Backdraft Information

Backdraft is a 1991 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, and Robert De Niro. Jason Gedrick and J. T. Walsh co-star. The story is about firefighters in Chicago on the trail of a serial arsonist who sets fires with a fictional chemical substance, trychtichlorate.

The film grossed $77,868,585 in its domestic run and $74,500,000 from foreign markets, making it the highest grossing film ever made about firefighters. Its total worldwide gross is $152,368,585. The film received three Academy Awards nominations.


The firefighters of Engine 17 of the Chicago Fire Department, two of whom are brothers, Lt. Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey (Russell), the elder, is experienced, Brian (Baldwin), has labored under his brother's shadow all his life. He returns to firefighting after a number of other careers falter, though Stephen has doubts that Brian is fit to be a firefighter. As a child, Brian witnessed the death of their father, Dennis (also played by Russell).

The longest serving of all the men at Engine 17, John "Axe" Adcox (Glenn), served under the McCaffreys' father in the department and was like an uncle to the boys when their father died. He attacks fires head on, but is concerned about Stephen's unorthodox methods and disregard for safety procedures. Helen McCaffrey (De Mornay) is Stephen's estranged wife and the mother of their son, Sean. Helen has grown fearful of Stephen's dedication to firefighting and the risks he takes. While they are still in love, she separated from Stephen to protect herself and Sean.

Martin Swayzak (Walsh) is an alderman on the Chicago City Council. He hopes to be elected mayor, but has had to make a number of budget cuts to the fire department. Many of the rank and file firemen believe that the cuts are endangering firefighters' lives. Jennifer Vaitkus (Leigh) is Brian's ex-girlfriend and works in Swayzak's office. Her loyalties are torn between her job and Brian.

Donald "Shadow" Rimgale (De Niro) is a dedicated arson investigator. He is called in because a number of recent fires appear connected. Arsonist Ronald Bartel (Sutherland) has been imprisoned for many years. Rimgale manipulates Bartel's obsession with fire to ensure Bartel's annual application for parole is turned down. Brian consults Bartel for advice in order to determine the missing link in the recent arsons. It is revealed during an investigation that Swayzak was paid off to shut down firehouses so they could be converted into community centers, with the contractors receiving contracts for the construction.

When 17 answers a call in a highrise, Stephen urges them to move in quickly to take out the fire despite Adcox's advice to wait for back-up. Brian's friend and fellow "probationary fireman" trainee Tim Krizminski (Gedrick), under Stephen's wing, accidentally opens a door only to be met by a backdraft. His face is burned beyond recognition, but he survives. Adcox and Brian both blame Tim's condition on Stephen's reckless tactics.

Stephen confronts Adcox about the deadly backdrafts during a multiple-alarm fire at a chemical plant. Adcox admits that he set the fires to kill associates of Swayzak because Swayzak was benefiting from the deaths of firefighters. When an explosion destroys the catwalk they are on, Stephen grabs Adcox's hand while hanging on to the remains of the catwalk. Adcox requests Stephen let go of him, but Stephen loses his grip on the catwalk. Adcox is killed and Stephen is mortally wounded. Brian, having been injured by Adcox, rushes to help other firefighters reach his brother. Stephen dies on the way to the hospital with Brian at his side, his final request being that Brian not reveal that Adcox was behind the fires.

After Stephen and Adcox's funeral, Brian and Rimgale, with the help of the police, interrupt a Swayzak press conference. Rimgale questions Swayzak on a fake manpower study that led to the deaths of several firemen, including Stephen and Adcox, effectively killing Swayzak's mayoral ambitions.

Brian decides to continue as a firefighter despite the loss of his father and brother.


  • Kurt Russell as Lt. Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey/Capt. Dennis McCaffery
  • William Baldwin as Brian McCaffery
  • Robert De Niro as Inspector Donald "Shadow" Rimgale
  • Scott Glenn as John "Axe" Adcox
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh as Jennifer Vaitkus
  • Rebecca De Mornay as Helen McCaffrey
  • Donald Sutherland as Ronald Bartel
  • Jason Gedrick as Tim Krizminski
  • J. T. Walsh as Alderman Martin Swayzak
  • Anthony Mockus, Sr. as Chief John Fitzgerald
  • Cedric Young as Grindle
  • Juan Ramirez as Ray Santos
  • Kevin Casey as Nightingale
  • Jack McGee as Schmidt
  • Mark Wheeler as Pengelly


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 Back Draft do not really show what it is like to search in a fire. 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 to 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".

Furthermore, fire investigation professionals have dismissed the methods shown in the movie as unscientific, in particular the portrayal of fire as a living entity.

Theme park attraction

See Backdraft (Amusement park attraction) for more information


Critical reception

Backdraft received a positive reception from critics. The film currently holds a 73% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "It's not particularly deep, but Backdraft is a strong action movie with exceptional special effects."

Box office

The film grossed $77,868,585 in the US (ranking 14th in box-office for 1991), and $74,500,000 in foreign markets.


The film received three Academy Award nominations (Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects and Best Sound - Gary Summers, Randy Thom, Gary Rydstrom and Glenn Williams). It also received two nominations at the first annual MTV Movie Awards.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Backdraft_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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