Apocalypse Now

Released 1979


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Movie Summary

Francis Ford Coppola
Apocalypse Now is the Vietnam War saga by Francis Ford Coppola, based in part on Joseph Conrad's short novel "Heart of Darkness." Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is charged with a secret mission to travel up the Nung River into Cambodia to neutralize Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has been driven insane by the brutality of war and his isolation in the deep jungle. Along the way, Willard's encounters with the Viet Cong intensify, leading up to the looming final conflict with the mad Kurtz. The film features many famous actors in pivotal roles, including Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, G.D. Spradlin, and the then 17 year-old Laurence Fishburne. The film has acquired legendary status over the years, not least for its ambitious length, scope and technical innovations in sound and cinematography (it indeed won both Academy Awards in those categories). The difficult 14 month-long shoot in the Philippines saw the destruction of many of the film's sets by a typhoon, the near-fatal heart attack of star Martin Sheen, and constant script revisions by Coppola and co-writer John Milius. Apocalypse Now won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in all.moreless


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Metacritic Score

  • 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    One of the great films of all time. It shames modern Hollywood's timidity. To watch it is to feel yourself lifted up to the heights where the cinema can take you, but so rarely does.

  • 90

    The New York Times Dana Stevens

    In spite of its limited perspective on Vietnam, its churning, term-paperish exploration of Conrad and the near incoherence of its ending, (it) is a great movie. It grows richer and...

  • 90

    Variety Todd McCarthy

    A weightier, more nuanced and fulsome experience than the film the world has known up to now.

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen

Captain Benjamin L. Willard

Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper

American Photojournalist

Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall

Lieutenant Colonel William 'Bill' Kilgore

Laurence Fishburne

Laurence Fishburne

Gunner's Mate Tyrone 'Mr. Clean' Miller

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford

Colonel Lucas

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (32)

    • The scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen told the shooting crew to just let the cameras roll. Sheen was actually drunk in the scene and punched the mirror which was real glass. Sheen also began sobbing and tried to attack Francis Ford Coppola.

    • Harvey Keitel was initially cast as Willard. Two weeks into shooting, director Francis Ford Coppola replaced him with Martin Sheen.

    • George Lucas was originally set to direct "Apocalypse Now" from a screenplay by John Milius. Lucas' initial plan was to shoot the movie as a faux documentary on location in South Vietnam while the war was still in progress. Francis Ford Coppola, who was to be the executive producer, tried to get the film made as part of a production deal with Warner Bros. The deal fell through, and Coppola went on to direct The Godfather. By the time both men were powerful enough to get the film made, Saigon had fallen and Lucas was busy making Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. Milius had no interest in directing the film. Lucas gave Coppola his blessing to direct the film himself. Sheen.

    • While in pre-production, director Francis Ford Coppola consulted his friend  Roger Corman for advice about shooting in the Phillipines. Roger's advice: Don't go.

    • Francis Ford Coppola believed that Marlon Brando was familiar with Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and had prepared for the role before the legendary actor arrived on the set. When Brando did come out, Coppola was horrified to find that Brando had never read "Heart of Darkness", did not know his lines, and had become extremely fat (Kurtz had always been written as a tall but starvingly-thin man). After some panicking, Coppola decided to film the 5'10" Brando as if he was a massively built, 6'5" brute (to explain Brando's and steered the camera clear of Brando's huge belly.

    • Francis Ford Coppola spent days reading Joseph Conrad's source novel "Heart of Darkness" out loud to Marlon Brando on the set.

    • Marlon Brando so angered Coppola that the director turned over the filming of Brando's scenes to Jerry Ziesmer, the assistant director.

    • Francis Ford Coppola lost 100 pounds while filming.

    • Scenes featuring Aurore Clément as the owner of a French plantation were filmed but cut from the finished picture. They were replaced in the 2001 "Redux" edition which added almost forty minutes to the movie.  In the mansion scene's you see CPT Williard eat with a French family while they discuss the politics and history of Vietnam and later CPT Williard smoking opium with a gorgeous French woman.

