Black Hawk Down is a 2001 war film produced and directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Ken Nolan.
It is based on the 1999 non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Mark Bowden, about the US military’s 1993 raid in Mogadishu.
The film features a large ensemble cast, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, and Tom Hardy in his first film role.
Following the ousting of the central government in 1993 amid the civil war in Somalia, the United Nations Security Council authorises a military operation with a peacekeeping mandate. After the bulk of the peacekeepers withdraw, the Mogadishu-based militia loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid declares war on the remaining UN personnel. In response, the US Army deploys three of its special operations forces – 75th Rangers, Delta Force counter-terror operators, and 160th SOAR – Night Stalkers aviators – to Mogadishu to capture Aidid, who has proclaimed himself president.
To consolidate his power and subdue the population in the south, Aidid and his militia seize Red Cross food shipments. The UN forces are powerless to intervene directly. Outside Mogadishu, Rangers and Delta Force capture Osman Ali Atto, a faction leader selling arms to Aidid’s militia. The US then plans a mission to capture Omar Salad Elmi and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid, two of Aidid’s top advisers.
The US forces include experienced men as well as new recruits, including 18-year-old Private First Class Todd Blackburn and Specialist John Grimes, a desk clerk. Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann receives his first command, of Ranger Chalk Four, after his lieutenant suffers a seizure. Eversmann responds to mocking remarks about Somalis from fellow soldiers by saying he respects the Somalis and has compassion for the terrible conditions of civil war for the Somali people, saying there are two things we can do, “We can help, or we can sit back and watch a country destroy itself on CNN.”
The operation begins, and Delta Force operators capture Aidid’s advisers inside the target building, while the Rangers and helicopters escorting the ground-extraction convoy take heavy fire. Blackburn is severely injured when he falls from one of the Black Hawk helicopters, so three Humvees led by Staff Sergeant Jeff Struecker are detached from the convoy to return Blackburn to the UN-held Mogadishu Airport.
Sergeant Dominick Pilla is shot and killed just as Struecker’s column departs, and shortly thereafter Black Hawk Super Six-One, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Clifton “Elvis” Wolcott, is shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Wolcott and his co-pilot are killed, the two crew chiefs are wounded, and one Delta Force sniper on board, Busch, escapes in an MH-6 Little Bird helicopter but dies later from his wounds.
The ground forces are rerouted to converge on the crash site. The Somali militia erects roadblocks, and Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight’s Humvee column is unable to reach the crash area and sustains heavy casualties. Meanwhile, two Ranger Chalks, including Eversmann’s unit, reach Super-Six One’s crash site and set up a defensive perimeter to await evacuation with the two wounded men and the fallen pilots. In the interim, Super Six-Four, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, is also shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashes several blocks away.
With Captain Mike Steele’s Rangers pinned down and sustaining heavy casualties, no ground forces can reach Super Six-Four’s crash site nor reinforce the Rangers defending Super Six-One. Two Delta Force snipers, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, are inserted by helicopter to Super Six-Four’s crash site, where they find Durant still alive. The site is eventually overrun, Gordon and Shughart are killed, and Durant is captured by Aidid’s militia.
McKnight’s column relinquishes their attempt to reach Six-One’s crash site, and returns to base with their prisoners and the casualties. The men prepare to go back to extract the Rangers and the fallen pilots, and Major General Garrison sends Lieutenant Colonel Joe Cribbs to ask for reinforcements from the 10th Mountain Division, including Malaysian and Pakistani armored units from the UN coalition.
As night falls, Aidid’s militia launches a sustained assault on the trapped Americans at Super Six-One’s crash site. The militants are held off throughout the night by strafing runs and rocket attacks from AH-6J Little Bird helicopter gunships, until the 10th Mountain Division’s relief column is able to reach the American soldiers. The wounded and casualties are evacuated in the vehicles, but a few Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are forced to run on foot from the crash site to reach the Safe Zone at the stadium.
