Backdraft (1991)



Critic Consensus: It's not particularly deep, but Backdraft is a strong action movie with exceptional special effects.

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Movie Info

The sons of a Chicago fireman who gave his life in the performance of his duties, firefighting brothers Kurt Russell and William Baldwin carry their lifelong sibling rivalry into their work. Russell is convinced that Baldwin hasn't got what it takes to remain in the fire department. Baldwin is transferred to a "safe" assignment, assisting arson investigator Robert DeNiro, who is trying to make sense of a series of fires involving an oxygen-induced ball of fire called a backdraft. The investigation reveals a link between corrupt alderman J. T. Walsh and imprisoned pyromaniac Donald Sutherland. The trail of evidence leads Baldwin to suspect that his brother Russell, a much-decorated hero, may be the "inside" man setting up the arsons. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
R (adult situations/language)
Action & Adventure , Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MCA Universal Home Video

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Kurt Russell
as Stephen McCaffrey
William Baldwin
as Brian McCaffrey
Robert De Niro
as Donald Rimgale
Jennifer Jason Leigh
as Jennifer Vaitkus
Donald Sutherland
as Ronald Bartel
Scott Glenn
as John Adcox
Rebecca De Mornay
as Helen McCaffrey
J.T. Walsh
as Martin Swayzak
Jason Gedrick
as Tim Krizminski
Tony Mockus Sr.
as Chief John Fitzgerald
Cedric Young
as Grindle
Juan Ramírez
as Ray Santos
Kevin M. Casey
as Nightengale
Jack McGee
as Schmidt
Mark Wheeler
as Pengelly
Richar Lexsee
as Washington
Beep Iams
as Sean McCaffrey
Ryan Todd
as Brian (age 7)
J.R. Byrnes
as 4th Paramedic
John Duda
as Stephen (age 12)
Robert Swan
as Willy, the Bartender
Ron West
as Alan Seagrave
Kevin Crowley
as 1st Candidate
Carlos Sanz
as 2nd Candidate
Harry Hutchinson
as 3rd Candidate
David A.C. Saunders
as 4th Candidate
Jane Jenkins
as Woman Psychiatrist
Ilene Kwitney
as 2nd Reporter
Tim Grimm
as Man at Parole Board
Richard Lexsee
as Washington
David Crosby
as 70's Hippie
Mike Mangano
as Firetruck Driver
Rick Reardon
as 1st Paramedic
Leslie A. Ford
as 2nd Paramedic
W. Earl Brown
as 3rd Paramedic
Robert Byrnes Jr.
as 4th Paramedic
Kathryn Jaeck
as Mannequin Fire Reporter
David Westgor
as Mannequin Fire Reporter
James Ritz
as Mannequin Fire Reporter
Joe Gustaferro
as Donald Cosgrove
Don Herion
as Repairman
Gregory Widen
as Engine Lieutenant
Andrew Lipschultz
as Man on Party Boat
Walter Williams
as Security Guard
Bob Krzeminski
as Captain
F. Pat Burns
as Battalion Chief at Tenement Fire
Wanda Christine
as Mother at Tenement Fire
Anthony C. Ellis Jr.
as Grasping Child at Tenemant Fire
Zita Visockis
as Grandma Vaitkus
Razz Jenkins
as Photographer on Boat Party
Joe Guastaferro
as Donald Cosgrove
Irma P. Hall
as 1st Nurse
Don Rimgale
as Party Crony
Dennis Liddiard
as Party Brawler
David Luckenbach
as Security Officer
Andre Melchor
as 2nd Cop
Karel King
as 1st Swayzak Aide
Scott Baity
as 2nd Swayzak Aide
Gretchen Erickson
as Bar Patron
Joan Esposito
as Television Reporter
Bob Rice
as 1st Detective
Tom Clark
as 1st Retirement Party Schmoozer
Jane MacIver
as 2nd Retirement Party Schmoozer
Burton Stencel
as 3rd Retirement Party Schmoozer
Robert Martell
as Retirement Party Roaster
Tony G. Chrisos
as 1st Politico
Cay DeVos
as 2nd Politico
Gregory Lundsgaard
as High Rise Fireman
Charles Burns Jr.
as Battalion Chief at Mannequin Fire
Louise Woolf
as Falling Chair Lady
Ian A. Nevers
as Nervous Probie
Cay de Vos
as 2nd Politico
Kelsey E. McMahon
as Child Rescued at 70's Fire
Fidel Moreno
as 70's Onlooker
Zan Heber
as 1st Reporter
Ilene Kwitny
as 2nd Reporter
Jan Alderman
as 4th Reporter
Jane Alderman
as 4th Reporter
Thomas A. Senderak
as 1st Fireman
Michael Allen Mark
as 2nd Fireman
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Critic Reviews for Backdraft

