Gary Kurtz traveled to the Philippines, scouting suitable locations. They intended to shoot the film on a $2 million budget, documentary style, using 16 mm cameras, and real soldiers.[13] However, Lucas became involved with American Graffiti and this delayed the production of Apocalypse Now.[14] In the spring of 1974, Coppola discussed with friends and co-producers Fred Roos and Gary Frederickson the idea of producing the film.[18]

While making The Godfather Part II, Coppola asked Lucas and then Milius to direct Apocalypse Now, but both men were involved with other projects;[18] in Lucas' case, he got the go-ahead to make his pet project, Star Wars, and declined the offer to direct Apocalypse Now.[13] Coppola was determined to make the film and pressed ahead himself. He envisioned the film as a definitive statement on the nature of modern war, the difference between good and evil, and the impact of American society on the rest of the world. The director said that he wanted to take the audience "through an unprecedented experience of war and have them react as much as those who had gone through the war".[17]

In 1975, while promoting The Godfather Part II in Australia, Coppola and his producers scouted possible locations for Apocalypse Now in Cairns in northern Queensland, that had jungle resembling Vietnam.[19] He decided to make his film in the Philippines for its access to American equipment and cheap labor. Production coordinator Fred Roos had already made two low-budget films there for Monte Hellman, and had friends and contacts in the country.[17] Coppola spent the last few months of 1975 revising Milius' script and negotiating with United Artists to secure financing for the production. According to Frederickson, the budget was estimated between $12–14 million.[20] Coppola's American Zoetrope assembled $8 million from distributors outside the United States and $7.5 million from United Artists who assumed that the film would star Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and Gene Hackman.[17] Frederickson went to the Philippines and had dinner with President Ferdinand Marcos to formalize support for the production and to allow them to use some of the country's military equipment.[21]


Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.

Steve McQueen was Coppola's first choice to play Willard, but the actor did not accept because he did not want to leave America for 17 weeks.[17] Al Pacino was also offered the role but he too did not want to be away for that long a period of time and was afraid of falling ill in the jungle as he had done in the Dominican Republic during the shooting of The Godfather Part II.[17] Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, and James Caan were approached to play either Kurtz or Willard.[22]

Coppola and Roos had been impressed by Martin Sheen's screen test for Michael in The Godfather and he became their top choice to play Willard, but the actor had already accepted another project and Harvey Keitel was cast in the role based on his work in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.[23] By early 1976, Coppola had persuaded Marlon Brando to play Kurtz for a then-enormous fee of $3.5 million for a month's work on location in September 1976. Dennis Hopper was cast as a kind of Green Beret sidekick for Kurtz and when Coppola heard him talking nonstop on location, he remembered putting "the cameras and the Montagnard shirt on him, and we shot the scene where he greets them on the boat".[22]

Principal photography

On March 1, 1976, Coppola and his family flew to Manila and rented a large house there for the five-month shoot.[22] Sound and photographic equipment had been coming in from California on a regular basis since late 1975. Principal photography began three weeks later. Within a few days, Coppola was not happy with Harvey Keitel's take on Willard, saying that the actor "found it difficult to play him a passive onlooker".[22] After viewing early footage, the director took a plane back to Los Angeles and replaced Keitel with Martin Sheen.

Typhoon Olga wrecked the sets at Iba and on May 26, 1976, production was closed down.[24] Dean Tavoularis remembers that it "started raining harder and harder until finally it was literally white outside, and all the trees were bent at forty-five degrees".[24] One part of the crew was stranded in a hotel and the others were in small houses that were immobilized by the storm. The Playboy Playmate set had been destroyed, ruining a month's shooting that had been scheduled. Most of the cast and crew went back to the United States for six to eight weeks. Tavoularis and his team stayed on to scout new locations and rebuild the Playmate set in a different place. Also, the production had bodyguards watching constantly at night and one day the entire payroll was stolen. According to Coppola's wife, Eleanor, the film was six weeks behind schedule and $2 million over budget.[24]

Coppola flew back to the U.S. in June 1976. He read a book about Genghis Khan to get a better handle on the character of Kurtz.[24] After filming commenced, Marlon Brando arrived in Manila very overweight and began working with Coppola to rewrite the ending.[25] The director downplayed Brando's weight by dressing him in black, photographing only his face, and having another, taller actor double for him in an attempt to portray Kurtz as an almost mythical character.[25]

