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"You shouldn't have had him up there in the first place! You burned him, Stephen!"
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Ron Howard
Produced By: Richard B. Lewis
John Watson
Pen Densham
Brian Grazer
Written By: Gregory Widen
Starring: Kurt Russell
William Baldwin
Scott Glenn
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rebecca De Mornay
Donald Sutherland
Robert De Niro
Cinematography: Mikael Salomon
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Release Date: May 24, 1991 (United States)
Runtime: 137 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $152.4 million
Sequel: Backdraft 2

Backdraft is a 1991 American drama thriller film directed by Ron Howard and written by Gregory Widen. The film was distributed by Universal Pictures. The film stars Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland, and Robert De Niro. The film was released on May 24, 1991.


The sons of a Chicago fireman who gave his life in the performance of his duties, firefighting brothers Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian McCaffrey (William Baldwin) carry their lifelong sibling rivalry into their work. Stephen is convinced that Brian hasn't got what it takes to remain in the fire department. Brian is transferred to a "safe" assignment, assisting arson investigator Donald Rimgale (Robert De Niro), who is trying to make sense of a series of fires involving an oxygen-induced ball of fire called a backdraft. The investigation reveals a link between corrupt alderman Martin Swayzak (J.T. Walsh) and imprisoned pyromaniac Ronald Bartel (Donald Sutherland). The trail of evidence leads Brian to suspect that his brother Stephen, a much-decorated hero, may be the "inside" man setting up the arsons.

Why It Puts Out the Fire

  1. This film gives a wide message about how dangerous the backdraft is to the viewers who are not firefighters, and it even tells you about the risks that need to be taken when you're a firefighter whenever you're in extreme danger fighting the flames whether you are inside or outside of a building.
  2. The plot is almost completely full of hellish excitement to what made firefighting shows look so great, with a top-notch dark tone with wildfires everywhere during the film premise, making the film make you feel like that you're watching Emergency!'s feature film, In addition, it has lots of action sequences, especially the firefighting scenes. It is especially exciting in the chemical factory which made the film iconic and memorable.
  3. Most of the characters in the entire majority of the film are likable and a majority of the characters are well-developed for many reasons, but not limited to:
    • Brian McCaffrey starts off as a beginner probationary firefighter struggling to learn how to gain experience in his firefighting career, which leads him to successfully become a fully experienced firefighter near the end of the film.
    • Stephen McCaffrey is the older brother of Brian McCaffrey and has the most firefighting experience throughout the entire film before Brian does and has most of them in the final act.
  4. The idea of a film about having a firefighter against its monster-fire is pretty exciting to the viewers and even the fans of the firefighters.
  5. Lots of terrifying scenes throughout the whole movie itself (examples: When Swayzak's friends get caught in backdrafts and Tim, one of Brian's firefighting pals breaks down a door and gets caught in a backdraft resulting in him getting burned which terrified many audiences.)
  6. The opening of the film introduces us to younger versions of Stephen and Brian McCaffrey when the two brothers were little boys in 1971. There is also a scene where the younger version of Brian looks on in sadness and shock to see Dennis getting burned to death in a gas explosion in the prologue of the story is very heartbreaking and a sad way to start the film.
  7. Amazing soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer mixed with fear, emotion and excitement.
  8. Brian and Stephen have a meaningful fight at one point, which shows some chemistry.
  9. Amazing cinematography by Mikael Salomon.
  10. Ron Howard does a good job directing the movie, to be fair and he knows how the fire departments actually works, which is a good thing. Without any director who does know about firefighting, the film would have failed.
  11. Some great dialogue but not limited to:
    • "I'm not going to quit , Stephen! You hear me?!"
    • "You shouldn't have had him up there in the first place! You burned him, Stephen!"
    • "You're doing it wrong!"
  12. Martin Swayzak gets a proper comeuppance near the end of the film as his hopes and dreams to become Mayor are crushed after Donald Rimgale exposes the phony budget documents to the press. Afterward, Brian says to Swayzak, "You see that glow flashing in the corner of your eye? That's your career dissipation light. It just went into high gear."
  13. Gregory Widen, the writer of the film was a firefighter before he became a writer and the inspiration for this film came from when he witnessed a friend get killed by a backdraft.
  14. The main firehouse in the film is an amazing and iconic location for the story. In fact, there are even T-shirts and patches related to the film since it was filmed at the main firehouse.
  15. The acting is truly amazing, from the performances by Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, etc. What's more, Kurt Russell plays not one, but two roles in the film, Dennis (the dad) in the opening scenes and Stephen for the majority of the film. In addition, Donald Sutherland's performance as Ronald Bartel was creepy and convincing while playing an arsonist. It is especially creepy when it's revealed that he was responsible for the death of Dennis McCaffrey in the prologue.
  16. Kurt Russell, Kevin Casey, Scott Glenn, and William Baldwin did a lot of their own stunts.
  17. Frightening revelation where it turns out the arsonist is really one of the firefighting friends.
  18. The third and final firefighting act is incredibly epic and heartbreaking during the final firefighting scene where Brian and Stephen confront John Adcox about the backdrafts during the multi-alarm fire at the chemical plant and both of them are still in with them, and Brian goes on a run inside to the burning chemical plant in an attempt to save Stephen after Stephen refuses Adcox's advice to let go of him and loses his grip on the catwalk. Afterward, Stephen lands on the floor and bleeds.
  19. The special effects for the fire make it look extremely realistic even going so far as to make the realistic effects of the fire look very incredibly awesome! Models were also used for several fire sequences including the chemical plant scene and the garment factory.
  20. The whole storyline is very straightforward and how it was written is the right way to make it satisfyingly great, and it doesn't make you feel bored.
  21. J.T. Walsh did a great job as Martin Swayzak, the sleazy mayor wannabe candidate who makes unnecessary budget cuts to the fire department.
  22. It was interesting to see Robert De Niro play a police-like character who was a firefighter at one point.
  23. Great ending where after Stephen dies, Brian bids a meaningful farewell to him and it ends on a high note with Brian moving forward with his career in the fire service despite the loss of both his brother and his father.
    • On the topic, the end of the film states that there are over 1.2 million firefighters that are active in the United States at the time the film was released.
  24. The special effects crew used real fire and Ron Howard had real firefighters aide him and the special effects crew on how to use it properly.
  25. It was shot entirely in the film's setting of Chicago.
  26. The following cast members such as Jason Gedrick (Probationary Firefighter Tim Krizminski), Cedric Young (Grindle), and Kevin Casey (Nightengale) are Chicago natives while Hollis Resnik (Sally) was based there for much of her career.