    • Francis Ford Coppola shot nearly 200 hours of footage for this film.

    • Laurence Fishburne lied about his age (he was 14 at the time) when production began in 1976.

    • Kurtz reads from the T.S. Eliot poem "The Hollow Men". Eliot was inspired to write this poem by "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, the book on which this movie was loosely based. The first line of the poem reads, "Mistah Kurtz - he dead". Kurtz leaves this line and the following line out when he reads. Also, the photojournalist says "This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fuckin' shit we're in, man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack." This is taken from the same poem's famous last two lines, "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper."

    • The canteen scene with Lt. Col. Kilgore and the wounded Viet Cong is based on an actual wounded VC fighter who fought while keeping his entrails strapped to his belly in an enameled cooking pot. The incident was documented by the photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths. The real-life U.S soldier was quoted as saying, "Any soldier who can fight for three days with his insides out can drink from my canteen any time!".

    • Nick Nolte has said that he has never wanted a role more than that of Captain Willard, and was very disappointed when Coppola picked Harvey Keitel. When Keitel was fired, Nolte thought the role was his, but Sheen eventually got the part.

    • Clint Eastwood turned down the role of Captain Willard because he felt the film was too dark.

    • Benjamin Willard, like Martin Sheen who plays him, is from Ohio.

    • Randy Thom, one of the film's sound mixers, said that the sound mix took over nine months to complete.

    • According to his book "In the Blink of an Eye", Walter Murch took nearly two years to edit the movie, with an average of 1.47 cuts a day.

    • Writer Michael Herr was called in to write much of Willard's voice-over dialogue and a few scenes. The scene where Roach uses a grenade launcher to kill the NVA soldier in the wire during the scene at the Do Long bridge is taken directly from "Dispatches," Herr's memoir of the year (1967-'6) he spent in-country as a journalist accredited to Esquire magazine during the war.

    • One of the sequences cut from the original release version but added to the "Redux" version is a sequence featuring the soldiers making out with two Playboy playmates. Colleen Camp was the playmate surrounded by birds. Camp said her character trained birds at Busch Gardens; Camp actually did this in real life.

    • Francis Ford Coppola invested several million dollars of his own money in the film after it went severely over budget.

    • One of the photos Willard studies in the dossier shows Kurtz in a line of soldiers being decorated by Gen. William C. Westmoreland.

    • Francis Ford Coppola initially wanted to use Universal Studios-owned Sensurround system but they would not let him do so. This forced him to create an own version of the sound surround system.

    • Although top billed, Marlon Brando does not appear until more than 2.5 hours into the movie (Redux version) and his total appearance time is 15 minutes.

    • When Cpt. Willard is approaching Colby, (the American soldier who was sent to kill Kurtz, but joined him instead) several of the women and children surrounding Colby look directly at the camera.

    • Many M16 rifles are shown with 30-round magazines installed. These were rarely used in Vietnam. The standard magazine of the Vietnam era was shorter, and held 20 rounds.

    • When the Playboy chopper takes off with the two men holding on you can see a safety wire holding the man who partially drops when the pants of the other man partially give way.

    • When Captain Willard first meets Colonel Kilgore, they exchange salutes while they are still in a combat zone. It is usually military protocol not to salute in a combat zone. Saluting would show a possible sniper who the commanding officer is.

    • When the Kilgore character is first introduced getting off a chopper you can see a reflection of a boom mic in his glasses.

    • During Willard's briefing in Nha Trang, every time someone mentions the name "Kurtz" on the soundtrack, on screen they are mouthing "Lieghley", the original name of Col. Kurtz's character in the script during the early part of the shooting.

    • While reading info about Kurtz, Willard eats a Hershey bar that clearly has UPC bar code on the wrapper. These were not included on Hershey bar packaging until 1976.