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (8)

Backdraft has some of the raw filmmaking excitement that has been missing from Howard's recent work.

Full Review… | February 5, 2008
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Visually, pic often is exhilarating, but it's shapeless and dragged down by corny, melodramatic characters and situations.

Full Review… | February 5, 2008
Top Critic

Visually speaking, the film does pretty well with fire-as-spectacle, less well with everything else (Howard tends to trot out fuzzy-toned Spielbergian backlighting on any pretext).

Full Review… | February 5, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The fire sequences are stunning, and the build-up to them, complete with blaring sirens and bellowed conversations, has an aggressive immediacy.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The spectacular fire sequences, which must have been hellish to film, are powerfully enveloping on screen, thanks especially to the eerie effect of the title.

May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Backdraft is sure to do for fire what The Poseidon Adventure did for water.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Backdraft

Good film. Good story. Almost good acting (I'm looking at you, Kurt Russell.)

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer


Lt. Steven McCaffrey: Look at him... That's my brother god damnit.  "Silently behind a door, it waits." Backdraft was a pretty big disappointment for me. The fire scenes were pretty cool, but they weren't enough to make up for everything that was wrong with the film. A great cast is wasted on terrible dialogue and by the numbers filmmaking from Ron Howard. Everything about the firefighters and the story is cliche and everything that occurs is predictable. Nothing in the film is at all original, and we pretty much end up watching the same movie we have seen countless times, except this time it is about firefighters.  I have trouble grasping how this movie doesn't work. I love the subject, I love the cast, and I even like Ron Howard. Sure he always goes for sentimentality, which is on full display here, but he also has a way of making entertaining and exciting movies. The problem with Backdraft is that it is only exciting when we are in a burning building. Outside of that, it is dull and too unoriginal. The brothers relationship has been done so many times, and Backdraft adds nothing new to the formula. Two brothers who don't get along, but work together, get over there differences through their job and a tragedy.  This story had potential. Two firefighter brothers are working together while an arsonist is running wild in Chicago. If the movie wasn't so dumb it could work, but every time Howard had the chance to take the story somewhere new, he instead chose to keep it in familiar territory. The result is a lackluster film, be it with some cool effects, that doesn't give any insight into firefighters, brothers, or human beings at all. When I want to get my firefighter kicks, I'll stick with rewatching episodes of Rescue Me.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer


This firefighter adventure about two brothers and their unit, fighting their personal struggles and what turns out to be a murder series offers some excellent pyro action in pretty impressive scenes. Excellent actors like DeNiro and Sutherland also manage to make the investigation parts fun, even if the solution to the case is a bit silly. It's built into such an impressively fiery showdown that you easily forget about that, though. Here, director Ron Howard is in his true element, stylizing the fire as a living, breathing villain. Those scenes make this a pretty impressive adventure with some minor flaws in the more every day sequences. Of course the American firefighters are depicted as the heroes of our time with the help of a bombastic Hans Zimmer soundtrack, slow motion and all that jazz.

Jens S.
Jens S.

Super Reviewer

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