Stripes Information

Stripes is a 1981 American comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, and John Candy. It also featured several actors in their first significant film roles, including John Larroquette, Sean Young, John Diehl, and Judge Reinhold. It was one of John Candy's breakthrough film appearances. Dave Thomas, Bill Paxton, Joe Flaherty, and Timothy Busfield also appear.


John Winger (Murray) is a cab driver, who, in the span of a few hours, loses his job, his car, and his girlfriend. Realizing that his life is a failure, he decides to join the United States Army. Talking his best friend, Russell Ziskey (Ramis) into joining him, they drive to a recruiting office and are soon off to basic training.

Upon arrival at Fort Arnold, they meet their fellow recruits, and their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Oates). Moments after arriving, Winger offends Sgt. Hulka and is ordered out to do push-ups. He stands out as a misfit throughout the rest of basic training. Their commanding officer is the incompetent Captain Stillman (Larroquette). As basic training progresses, Ziskey and Winger become close to two female MPs named Louise (Young) and Stella (Soles). Not long before graduation, Sgt. Hulka is injured when Stillman orders a mortar crew to fire without setting target coordinates.

The men go to a mud wrestling bar, where Winger convinces Dewey "Ox" Oxberger (Candy) to wrestle a group of women. When the club is raided by MPs and police, Stella and Louise cover for Winger and Ziskey. The rest of the platoon is taken back to base to face Captain Stillman, who threatens to force them to repeat basic training.

Winger and Ziskey return, and Winger motivates the platoon with a rousing speech and begins to get them in shape for graduation. After a long night of drilling, they oversleep and almost miss the ceremony. They rush to the parade grounds out of uniform and give an unconventional yet highly coordinated drill display led by Winger. 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, their mission is to guard the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle. Bored with sitting in an empty hangar, Winger and Ziskey 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, recovered and returned to the platoon, urges Stillman not to go, but is overruled.

Stillman inadvertently leads the platoon across the border into Czechoslovakia. Hulka, realizing where they are, jumps out of the truck just before it is captured. He makes a Mayday radio call, and Winger and Ziskey realize that the platoon came looking for them and that their friends are in trouble. Winger, Ziskey, Louise, and Stella take the EM-50 and infiltrate a Russian base where the platoon is being held. With some assistance from Hulka, they free everyone.

Upon returning to the United States, Winger, Ziskey, Louise, Stella, and Hulka are treated 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, and Winger is featured on the cover of Newsworld. Captain Stillman is reassigned to a weather station near Nome, Alaska.



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 and Meatballs, 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. When he screen-tested for Columbia Pictures, they hated his audition but Reitman told the studio that he was hiring the comedian anyway. According to actress P.J. Soles, Ramis was reluctant to appear in the film and that Dennis Quaid had read for his part but Murray told him, "Look, I don't want to work with anybody else. You're doing the part. Otherwise, I'm not doing the movie". Judge Reinhold played Elmo, who was a collection of all the best jokes from the Cheech and Chong version of the film. The casting agent picked Sean Young based on how she looked and Reitman felt that her "sweetness" would go well with Ramis. Soles tested with Ramis and they got along very well together. John Diehl had never auditioned before and this was his first paying job as an actor. 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. Goldberg knew John Candy from Toronto and told Reitman that he should be in the film. Candy did not have to audition.

Before filming started, Reinhold thought that he had a handle on his character but once filming started, he was "petrified" because this was his first big studio film. Every scene had some element of improvisation and this was due in large part to Murray and Ramis, who suggested things for him to say and this spread to other cast members. Reinhold said that during filming, Oates would tell everyone 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 had a serious argument between Hulka and Winger. It was not played for laughs and allowed Murray to do 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.

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. 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 base 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 was amazed that they got the Department of Defense's cooperation. 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.


Box office

Stripes was released on June 26, 1981 and made $6.1 million in 1,074 theaters on its opening weekend, ranking #4. It eventually grossed $85 million in North America.

Critical response

Stripes holds a 88% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.

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". In his review for the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr praised the performances of Harold Ramis and Bill Murray: "the affable Harold Ramis, becomes its genuine dramatic center: his struggles to keep his buddy Bill in line have a strange urgency and poignance".

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".

Years after making the film, 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".

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