Salvador (1986)


Salvador is a 1986 American war drama film co-written and directed by Oliver Stone.

It stars James Woods as Richard Boyle, alongside Jim Belushi, Michael Murphy and Elpidia Carrillo, with John Savage and Cynthia Gibb in supporting roles. Stone co-wrote the screenplay with Boyle.

A burnt-out photojournalist becomes involved in a Central American revolution.

Refer to Into the Valley of Death: The Making of Salvador (2001).


Veteran liberal photojournalist Richard Boyle (James Woods) has been taking his camera to the world’s trouble spots for over 20 years. While he does good work, Boyle’s fondness for booze and drugs, and his colossal arrogance, have given him a reputation that’s left him practically unemployable. One morning, he finds that his Italian-born wife has abandoned him, taking their child with her. Broke and with no immediate prospects, Boyle and his buddy, Doctor Rock (Jim Belushi), an out-of-work disc jockey, head to El Salvador, where Boyle is convinced that he can scrounge some lucrative freelance work amidst the nation’s political turmoil. However, when Boyle and Rock witness the execution of a student by government troops just as they enter the country, it becomes clear that this war is more serious than they were expecting. After he asks a soldier for a general he met during the Football War, he and Rock are taken to him in a school-turned-barracks where both discuss the situation and he learns that the Salvadoran Army is supplied by the United States. Feeling that El Salvador is a disaster starting to happen, Boyle eventually decides that it is time to get out, but he is reunited with an old flame named María (Elpidia Carrillo) and her two children (one of whom is his), and he does not want to leave her behind.

In the meantime, both he and Maria go to a mass by Archbishop Oscar Romero. During the mass, the Archbishop is killed by an assassin sent by the far-right ARANA party (based on the real-life ARENA party) and the army outside opens fire on the escaping crowd with Boyle and Maria barely escaping. Following that, he goes to the United States Embassy to convince the ambassador to cut aid for the Salvadoran government as their human rights abuses increase but is denied and is told to leave the country for his own safety, prompting him to leave the embassy in anger.

While attempting to get her out of the country, Boyle is harassed by the military authorities due to his profession, which eventually leads to the deaths of innocent people either close to him or María by death squads. As the rebels overrun the government forces in Santa Ana, Boyle witnesses them execute captured soldiers with the same cruelty the military had previously shown them. The rebels justify it by saying it is necessary in the war and that Boyle does not have the stomach for it. Boyle then curses the guerrillas, saying “You’ve become just like them.” when the Salvadoran Army starts using American vehicles and air support to crush the rebels, Boyle’s friend and fellow photojournalist, John Cassady (John Savage), is killed during the battle.

Boyle and María eventually leave the country for the United States. However, upon entering California, their bus is stopped by immigration officers and María allows herself to be deported alongside her children due to the guilt of leaving her home country behind while Boyle is arrested after desperately arguing with the officers. An epilogue reveals that Maria and her children survived and were last rumoured to be in a refugee camp in Guatemala. Doctor Rock eventually returned to San Francisco. John Cassady’s photos were published and Richard Boyle is still looking for Maria and her children.


  • James Woods as Richard Boyle.
  • Jim Belushi as Doctor Rock.
  • Michael Murphy as Ambassador Thomas Kelly.
  • John Savage as John Cassady.
  • Elpidia Carrillo as María.
  • Cindy Gibb as Cathy Moore.
  • Tony Plana as Major Maximiliano Casanova.
  • José Carlos Ruiz as Archbishop Oscar Romero.


The film was released in the United States on 05 March 1986. In the Philippines, the film was released by Pioneer Films as Guns, Goons, Gold on 26 March 1992.

Box Office

The film was not successful at the box office, grossing a total of $1,500,000 in the United States.


The film garnered two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Woods) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen at the 59th Academy Awards ceremony.

Home Media

The Region 1 special edition DVD was released on 05 June 2001, and includes the following bonus features:

  • Commentary by director Oliver Stone.
  • 62-minute documentary “Into the Valley of Death”.
  • Eight deleted scenes.
  • 46 production photos.
  • Original theatrical trailer.


