Courage Under Fire is a 1996 American war-drama film directed by Edward Zwick, starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Matt Damon, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bronson Pinchot and Michael Moriarty.


The film is about a US army officer (Denzel Washington) who works to determine whether a female chopper commander (Meg Ryan) (who died in a tragic accident) deserves the Medal of Honor for combat.


  • Denzel Washington as Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling
  • Meg Ryan as Captain Karen Emma Walden
  • Lou Diamond Phillips as Staff Sergeant John Monfriez
  • Matt Damon as Specialist Andrew Ilario
  • Bronson Pinchot as Bruno, a White House aide
  • Seth Gilliam as Sergeant Steven Altameyer
  • Regina Taylor as Meredith Serling
  • Michael Moriarty as Brigadier General Hershberg
  • Željko Ivanek as Captain Ben Banacek
  • Scott Glenn as Tony Gartner, a Washington Post reporter
  • Tim Guinee as Warrant Officer One A. Rady
  • Tim Ransom as Captain Boylar
  • Sean Astin as Sergeant Patella
  • Ned Vaughn as First Lieutenant Chelli
  • Sean Patrick Thomas as Sergeant Thompson
  • Manny Perez as Jenkins
  • Ken Jenkins as Joel Walden
  • Kathleen Widdoes as Geraldine Walden
  • Christina Stojanovich as Anne Marie Walden
  • Tom Schanley as Questioner


Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks were considered for the lead role of Nathan Serling.

When Denzel Washington was first approached with the script, his immediate thought was to contact Edward Zwick to direct. Denzel had previously worked with Zwick on the 1989 film "Glory".

To prepare for his part in the film, Denzel met with two combat veterans from the Gulf War to ask about their experiences there and any particular memories that had stuck with them since the war. He also visited with B 1-12 CAV at Fort Hood to prepare for his role LTC Nate Serling. The dip that he puts in while giving his OPORD in the opening sequence is a tribute to the time he spent with B 1-12.

For his role of Andrew Ilario in the film, Matt Damon lost 40 pounds, going on an extreme diet and running 13 miles a day. It took him about 2 years to get his body back to his normal shape.

In some of the background scenes in the training camp, cadets from Texas A&M University were used as extras in the film.

The tanks in the film are British Centurions with sheet metal added to make them look like M1A1 Abrams tanks; they were shipped from Australia when the US Department of Defense withdrew their cooperation.

Filming LocationsEdit

"Courage Under Fire" was filmed from October 16, 1995 to January 31, 1996. The filming locations took place in Texas, California and Connecticut.

The train\car head-on crash was filmed in Bertram, Texas. Other filming locations took place at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California, the Gary Job Corps Center in San Marco, Texas and the Southwest Grounds at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas.

Box Office PerformanceEdit

"Courage Under Fire" debuted at #3 at the box office, grossing $12,501,586 during its opening weekend. Worldwide, it grossed $100,860,818.

Critical ReceptionEdit

The film received mostly positive reviews.

As of January 14, 2013, the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 85% of critics gave the film a positive review based upon a sample of 53 reviews with an average rating of 7.3/10.

The critical consensus states that the film is "an emotional and intriguing tale of a military officer who must review the merits of a fallen officer while confronting his own war demons. Effectively depicts the terrors of war as well as its heartbreaking aftermath."

On Metacritic (which utilizes a normalized rating system), the film earned a generally favorable rating of 77/100 based on 19 mainstream critic reviews.

The movie was commended by several critics. James Berardinelli of the website ReelReviews wrote that the film was, “As profound and intelligent as it is moving, and that makes this memorable motion picture one of 1996's best.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times spoke positively of the film saying that while the ending “…lays on the emotion a little heavily” the movie had been up until that point “…a fascinating emotional and logistical puzzle—almost a courtroom movie, with the desert as the courtroom.

Denzel Washington’s acting was specifically lauded as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, “In Washington's haunted eyes, in the stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins (Fargo) that plunges into the mad flare of combat, in the plot that deftly turns a whodunit into a meditation on character and in Zwick's persistent questioning of authority, Courage Under Fire honors its subject and its audience.

Additionally Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle said that, “Denzel Washington is riveting.”


1997 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards

  • Top Box Office Films: James Horner (won)

1997 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards

  • Favorite Supporting Actor - Adventure/Drama: Lou Diamond Phillips (won)

1996 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Actor: Denzel Washington (2nd place)

1997 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor: Denzel Washington (nominated)

1997 Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture (nominated)

1997 Image Awards

  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture: Denzel Washington (won)
  • Outstanding Motion Picture (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Regina Taylor (nominated)

1997 Lone Star Film & Television Awards

  • Best Film (won)
  • Best Actor: Denzel Washington (won)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Lou Diamond Phillips (won)
  • Best Director: Edward Zwick (won)
  • Best Screenplay: Patrick Sheane Duncan (won; tied with Robert Harling for "The Evening Star")

1997 Online Film & Television Association

  • Best Drama Actor: Denzel Washington (nominated)

1997 Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor: Denzel Washington (won)
  • Best Picture (10th place)

Theatrical TrailerEdit

Courage Under Fire Trailer

Courage Under Fire Trailer

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