In the days after Christmas 1976, Coppola viewed a rough assembly of the footage he had to date but still needed to improvise an ending. He returned to the Philippines in early 1977 and resumed filming.[25] On March 5, 1977, Sheen had a heart attack and struggled for a quarter of a mile to reach help.[26] He was back on the set on April 19. A major sequence in a French plantation cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but was cut from the final film. Rumors began to circulate that Apocalypse Now had several endings but Richard Beggs, who worked on the sound elements, said, "There were never five endings, but just the one, even if there were differently edited versions".[26] These rumors came from Coppola departing frequently from the original screenplay. Coppola admitted that he had no ending because Brando was too fat to play the scenes as written in the original script. With the help of Dennis Jakob, Coppola decided that the ending could be "the classic myth of the murderer who gets up the river, kills the king, and then himself becomes the king — it's the Fisher King, from The Golden Bough".[26]

A water buffalo was slaughtered with a machete for the climactic scene. The scene was inspired by a ritual performed by a local Ifugao tribe which Coppola had witnessed along with his wife (who filmed the ritual later shown in the documentary Hearts of Darkness) and film crew. Although this was an American production subject to American animal cruelty laws, scenes like this filmed in the Philippines were not policed or monitored, and the American Humane Association gave the film an "unacceptable" rating.[27] Principal photography ended on May 21, 1977 and everyone headed home.[28]


In the summer of 1977, Coppola told Walter Murch that he had four months to assemble the sound. Murch realized that the script had been narrated but Coppola abandoned the idea during filming.[28] Murch thought that there was a way to assemble the film without narration but it would take ten months and decided to give it another try.[29] He put it back in, recording it all himself. By September, Coppola told his wife that he felt "there is only about a 20% chance [I] can pull the film off".[30] He convinced United Artists executives to delay the premiere from May to October 1978. Author Michael Herr received a call from Zoetrope in January 1978 and was asked to work on the film's narration based on his well-received book about Vietnam, Dispatches.[30] Herr said that the narration already written was "totally useless" and spent a year writing various narrations with Coppola giving him very definite guidelines.[30]

Murch had problems trying to make a stereo soundtrack for Apocalypse Now because sound libraries were devoid of any stereo recordings of any weapons and, specifically, weapons used in Vietnam.[30] In addition, the sound material brought back from the Philippines was inadequate because the small location crew lacked time and resources sufficient to record jungle sounds and ambient noises. Murch and his crew had to fabricate the mood of the jungle on the soundtrack. Apocalypse Now would feature innovative sound technique for movies as Murch insisted on recording the most up-to-date gunfire and employed the Dolby Stereo 70 mm Six Track system for the 70mm release. This used two channels of sound from behind the audience as well as three channels of sound from behind the movie screen.[30] The 35mm release used the then still new Dolby Stereo optical stereo system that has a single surround channel and three screen channels.

In May 1978, Coppola decided that it would not be possible to finish the film for a December release and postponed the opening until spring of 1979. He screened a "work in progress" for 900 people in April 1979 that was not well-received.[31] That same year, he was invited to screen Apocalypse Now at the Cannes Film Festival.[32] United Artists were not keen on showing an unfinished version in front of so many members of the press but Coppola remembered that The Conversation won the Palme d'Or and agreed to show Apocalypse Now at the festival less than a month before it began. The week prior to Cannes, Coppola arranged three sneak previews that each featured their own slightly different versions. He allowed critics to attend the screenings and believed that they would honor the embargo placed on reviews. On May 14, Rona Barrett reviewed the film on television and called it "a disappointing failure".[32] At Cannes, Zoetrope technicians worked during the night before the screening to install additional speakers on the theater walls in order to achieve Murch's 5.1 soundtrack.[32] On August 15, 1979 Apocalypse Now was released in the U.S. in 15 theaters equipped to play the first Dolby Stereo 70mm film with stereo surround sound.

Other versions


At the time of its release, many rumors surrounded the ending of Apocalypse Now. Coppola stated an ending was written in haste in which Willard and Kurtz joined forces and repelled the air strike on the compound; however, Coppola never fully agreed with the two going out in apocalyptic intensity, preferring to end the film in a more encouraging manner.