  • According to director Oliver Stone, there was a dinner where James Woods (Richard Boyle) and Jim Belushi (Doctor Rock) met their real-life counterparts.
    • In Stone’s words, Belushi stormed out of the dinner in a rage, while Woods did not get along with the real Boyle.
  • According to James Woods, he went to watch the film at a local theatre and while he was leaving, a refugee from El Salvador knelt before him and kissed his hand, thanking him for telling the story of her family’s massacre.
  • Director Oliver Stone had a very hard time getting funding for this film.
    • He was forced to put a second mortgage on his house to get finance until British producer John Daly pledged his support to the project.
    • The film was made on a budget of just under $5 million.
  • When James Woods discovered that there was a blank cartridge in the rifle which could have damaged his head, he refused to continue with the scene, resulting in another of the many fierce arguments between the cast and crew.
  • An advisor for the film was killed in El Salvador during production.
  • Richard Boyle was living in his car when director Oliver Stone first read his stories about Salvador.
  • This film was part of a cycle of pictures made during the 1980s that featured journalists covering war. The movies include: Salvador (1986), Under Fire (1983), Circle of Deceit (1981), War Zone (1987), Cry Freedom (1987), The Killing Fields (1984) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Oliver Stone.
  • Producer(s):
    • Brad H. Aronson … associate producer.
    • John Daly … executive producer.
    • Derek Gibson … executive producer.
    • Gerald Green … producer.
    • Bob Morones … associate producer.
    • Oliver Stone … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Oliver Stone.
    • Richard Boyle.
  • Music:
    • Georges Delerue.
  • Cinematography:
    • Robert Richardson (director of photography).
  • Editor(s):
    • Bob Morones (as Bob ‘Blackie’ Morones).
  • Production:
    • Cinema ’84.
    • Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A.
    • Hemdale.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Hemdale (1986) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Eureka Entertainment (2018) (UK) (Blu-ray) (Blu-ray & DVD).
    • Virgin Films (1986) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Warner Bros. (1987) (Japan) (theatrical).
    • Jugendfilm-Verleih (1987) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • CEL Film Distribution (1986) (Australia) (theatrical).
    • Rosenbergs Filmbyrå (1986) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Transmundo Films (1986) (Argentina) (theatrical).
    • Acteurs Auteurs Associés (AAA) (1986) (France) (theatrical).
    • Alvorada Filmes (1986) (Brazil) (theatrical).
    • Finnkino (1986) (Finland) (theatrical).
    • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Brazil) (DVD).
    • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Brazil) (VHS).
    • Avid Home Entertainment (1996) (USA) (VHS).
    • FS Film (2001) (Finland) (DVD).
    • Home Video Hellas (HVH) (1987) (Greece) (VHS).
    • Image Entertainment (1987) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
    • Koch Media (2010) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Laser-Video Entertainment (Taiwan) (video) (Laserdisc).
    • Look Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS).
    • MGM Home Entertainment (2001) (UK) (DVD).
    • MGM Home Entertainment (2000) (USA) (VHS).
    • MGM Home Entertainment (2001) (USA) (DVD).
    • Mainostelevisio (MTV3) (2002) (Finland) (TV).
    • Odeon (2006) (Greece) (DVD).
    • PVB Editions (2004) (France) (DVD).
    • Pidax Film (2021) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • Pidax Film (2021) (Germany) (DVD).
    • PolyGram Video (1998) (USA) (VHS).
    • RCV Home Entertainment (2002) (Netherlands) (DVD).
    • Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (2003) (Sweden) (DVD).
    • TeleFutura (2005) (USA) (TV) (dubbed).
    • Transmundo Home Video (THV) (Argentina) (VHS).
    • Transworld Video (Finland) (VHS).
    • Twilight Time (2014) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Vestron Video International (1987) (West Germany) (VHS).
    • Vestron Video (1986) (USA) (video).
    • Video Treasures (1990) (USA) (VHS).
    • Yleisradio (YLE) (1998) (Finland) (TV).
  • Release Date: 28 February 1986 (Santa Barbara Film Festival, US).
  • Rating: 18.
  • Running Time: 122 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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