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Juan Fernandez as Army Lieutenant 'Smiling Death' in Oliver Stone's


A journalist, down on his luck in the US, drives to El Salvador to chronicle the events of the 1980 military dictatorship…

Release Year: 1986

Rating: 7.5/10 (9,359 voted)

Oliver Stone

Stars: James Woods, James Belushi, Michael Murphy

A journalist, down on his luck in the US, drives to El Salvador to chronicle the events of the 1980 military dictatorship, including the assasination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He forms an uneasy alliance with both guerillas in the countryside who want him to get pictures out to the US press, and the right-wing military, who want him to bring them photographs of the rebels. Meanwhile he has to find a way of protecting his Salvadorean girlfriend and getting her out of the country.

Writers: Oliver Stone, Rick Boyle


James Woods

Richard Boyle

James Belushi

Doctor Rock

Michael Murphy

Ambassador Thomas Kelly

John Savage

John Cassady

Elpidia Carrillo


(as Elpedia Carrillo)

Tony Plana

Major Maximiliano 'Max' Casanova

Colby Chester

Jack Morgan – State Department Analyst

Cynthia Gibb

Cathy Moore

(as Cindy Gibb)

Will MacMillan

Colonel Bentley Hyde Sr.

Valerie Wildman

Pauline Axelrod

José Carlos Ruiz

Archbishop Romero

Jorge Luke

Colonel Julio Figueroa

Juan Fernández

Army Lieutenant

Salvador Sánchez

Human Rights Leader

Rosario Zúñiga

Human Rights Assistant

Based on a true story.

Release Date: 23 April 1986

Filming Locations: Alameda County, California, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $4,500,000


Gross: $1,500,000

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


According to James Belushi (Doctor Rock), there were no trailers or make-up during production. Belushi admitted that he ended up using his own clothes in certain parts of the film.


Factual errors:
When the colonel approaches Boyle, he is sprayed with mace. Less than half a minute later, he has completely recovered.


Richard Boyle:
What are the death squads, but the brain child of the CIA? But you'll run with them because they're anti-Moscow!

User Review

Compelling Film About the Intersection Between Journalistic Ethics and Politics


Going back and watching Salvador makes me realize how long it's been since
Oliver Stone has been on his game. How
long has it been since he made a film that actually required the audience
think. It's not that he's suddenly become loud and bombastic, it's that
suddenly stopped doing anything genuinely provocative. Natural Born
for example, is *not* a provocative film. It's a loud and angry and
aggressive film. However, the film produced only attacks on the filmmaker
(or rather excessive adulation for Stone) and never really stimulated an
intelligent national debate. But Salvador, based on the true experiences of
photojournalist Rick Boyle, is Stone at his best. It's complicated and full
of the mixture of regret, guilt, nostalgia, and outrage that fill the
director's landmarks (JFK or Platoon, for example). After all of the
violence and horror, it becomes a film about representations of reality and
the different reasons for distorting truth.

Rick Boyle (James Woods) is at the end of his rope. He's unemployed, his
wife just left him. And he's just been thrown in jail for a litany of
driving violations. After getting bailed out by his tubby friend Doctor
(James Belushi in the role he was probably born to play), he hops in his
unregistered car that he isn't licensed to drive, and he heads south to El
Salvador. His only companions are Doctor Jack, his alcohol, and his drugs
a journey that can't help but be likened to the drive to Vegas in Hunter S.
Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When he arrives in El Salvador,
he finds the country torn apart with leftist rebels fleeing to the hills
a country braced for a bloody "democratic" election in which a murderous
American puppet general will likely be elected. Boyle tries to use his
connections to get a press pass and get one last shot to become a success.
This is made easier by the Salvadorian woman who loves him and the ace
photographer who lends him a hand (John Savage).

But not everybody in El Salvador is supportive of the loose cannon
journalist. There's the colonel who thinks he's a communist, the military
attache who's using him for information, and the local military forces who
resent the way Boyle depicted them in a previous campaign. The audience is
supposed to be disgusted by the way that Boyle treats himself and those he
loves, but there's one important fact that's repeated over and over: Boyle
was the last journalist out of Cambodia. We know that he stayed to help
people. And it's just a matter of time before he becomes even more
personally invested in what's happening in Central America. And that's when
things go really crazy.

The world of photojournalism depicted in the film is one step from public
relations and sometimes not even that. Boyle's major supported among the
military leaders is a general about whom Boyle had written a glowing
profile. Boyle is also able to curry favor by showing his pictures to
American military leaders before trying to publish them. The question that
comes up, of course, is why are the pictures being taken at all and how can
anybody ever know the truth of any war. Journalists, like everybody else,
get caught up in their surroundings. Boyle may be supporting the right side
in El Salvador, but he admits to having favored Pol Pot for a brief period
years earlier. The difference between canonizing a truly noble leader (like
the assassinated Archbishop Romero) and elevating a genocidal lunatic is a
small one. Salvador calls into question how American audiences can ever
who to trust in a media covered war. On one hand we have Pauline Axelrod
(Valerie Wildman) appearing on air because she's pretty and blond even
though she just accepts the official statements as truth. Then there's also
Savage's journalist who's willing to do anything to get the perfect shot,
create an image that shows both the conflict and the reasons behind it in a
single frame. Idealism and self preservation are competing

The film is pure Stone. The battle sequences are tense and tightly edited
and the dialogue (which Stone cowrote with Rick Boyle) is rippingly good,
for the most part. Then again, its misogyny is almost worn as a gold star,
female characters are, as always, Madonnas or whores, and a rape scene is
fairly exploitative. Also in a conversation between Boyle and a
US Colonel, Stone unpacks entirely too much of his personal ideology in a
series of monologues. The message of the film, about not wanted to create
another Vietnam and liberalism not being the same as Communism is much too
literally articulated.

The film basically hinges on Woods's wonderful performance. His typical
manic energy perfectly fits his character's earliest incarnation, but as
Boyle becomes more troubled by what he sees around him, Woods's performance
becomes deeper, richer, and more internalized. The rest of the cast has
to do and thus can't really be blamed for not standing out. Belushi's
Jack has "Fictitious Composite Character" written all over him. Basically
watch as his story arc goes in opposite directions from Woods's at all

Salvador is perhaps the only film to ever express nostalgia for Jimmy
Carter. I like that. I like that it's challenging, dogmatic, but rarely
insults my intelligence by saying things that I already know. This is a
fine 8/10 film.