Oliver Stone's 1986 Vietnam War classic Platoon took home four Academy Awards, but there's more to the movie than most fans realize. Composite by Coffee or Die.
Nearly 40 years since its release in 1986, Oliver Stone’s Platoon is still considered by many to be one of the best war movies ever made. Stone — who himself was wounded twice while serving with the US Army in Vietnam — famously put his cast through a grueling “boot camp” to help immerse them in the world of their fictional characters. The intense and, at the time, innovative preparation paid off when Platoon won more awards than any other film during the 59th Academy Awards, including the Oscar for best director, making Stone the first war veteran to receive the prestigious award.
Platoon remains a favorite war film among audiences, as evidenced by its current audience score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. With an all-star cast and loads of visually striking practical effects, Stone’s Vietnam War epic is also filled with plenty of interesting details that are easy to miss, and the behind-the-scenes story is pretty fascinating as well. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Platoon.
Legendary movie advisor Dale Dye is also a decorated Marine Corps veteran. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Dale Dye — a Vietnam veteran and popular military adviser for big-budget war movies and shows, including Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Born on the Fourth of July — regularly makes cameos in the films he works on. With Platoon, however, Dye didn’t just play one small role; he played four.
His most obvious cameo is the small speaking role of Capt. Harris, the unit’s company commander. But Dye also appears at one point in the film as a Huey door gunner — though he was sure to keep the helmet’s visor pulled down to conceal his identity. Additionally, Dye plays one of the dead soldiers in the beginning of the film who is zipped inside a body bag, and his voice can also be heard over the radio throughout the film.
Dye’s wife also has a small cameo, appearing as the young Vietnamese woman who gets thrown into a mass grave following the film’s climactic battle — a vicious firefight based on an actual engagement dubbed Operation Ford, which Dye had fought in 18 years before the filming of Platoon.
In 1971, Stone offered the lead role of Chris Taylor to The Doors frontman Jim Morrison. Tragically, Morrison died later that year without ever having responded to Stone, but the script for Platoon was found in the Paris hotel room where he died. Two decades later, Stone directed The Doors, with Val Kilmer playing the part of Morrison.
Platoon helped launch Johnny Depp's career in Hollywood. Screenshot from Platoon.
In his first major role, 22-year-old Johnny Depp played a young Pvt. Gator Lerner. At the time of filming, Depp was dating actress Sherilyn Fenn. When several cast members drew graffiti on their helmet covers (a common practice during the war) Depp decided to join in on the fun and wrote “Sherilyn” on the left side of his helmet. But apparently one nod to his lover wasn’t enough. In the scene where everyone gets high and Depp plays guitar, eagle-eyed fans might catch Fenn’s initials encircled in a heart scratched into the instrument.
Willem Dafoe joined the cast for one of his first major roles as the “good” Sgt. Elias opposite Tom Berenger’s “evil” Sgt. Barnes. The two characters exist as extreme examples of how soldiers conduct themselves in the ethically muddy world of war. Dafoe, who was previously known for playing bad guys, was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. It was a nomination well deserved, especially considering that Dafoe endured quite a bit of physical suffering for the role.
During one particularly hot day on set, Dafoe became so thirsty he took a sip from a nearby river, unaware that the rotting body of a pig lay in the water just upstream. The actor became violently ill for 24 hours but made a full recovery.
Willem Dafoe became seriously ill thanks to a dead pig during shooting. Screenshot from Platoon.
Ben Stiller auditioned for a role in the ensemble cast but was turned down when Stone decided he was “too cute.” Though Stiller didn’t land a spot in the platoon, he later went on to write, direct, and star in Tropic Thunder, a spoof of both Platoon itself and the boot camp Stone put his actors through before filming. The 2008 comedy was a smash hit and even came with its own hilarious mockumentary, allowing Stiller to finally play the role of a soldier in Vietnam.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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