Platoon (film)

Platoon (film)

Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Oliver Stone
Produced by Arnold Kopelson
Written by Oliver Stone
Starring Tom Berenger
Willem Dafoe
Charlie Sheen
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Editing by Claire Simpson
Studio Hemdale Film Corporation
Distributed by Orion Pictures (original)
Metro Goldwyn Mayer (current)
Release date(s) December 19, 1986 (1986-12-19)
Running time 120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $138,530,565

Platoon is a 1986 American war film written and directed by Oliver Stone and stars Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen. It is the first of Stone's Vietnam War trilogy, followed by 1989's Born on the Fourth of July and 1993's Heaven & Earth.[1]

Stone wrote the story based upon his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam to counter the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne's The Green Berets.[2] The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1986. In 2007, the American Film Institute placed Platoon at #83 in their "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies" poll. British television channel Channel 4 voted Platoon as the 6th greatest war film ever made, behind Full Metal Jacket and ahead of A Bridge Too Far.[3]



In late 1967, young Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) has abandoned college for combat duty in Vietnam. Taylor and several other replacements have been assigned to Bravo Company, near the Cambodian border. Worn down by the exhausting heat and poor living conditions, his enthusiasm for the war wanes and he develops an admiration for the more experienced soldiers, despite their reluctance to extend their friendship. One night while on an ambush, his unit is set upon by a group of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers, who are forced to retreat after a brief gunfight. Gardner, a new recruit, is killed while another soldier, Tex, is maimed by friendly fire from a grenade thrown by Sergeant O'Neill (John C. McGinley). Taylor eventually gains acceptance from a tight-knit group in his unit (the "Heads") who socialize, dance, and smoke marijuana in an underground clubhouse. He finds a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) as well as the elder King (Keith David), while resenting the more ruthless Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).

During one patrol, a soldier named Manny is found mutilated and tied to a post while two others are killed by a booby-trapped box in a bunker. The platoon soon reaches a nearby village, where a food and weapons cache is discovered. In one house, Taylor discovers a disabled young man and an elderly woman hiding in a spider hole beneath the floor. Taylor snaps, taunting the man and shooting at the ground before his foot. Bunny (Kevin Dillon) then bludgeons the man to death. Barnes interrogates the village chief to determine why there is a surplus of supplies. Despite the villagers' adamant denials, Barnes nonetheless believes they are aiding Viet Cong guerrillas and shoots the chief's wife in the head. Barnes takes the child of the woman at gunpoint, threatening to shoot her if the villagers do not reveal information. Elias arrives and engages in a fight with Barnes over the incident. Platoon commander Second Lieutenant Wolfe (Mark Moses), who ranks above Barnes but did nothing to stop him, ends the fight, and orders the men to burn the village, gather all the villagers and destroy the weapons cache. As the men leave, Taylor comes across and stops a group of soldiers sexually abusing two girls.

Upon returning to base, Elias reports Barnes' actions to Captain Harris (Dale Dye), who cannot afford to remove Barnes due to a lack of personnel. Harris warns that if he finds out an illegal killing took place, then a court-martial would be ordered. On their next patrol, the platoon is ambushed and becomes pinned down in a firefight, in which numerous soldiers are wounded. Wolfe calls in an artillery strike to incorrect coordinates, resulting in friendly fire. Elias takes three men, including Taylor and Rhah (Francesco Quinn), to intercept flanking enemy troops. Barnes orders the rest of the platoon to retreat, and goes back into the jungle to find Elias' group. Barnes finds Elias and shoots him, then returns to the helicopter, telling the others that Elias was killed. After they take off, a wounded Elias emerges from the jungle, running from a group of enemy soldiers. Taylor glances over at Barnes and reads the apprehension on his face as Elias is killed before he can be rescued. At the base, Taylor attempts to talk his group into killing Barnes in retaliation. A drunken Barnes enters the room, taunting and daring them. No one takes up the offer, but as Barnes leaves he gets into a scuffle with Taylor, cutting him near the eye.