When Coppola originally organized the ending of the movie, he had two choices. One involved Willard leading Lance by the hand as everyone in Kurtz's base throws down their weapons, and ends with images of Willard's boat pulling away from Kurtz's compound superimposed over the face of a stone idol which then fades into black. Another option showed an air strike being called and the base being blown to bits in a spectacular display, consequently killing everyone left at the base.

The original 1979 70 mm exclusive theatrical release ended with Willard's boat, the stone statue, then fade to black with no credits, save for '"Copyright 1979 Omni Zoetrope"' right after the film ends. This mirrors the lack of any opening titles and supposedly stems from Coppola's original intention to "tour" the film as one would a play: the credits would have appeared on printed programs provided before the screening began.[33]

There have been, to date, many variations of the end credit sequence, beginning with the 35mm general release version, where Coppola elected to show the credits superimposed over shots of Kurtz's base exploding.[33] Rental prints circulated with this ending, and can be found in the hands of a few collectors. Some versions of this had the subtitle "A United Artists release", while others had "An Omni Zoetrope release". The network television version of the credits ended with "...from MGM/UA Entertainment Company" (the film made its network debut shortly after the merger of MGM and UA). One variation of the end credits can be seen on both YouTube and as a supplement on the current Lionsgate Blu-ray.

In any case, when Coppola heard that audiences interpreted this as an air strike called by Willard, Coppola pulled the film from its 35 mm run, and put credits on a black screen. In the DVD commentary, Coppola explains that the images of explosions had not been intended to be part of the story; they were intended to be seen as completely separate from the film. He had added them to the credits because he had captured the footage during the demolition of the sets (required by the Philippine government), which was filmed with multiple cameras fitted with different film stocks and lenses to capture the explosions at different speeds.

In the Redux Version, Willard silences the radio as the PBR is pulling away from Kurtz's compound. It is unclear whether Willard then points the boat upstream or downstream. Just before fading to black, Kurtz's last words "the horror" are echoed and there is a brief glimpse of helicopters and napalm that harkens back to the beginning of the film.

Extended bootleg version

There is a longer 289 minute version which has never been officially released but circulates as a video bootleg, containing extra material not included in either the original theatrical release or the "redux" version.[34]

Apocalypse Now Redux

In 2001, Coppola released Apocalypse Now Redux in cinemas and subsequently on DVD. This is an extended version that restores 49 minutes of scenes cut from the original film. Coppola has continued to circulate the original version as well: the two versions are packaged together in the Complete Dossier DVD, released on August 15, 2006 and in the Blu-ray edition released on October 19, 2010.

The longest section of added footage in the Redux version is an anticolonialism chapter involving the de Marais family's rubber plantation, a holdover from the colonization of French Indochina, featuring Coppola's two sons Gian-Carlo and Roman as children of the family. These scenes were removed from the 1979 cut, which premiered at Cannes. In behind-the-scenes footage in Hearts of Darkness, Coppola expresses his anger, on the set, at the technical aspects of the shot scenes, the result of tight allocation of resources. At the time of the Redux version, it was possible to digitally enhance the footage to accomplish Coppola's vision. In the scenes, the French family patriarchs argue about the positive side of colonialism in Indochina and denounce the betrayal of the military men in the First Indochina War. Hubert de Marais argues that French politicians sacrificed entire battalions at Điện Biên Phủ, and tells Willard that the US created the Viet Cong (as the Viet Minh), to fend off Japanese invaders.

Other added material includes extra combat footage before Willard meets Kilgore, a humorous scene in which Willard's team steals Kilgore's surfboard (which sheds some light on the hunt for the mangoes), a follow-up scene to the dance of the Playboy playmates, in which Willard's team finds the playmates awaiting evacuation after their helicopter has run out of fuel (trading two barrels of fuel for two hours with the Bunnies), and a scene of Kurtz reading from a Time magazine article about the war, surrounded by Cambodian children.

