A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men is a 1992 American legal drama film based on Aaron Sorkin's 1989 play of the same name. Directed by Rob Reiner, who produced the film with David Brown and Andrew Scheinman, was written from a screenplay by Sorkin himself and stars an ensemble cast, including Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, J. T. Walsh, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Kiefer Sutherland.

A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Reiner
Screenplay byAaron Sorkin
Based onA Few Good Men
by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byRobert Leighton
Music byMarc Shaiman
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 9, 1992 (1992-12-09) (Westwood)
  • December 11, 1992 (1992-12-11) (United States)
Running time
138 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$33–40 million[1][2]
Box office$243.2 million[1]

The film revolves around the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyers as they prepare a case to defend their clients.

Produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, the film was released by Columbia Pictures on December 11, 1992, and premiered on December 9, 1992, at Westwood. The film received universal acclaim for its screenwriting, direction, themes, and acting (particularly that of Cruise, Nicholson, and Moore) and became a box office hit, grossing over $243 million against a budget of $40 million.

In addition to its critical and commercial success, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture.[3]


U.S. Marines Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey are facing a general court-martial, accused of murdering fellow Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Santiago had poor relations with his fellow Marines, compared unfavorably to them, and broke the chain of command in an attempt to get transferred out of Guantanamo. Base Commander Colonel Nathan Jessup and his officers argue about the best course of action: while Jessup's executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson, advocates that Santiago be transferred, Jessup dismisses the option and instead orders Santiago's platoon commander, Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, to "train" Santiago to become a better Marine.

While it is believed that the motive in Santiago's murder was retribution for naming Dawson in a fenceline shooting, Naval investigator and lawyer Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway largely suspects Dawson and Downey carried out a "code red" order: a violent extrajudicial punishment. Galloway wants to defend the two, but the case is given to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Daniel Kaffee – an inexperienced and unenthusiastic lawyer with a penchant for plea bargains. Galloway and Kaffee instantly conflict, with Galloway unsettled by Kaffee's apparent laziness whilst Kaffee resents Galloway's interference. Kaffee and Galloway travel to Guantanamo base Cuba to question Colonel Jessup and others. Under questioning, Jessup claims Santiago was set to be transferred the next day.

When Kaffee negotiates a plea bargain with the prosecutor Captain Jack Ross, Dawson and Downey refuse to go along, insisting that Kendrick had indeed given them the "code red" order and that they never intended Santiago to die. Dawson shows outright contempt for Kaffee, refusing to salute or acknowledge him as an officer because Dawson sees him as having no honor by choosing a plea bargain over defending their actions. LtCol Markinson disappears. Kaffee plans to have himself removed as counsel as he sees going to trial as pointless. At the arraignment, Kaffee unexpectedly enters a plea of not guilty, explaining to Galloway that he realized the reason he was chosen to handle this case was because it was expected he would accept a plea, and the matter would be kept quiet.

After the case begins, Markinson later reveals himself to Kaffee and states, unequivocally, that Jessup never ordered a transfer for William Santiago. The defense manages to establish that Cpl Dawson had been denied promotion for smuggling food to a Marine who had been sentenced to go without food, painting Dawson in a good light and proving "code reds" had been ordered before. However, the defense then suffer two major setbacks: Downey, under cross-examination, reveals he was not actually present when Dawson received the supposed "code red" order, and Markinson, after he tells Kaffee that Jessup never ordered the transfer, but, ashamed that he failed to protect a Marine under his command, commits suicide before he can testify.