The platoon is later sent back to the area in order to maintain heavy defensive positions against potential attacks. King, whom Taylor developed a friendship with, is sent home just before the fighting begins. Taylor shares a foxhole with Francis (Corey Glover). That night, an onslaught occurs and the defensive lines are broken. Several soldiers in the platoon including Junior, Bunny and Wolfe, are killed, while O'Neill barely escapes death in his foxhole by hiding under the cover of a dead soldier. To make matters worse, an NVA sapper armed with a satchel charge and a belt of explosives rushes in past the command post's defenses and self-detonates when inside the battalion HQ, killing everyone inside. Meanwhile, Captain Harris orders his air support to expend all remaining ordnance inside his perimeter. During the chaos, Taylor encounters Barnes but the wounded sergeant attacks Taylor. Just before Barnes can pummel Taylor with his E-tool, both men are knocked unconscious by a nearby napalm strike explosion. Taylor regains consciousness and finds an injured Barnes. Taylor shoots Barnes, killing him. Taylor is about to commit suicide before reinforcements arrive and find him. Francis, who survived the battle unharmed but deliberately stabs himself. As Taylor is about to be loaded onto a helicopter, Francis reminds Taylor that because they have been wounded, they can return home. O'Neill, who desperately wants to go home, is told he will replace Barnes. The helicopter flies away and Taylor weeps as he stares down at the death and destruction.


  • Charlie Sheen as Chris
  • Tom Berenger as Sergeant Barnes
  • Willem Dafoe as Sergeant Elias
  • Forest Whitaker as Big Harold
  • Francesco Quinn as Rhah
  • John C. McGinley as Sergeant O'Neill
  • Richard Edson as Sal
  • Kevin Dillon as Bunny
  • Reggie Johnson as Junior
  • Keith David as King
  • Johnny Depp as Lerner
  • David Neidorf as Tex
  • Mark Moses as Lieutenant Wolfe
  • Chris Pedersen as Crawford
  • Corkey Ford as Manny
  • Corey Glover as Francis
  • Bob Orwig as Gardner
  • Tony Todd as Warren
  • Kevin Eshelman as Morehouse
  • James Terry McIlvain as Ace
  • J. Adam Glover as Sanderson
  • Ivan Kane as Tony
  • Paul Sanchez as Doc
  • Captain Dale Dye as Captain Harris
  • Peter Hicks as Parker
  • Basile Achara as Flash
  • Steve Barredo as Fu Sheng
  • Chris Castillejo as Rodriquez
  • Andrew B. Clark as Tubbs
  • Bernardo Manalili as Village Chief
  • Than Rogers as Village Chief's Wife
  • Li Thi Van as Village Chief's Daughter
  • Clarisa Ortacio as Old Woman
  • Romy Sevilla as One-Legged Man
  • Matthew Westfall as Terrified Soldier
  • Nick Nickelson as 1st Mechanized Soldier
  • Warren McLean as 2nd Mechanized Soldier
  • Li Mai Thao as Rape Victim
  • Alex Kelsey as Medic
  • Oliver Stone as 3/22 Infantry, Battalion Commander in Bunker (uncredited cameo)


"Vietnam was really visceral, and I had come from a cerebral existence: study... working with a pen and paper, with ideas. I came back really visceral. And I think the camera is so much more... that's your interpreter, as opposed to a pen." —Oliver Stone[4]

After his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in 1968, Oliver Stone wrote a screenplay called Break: a semi-autobiographical account detailing his experiences with his parents and his time in Vietnam. Stone's return from active duty in Vietnam resulted in a "big change" in how he viewed life and the war, and the unproduced screenplay Break was the result, and it eventually provided the basis for Platoon.[4]

In a 2010 interview with the Times, Stone discussed his killing of a Viet Cong soldier and how he blended this experience into his screenplay.[5] It featured several characters who were the seeds of those who would end up in Platoon. The script was set to music from The Doors; Stone sent the script to Jim Morrison in the hope he would play the lead (Morrison never responded but the script was returned to Oliver Stone shortly after Morrison's death by Morrison's manager - Morrison had the script with him when he died in Paris). Though Break went ultimately unproduced, it was the spur for him to attend film school.[4]

After penning several other produced screenplays in the early 1970s, Stone came to work with Robert Bolt on an unproduced screenplay, The Cover-up. Bolt's rigorous approach rubbed off on Stone, and he was inspired to use the characters from his Break screenplay (who in turn were based upon people Stone knew in Vietnam) as the basis for a new screenplay titled The Platoon. Producer Martin Bregman attempted to elicit studio interest in the project, but Hollywood was still apathetic about Vietnam. However, the strength of Stone's writing on The Platoon was enough to get him the job penning Midnight Express in 1978. Despite that film's critical and commercial success, and that of other Stone-penned films at the time, most studios were still reluctant to finance The Platoon, as they feared a film about the Vietnam War would not attract an audience. After the release of The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, they then cited the perception that these films were considered the pinnacle of the Vietnam War film genre as reasons not to make The Platoon.[4]

