History, Legacy & Showmanship

Defection or World War III?: Remembering “The Hunt for Red October” on its 30th Anniversary

March 2, 2020 - 9:00 am   |   by
  • Print
  • Email

The Hunt for Red October had a big problem in that the Cold War kind of… ended while they were in post-production. So The Hunt for Red October should have been dated before it even opened — which means that the fact that it not only succeeded at the time, but has endured over the thirty years since, says a lot.” — Eric Lichtenfeld, author of Action Speaks Louder

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of The Hunt for Red October, the Cold War action thriller based upon Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel and which ultimately launched the Jack Ryan franchise.

The Hunt for Red October was directed by John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard) and starred Sean Connery (James Bond, The Untouchables) and Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice, Glengarry Glen Ross). [Read on here...]

The Hunt for Red October

Red October, which also starred Scott Glenn (The Right Stuff), James Earl Jones (Field of Dreams) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), was released thirty years ago this month. For the occasion The Bits features a package of statistics and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, along with passages from vintage film reviews, a reference/historical listing of the movie’s showcase presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with a film historian who reflects on the film three decades after its debut.

In case you missed them or desire a refresher read, the Bits’ other John McTiernan retrospectives include Die Hard 25th anniversary and Predator 30th anniversary.



  • 1 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 1 = Number of weeks top-grossing movie (weeks 1-3)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies directed by John McTiernan
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
  • 3 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 5 = Rank among top-earning films of 1990 (gross earnings, retroactive to 1990)
  • 7 = Number of months between theatrical release and home video release
  • 8 = Rank among top-earning films of 1990 (rentals, 1990 calendar year)
  • 17 = Number of weeks of longest-running theatrical engagement (in a single-screen theater)
  • 20 = Number of weeks of longest-running theatrical engagement (in a multiplex)
  • 1,225 = Number of theaters playing the movie during opening week
  • $14,009 = Opening weekend per-screen-average
  • $17.2 million = Opening weekend box-office gross
  • $30.0 million = Production cost
  • $33.9 million = Opening weekend box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $58.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
  • $59.2 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $78.5 million = Box-office gross (international)
  • $115.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $122.1 million = Box-office gross (domestic)
  • $154.9 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
  • $200.5 million = Box-office gross (worldwide)
  • $240.9 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $395.7 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)



“With its bad, treacherous Soviets on the one side (played mostly by Brits), its freedom-loving Americans on the other, and an indeterminate number of good Russian defectors in between — brought to you by a certain military-industrial-complex alliance of Paramount, Industrial Light & Magic, director John (Die Hard) McTiernan, and the U.S. Navy — this is a Reagan youth’s wet dream of underwater ballistics and East-West conflict.” — Desson Howe, The Washington Post

“[The Hunt for Red October is] an elegy for those dear, dark terrible days of the cold war, when it was either them or us, and before the world had become so thoroughly fractured that it’s no longer possible to know exactly who the thems are.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“There’s an amiable smartness to the underwater thriller. Its filmmakers know that a little technology goes a very long way, and if they hope to keep an audience’s attention they’ll have to do it with story, not hardware.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

“It’s at the gut level that Red October disappoints. This impressively mounted machine is curiously un-gripping. Like an overfilled kettle, it takes too long to come to a boil.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

“Hypnotic.” — Richard Schickel, Time

The Hunt for Red October may be a disappointment for diehard fans of Die Hard, or Mr. Clancy or even Mr. Connery. But it’s not evil or fraudulent. Like its First Fan, former President Ronald Reagan, it’s just a little dim. Essentially, it’s a family-style thriller, slickly done, expertly mounted, with an impressive cast and expensive effects to keep it several steps above TV-moviedom. But a giant squid might’ve helped.” — Eleanor Ringel, The Atlanta Constitution

“Some actors are disaster-prone. Sean Connery is disaster-proof. As the renegade Soviet submarine skipper, he hefts a lumbering 132-minute misadventure on his shoulders. Connery even makes you believe that the sub captain can kill a man and persuade his colleagues that the murder victim slipped on spilled tea. That’s right: spilled tea.” — Michael Sragow, San Francisco Examiner

“The only word is ‘wow!’” — Michael Medved, Sneak Previews

“Director John McTiernan (Die Hard) has now put together back-to-back winners in the usually vapid action genre. He’s obviously someone to watch.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“McTiernan, whose previous films were Predator and Die Hard, showed a sense of style and timing in those movies, but what he adds in The Hunt for Red October is something of the same detached intelligence that Clancy brought to the novel. Somehow we feel this is more than a thriller, it’s an exercise in military and diplomatic strategy in which the players are all smart enough that we can’t take their actions for granted.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Hunt for Red October is a terrific adventure yarn. Tom Clancy’s 1984 Cold War thriller has been thoughtfully adapted to reflect the mellowing in the US-Soviet relationship.” — Amy Dawes, Variety

“It can at least be said that the film goes wrong in a classy way, trying honorably to replicate Tom Clancy’s book. But it isn’t nearly as successful as Clancy was in giving us the same incident as refracted in rapid succession through different vantage points. What made for momentum in the novel seems fractured and lacking in coherence on screen until the film’s last half hour. While the 1984 novel made you respect the massive research that insurance salesman Clancy did into submarine technology, the film only seems to keep putting gear in the way of its characters.” — Jay Carr, The Boston

