History, Legacy & Showmanship
Friday, 15 August 2014 02:01

Still Loving the Smell of Napalm in the Morning: Remembering “Apocalypse Now” on its 35th Anniversary

  • Print
  • Email

“The first time, it will dazzle your senses. The second time, you’ll see it for the first time.”

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 35th anniversary of the release of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winning Vietnam War epic.

The Bits marks the occasion with this retrospective article featuring a compilation of box-office data that helps place the film’s performance in context, quotes from a selection of movie critics, production and exhibition information, a list of the film’s original 70-millimeter presentations, and an interview segment.  [Read on here…]

Francis Ford Coppola



  • 3 = Number of theaters showing the movie during opening weekend
  • 7 = Number of years film industry’s top-grossing Vietnam War movie
  • 14 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1979 (calendar year)
  • 43 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing movies at close of original run
  • 729 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies
  • $61,211 = Domestic box-office gross (1987 re-release)
  • $118,558 = Opening weekend box-office gross (Aug 17-19, 1979)
  • $322,489 = Opening week box-office gross (Aug 15-19, 1979)
  • $4.6 million = Domestic box-office gross (2001 “Redux” re-release)
  • $22.9 million = Domestic box-office rental (1979 calendar year)
  • $31.0 million = Production cost
  • $36.8 million = Domestic box-office rental at close of original release
  • $78.8 million = Domestic box-office gross at close of original release
  • $83.5 million = Domestic box-office gross (original release + 1987 & 2001 re-releases)
  • $101.2 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $274.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

Apocalypse Now Cast



“Years and years from now, when Coppola’s budget and his problems have long been forgotten, Apocalypse will still stand, I think, as a grand and grave and insanely inspired gesture of filmmaking.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“…not so much an epic account of a grueling war as an incongruous, extravagant monument to artistic self-defeat. The Vietnam War was a tragedy. Apocalypse Now is but this decade’s most extraordinary Hollywood folly.” — Frank Rich, Time

“The air strike was a visual rouser and sums up whatever points the filmmaker has to make about wanton American violence in Vietnam.” — Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

“Dolby makes a big difference in most of the movies that avail themselves of it—and in Apocalypse it makes a stupendous difference. The film is fully as aurally stimulating as it is visually and intellectually stimulating.” — Susan Stark, The Detroit News


“Profoundly anticlimactic intellectual muddle.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times


“As a noble use of the medium and as tireless expression of national anguish, it towers over everything that has been attempted by an American filmmaker in a very long time.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times


“It’s a complex, demanding, highly intelligent piece of work, but it’s coming into a marketplace that does not always embrace those qualities.” — Dale Pollack, Variety

“[Apocalypse Now has] a hallucinatory dramatic power that is almost palpable.” — Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

“Like the war itself, Apocalypse Now is big, long, stupid, expensive, casually cruel and technologically obsessed. Perhaps Coppola thought that money could buy meaning, the same way generals that cash could purchase victory. Of all the films based on the war in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now is the one which adds the least to our understanding of the horror.” — David Rosenbaum, Boston Herald American

“The problem is the character played by Marlon Brando. Obese and photographed in shadows, Brando’s character comes on like some kind of burlesque clown. What he has to say is mostly inaudible, and what is audible doesn’t make any sense. That’s a powerful letdown when you’ve been traveling upriver for two hours to meet the guy.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“It’s the most ballyhooed movie since Gone with the Wind, and it’s a much better one. If it has flaws they are the flaws of a romantic genius with the courage and tormented drive to transcend his limitations. It is, in short, a masterpiece worth every bit of publicity it has received…Apocalypse Now is such a personal, agonized vision of war in general and the Vietnam war in particular that even by ending, in Eliot’s words, ‘not with a bang, but a whimper,’ it towers above almost any other film one can think of—including Coppola’s own triumphant earlier Godfather pictures—and is a magnificent example of the power of art both to scourge and redeem erring humanity.” — Richard Freedman, The Springfield (MA) Union

“As a personal look at Vietnam, it echoes several of the films Coppola wrote and/or directed during the war, including The Godfather, with its visually inventive scenes of ritual slaughter, and Patton, with its general who admits to an obsessive love of battle. The best single sequence in Apocalypse Now is a combination of both: the magnificently staged helicopter attack and the characterization of a battle-hungry officer who talks like the real Patton’s son (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”).... The journey upriver does have a cumulative effect on the audience, immersed in Vittorio Storaro’s 70-millimeter imagery and Walter Murch’s quadraphonic sound, though it’s a very impersonal, lonely journey without the guidance that a well-developed Sheen character might have provided.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“The film is maddening because Francis Ford Coppola, who produced, directed and co-wrote it, leaves clues scattered like bread crumbs, all of which hint at what a terrific movie (as well as a superb piece of cinema) he could have made. But if you admire Apocalypse Now, it will be at a distance. It’s not a film that engulfs you emotionally. It leaves you numb rather than drained….If compressed and kept in lean perspective, Apocalypse Now could have been glorious instead of simply a glorious mess, bloated with self-importance.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News


Apocalypse Now 70mm film frame



The following is a list of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Apocalypse Now in the United States and Canada. These were the best theaters in which to experience Apocalypse Now…and the only way to faithfully hear the film’s then-new “quintaphonic” split-surround audio mix. The film was shown without opening or closing credits or any studio logos; instead, a program was handed out to moviegoers. The August and September openings shown on a reserved-performance, guaranteed-seat basis. So… which first-run theaters screened the 70mm version of Apocalypse Now? Read on....

Note: The list does not include any 70mm move-over, sub-run, re-release or international engagements, nor does it include any of the movie’s thousands of standard 35mm engagements.

  • 1979-08-15 … Los Angeles, CA – Pacific CINERAMA DOME (13 weeks)
  • 1979-08-15 … New York, NY – Walter Reade ZIEGFELD (12)
  • 1979-08-15 … Toronto, ON – Famous Players UNIVERSITY (18)
  • 1979-09-21 … Newport Beach, CA – Edwards NEWPORT TWIN (7)
  • 1979-09-21 … Orange, CA – Syufy CINEDOME 6 (20)
  • 1979-09-21 … San Francisco, CA – Plitt NORTHPOINT (12)
  • 1979-09-21 … San Jose, CA – Syufy CENTURY 21 (12)
  • 1979-10-03 … Washington, DC – Circle UPTOWN (11)
  • 1979-10-05 … Chicago, IL – Plitt STATE-LAKE (7)
  • 1979-10-05 … Chicago (Calumet City), IL – Plitt RIVER OAKS QUAD (11)
  • 1979-10-05 … Chicago (Evergreen Park), IL – Marks & Rosenfield EVERGREEN TRIPLEX (11)
  • 1979-10-05 … Chicago (Niles), IL – Fink & Fink GOLF MILL TRIPLEX (11)
  • 1979-10-05 … Chicago (Oak Brook), IL – United Artists OAKBROOK TWIN (11)
  • 1979-10-05 … Montreal, QC – United YORK (25)
  • 1979-10-05 … Vancouver, BC – Famous Players STANLEY (25)
  • 1979-10-10 … Boston, MA – Sack CINEMA 57 TWIN (10)
  • 1979-10-12 … Seattle, WA – Sterling Recreation Organization TOWN (24)

Apocalypse Now at the Cinerama Dome - Newspaper ad

[On to Page 2]

Contact Michael Coate

Please type your full name.
Invalid email address.
Please send us a message.
Invalid Input