Behind Enemy Lines (2001 film)

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Behind Enemy Lines
Behind Enemy Lines movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Moore
Produced byJohn Davis
Screenplay by
Story by
Music byDon Davis
CinematographyBrendan Galvin
Edited byPaul Martin Smith
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 30, 2001 (2001-11-30)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Serbian
Budget$40 million[1]
Box office$92 million[1]

Behind Enemy Lines is a 2001 American war film directed by John Moore in his directorial debut, and starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. The film tells the story of Lieutenant Chris Burnett, an American naval flight officer who is shot down over Bosnia and uncovers genocide during the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, his commanding officer is struggling to gain approval to launch a combat search and rescue mission to save Burnett. The plot is loosely based on the 1995 Mrkonjić Grad incident that occurred during the war.[2]

Released on November 30, 2001, Behind Enemy Lines received generally negative reviews from critics. However, it was a considerable box office success, taking in nearly $92 million worldwide against a $40 million budget. The film was followed by three direct-to-video sequels, Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, and SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines, with the third film being co-produced by WWE Studios. None of these sequels feature the cast and crew of the original.


During the Bosnian War, United States Navy flight officer Lieutenant Chris Burnett and pilot Lieutenant Jeremy Stackhouse are stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Adriatic Sea. Burnett is preparing to leave the Navy, and clashes with his commanding officer, Admiral Reigart. On Christmas, Reigart assigns Burnett and Stackhouse to fly an aerial reconnaissance mission, which goes smoothly until they spot unusual activity in the demilitarized zone. Burnett persuades Stackhouse to fly their F/A-18F Super Hornet off-course for a closer look, unaware that they are photographing Serb Volunteer Guard soldiers burying massacred Bosnian Muslim civilians in mass graves. The local Bosnian Serb paramilitary commander, General Miroslav Lokar, is conducting a secret genocidal campaign against the Bosniak population, and orders the jet be shot down.

Attempting to outmaneuver Lokar's surface-to-air missiles, Burnett and Stackhouse's jet is hit, forcing them to eject. Lokar and his men find the injured Stackhouse, who is executed by Sasha, one of Lokar's right-hand men. Watching nearby, Burnett flees into the wilderness, and Lokar orders his deputy, Colonel Bazda, and Sasha to hunt him down. Burnett radios for help and receives an extraction point from Reigart, who is forced to stand down after Admiral Piquet, the commander of NATO naval forces in the region, warns him that rescuing Burnett in the demilitarized zone risks derailing the peace process. Burnett reaches the extraction point only to be informed that he must continue to another location, miles outside the demilitarized zone, in order to be rescued.

Spotting Bazda's patrol, Burnett falls into a mass grave, and hides under a dead body until the Serbs move on. To ensure Burnett's rescue, Reigart leaks news of the downed jet to the press, angering Piquet. Lokar realizes that the American jet's hard drive with the incriminating photographs may still be in the wreckage. Heading to the new extraction point, Burnett escapes Serb soldiers through a minefield. Pursued by Sasha, he encounters Bosniak guerrillas who offer him a ride to the town of Hač, which turns out to be a war zone. After the battle, Serb troops believe they have found Burnett's body, but Sasha realizes Burnett switched uniforms with a dead Serb guerrilla and escaped. The Serbs present the corpse wearing Burnett's uniform to the media, convincing NATO forces that Burnett has been killed, and the mission to rescue him is aborted just as he reaches the extraction point.

Realizing why the Serbs shot him down, Burnett remembers a statue of an angel near where his ejection seat landed, and returns to find it. He activates the seat's rescue beacon, notifying his carrier group that he is still alive, but also alerting the Serbs to his location. Knowing he risks being relieved of command, Reigart prepares a task force to rescue Burnett, in defiance of Piquet's orders. On the way to kill Burnett and recover his body, Bazda steps on a landmine; Sasha abandons him to his fate, and the explosion alerts Burnett that someone is approaching. Sasha finds the ejection seat, but is ambushed by Burnett, who fatally stabs him with a flare. Lokar arrives with armored vehicles and infantry, but is held off by Reigart's task force. Retrieving the hard drive, Burnett is successfully rescued.

