Stripes is a 1981 American war comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, Sean Young, and John Candy. Several actors including John Larroquette, John Diehl, Conrad Dunn, and Judge Reinhold were featured in their first significant film roles. Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Timothy Busfield, and Bill Paxton also appeared early in their careers.
John Winger is a cab driver in New York City who, in the span of a few hours, loses his job, his apartment, his car, and his girlfriend, Anita. Realizing that he has little to no prospects, he decides to join the Army. He talks his best friend Russell Ziskey, a teacher of English as a second language, into joining him, and they go to a recruiting office and are soon sent off to basic training.
Upon arriving at Fort Arnold, they meet their fellow recruits, and their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka. Moments after arriving, John annoys Sergeant Hulka and is ordered to do push-ups. He stands out as a slacker throughout basic training. John and Russell make friends with a platoon who are a bunch of misfits. Their commanding officer is the haughty and dull-witted Captain Stillman. As basic training progresses, Russell and John become romantically involved with female MPs Louise Cooper and Stella Hansen. Not long before graduation, Hulka is injured when Stillman, trying to impress a visiting colonel, orders a mortar crew to fire without setting target coordinates.
The men go to a mud wrestling bar, where John convinces Dewey "Ox" Oxberger to wrestle a group of women. When the club is raided by MPs and police, Stella and Louise hide John and Russell. The rest of the platoon are returned to base, where a furious Stillman threatens to make them all repeat basic training.
After having sex with Stella and Louise, the buddies return to the barracks, and John motivates the platoon with a passionate speech and begins to get them in shape for graduation. After a long night of practice, they oversleep and almost miss the ceremony. They rush to the parade grounds still half-asleep and give an improvised, yet highly coordinated, drill display led by John. General Barnicke is impressed when he finds out that they had to complete training without a drill sergeant, and decides they are just the kind of "go-getters" he wants working on his EM-50 project in Italy.
Once in Italy, the platoon is reunited with a recovered Hulka and assigned to guard the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, an armored personnel carrier disguised as a recreational vehicle. Wanting more from their boring assignment, John and Russell steal the EM-50 to visit their girlfriends, stationed in West Germany. When Stillman finds the EM-50 missing, he launches an unauthorized mission to get the vehicle back before his superiors find out it is gone. Hulka urges Stillman not to go, but is overruled.
Stillman inadvertently leads the platoon across the border into Czechoslovakia. Hulka, recognizing where they are, jumps out of the truck just before it is captured by the Soviet Army. He makes a mayday radio call that is heard by John and Russell, who realize that the platoon came looking for them and are now in danger. John, Russell, Stella, and Louise take the EM-50 and infiltrate a Soviet base where the platoon is being held. With help from Hulka, they rescue the entire platoon.
Upon returning to the US, John, Russell, Louise, Stella, and Hulka are hailed as heroes, each being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Hulka retires and opens the HulkaBurger franchise. Stella appears on the cover of Penthouse, Ox makes the cover of Tiger Beat, Russell recreates his firefight with the Russians for Guts magazine, and John is featured on the cover of Newsworld. The humiliated Captain Stillman is reassigned to a weather station near Nome, Alaska.
- Bill Murray as John Winger
- Harold Ramis as Russell Ziskey
- Warren Oates as Sergeant Hulka
- P. J. Soles as Stella Hansen
- Sean Young as Louise Cooper
- John Candy as Dewey 'Ox' Oxberger
- John Larroquette as Captain Stillman
- Roberta Leighton as Anita
- John Voldstad as Stillman's Aide
- John Diehl as 'Cruiser'
- Lance LeGault as Colonel Glass
- Conrad Dunn as Francis 'Psycho' Soyer
- Judge Reinhold as Elmo
- Joe Flaherty as Border Guard
- Dave Thomas as M.C.
- Robert J. Wilke as General Barnicke
- Antone Pagán as Hector
- Bill Paxton as Unnamed Soldier
On his way to the premiere of Meatballs, Ivan Reitman thought up the idea for a film: "Cheech and Chong join the army". He pitched it to Paramount Pictures and they greenlit the film that day. Len Blum and Dan Goldberg wrote the screenplay in Toronto and read it to Reitman, who was in Los Angeles, over the phone. The director, in turn, would give the writers notes. Cheech and Chong's manager thought the script was very funny; however, the comedy duo wanted complete creative control. Reitman then suggested to Goldberg that they change the two main characters to ones suited for Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, figuring if they could get Ramis interested and let him tailor the script for the two of them, he could convince Murray to do it.
Ramis had already co-written National Lampoon's Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack, but was relatively unknown as a film actor. His best-known acting work prior to Stripes was as a cast member for the late-night TV sketch comedy Second City Television, which he had quit a few years earlier. Columbia Pictures did not like Ramis's audition but Reitman told the studio that he was hiring the comedian anyway. P. J. Soles reported that Dennis Quaid had read for the role of Russell and that Ramis was reluctant to appear in the film, but that Murray told Ramis he did not wish to work with anyone else and would leave the film unless he played the other principal.