Without Markinson's testimony, Kaffee believes the case lost. He later returns home in a drunken stupor, lamenting that he fought the case instead of taking a deal. Galloway encourages Kaffee to call Jessup as a witness, despite the risk of being court-martialed for smearing a high-ranking officer. Jessup spars evenly with Kaffee's questioning, but is unnerved when Kaffee points out a contradiction in his testimony: Jessup stated his Marines never disobey orders and that Santiago was to be transferred for his own safety; if, Kaffee asks, Jessup ordered his men to leave Santiago alone, then how could Santiago be in danger? Irate at being caught in a lie and disgusted by what he sees as Kaffee's impudence towards the Marines, Jessup extols the military's importance, and his own, to national security. When asked point-blank if he ordered the "code red", Jessup continues with his self-important rant until, after repeatedly being asked the question, he bellows with contempt that, in fact, he did order the "code red." Jessup tries to leave the courtroom but is promptly arrested.

Dawson and Downey are cleared of the murder and conspiracy charges, but found guilty of "conduct unbecoming" and ordered to be dishonorably discharged. Dawson accepts the verdict, but Downey does not understand what they did wrong. Dawson explains that they had failed to defend those too weak to fight for themselves, like Santiago. As the two are leaving, Kaffee tells Dawson that he does not need to wear a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson sheds his previous contempt for Kaffee, acknowledges him as an officer, and renders a salute. The film ends with Kaffee and Ross exchanging kudos before Ross departs to arrest Kendrick.


Cast notes:

  • Joshua Malina is the only actor to reprise his role from the original Broadway production.
  • Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer bragging in a tavern


Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin got the inspiration to write the source play, a courtroom drama called A Few Good Men, from a phone conversation with his sister Deborah, who had graduated from Boston University Law School and signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps.[4] She was going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who came close to killing a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Sorkin took that information and wrote much of his story on cocktail napkins while bartending at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.[5] His roommates and he had purchased a Macintosh 512K, so when he returned home, he would empty his pockets of the cocktail napkins and type them into the computer, forming a basis from which he wrote many drafts for A Few Good Men.[6]

In 1988, Sorkin sold the film rights for his play to producer David Brown before it premiered, in a deal reportedly "well into six figures".[7] Brown had read an article in The New York Times about Sorkin's one-act play Hidden in This Picture, and he found out Sorkin also had a play called A Few Good Men that was having off-Broadway readings.[8]

Brown was producing a few projects at TriStar Pictures, and he tried to interest them in making A Few Good Men into a film, but his proposal was declined due to the lack of star-actor involvement. In 1990, Variety magazine announced that the film would be financed by Groupe Canal+ and Brown's company World Film Services. Brown later got a call from Alan Horn at Castle Rock Entertainment, who was anxious to make the film. Rob Reiner, a producing partner at Castle Rock, opted to direct it.[8]

Reiner and Sorkin spent eight months rewriting the script as a screenplay. William Goldman did an uncredited rewrite of the script that Sorkin liked so much, he incorporated the changes made into the stage version.[9] One of the most significant changes was the removal of a forged logbook that served as the trial's "smoking gun" in the original play.

The film had a production budget of between $33 and 40 million.[1][2] Tom Cruise was cast as Lt. Kaffee on March 22, 1991, and was given a $12.5 million salary. Demi Moore was cast as LtCmdr. Galloway after waiting in line for her audition despite being eight months pregnant.[10] Wolfgang Bodison was a film location scout when he was asked to take part in a screen test for the part of Dawson.[11] James Woods auditioned to play Col. Jessup but was beaten for the role by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson was paid $5 million for 10 days of shooting, earning $500,000 a day.[10] Nicholson would later comment "It was one of the few times when it was money well spent." although he later criticized Columbia Pictures for moving the film's release date to directly compete with his other film Hoffa.[12][10]

The film starts with a performance of "Semper Fidelis" by a U.S. Marine Corps marching band, and a Silent Drill performed by the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets Fish Drill Team (portraying the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon).[13][14]

Several former Navy JAG lawyers have been identified as the basis for Tom Cruise's character Lt. Kaffee. These include Don Marcari, now an attorney in Virginia; former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias; Chris Johnson, now practicing in California; and Walter Bansley III, now practicing in Connecticut. However, in a September 15, 2011, article in The New York Times, Sorkin was quoted as saying, "The character of Dan Kaffee in A Few Good Men is entirely fictional and was not inspired by any particular individual."[15][16][17][18][19] Cruise himself modeled his performance after the Church of Scientology's chairman David Miscavige, with whom he is friends.[20] During the production Cruise also insisted on using the church's Clearsound sound reproduction technology, which he claimed captured his voice better.[10]