The end titles recount the immediate aftermath of the mission and end of US military operations in Somalia: Michael Durant was released after 11 days of captivity, after which President Bill Clinton withdrew all US forces from Somalia. During the raid more than 1000 Somalis died, and 19 American soldiers lost their lives. The names of the 19 soldiers who died, including Delta Sgts. Gordon and Shughart, who were the first soldiers to receive the Medal of Honour posthumously since the Vietnam War, were listed by name. Mohamed Farah Aidid was killed in 1996. The following day, General Garrison retired.
- 75th Rangers:
- Josh Hartnett as SSG Matt Eversmann.
- Ewan McGregor as SPC John “Grimesey” Grimes.
- Tom Sizemore as LTC Danny McKnight.
- Ewen Bremner as SPC Shawn Nelson.
- Gabriel Casseus as SPC Mike Kurth.
- Hugh Dancy as SFC Kurt “Doc” Schmid.
- Ioan Gruffudd as LT John Beales.
- Tom Guiry as SGT Ed Yurek.
- Charlie Hofheimer as CPL Jamie Smith.
- Danny Hoch as SGT Dominick Pilla.
- Jason Isaacs as CPT Mike Steele.
- Brendan Sexton III as PVT Richard “Alphabet” Kowalewski.
- Brian Van Holt as SSG Jeff Struecker.
- Ian Virgo as PVT John Waddell.
- Tom Hardy as SPC Lance Twombly.
- Gregory Sporleder as SGT Scott Galentine.
- Carmine Giovinazzo as SGT Mike Goodale.
- Chris Beetem as SGT Casey Joyce.
- Tac Fitzgerald as SPC Brad Thomas.
- Matthew Marsden as SPC Dale Sizemore.
- Orlando Bloom as PFC Todd Blackburn.
- Enrique Murciano as SGT Lorenzo Ruiz.
- Michael Roof as PVT John Maddox.
- Kent Linville as PFC Clay Othic.
- Delta Force:
- Sam Shepard as MGen William F. Garrison.
- Eric Bana as SFC Norm “Hoot” Gibson.
- William Fichtner as SFC Jeff Sanderson.
- Kim Coates as MSG Tim “Griz” Martin.
- Steven Ford as LTC Joe Cribbs.
- Željko Ivanek as LTC Gary L. Harrell.
- Johnny Strong as SFC Randy Shughart.
- Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as MSG Gary Gordon.
- Richard Tyson as SSG Daniel Busch.
- 160th SOAR (Night Stalkers):
- Ron Eldard as CWO4 Michael Durant.
- Glenn Morshower as Col. Thomas Matthews.
- Jeremy Piven as CWO Clifton Wolcott.
- Boyd Kestner as CW3 Mike Goffena.
- Pavel Vokoun as CWO Bull Briley.
- George Harris as Osman Atto.
- Razaaq Adoti as Yousuf Dahir Mo’alim, the main commander of Aidid’s militia in the film.
- Treva Etienne as Firimbi, propaganda minister for Aidid and Durant’s caretaker.
- Ty Burrell as United States Air Force Pararescue Timothy A Wilkinson.
Adapting Black Hawk Down: a Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden was the idea of director Simon West, who suggested to Jerry Bruckheimer that he should buy the film rights and let West direct. West moved on to direct Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) instead.
Ken Nolan was credited as screenwriter, and others contributed uncredited: Mark Bowden wrote an adaptation of his own book, Stephen Gaghan was hired to do a rewrite, Steven Zaillian and Ezna Sands rewrote the majority of Gaghan and Nolan’s work, actor Sam Shepard (MGen. Garrison) rewrote some of his own dialogue, and Eric Roth wrote Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana’s concluding speeches. Ken Nolan was on set for four months rewriting his script and the previous work by Gaghan, Zaillian, and Bowden. He was given sole screenwriting credit by a WGA committee.
The book relied on a dramatization of participant accounts, which were the basis of the movie. SPC John Stebbins was renamed as fictional “John Grimes.” Stebbins had been convicted by court martial in 1999 for the rape and forcible sodomy of his six-year-old daughter. Mark Bowden said the Pentagon, ever sensitive about public image decided to alter factual history by requesting the change. Bowden wrote early screenplay drafts, before Bruckheimer gave it to screenwriter Nolan. The POW-captor conversation, between pilot Mike Durant and militiaman Firimbi, is from a Bowden script draft.