Casting director Karen Rea saw Conrad Dunn on the stage and asked him to read for the role of Francis "Psycho" Soyer in New York. Judge Reinhold played Elmo, who was given the best jokes from the Cheech and Chong draft of the screenplay. Sean Young was cast based on her looks, and Reitman felt that her "sweetness" would go well with Ramis. P. J. Soles tested with Murray and they got along well together. John Diehl had never auditioned before and won his first paying job as an actor. Goldberg knew John Candy from Toronto and told Reitman that he should be in the film; he was not required to audition.
Reitman was a fan of the westerns that Warren Oates had been in and wanted someone who was strong and that everyone respected to control the film's misfit platoon. Reinhold said that during filming Oates would tell stories about working on films like The Wild Bunch and they would be enthralled. Reitman wanted "a little bit of weight in the center", and added the argument between Hulka and Winger. It was not played for laughs and allowed Murray to do a serious scene, something he had not done before. During filming one of the obstacle courses scenes, Reitman told the actors to grab Oates and drag him into the mud without telling the veteran actor about it to see what would happen and get a genuine reaction. Oates' front tooth got chipped in the process and he yelled at Reitman for what he did.
Every scene had some element of improvisation due in large part to Murray and Ramis. Much of the mud wrestling scene was made up on the spot by Reitman. Candy felt uncomfortable during filming, but Reitman talked him through it. The spatula scene in the kitchen of the general's house was filmed at three in the morning, after the cast and crew had been up the entire day. Murray improvised the "Aunt Jemima Treatment" sequence and Soles reacted naturally to whatever he said and did.
Filming began in Kentucky in November 1980, then moved to California in December. Principal photography ended on Stage 20 at Burbank Studios on January 29, 1981. The production was allowed to shoot the army scenes at Fort Knox, the city scenes in Louisville, and the Czechoslovakia scenes at the closed Chapeze Distillery (owned by Jim Beam) in Clermont, with a budget of $9–10 million and a 42-day shooting schedule. Reitman, Goldberg, and Ramis were involved in a detailed negotiation with the Department of Defense to make the film conducive to the recruiting needs of the military, in exchange for subsidies in the form of free labor and location and equipment access.
Dunn remembered Candy inviting the men in the platoon to his house while filming was under way, for a homemade spaghetti dinner and to watch the famous Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Durán II No Más Fight (November 25, 1980). He recalled that he and Candy were the only two cast members who knew the lyrics to the song, "Doo Wah Diddy", and taught them to the rest of the company. "I really enjoyed playing Psycho", he said.
In 1993 Murray reflected, "I'm still a little queasy that I actually made a movie where I carry a machine gun. But I felt if you were rescuing your friends it was okay. It wasn't Reds or anything, but it captured what it was like on an Army base: It was cold, you had to wear the same green clothes, you had to do a lot of physical stuff, you got treated pretty badly, and had bad coffee".
The EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle "was built from a 1973-1978-era GMC Motorhome," but no one knows what exact year it was. It was designed to resemble "a family Winnebago — with a nice color scheme and user-friendly interior — but came with bulletproof shields and flamethrowers."
Stripes was released on June 26, 1981 and grossed $1,892,000 in 1,074 screens on opening day. It placed fifth overall for the weekend with $6,152,166. It eventually grossed $85,297,000 in North America, making it the fifth most popular 1981 film at the US and Canadian box office.
Stripes was well received by critics and audiences. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 86% based on 36 reviews, with a rating average of 6.58/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "A raucous military comedy that features Bill Murray and his merry cohorts approaching the peak of their talents."
In his Chicago Sun-Times review, Roger Ebert praised it as "an anarchic slob movie, a celebration of all that is irreverent, reckless, foolhardy, undisciplined, and occasionally scatological. It's a lot of fun". Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a lazy but amiable comedy" and praised Murray for achieving "a sardonically exaggerated calm that can be very entertaining".
Gary Arnold, in his review for The Washington Post, wrote, "Stripes squanders at least an hour belaboring situations contradicted from the outset by Murray's personality. The premise and star remain out of whack until the rambling, diffuse screenplay finally struggles beyond basic training". Time wrote, "Stripes will keep potential felons off the streets for two hours. Few people seem to be asking, these days, that movies do more".
An extended edition of Stripes was released on DVD on June 7, 2005. Extra features include six deleted scenes; audio commentary by Reitman and Goldberg; an hour-long documentary titled "Stars & Stripes" that includes the reminiscences of the screenwriters, Reitman, Diehl, Laroquette, Murray, Reinhold, Soles and Young; and the original trailer.
The optional extended cut expands on several scenes and includes an excised subplot in which Winger and Ziskey (who takes six hits of Elmo's LSD under the impression that it is Dramamine) go AWOL by stowing away on a special forces paratrooper mission. They become lost in a jungle and are captured by Spanish-speaking guerrillas. They are taken to camp and nearly shot before Winger saves the day by singing the chorus of Tito Rodriguez's "Quando, Quando, Quando", effectively winning over their captors. Winger and Ziskey then leave and rejoin the special forces unit as it is re-boarding the plane.