Filming began on October 21, 1991, at the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C. The film's Guantanamo Bay scenes were filmed in Southern California at Crystal Cove State Park, Fort MacArthur, and Naval Air Station Point Mugu. Although 200 off-duty Marines were allowed to serve as extras for the film, the U.S. Department of Defense denied the production permission to film at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The courtroom scenes were filmed at Culver Studios in Culver City, California.[10]


Box office

A Few Good Men premiered at the Odeon Cinema, Manchester, England,[21] and opened on December 11, 1992, in 1,925 theaters. It grossed $15,517,468 in its opening weekend and was the number-one film at the box office for the next three weeks. Overall, it grossed $141,340,178 in the U.S. and $101,900,000 internationally for a total of $243,240,178.[22]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, A Few Good Men has an approval rating of 83% based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An old-fashioned courtroom drama with a contemporary edge, A Few Good Men succeeds on the strength of its stars, with Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and especially Jack Nicholson delivering powerful performances that more than compensate for the predictable plot."[23] On Metacritic the film has a score of 62 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[24] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, one of fewer than 60 films in the history of the service to earn the score.[25]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine said, "That the performances are uniformly outstanding is a tribute to Rob Reiner (Misery), who directs with masterly assurance, fusing suspense and character to create a movie that literally vibrates with energy."[26] Richard Schickel in Time magazine called it "an extraordinarily well-made movie, which wastes no words or images in telling a conventional but compelling story."[27] Todd McCarthy in Variety magazine predicted, "The same histrionic fireworks that gripped theater audiences will prove even more compelling to filmgoers due to the star power and dramatic screw-tightening."[28] Roger Ebert was less enthusiastic in the Chicago Sun-Times, giving it two-and-a-half out of four stars and finding its major flaw was revealing the courtroom strategy to the audience before the climactic scene between Cruise and Nicholson. Ebert wrote, "In many ways this is a good film, with the potential to be even better than that. The flaws are mostly at the screenplay level; the film doesn't make us work, doesn't allow us to figure out things for ourselves, is afraid we'll miss things if they're not spelled out."[29]

Widescreenings noted that for Tom Cruise's character Daniel Kaffee, "Sorkin interestingly takes the opposite approach of Top Gun," where Cruise also starred as the protagonist. In Top Gun, Cruise plays Mitchell who is a "hotshot military underachiever who makes mistakes because he is trying to outperform his late father. Where Maverick Mitchell needs to rein in the discipline, Daniel Kaffee needs to let it go, finally see what he can do." Sorkin and Reiner are praised in gradually unveiling Kaffee's potential in the film.[30]

Awards and honors

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Academy Awards[31] Best Picture David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Film Editing Robert Leighton Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline and Robert Eber Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Robert Leighton Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Awards[32] Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Robert Richardson Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Marc Shaiman Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Motion Picture David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Best Director Rob Reiner Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin Won
Best Film Editing Robert Leighton Nominated
Best Original Score Marc Shaiman Nominated
Best Cast Ensemble Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[33] Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[34] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Rob Reiner Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[35] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Tom Cruise Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Rob Reiner Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Aaron Sorkin Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Rob Reiner Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Movie Won
Best Male Performance Tom Cruise Nominated
Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Female Performance Demi Moore Nominated
Most Desirable Male Tom Cruise Nominated
Best Villain Jack Nicholson Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Wolfgang Bodison Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[36] Top Ten Films 4th Place
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[37] Best Supporting Actor Runner-up
People's Choice Awards Favorite Motion Picture Won
Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture Won
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures David Brown, Rob Reiner and Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[38] Best Picture 7th Place
Best Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson Won