There is a deleted scene entitled "Monkey Sampan" which was used as a way to represent the whole movie in a three minute scene. The scene shows Willard and the PBR crew suspiciously eyeing an approaching Sampan juxtaposed to Montagnard villagers joyfully singing "Light My Fire" by The Doors. As the Sampan gets closer Willard realizes there are monkeys on it and no helmsman. Finally just as the two boats pass, the wind turns the sail and exposes a naked dead civilian tied to the sail boom. His body is mutilated and looks as though the man was whipped. The singing stops. It is assumed the man was tortured by the Viet Cong. As they pass on by, Chief notes out loud "That's comin' from where we're going, Captain." The boat then slowly passes the giant tail of a shot down B-52 bomber. The scene is ominous and the noise of engines way up in the sky is heard. Coppola said that he made up for cutting this scene by having the PBR pass under an airplane tail in the final cut.


Cannes screening

A three-hour version of Apocalypse Now was screened as a "work in progress" at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and met with prolonged applause.[35] At the subsequent press conference, Coppola criticized the media for attacking him and the production during their problems filming in the Philippines and uttered the famous quotes, "We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane", and "My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam".[35] The filmmaker upset newspaper critic Rex Reed who reportedly stormed out of the conference. Apocalypse Now won the Palme d'Or for best film along with Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum - a decision that was reportedly greeted with "some boos and jeers from the audience".[36]

Box office

Apocalypse Now performed well at the box office when it opened in August 1979.[35] The film initially opened in one theater in New York City, Toronto, and Hollywood, grossing USD $322,489 in the first five days. It ran exclusively in these three locations for four weeks before opening in an additional 12 theaters on October 3, 1979 and then several hundred the following week.[37] The film grossed over $78 million domestically with a worldwide total of approximately $150 million.[33]

The film was re-released on August 28, 1987 in six cities to capitalize on the success of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and other Vietnam War movies.[38] New 70mm prints were shown in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, and Cincinnati — cities where the film did financially well in 1979. The film was given the same kind of release as the exclusive engagement in 1979 with no logo or credits and audiences were given a printed program.[38]

Critical response

On the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, Apocalypse Now has a 99% "Certified Fresh" with a Average Rating of an 8.9/10 Rating. The Consensus is "Francis Ford Coppola's haunting, hallucinatory Vietnam war epic is cinema at its most audacious and visionary". In his original review, Roger Ebert wrote, "Apocalypse Now achieves greatness not by analyzing our 'experience in Vietnam', but by re-creating, in characters and images, something of that experience".[39] In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Charles Champlin wrote, "as a noble use of the medium and as a tireless expression of national anguish, it towers over everything that has been attempted by an American filmmaker in a very long time".[37]

Ebert added Coppola's film to his list of Great Movies, stating: "Apocalypse Now is the best Vietnam film, one of the greatest of all films, because it pushes beyond the others, into the dark places of the soul. It is not about war so much as about how war reveals truths we would be happy never to discover".[40]

Other reviews were less positive; Frank Rich in Time said "while much of the footage is breathtaking, Apocalypse Now is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty".[41]

In May 2011, a newly restored digital print of Apocalypse Now was released in UK cinemas, distributed by Optimum Releasing. Total Film magazine gave the film a five-star review, stating: "This is the original cut rather than the 2001 ‘Redux’ (be gone, jarring French plantation interlude!), digitally restored to such heights you can, indeed, get a nose full of the napalm."[42]


The May 1, 2010 cover of the Economist newspaper, illustrating the 2010 European sovereign debt crisis with imagery from the movie, attests to the film's pervasive cultural impact.

Today, the movie is widely regarded by many as a masterpiece of the New Hollywood era, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest films of all time.[43][44][45] Roger Ebert considers it to be the finest film on the Vietnam war and included it on his list for the 2002 Sight and Sound poll for the greatest movie of all time.[46][47] It is on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list at number 28, but it dropped two spots to number 30 on their 10th anniversary list. Kilgore's quote "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" (written by Milius) was number 12 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list and was also voted the fourth greatest movie speech of all time in a 2004 poll.[48] It is on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly ranked Apocalypse Now as having one of the "10 Best Surfing Scenes" in cinema.[49]

In 2002, Sight and Sound magazine polled several critics to name the best film of the last 25 years and Apocalypse Now was named number one. It was also listed as the second best war film by viewers on Channel 4's 100 Greatest War Films and was the second rated war movie of all time based on the Movifone list (after Schindler's List) and the IMDB War movie list (after The Longest Day). It is ranked number 1 on Channel 4's 50 Films To See Before You Die. In a 2004 poll of UK film fans, Blockbuster listed Kilgore's eulogy to napalm as the best movie speech.[50] The helicopter attack scene with the Ride of the Valkyries soundtrack was chosen as the most memorable film scene ever by the Empire magazine (although the same track was used earlier in 1915 to similar effect in The Birth of a Nation.