“This crisp, suspenseful adaptation of Tom Clancy’s mega-seller about a Soviet sub is riveting enough to hold the attention of even battle-weary moviegoers. Besides, when’s the last time Sean Connery gave a bad performance?” — Catharine Rambeau, Detroit Free Press

The Hunt for Red October, for all the effort, never musters the clammy claustrophobia and terror that James Cameron brought to last year’s The Abyss or the excruciating suspense that Wolfgang Petersen created in The Boat. The movie is as much a celebration of Hollywood’s technical prowess as an arresting thriller, and there’s no harm in enjoying it on those terms. It hinges on our fear of another and final world war, and it’s surely not such a bad thing that — outside the theaters — it arrives when the prospects for world peace have never been brighter.” — Desmond Ryan, The Philadelphia Inquirer


The Hunt for Red October


Event and prestige movies (what we might refer today as a tent-pole or high-profile release) have on occasion been given a deluxe release in addition to a conventional release. This section of the article includes a reference / historical listing of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of The Hunt for Red October in the United States and Canada. These were arguably the best theaters in which to have experienced The Hunt for Red October and the only way to have faithfully heard the movie’s discrete multichannel audio mix or to have been guaranteed a theater tune-up prior to the booking. This is the sort of listing that might have trended on the Internet to assist moviegoers in finding a 70mm presentation near them had such a resource existed in 1990.

The 70mm prints of The Hunt for Red October were blown up from anamorphic 35mm and included Six-Track Dolby Stereo audio (Baby Boom format with a Split Surround playback option).

Of the 200+ movies released during 1990, The Hunt for Red October was among only twenty to have 70mm prints prepared for selected engagements. Only about two percent of Red October’s initial print run was in the deluxe 70mm format, which offered superior audio and image quality compared to its 35mm counterpart prints and were significantly more expensive to manufacture.

For the release of The Hunt for Red October, Paramount employed the services of Lucasfilm’s Theatre Alignment Program (TAP) to evaluate and approve the theaters selected to book a 70mm print.

Paramount’s 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo coming attraction trailers that circulated during the release of The Hunt for Red October included Another 48 HRS., Crazy People, Days of Thunder, Flight of the Intruder, Ghost, A Show of Force and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. (Additional 70mm trailers from other studios circulated during this period as well, and which trailers, if any, seen during the presentations of The Hunt for Red October varied by venue and screening.)

The world premiere of The Hunt for Red October was held February 27th 1990 at the Uptown in Washington, DC. Invitational previews and benefit premieres were held in various locales between February 22nd and March 1st. The film was officially released in North America on March 2nd and the 70mm prints were screened in the following first-run locales:

70 mm


  • Calgary — Famous Players’ Palliser Square Twin
  • Edmonton — Famous Players’ Paramount [THX]


  • Vancouver — Famous Players’ Stanley [THX]


  • La Mesa — Pacific’s Cinema Grossmont
  • Lakewood — Pacific’s Lakewood Center 4-plex
  • Los Angeles — Mann’s National [THX]
  • Los Angeles — Pacific’s Cinerama Dome
  • Newport Beach — Edwards’ Newport Triplex
  • Orange — Syufy’s Century Cinedome 8-plex
  • San Francisco — Blumenfeld’s Regency I
  • San Jose — Syufy’s Century 22 Triplex
  • Universal City — Cineplex Odeon’s Universal City 18-plex [THX]


  • Denver — Mann’s Century 21 [THX]


  • Washington — K-B’s Cinema


  • Chicago — Cineplex Odeon’s McClurg Court Triplex [THX]


  • New York — Loews’ 19th Street East 6-plex
  • New York — Loews’ 34th Street Showplace Triplex
  • New York — Loews’ 84th Street 6-plex
  • New York — Loews’ Astor Plaza
  • New York — Loews’ New York Twin


  • Ottawa — Famous Players’ Elgin Twin
  • Toronto — Famous Players’ Eglinton [THX]


  • Dallas — UA’s United Artists 8-plex [THX]


  • Montreal — Famous Players’ Imperial [THX]


  • Seattle — Cineplex Odeon’s Cinerama

The listing only includes the 70mm engagements that commenced March 2nd 1990. It does not include any pre-release screenings, any of the movie’s thousands of 35mm engagements, or any move-over bookings, second run, re-release, retro screenings, international, etc.

The Hunt for Red October newspaper ad

[On to Page 2]

Contact Michael Coate

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

Bits Latest Tweets

RT @BillHuntBits: Bits #4K REVIEW IN PROGRESS – @BillHuntBits spins Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT TRILOGY in #UltraHD from @WBHomeEnt (I’ll a…
RT @BillHuntBits: Bits #4K Review – My review of Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY in #UltraHD from @WBHomeEnt is NOW COMPLETE!…
RT @BillHuntBits: Bits #4K REVIEW IN PROGRESS – @BillHuntBits checks out Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY in #UltraHD from @WB