    • The jets used in the napalm scene were repainted Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighters, which belonged to the Philippine Air Force. Although the F-5 was a Vietnam-era aircraft, the USAF assigned them to training squadrons, and never actually used them in combat operations.

  • QUOTES (33)

    • LT Colby: [Richard Colby's last letter to his wife, as read by Willard] Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. Find someone else. Forget it. I'm never coming back. Forget it.

    • General Corman: [Well, you see, Willard, in this war, things get confused out there. Power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity. But out there with these natives, it must be a temptation to be God. Because there's a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and irration, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes, the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

    • Chief Phillips: [Redux version] Captain, are you giving away our fuel for a Playmate of the Month?
      Cpt Williard: No, Playmate of the Year, Chief!

    • Playmate of the Year: [as couple gets steamy, another soldier peers into window] Who are you?
      Clean: I'm next, ma'am.

    • CPT Williard: [about Colonel Kilgore] Well, he wasn't a bad officer, I guess. He loved his boys, and he felt safe with 'em. He was just one of those guys with that weird light around him. He just knew he wasn't gonna get so much as a scratch here.

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: I will not hurt or harm you. Just give me back the board, Lance. It was a good board... and I like it. You know how hard it is to find a board you like...

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] "Someday this war's gonna end". That'd be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren't looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I'd been back there, and I knew that it just didn't exist anymore.

    • CPT Williard: Hey soldier, do you know who's in command here?
      Soldier: Ain't you?

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: [Explaining why the helicopters play music during air assaults] We use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the slopes. My boys love it!

    • CPT Williard: The First of the Ninth was a old calvary division that traded in their horses for helicopters and went tear-assing around 'Nam looking for the shit...

    • CPT Williard: The crew were mostly kids; rock & rollers with one foot in their grave.

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: How're you feeling, Jimmy?
      Door Gunner: Like a mean motherfucker, sir!

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: What the hell do you know about surfing, Major? You're from goddamned New Jersey!

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: Someday this war's gonna end...

    • Colonel Kurtz: We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] Charlie didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] They were gonna make me a Major for this, and I wasn't even in their fuckin' army anymore.

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] "Never get out of the boat." Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin' all the way... Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin' program.

    • CPT Williard: Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.

    • CPT Williard: Are you crazy, Goddammit? Don't you think its a little risky for some R&R?
      LT Col Kilgore: If I say its safe to surf this beach, Captain, then its safe to surf this beach! I mean, I'm not afraid to surf this place, I'll surf this whole fucking place!

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: You can either surf, or you can fight!

    • Lance: Disneyland? Fuck, man, this is better than Disneyland!

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] It's a way we had over here for living with ourselves. We cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a Band-Aid. It was a lie. And the more I saw them, the more I hated lies.

    • CPT Williard: [Oh man... the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it.

    • CPT Williard: [voice-over] If that's how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn't just insanity and murder; there was enough of that to go around for everyone.

    • Colonel Kurtz: What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind We must kill them. We must incinerate [intercepted radio message] I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving.

    • Colonel Kurtz: What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig... cow after cow... village after village... army after army...

    • Photojournalist: What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans, man? That he had wisdom? Bullshit, man!

    • Colonel Kurtz: "You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."

    • Colonel Kurtz: "The horror... the horror..."

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

    • Lt. Colonel Kilgore: "Any soldier who can fight for three days with his insides out can drink from my canteen any time!"

    • Photojournalist: "This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fuckin' shit we're in, man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper, and with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack."

  • NOTES (2)

    • The film won 2 Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

    • Both Steve McQueen and Al Pacino were originally offered the part of "Captain Willard", but declined because of the long shooting schedule away from the United States. Early scenes were filmed with Harvey Keitel in the role, but director Coppola was unhappy with his performance, and Keitel was replaced with Martin Sheen within a week after production began.


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Classics, Military & War