Set at an indeterminate point in the future, this drama with an overt anti-communist message begins as an ostensible war movie: Russian and Cuban forces have invaded the U.S. and are viciously eliminating the inhabitants of a small town, when a group of teens escapes and plans a counterattack.
Jed (Patrick Swayze), Robert (C. Thomas Howell), and six of their friends watch in amazement as soldiers parachute into their town and start shooting. The teens grab a pickup truck, stock up on supplies at the local store, and head for the hills.
Meanwhile, the men in the town -- after a minimal resistance -- are rounded up and held at a drive-in theater converted into a concentration camp. The sadistic Soviet military then make them watch acclaimed Russian director Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 classic Alexander Nevsky, as their punishing rehabilitation begins.
Meanwhile, after minimal resistance from the adults, a Cuban, Bella (Ron O'Neal), is put in charge and is not certain how he can really defeat the teen army. The Soviets and Cubans have so far defeated the American Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, but these teens are really something else.
After a successful ambush, the teen guerrillas gear up for future forays, when they are suddenly betrayed by one of their number and by doubts about the morality of what they are doing.
Red Dawn is noteworthy for being the first movie released with the PG-13 rating, created by the MPAA after public outcry over violent content in the PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins.