Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ron Howard|
|Written by||Gregory Widen|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$152.4 million|
Backdraft is a 1991 American action thriller film directed by Ron Howard and written by Gregory Widen. The film stars Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro, Jason Gedrick and J. T. Walsh. It is about Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist. Filming in Chicago began on July 23, 1990 and was wrapped up on December 8, 1990. Before the filming was started, the main actors went out on calls with real Chicago firefighters, all of the main actors also went to the Chicago Fire Academy to learn how to be like firefighters in the movie.
The film was released on May 24, 1991 to favorable reviews from critics, and it grossed $77.9 million domestically and $74.5 million in foreign markets, for a total gross of $152.4 million. The film received three Oscar nominations. The film also inspired a special effects attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, which opened in 1992 and closed in 2010. A sequel, Backdraft 2, was released 28 years later on May 14, 2019, with Baldwin and Sutherland reprising their roles.
Two firefighters of Engine 17 of the Chicago Fire Department are brothers. Lt. Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey, the elder, is experienced, while Brian has labored under his brother's shadow his entire life. Brian returns to firefighting after a number of other careers falter, though Stephen has doubts that Brian is still fit to be a firefighter. In 1971, Brian witnessed the death of their firefighting father, Captain Dennis McCaffrey, while accompanying him on a call. The longest-serving of all the men at Engine 17, John "Axe" Adcox, served under the McCaffreys' father, and was like an uncle to the boys when their father died. Adcox grows concerned about Stephen's unorthodox methods and disregard for safety procedures, as does Stephen's wife Helen, separating from Stephen to protect herself and their son Sean.
Fire Department Captain Donald "Shadow" Rimgale, a dedicated arson investigator and veteran firefighter, is called in because a number of recent explosive fires resemble those set by pyromaniac Ronald Bartel, who has been imprisoned for years. Brian is reassigned as his assistant after a falling out with Stephen. Rimgale manipulates Ronald's obsession with fire to ensure his annual parole application is rejected. It is revealed during an investigation that Chicago City Council alderman Swayzak, who has supported fire department budget cuts, was paid off by contractors to shut down firehouses so they could be converted into community centers, with the contractors receiving contracts for the construction. Brian also rekindles a relationship with Jennifer Vaitkus, an aide to Swayzak.
When Engine 17 answers a call in a high-rise, Stephen urges them to move in quickly, despite Adcox's advice to wait for back-up. Brian's friend and fellow trainee, Tim Krizminski, opens a door, triggering a backdraft. His face is burned beyond recognition, and he barely survives. Adcox and Brian both condemn Stephen for what happened. Rimgale and Brian go to Swayzak's home to confront him after learning of his connection to the three backdraft victims Alan Seagrave, Donald Cosgrove and Jeffery Holcomb, interrupting a masked man about to set the place on fire. The latter attacks them with a flashlight but is burned on his shoulder by an electrical socket. Rimgale saves Brian and Swayzak from the house but is injured in an explosion. In his hospital bed, Rimgale tells Brian to visit Ronald again, who helps Brian realize that only a firefighter would be so careful as to not let backdraft fires rage out of control.
Brian suspects Stephen but spots a burn in the shape of an electrical socket on Adcox's back, revealing his suspicions to his brother just before an alarm. When Brian realizes that Adcox has heard their exchange, he jumps aboard Truck 46 after borrowing some turnout gear. Stephen confronts Adcox about the backdrafts during a multiple-alarm fire at a chemical plant. Adcox admits that he set the fires to kill Swayzak's associates, because Swayzak was benefiting from the deaths of firefighters and closing down firehouses. When an explosion destroys the catwalk they are on, Stephen grabs Adcox's hand while hanging on to the remains of the catwalk. Stephen refuses Adcox's advice to let go of him, and loses his grip on the catwalk. Stephen lands on the floor, but Adcox dies when he falls into fire. Stephen dies with Brian by his side on the way to the hospital, with his final request being that Brian must not reveal Adcox to be the perpetrator so as not to hurt the fire department's reputation.