In 2009, the London Film Critics' Circle voted Apocalypse Now the best movie of the last 30 years.[51]

In 2011, actor Charlie Sheen, son of Martin Sheen, started playing clips from the film on his live tour and played the film in its entirety during post-show parties. One of Charlie Sheen's films, the 1993 comedy Hot Shots! Part Deux, includes a brief scene in which Charlie is riding a boat up a river in Iraq while on a rescue mission and passes Martin, as Captain Willard, going the other way. As they pass, each man shouts to the other "I loved you in Wall Street!", referencing the 1987 film that had featured both of them. Additionally, the promotional material for Hot Shots! Part Deux included a mockumentary that aired on Home Box Office titled Hearts of Hot Shots! Part Deux—A Filmmaker's Apology, in parody of the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, about the making of Apocalypse Now.[52]

Awards and honors


In 2000, Apocalypse Now was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


American Film Institute Lists

Marlon Brando was also ranked #4 of the Top 25 American male screen legends.

Home video release aspect ratio issues

The first home video releases of Apocalypse Now were pan-and-scan versions of the original 35 mm Technovision anamorphic 2.35:1 print, and the closing credits, white on black background, were presented in compressed 1.33:1 full-frame format to allow all credit information to be seen on standard televisions. The first letterboxed appearance (on laserdisc on December 29, 1991) cropped the film to a 2:1 aspect ratio (conforming to the Univisium spec created by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro), featuring a small degree of pan-and-scan processing — notably in the opening shots in Willard's hotel room, featuring a composite montage — at the insistence of Coppola and Storaro. The end credits, from a videotape source rather than a film print, were still crushed for 1.33:1 and zoomed to fit the anamorphic video frame. All DVD releases have maintained this aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen, but present the film without the end credits, which were treated as a separate feature. As a DVD extra, the footage of the explosion of the Kurtz compound was featured without text credits but included a commentary by director Coppola explaining the various endings based on how the film was screened. On the cover of the Redux DVD, Willard is erroneously listed as "Lieutenant Willard". The Blu-ray release of Apocalypse Now restores the film to its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, making it the first home video release to display the film in its true aspect ratio.


Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (American Zoetrope/Cineplex-Odeon Films) (1991) Directed by Eleanor Coppola, George Hickenlooper & Fax Bahr

Apocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier DVD (Paramount Home Entertainment) (2006) Disc 2 Extras include:

The Post Production of Apocalypse Now: Documentary (four Featurettes covering the editing, music and sound of the film through Coppola and his team)

  • A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now (18mins)
  • The Music of Apocalypse Now (15mins)
  • Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now (15mins)
  • The Final Mix (3mins)

