“Apocalypse Now” 30th Anniversary

posted by Coate on August 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

I had intended to write an in-depth retrospective on “Apocalypse Now” to commemorate the landmark film’s 30th anniversary, but for the time being this brief write-up will have to do.

On August 15, thirty years ago, Omni Zoetrope and United Artists released Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic, “Apocalypse Now.” Rather than saturating the market with hundreds or even thousands of bookings, as would be the case if released today, top-flight theaters in three large and important markets were selected to open the film. The film was shown on a reserved-performance, guaranteed-seat basis and presented in 70-millimeter and Six-Track Dolby Stereo showcasing a then-new quintaphonic “split surround” audio mix. The film was shown without opening or closing credits or any studio logos; instead, a program was handed out to moviegoers. These initial bookings were:

Los Angeles, CA: Cinerama Dome
New York, NY: Ziegfeld
Toronto, ON: University

In late-September 1979, four more 70mm bookings were added:

Newport Beach, CA: Newport
Orange, CA: Cinedome
San Francisco, CA: Northpoint
San Jose, CA: Century 21

Then, in early October:

Boston, MA: Cinema 57
Calumet City, IL: River Oaks
Chicago, IL: State-Lake
Evergreen Park, IL: Evergreen
Montreal, QC: York
Niles, IL: Golf Mill
Oakbrook, IL: UA Cinema
Vancouver, BC: Stanley
Washington, DC: Uptown

And, in mid-October “Apocalypse Now” was finally put into a nationwide, 35mm general release where it played in hundreds of cinemas across the United States and Canada and, eventually, the rest of the world. The 35mm version of the film was different from the 70mm version in a number of respects. Aside from obvious visual and sonic differences, the 35mm version featured a completely different audio mix, providing a less dynamic, less immersive experience compared to the 70mm version and, most notably, featured an end-credit sequence which included footage of the Kurtz compound and its destruction not seen in the original 70mm presentations.

I, myself, first saw “Apocalypse Now” in a military theater in Schweinfurt, Germany in 1980. I didn’t see a 70mm presentation until 1988 when the Cinerama Dome included the film in their 25th anniversary film festival. What a tremendous experience!

As one can glean from the information provided, “Apocalypse Now” was booked into some pretty famous and highly-regarded theaters. Did anyone see the film during its original run? Where? 70mm or 35mm? What is your recollection of the experience? Do you consider the film a classic? Where does it rank among war films? Where does it rank when analyzing the career of its filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola? Must “Apocalypse Now” be seen in a movie theater, as opposed to a home theater setting, to be appreciated?

Comments (43)

HowardBHaas on August 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

You’ve got to be kidding! “Is it a classic?” hah hah.

I didn’t see initial run. I saw a 35 mm print of original film in 1997 in then classic film series at Grand Opera House in Wilmington
/theaters/798/ and was very impressed.
I saw “Redux” in 2001 at NYC’s Astor Plaza, to a sold out crowd, with film program and that was one of the best movie experiences of my life!
“Redux” was not shown at DC Uptown, but I’d be eager to see a restored 70 mm print of the original there. I don’t count on such a print actually being issued.

William on August 15, 2009 at 8:48 am

I saw at the Cinerama Dome during the original release and then on the move-over to the Picwood Theatre in 70MM. I later worked the Picwood when it was returned again in 70MM. I ran it in 70MM for a midnight show at the Cineplex Odeon Theatre in Westwood. Then I ran the NYC press screenings for the “Redux” edition in 35mm.

SethLewis on August 15, 2009 at 9:12 am

I saw it in about the second or third week of its original run in Paris at the Gaumont Ambassade on the Champs Elysees which I don’t believe had been plexed yet and would have been 70mm…I don’t remember the no credits at the time…just completely blown away by the experience…The Grand Rex or Normandie might be the only better circumstances in Paris…

I also saw it on the original run in Brussels at the Leroy now Vendome then already a triplex but as good as anything else in town…had also seen first runs of Deer Hunter and Alien in what was a great year for movies

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on August 15, 2009 at 9:29 am

Michael — I’d love to know what the response to this film was at the military theater in Germany.

CinemarkFan on August 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

Ahh Michael, I’m 19 (why did the great stuff happen before my time?). So I’ve only seen this on cable. A great movie, up there with “The Godfather” as one of Francis Coppola’s best. I would love to see a 70mm print of “Apocalypse” (hopefully in Chicago) someday.

I know my dad saw it at either State-Lake or River Oaks.

LawMann on August 15, 2009 at 10:40 am

I was fortunate to run the 70mm director’s cut at the Cinerama Dome sometime in 1988 as part of the theatre’s 25th anniversary program which lasted for two weeks. Previously I ran this in a 35mm version at the old Whittwood theatre.

stevenj on August 15, 2009 at 10:58 am

I first saw this film at the Northpoint (SF) during it’s 70mm engagement. Still have the program. As I recall the theater was ¾ empty. In the mid 80’s I saw another 70mm presentation at the Kabuki (SF) with a packed house (and on a double bill with One From The Heart). Coppola was supposed to attend but his brother Roman came out on the stage and introduced the film. He told us that Mr Coppola had the theater’s sound system tweaked especially for the film so we could hear it the way it was meant to be heard. It was stunning.