Stone instead attempted to break into mainstream direction via the easier-to-finance horror genre, but The Hand failed at the box office, and Stone began to think that The Platoon would never be made. Stone wrote Year of the Dragon for a lower-than-usual fee of $200,000, on the condition from producer Dino De Laurentiis that he would then produce The Platoon. De Laurentiis secured financing for the film, but struggled to find a distributor. Because de Laurentiis had already spent money sending Stone to the Philippines to scout for locations, he decided to keep control of the film's script until he was repaid.[4] Then Stone's script for what would become Salvador was passed to John Daly of British production company Hemdale. Once again, this was a project that Stone had struggled to secure financing for, but Daly loved the script and was prepared to finance both Salvador and The Platoon off the back of it. Stone shot Salvador first, before turning his attention to what was by now called Platoon.[4]


The famous scene depicting Elias with his hands in the air is a recreation of a 1968 photograph by Art Greenspon[6]

Platoon was filmed on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, starting in February 1986. The production of the film on a scheduled date was almost canceled because of the political upheaval in the country due to then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but with the help of well-known Asian producer Mark Hill, the shoot went on as scheduled. The shoot lasted 54 days and cost $6.5 million. The production made a deal with the Philippine military for the use of military equipment.[4]

James Woods, who had starred in Stone's previous film, Salvador, was offered a part in Platoon. He turned the role down, later saying he "couldn't face going into another jungle with [Stone]". Upon arrival in the Philippines, the cast was sent on a two-week intensive training course, during which they had to dig foxholes and were subject to forced marches and night-time "ambushes" which utilized special-effects explosions. Stone explained that he was trying to break them down, "to mess with their heads so we could get that dog-tired, don't give a damn attitude, the anger, the irritation... the casual approach to death".[4] Willem Dafoe said "the training was very important to the making of the film," including its authenticity and the camaraderie developed among the cast. "By the time you got through the training and through the film, you had a relationship to the weapon. It wasn’t going to kill people, but you felt comfortable with it."[7]

Stone makes a cameo appearance as the battalion commander of 3/22 Infantry in the final battle. Dale Dye, who played Bravo company's commander Captain Harris, is a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran who also acted as the film's technical advisor.[2] Stone based the final attack on a real life battle he survived.

Music used in the film includes Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane and "Okie From Muskogee" by Merle Haggard. During a scene in the "Underworld" the soldiers sing along to "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, which also featured in the film's trailer.



Critics both praised and criticized Platoon for its presentation of the violence seen in the war and the moral ambiguity created by the realities of guerrilla warfare, when unit leaders have to make a choice between saving the lives of their own men and taking those of suspected guerrilla sympathizers. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, calling it the best film of the year, and the 9th best of the 1980s.

The film currently has an 86% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 86%.[8]

Awards and nominations


  • Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film Oliver Stone



American Film Institute Lists


The film was marketed with the tag line, "The first casualty of war is innocence," an adaptation of Senator Hiram Johnson's assertion in 1917 that "The first casualty of war is the truth."[12] (c.f. Aeschylus (BC 525 - BC 456), "In war, truth is the first casualty.") Several licensed tie-ins were released between 1986-1988. A video game was produced by Ocean Software for various formats. The Nintendo Entertainment System version was ported and published by Sunsoft. Loosely based on the film, the object of the game is to survive in the Vietnamese jungle against guerrilla attacks. A wargame was also produced, by Avalon Hill, as an introductory game to attract young people into the wargaming hobby.[13] A novelization of the film was written by Dale Dye. In 2002, Strategy First published and Digital Reality developed a real-time strategy game based on the film for the Microsoft Windows.[14]

Cast Note

See also

  • Vietnam War in film


  1. ^ "Platoon'--hollywood Steps On A Gold Mine". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  2. ^ a b Stone, Oliver (2001). Platoon DVD commentary (DVD). MGM Home Entertainment. 
  3. ^ "Channel 4's 100 Greatest War Movies of All Time". Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Salewicz, Chris (1999-07-22) [1997]. Oliver Stone: The Making of His Movies (New Ed edition ed.). UK: Orion Publishing Group. ISBN 0-75281-820-1. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Parsons, David. "American Soldiers as Victims in Vietnam". Picturing U.S. History. CUNY Graduate Center. Retrieved January 26, 2010. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "The 59th Academy Awards (1987) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  10. ^ "Berlinale: 1987 Prize Winners". Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  11. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  12. ^ Mooallem, Jon (February 29, 2004). "How movie taglines are born". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 13, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Platoon (1986)". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved 2008-06-12. 
  14. ^

External links

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