To keep the film at a manageable length, 100 key figures in the book were condensed to 39. The movie also does not feature any Somali actors. Additionally, no Somali consultants were hired for accuracy, according to writer Bowden.
For military verisimilitude, the Ranger actors took a one-week Ranger familiarisation course at Fort Benning, the Delta Force actors took a two-week commando course from the 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg, and Ron Eldard and the actors playing 160th SOAR helicopter pilots were lectured by captured aviator Michael Durant at Fort Campbell.
The US Army supplied the materiel and the helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Most pilots (e.g., Keith Jones, who speaks some dialogue) had participated in the historic battle on 03-04 October 1993.
On the last day of their week-long Army Ranger orientation at Fort Benning, the actors who portrayed the Rangers received letters slipped under their doors. It thanked them for their hard work, and asked them to “tell our story true”, signed with the names of the men who died in the Mogadishu firefight. A platoon of Rangers from B-3/75 did the fast-roping scenes and appeared as extras; John Collette, a Ranger Specialist during the battle, served as a stunt performer.
Many of the actors bonded with the soldiers who trained them for their roles. Actor Tom Sizemore said, “What really got me at training camp was the Ranger Creed. I don’t think most of us can understand that kind of mutual devotion. It’s like having 200 best friends and every single one of them would die for you”.
Filming began in March 2001 in Salé, Morocco, and concluded in late June.
Although the filmmakers considered filming in Jordan, they found the city of Amman too built up and landlocked. Scott and production designer Arthur Max subsequently turned to Morocco, where they had previously worked on Gladiator. Scott preferred that urban setting for authenticity. Most of the film was photographed in the cities of Rabat and Salé; the Task Force Ranger base sequences were filmed at Kénitra.
The musical score for Black Hawk Down was composed by Hans Zimmer, who previously collaborated with director Scott on several films including Thelma & Louise (1991) and Gladiator (2000). Zimmer developed the score through a collaboration with a variety of musicians that blended “east African rhythms and sounds with a more conventional synthesizer approach.” In doing so, Zimmer avoided a more traditional composition in favor of an experimental approach that would match the tone of the film. “I wanted to do it like the way the movie was,” said Zimmer. “So I got myself a band together and we just went into my studio […] and we’d just be flailing away at the picture, I mean, you know with great energy.” A soundtrack album was released on 15 January 2002, by Decca Records.
Black Hawk Down had a limited release in four theatres on 28 December, 2001, in order to be eligible for the 2001 Oscars. It earned $179,823 in its first weekend, averaging $44,956 per theatre. On 11 January 2002, the release expanded to 16 theatres and continued to do well with a weekly gross of $1,118,003 and an average daily per theatre gross of $9,982. On 18 January 2002, the film had its wide release, opening at 3,101 theatres and earning $28,611,736 in its first wide-release weekend to finish first at the box office for the weekend. Opening on the Martin Luther King holiday, the film grossed $5,014,475 on the holiday of Monday 21 January 2002, for a 4-day weekend total of $33,628,211. Only Titanic had previously grossed more money over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Black Hawk Down finished first at the box office during its first three weeks of wide release. When the film was pulled from theatres on 14 April 2002, after its 15th week, it had grossed $108,638,746 domestically and $64,350,906 overseas for a worldwide total of $172,989,651.
- Black Hawk Down won two Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound at the 74th Academy Awards.
- In 2006, an extended cut of the film was released on DVD.
- The cut contains an additional eight minutes of footage, increasing the running time to 152 minutes.
- This extended cut was released on Blu-ray and in 4K on 07 May 2019.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Ridley Scott.
- Producer(s): Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott.
- Writer(s): Ken Nolan.
- Music: Hans Zimmer.
- Cinematography: Slawomir Idziak.
- Editor(s): Pietro Scalia.
- Production: Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and Scott Free Productions.
- Distributor(s): Sony Pictures Releasing.
- Release Date: 28 December 2001 (US).
- Running Time: 144 minutes.
- Rating: 15/Rated.
- Country: UK and US.
- Language: English.