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media

A Few Good Men was released on VHS and Laserdisc by Columbia TriStar Home Video on June 30, 1993, and released on DVD on October 7, 1997. The VHS was again released along with a DVD release on May 29, 2001 and later a Blu-Ray release followed on September 8, 2007. The Double Feature of the film and Jerry Maguire was released on DVD on December 29, 2009 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. A 4K UHD Blu-Ray release occurred on April 24, 2018.[42]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "A Few Good Men (1992 – Box Office Mojo)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "A Few Good Men – budget". Nash Information Services. Archived from the original on September 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  3. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards". oscars.org. Archived from the original on November 16, 2016. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Glaberson, William (September 15, 2011). ""4 Lawyers Claim to be the hero in a few good men," New York Times. 9.16.2011". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  5. ^ "London Shows – A Few Good Men". thisistheatre.com. E&OE. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  6. ^ "Aaron Sorkin interview". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  7. ^ Henry III, William (November 27, 1989). "Marine Life". Time. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Prigge, Steven (October 2004). Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews with Top Film Producers. McFarland & Company. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-7864-1929-6.
  9. ^ "A Few Good Men (1992)". IMDb. Archived from the original on December 6, 2016. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  11. ^ Noted in the A Few Good Men DVD commentary
  12. ^ Jack Nicholson Archived February 17, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. IMDb
  13. ^ Daily Dose of Aggie History (December 11, 2016). "Dec. 11, 1992: A&M Fish Drill Team appears in 'A Few Good Men'". myAggieNation.com. Archived from the original on March 10, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  14. ^ Nading, Tanya (February 11, 2001). "Corps Fish Drill Team reinstated – Front Page". College Media Network. Archived from the original on June 23, 2009. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  15. ^ Glauber, Bill (April 10, 1994). "Ex-Marine who felt 'A Few Good Men' maligned him is mysteriously murdered". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on November 26, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Gisick, Michael (May 10, 2007). "Fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias embraces the media in his quest for vindication". The Albuquerque Tribune. Archived from the original on November 5, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  17. ^ Johnson, Christopher D. "Christopher D. Johnson, Esquire". Archived from the original on May 13, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  18. ^ Beach, Randall (March 18, 2009). "Allegation delays homicide trial". New Haven Register. Archived from the original on March 3, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  19. ^ "Lawyer Didn't Act Like a "Few Good Men," Cops Say". NBC Connecticut. August 26, 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  20. ^ Wright, Lawrence (2013). Going clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief. New York. ISBN 978-0-307-70066-7. OCLC 818318033.
  21. ^ "Historic Odeon faces final curtain". Manchester Evening News. February 15, 2007. Archived from the original on October 23, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  22. ^ "A Few Good Men – box office data". Nash Information Services, LLC. Archived from the original on September 8, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  23. ^ "A Few Good Men (1992)". Fandango. Archived from the original on November 28, 2020. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  24. ^ "A Few Good Men reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on September 11, 2010. Retrieved July 25, 2009.
  25. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. Archived from the original on September 16, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  26. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes – A Few Good Men review". Flixster Inc. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  27. ^ Schickel, Richard (December 14, 1992). "Close-Order Moral Drill". Time Monday, Dec. 14, 1992. Time, Inc. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  28. ^ McCarthy, Todd (November 12, 1992). "A Few Good Men – Review". RBI, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  29. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 11, 1992). "A Few Good Men". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  30. ^ "Review and analysis: A Few Good Men". Archived from the original on December 29, 2020. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  31. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  32. ^ "The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography". Archived from the original on August 8, 2011.
  33. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  34. ^ "45th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  35. ^ "A Few Good Men – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  36. ^ "1992 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  37. ^ "1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  38. ^ "1992 SEFA Awards". sefca.net. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  39. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 4, 2013. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  40. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 8, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  41. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Courtroom Drama". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  42. ^ "A Few Good Men DVD Release Date". DVDs Release Dates. Archived from the original on May 9, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.

External links