The photographs of the mass grave lead to Lokar's arrest and conviction for war crimes including genocide. Reigart's actions result in him being relieved of command and retiring from service, and Burnett continues his career in the Navy.



The film was shot on location in Slovakia, plus Koliba Studios, Bratislava, Slovakia.[citation needed]

The USS Carl Vinson was the aircraft carrier featured in the film. Exterior naval footage was filmed on board the carrier. Interiors were filmed on the USS Constellation (CV-64), and on a film set.[3] The release date was originally January 18, 2002, but this was moved to November 30, 2001.[4]

Historical inspiration[edit]

The film bears some resemblance to the experiences of former U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia on June 2, 1995. He survived for six days before being rescued by U.S. Marines. O'Grady, who later became a children's author and motivational speaker, filed suit against both the producers of Behind Enemy Lines as well as Behind Enemy Lines: The Scott O’Grady Story, a 1998 documentary that Discovery Channel aired on his experience, for defamation of character, accusing the film's producers of invasion of privacy through the misappropriation of his name, likeness and identity, false representation and false advertising, and contending that those involved in both works produced them without his permission, and that the commercial value of his name was damaged by them. O'Grady's complaint indicated that among other things, he was troubled by the disobedience and profanity exhibited by the feature film's main character. O'Grady also accused Fox of using the documentary to promote the feature film and making a film about his ordeal without his permission. The film's characters and events differ from O'Grady's experience; he never entered populated areas, nor did he interact with civilians, and did not engage in direct combat with enemy soldiers. Also, O'Grady never flew an F/A-18F but rather an F-16 Fighting Falcon.[2][5] The case was settled out of court.[6]


Box office[edit]

The film made $18.7 million in its opening week in the U.S., landing at the #2 spot and was held off the top spot by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Behind Enemy Lines eventually grossed $92 million worldwide, of which $59 million was from North America. The budget was estimated to be $40 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Behind Enemy Lines received generally negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 37% based on reviews from 130 critics, with a weighted average of 4.8/10 and the site's consensus stating "The plot for Behind Enemy Lines is more jingoistic than credible, and the overload of flashy visual tricks makes the action sequences resemble a video game."[7] Metacritic has assigned the film an average score of 49 out of 100 based on 29 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[8]

Roger Ebert gave the film 1½ stars out of four, likening it to a comedy: "Its hero is so reckless and its villains so incompetent that it's a showdown between a man begging to be shot, and an enemy that can't hit the side of a Bosnian barn."[9]


Behind Enemy Lines was followed by three direct-to-video sequels, none of which feature the cast and crew of the original, nor follow its plot. Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil was released in 2006, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia was released in 2009 (this film was co-produced by WWE Studios) and SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines was released in 2014.

2017 television pilot[edit]

The Fox network ordered a pilot episode of a series loosely based on the film in February 2017 for consideration as part of the network's 2017-18 television season. It was ultimately canceled.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Behind Enemy Lines". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Susman, Gary (August 20, 2002). "Plane Truth: Downed airman sues over "Behind Enemy Lines"". Entertainment Weekly. New York City. Retrieved August 22, 2009.
  3. ^ Sutherland, Scott (November 27, 2001). ""Behind Enemy Lines" Showcases NAS North Island". US Navy Press Releases. Archived from the original on October 5, 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2009.
  4. ^ "Fox to Release "Behind Enemy Lines" Nov. 30". Business Wire. Omaha, Nebraska: Berkshire Hathaway. November 2, 2001. Archived from the original on November 18, 2001. Retrieved June 26, 2019 – via
  5. ^ "Pilot sues over Bosnian escape film". BBC News. London, England: BBC. August 20, 2002. Retrieved June 8, 2011.
  6. ^ Hall, Sarah (January 21, 2004). "Behind Enemy Lines Suit Settled". E! Online. New York City: E!. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Behind Enemy Lines (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. San Francisco, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  8. ^ "Behind Enemy Lines". Metacritic. San Francisco, California: Fandango Media. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 30, 2001). "Behind Enemy Lines Movie Review (2001)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  10. ^ Petski, Denise (February 13, 2017). "'Behind Enemy Lines': B.J. Britt Cast As A Lead In Fox Drama Pilot".

External links[edit]