Red Heat is a 1988 American action film directed by Walter Hill. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Moscow Militia Captain Ivan Danko, and Jim Belushi, as Chicago detective Art Ridzik. Finding themselves on the same case, Danko and Ridzik work as partners to catch a cunning and deadly Georgian drug kingpin, Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross), who also happens to be the killer of Danko's previous partner back in Soviet Russia.

It was the first American film given permission to shoot in Moscow's Red Square—however, most of the scenes set in the Soviet Union (with the exceptions of the establishing shots under the main titles and the final lengthy shot in Red Square behind the end credits) were actually shot in Hungary. Schwarzenegger was paid a salary of $8 million for his role in the film.


Captain Ivan Danko and Lieutenant Yuri Ogarkov of the Moscow Militia lead a sting operation against Georgian drug kingpin Viktor Rostavili. However, Rostavili manages to evade capture, and in an ensuing firefight, kills Ogarkov and flees to the United States. As Danko is recovering from his injuries, Rostavili is arrested for a minor traffic violation in Chicago, and Danko is subsequently dispatched to America to retrieve the felon, under strict orders not to reveal the true nature of Rostavili's extradition.

Upon arriving in Chicago, Danko is met by Police Detectives Art Ridzik and Max Gallagher. As he is interrogating Rostavili, Danko confiscates a mysterious key hidden on his person. While he is being transported to the airport, the group is ambushed by his men and Gallagher is shot and killed, allowing the prisoner to escape. Against the wishes of local authorities, Danko resolves to remain in Chicago to apprehend Rostavili, and Ridzik is assigned to be his minder.

Through an informant, Danko and Ridzik learn that Rostavili is working with local street gangs to purchase and smuggle uncut cocaine into the Soviet Union. The duo confront Rostavili's American wife Cat Manzetti, but are led into an ambush where Rostavili demands Danko return his key, forcing the two to flee.

Danko and Ridzik go to a hospital to interrogate one of Rostavili's men, injured during the earlier ambush, but he is killed by another of Rostavili's accomplices disguised as a nurse. Danko subsequently shoots and kills the assassin, much to Ridzik's surprise. Ridzik's superiors confiscate Danko's sidearm, as he isn't licensed to carry one in the United States, and order him to cease the investigation. However Ridzik, who still wants to avenge his partner's murder, secretly gives Ivan his spare gun.

Returning to his hotel, Ivan is attacked by Rostavili's men. While Ivan fights them off, Rostavili sneaks into his room and steals the locker key. Art takes Ivan to visit a locksmith, where they match the key to ones produced for lockers at a bus terminal. Rostavili uses the key to retrieve his drug shipment, and steals an empty bus just as Ivan and Art arrive. Chasing him in another bus, Ivan and Art cause Rostavili to crash into an oncoming train. As Rosta crawls out of the wreckage, Ivan kills him. Later, Art takes Ivan to the airport. As a token of their new friendship, they exchange wristwatches.


  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as Captain Ivan Danko
  • James Belushi as Art Ridzik
  • Peter Boyle as Lou Donnelly
  • Ed O'Ross as Viktor Rostavili
  • Larry Fishburne as Lt. Stobbs
  • Gina Gershon as Cat Manzetti
  • Richard Bright as Sgt. Gallagher
  • Michael Hagerty as Pat Nunn
  • Brent Jennings as Abdul Elijah
  • Oleg Vidov as Yuri Ogarkov
  • Savely Kramarov as Gregor Moussorsky
  • Gabor Koncz as Vagran Rostavili
  • Sven-Ole Thorsen as Nikolai


The film was based on an original story by Walter Hill. He says he conceived of the idea for Red Heat because he and Arnold Schwarzenegger had long wanted to work together:

I didn't want to do sci-fi and it's tough to use Arnold credibly in an American context with his accent. I thought it would be interesting if he could play a Russian cop in the US. I wanted to do a traditional John Wayne/Clint Eastwood larger-than-life movie. You then ask the question: Will the American audience accept an unapologetic Soviet hero, someone who will not defect at the end of the movie?

According to Schwarzenegger, when Hill approached him he did not have a complete script - he just had the basic premise and the scene in which Danko rips off a henchman's leg to discover it is wooden and contains cocaine. Schwarzenegger agreed to make the movie on the basis of this and Hill's track record, in particular his earlier buddy action comedy 48 Hours.

The wooden leg scene originally came from a script by Harry Kleiner that had been sent to Hill. Hill did not want to do the script but loved the scene and paid Kleiner for it. "I think it's the best scene in the movie," said Hill later. "The movie, after he left Moscow, I never thought was much good, but I thought that was a terrific scene."

Hill says he deliberately chose to tone down the Schwarzenegger persona, making him more realistic and less prone to wisecracks. Hill:

I had confidence in him as an actor. I didn't want him just to throw a Volkswagen over a building. Arnold has an ability to communicate that cuts through cultures and countries. They just love to see this guy win. But everyone thinks it's his muscles. It's not that at all: it's his face, his eyes. He has a face that's a throwback to a warrior from the Middle Ages or ancient Greece.

Schwarzenegger says Hill told him to watch Greta Garbo's performance in Ninotchka (1939) "to get a handle on how Danko [his character] should react as a loyal Soviet in the West. I got to learn a little Russian, and it was a role for which my own accent was a plus."

The music score was done by James Horner. "I told James I wanted something like you're in the Olympics and you've just won a gold medal," said Hill. "I wanted something heroic." The second movement ("Philosophers") of Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution was used in the opening and closing titles of the film.

Hill says he wanted to use buses rather than cars in the climactic action scene because it would be more interesting. "Also, I thought it was very appropriate for Arnold. He doesn't fit well in cars."

He described the film as "in an odd way, it's a traditional love story between these two guys.

The script was constantly rewritten during the shoot. Among the writers who worked on it were Hill himself, Harry Kleiner, Troy Kennedy Martin, Steven Meerson & Peter Krikes, and John Mankiewicz & Daniel Pyne. "You've got to understand that Walter likes to create as he goes along," said a source close to the production. "Also, the project was put together quickly based on an idea of his-a Russian cop in Chicago. There was no script." A spokesman for the Writers Guild said Hill was a member in very good standing: "He does tend to hire a lot of people but he pays well above minimums and we feel he's been quite straightforward about screen credit."

The first half of the opening scene was shot in Budapest's Rudas Thermal Bath. The second half was shot in Austria because Budapest had no snow.


Red Heat opened in Los Angeles and New York on June 17, 1988. It was distributed by TriStar Pictures. It grossed $35 million in the US.

Box office

The film opened at the top spot at the box office, but was far outpaced by Schwarzenegger's other comedy film in 1988, Twins.

Schwarzenegger later wrote the film "wasn't the smash I'd expected. Why is hard to guess. It could be that audiences were not ready for Russia, or that my and Jim Belushi's performances were not funny enough, or that the director didn't do a good enough job. For whatever reason, it just didn't quite close the deal."

Walter Hill said the film "did pretty well at the domestic box office but not as well as what we hoped it would do. It was big foreign. It was a very big seller on cassette. Did the movie do poorly, medium or well?"

Critical reception

The film received mixed responses from critics. Red Heat currently holds a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 5.6/10. The site's consensus states: "Red Heat's overreliance on genre formula is bolstered by Walter Hill's rugged direction and a strong touch of humor."

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.