See also


  1. ^ Peary, Gerald. "Francis Ford Coppola, Interview with Gerald Peary". GeraldPeary.com. http://www.geraldpeary.com/interviews/abc/coppola.html. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  2. ^ In some, but not all, prints of the film, the closing credits play over footage of Kurtz's temple-base exploding; some viewers interpreted this as an air strike called in by Willard. Because this was not Coppola's intention, after the film's original general release he replaced this footage with a plain black screen.
  3. ^ French, Karl (1998) Apocalypse Now, Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 978-0747538042
  4. ^ Col David Hackworth obituary The Independent, Weds, 11 May 2005
  5. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 19.
  6. ^ Murfin, Ross C (ed.) (1989): Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness. A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: St. Martin's Press, pp. 3-16.
  7. ^ "Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now: A comparative analysis of novella and film". Cyberpat.com. http://www.cyberpat.com/essays/coppola.html. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  8. ^ Leary, William L. "Death of a Legend". Air America Archive. Retrieved on 2007-06-10.
  9. ^ Warner, Roger. Shooting at the Moon.
  10. ^ Ehrlich, Richard S. (2003-07-08). "CIA operative stood out in 'secret war' in Laos". Bangkok Post. http://web.archive.org/web/20090806040904/http://geocities.com/asia_correspondent/laos0307ciaposhepnybp.html. Retrieved on 10 June 2007.
  11. ^ Isaacs, Matt (1999-11-17). "Agent Provocative". SF Weekly. http://www.sfweekly.com/1999-11-17/news/agent-provocative/1. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  12. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 2.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Cowie 1990, p. 120.
  14. ^ a b c d Cowie 2001, p. 5.
  15. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 3.
  16. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 7.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Cowie 1990, p. 121.
  18. ^ a b Cowie 2001, p. 6.
  19. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 12.
  20. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 13.
  21. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 16.
  22. ^ a b c d Cowie 1990, p. 122.
  23. ^ Cowie 2001, p. 18.
  24. ^ a b c d Cowie 1990, p. 123.
  25. ^ a b c Cowie 1990, p. 124.
  26. ^ a b c Cowie 1990, p. 125.
  27. ^ Burt, Jonathan (2002). Animals In Film: Apocalypse Now. Reaktion Books. ISBN 9781861891310. http://books.google.com/books?id=7z2dYClZlKMC&pg=PA153&lpg=PA153&dq=American+Humane+Association+apocalypse+now&source=bl&ots=CRc1BHmV-_&sig=c2w7zWFarZH3jjPxwFxl1Egb_IY&hl=en&ei=Ne0oSoueMY7Ktge72sG7CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  28. ^ a b Cowie 1990, p. 126.
  29. ^ Cowie 1990, pp. 126-127.
  30. ^ a b c d e Cowie 1990, p. 127.
  31. ^ Cowie 1990, p. 128.
  32. ^ a b c Cowie 1990, p. 129.
  33. ^ a b c Cowie 1990, p. 132.
  34. ^ Coates, Gordon (October 17, 2008). "Coppola's slow boat on the Nung". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/oct/17/1. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  35. ^ a b c Cowie 1990, p. 130.
  36. ^ "Sweeping Cannes". Time. June 4, 1979. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946279,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  37. ^ a b Cowie 1990, p. 131.
  38. ^ a b Harmetz, Aljean (August 20, 1987). "Apocalypse Now to Be Re-released". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE2D61F3BF933A1575BC0A961948260&scp=4&sq=%22Apocalypse+Now%22&st=nyt. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  39. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 1, 1979). "Apocalypse Now". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19790601/REVIEWS/41214002/1023. Retrieved 008-11-24. 
  40. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 28, 1999). "Great Movies: Apocalypse Now". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19991128/REVIEWS08/911280301/1023. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  41. ^ Frank Rich (1979-08-27). "Cinema: The Making of a Quagmire by Frank Rich". Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920572,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  42. ^ "Apocalypse Now Review". Total Film. http://www.totalfilm.com/reviews/cinema/apocalypse-now-1. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  43. ^ "Apocalypse Now (Redux) (1979) (2001)". http://www.filmsite.org/apoc.html. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  44. ^ "Apocalypse Now (1979)". http://www.film.u-net.com/Movies/Reviews/Apocalypse_Now.html. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  45. ^ "DVD Pick: Apocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier". http://homevideo.about.com/od/dvdreview1/a/apocalypsenowra.htm. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  46. ^ "How the directors and critics voted". http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/topten/poll/voter.php?forename=Roger&surname=Ebert. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  47. ^ "Apocalypse Now (1979) by Roger Ebert". Chicago Sun-Times. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19991128/REVIEWS08/911280301/1023. Retrieved 2010-10-18. 
  48. ^ ""Napalm" Speech Tops Movie Poll". BBC News. 2004-01-02. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3362603.stm. Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  49. ^ "10 Best Surfing Scenes". Entertainment Weekly. August 8, 2002. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,231017__334753_9,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  50. ^ 'Napalm' speech tops movie poll, 2 January 2004, BBC News. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  51. ^ "War epic Apocalypse Now tops UK film critics poll". BBC. December 1, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8388124.stm. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  52. ^ Hearts of Hot Shots! Part Deux - A Filmmaker's Apology Television show - Hearts of Hot Shots! Part Deux - A Filmmaker's Apology TV Show - Yahoo! TV
  53. ^ a b c d e f g h "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/52nd-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-10-07. 
  54. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Apocalypse Now". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/1897/year/1979.html. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 

External links

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