After Stephen and Adcox's funeral, Brian and Rimgale, with the help of the police, interrupt Swayzak at a press conference. Rimgale questions Swayzak on a fake manpower study that led to the deaths of several firemen, including Stephen and Adcox. They also state that Swayzak engineered the downsizing of the Chicago Fire Department, destroying Swayzak's mayoral ambitions. Brian continues as a firefighter, carrying on his family’s firefighting tradition despite the loss of his father and brother. The film ends as Brian helps a rookie firefighter with his turnout gear as the department responds to a call.
- Kurt Russell as Lieutenant Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey
- Russell also plays Captain Dennis McCaffrey
- William Baldwin as Probationary Firefighter Brian McCaffrey
- Robert De Niro as Captain Donald "Shadow" Rimgale, Inspector of Fire Investigation
- Donald Sutherland as Ronald Bartel
- Jennifer Jason Leigh as Jennifer Vaitkus
- Scott Glenn as Senior Firefighter John "Axe" Adcox
- Rebecca De Mornay as Helen McCaffrey
- Jason Gedrick as Probationary Firefighter Tim Krizminski
- J. T. Walsh as Alderman Martin Swayzak
- Cedric Young as Grindle
- Jack McGee as Otis Schmidt
- Ryan Todd as Brian, age 7
- Johnny Baker as Brian Stunt double, age 7
- John Duda as Stephen, age 12
- Clint Howard as Ricco, morgue attendant
- David Crosby as 70s hippie
According to the article in Entertainment Weekly, rubber cement from Petronio Shoe Products was used to create some of the fire effects. Industrial Light & Magic created many of the visual effects.
Fire fighting professionals have noted that most real structure fires differ from what is shown in the movie by having smoke conditions that obscure vision inside the building almost completely.
The pictures of firefighters searching in movies like Backdraft do not really show what it is like to search in a fire. Firefighters are shown advancing through fully involved structure fires while not wearing the complete complement of protective gear (Nomex hoods, radios, PASS devices). Most scenes display firefighting without the use of SCBA [ self contained breathing apparatus ]. Realism in our case would make a very bad movie because the fact is that in almost every fire the smoke conditions completely obscure all vision.
"The movie ... came pretty close at times, but it also suffered from the very same, all too common shortcomings that any visual presentation was bound to encounter (...) Smoke, steam and other miscellaneous factors usually combine to obscure almost everything that is taking place".
Backdraft was scored by Hans Zimmer, and features two songs by Bruce Hornsby, "The Show Goes On" (which was previously released on his album Scenes from the Southside) and the new song "Set Me in Motion". Zimmer's score was pared to about 30 minutes for release on the soundtrack album, which also features both Hornsby songs. The soundtrack was issued by Milan Records on May 14, 1991.
The film has been released on many formats with it first on VHS and then DVD. In 2006 a 2-disc DVD Anniversary Edition was issued. On January 4, 2011 Universal Pictures released a Blu-ray ‘Anniversary Edition’ with many of the features ported from the previous DVD release including four featurettes, 43-minutes of deleted scenes, a 3-minute Ron Howard introduction and trailers. It was released for the first time as a two-disc Ultra HD Blu-ray package on May 4, 2019.
Praise for Backdraft was directed to the special effects and performances, while much criticism was reserved for the story. The film currently holds a 74% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 6.11/10. The consensus reads, "It's not particularly deep, but Backdraft is a strong action movie with exceptional special effects." Film critics Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune  and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a positive review.
In March 2018, it was announced that Universal had tapped Spanish director Gonzalo López-Gallego to direct the sequel with William Baldwin reprising his role. The film, titled Backdraft 2, was released direct-to-video on May 14, 2019.
Theme park attraction
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- Backdraft: Anniversary Edition (1991) | Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2006)
- Backdraft Blu-ray | United States | Anniversary Edition | Universal Studios | 1991 | 137 min | Rated R | Jan 04, 2011
- Backdraft 4K Blu-ray | United States | 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD Universal Studios | 1991 | 137 min | Rated R | May 07, 2019
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- "Backdraft (1991)". Roger Ebert. 1991-05-24. Retrieved 2017-09-19.
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- "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
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- Prange, Stephanie (12 March 2019). "'Backdraft 2' to Fire Up on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital May 14 From Universal". Media Play News. JCH Media Inc. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
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