Bad Qualities

  1. There are some things about the film that are not realistic.
    • Even though the prologue does take place in 1971, there are some things that are shown that were around in the 1980s (eg. an '80s style Dodge Caravan can be seen parked on the street while the firefighters are en route to the first fire), even the buildings that are retrofitted with brown thermopane replacement windows. These types of windows were not common until the early 1980s making it an anachronism.
    • At the end of the movie when Brian is on Engine 17 with a rookie firefighter, you can see the green trees suddenly turn into winter trees.
  2. Stephen McCaffrey can be an unlikable jerk at times because he keeps having arguments with the other firefighters in some scenes. He also doesn't wear his protective mask and a lot of times doesn't follow the safety rules.
  3. Plot hole: When Bull is in the back of the ambulance and he starts crashing, the paramedics give him lidocaine to settle his heart rhythm. Lidocaine isn't given in severe trauma patients, because one of the side effects is hypotension, something he already has from the blood loss.


Critical response

Backdraft was well-received by critics and audiences, and fans of firefighting. The film currently holds a 76% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 58 reviews and a 75% audience score on the same site. The critic consensus reads, "It's not particularly deep, but Backdraft is a strong action movie with exceptional special effects." However, it holds a 38/100 on Metacritic indicating that it received "Generally unfavorable reviews", while it received an 8.4/10 "universal acclaim" user score rating on the same site. On Siskel & Ebert, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film a "two thumbs up".[1]

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.






  • Ron Howard originally intended to use digital fire, but didn't like the look of it and decided to take on the challenge of using real fire.
  • Real firefighters took part in the funeral scene.
  • Co-stars Kevin Casey (who played Firefighter Nightengale), Richard Lexsee (who played Engineer Washington) and Cedric Young (who played Firefighter Grindle, later Lieutenant Grindle after Stephen died) all served in the Chicago Fire Department.
  • To prepare for the film, 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 do the job right.
  • Scott Glenn wore three pairs of Nomex long underwear to protect him from getting burned before the special effects team lit the glue that was on his coat on fire. During the third take of filming the scene, it got too hot for him and yelled "Cut!" when the fire got to the last layer. Luckily, he had a medical team with him during filming. After he got burned, the medical team applied frozen aloe to the burn wounds.
  • A dummy was used for Scott Glenn's death scene.
  • The cast could yell "Cut!" at any time when things got too hot.
  • Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn and Kevin Casey did a lot of their own stunts and are in the stunt work credits.
  • According to an interview with William Baldwin, whenever he sees a fire truck pass by, the firefighters give him a thumbs up.
  • Cedric Young and Richard Lexsee would later made guest appearances on Chicago Fire.


External Links


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