MPol on August 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

“Apocalypse Now”: ahhhhh, yes. I saw this cool, intense film 30 years ago when it first came out, and enjoyed it a great deal, and thought it was very well done, although I forget what theatre I saw it was. I think it was somewhere in Boston, however.

Years later, my brother and I saw “Apocalypse Now: Redux” at the (former) Loews Boston Common Theatrem and thought it was very good, also. Decent prints in both cases.

DonSolosan on August 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I was looking forward to the release of this movie because I was in the Philippines (in the Navy) following the production through articles in Stars & Stripes. One article talked about how they had spent tens of thousands of dollars creating a human puppet that gets blown up by a rocket.

By the time the movie got a wide release, I was stationed in Norfolk, VA. I got off work one day and drove over to the local mall theater. This would have been late 1979, so it was the 35mm version.

The film was brilliant and intriguing — and of course, there was no scene of a guy getting hit by a rocket and blown to bits. Based on that one screening though, I couldn’t say exactly what I thought the film meant. Is it pro-war? Anti-war? You can argue either way, and that’s what’s especially brilliant about it. It doesn’t offer easy answers and forces the viewer to think about what they’ve seen and what it means to them.

By the time Redux came around, I was living in LA. I caught a screening at the Century Plaza Cinemas, my first and only time in that theater before they tore it down. The additions and changes, in my opinion, don’t help the film — but I’m the kind of guy who usually prefers the first version of a movie that he’s exposed to. If I like it, I don’t want people to mess with it.

Mark_L on August 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm

35mm — Continent Theatre Columbus OH — No special memories, and I wasn’t all that impressed.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 15, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I first saw it at the Sunny Isles in North Miami Beach in 35mm where I was working at the time. I liked it so much that on a visit to NY I saw it again at the Warner Cinerama (Strand) in 70mm on move-over from the Ziegfeld. The experience was so magnificently different that it seemed like another film.

The credit-less ending left me with a devastating armageddon feeling I have never forgotten. The 35mm version, although good, did not make me feel quite the same and the “REDUX” version is even weaker.

JSittig1 on August 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm

As Michael noted, The Cinerama Dome was one of the first 3 engagements and it was the first reserved seat engagement we had in several years. The sound, especially the helicopters circling the Dome was unbelieveable. We have played this film in 70mm a number of times since the original engagement and it (along with 2001) continues to do great business.

JSA on August 15, 2009 at 6:07 pm

What a difference a decade makes: Hollywood went from “The Green Berets” in 1968 to “Apocalypse Now” in ‘79.

Initially, I did not see the film as a “Vietnam War” film per se. In my opinion, Vietnam served as a contemporary setting to bring forth an updated adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darness”. That is, until the “Redux” version came around, with more explicit commentary on the Vietnam, specially on the supper scene with the French.

I often compare this film to “Bridge on the River Kwai”, and not to the other Vietnam War films (i.e. Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket). To me there are paralells between Martin Sheen and William Holden’s respective characters. And then there is the “madness” line at the end of Kwai, as compared to “the horror..”.

In terms of Coppola’s career, I rank it #2, after “Godfather II”, with # 3 being “The Conversation”.


neeb on August 15, 2009 at 6:44 pm

It opened in San Diego at the Cinerama on 17 October 1979- in 35mm. Dolby Stereo, though.
San Diego didn’t get a 70mm print until 1980 when it moved to the La Jolla Village.
Wonder where it opened in Seattle…

KingBiscuits on August 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

I never saw this in theatres but my parents did back when they were still dating. My mother told me that it was the worst movie that she had ever watched in a theatre (my father probably liked it though, he likes the big and loud action movies).

Twenty five years later, I rented the original cut on DVD and saw it for the first time. I loved it.

Today, the film that probably comes closest to Apocalypse Now is The Hurt Locker. It comes closest both in the study of war onscreen and in both films' long production histories.

droben on August 16, 2009 at 11:09 am

“Wonder where it opened in Seattle” Neeb

I remember seeing Apocalypse Now in Seattle as if it were yesterday. For whatever reason, SRO Theaters booked it into the Town Theater, definitely not one of their prestige houses (heavy action and blaxploition titles were the normal fare there) but I give SRO credit where credit is due. They put in all new projection equipment for the 70mm print (including, I believe, Seattle’s first platter system), as well as a new sound system and a temporary giant screen placed in front of the proscenium.

I was there for the first matinee showing on opening day and the transformation from a rather ordinary cinema into a 70mm showcase was amazing. I’ll never forget the opening scene with the sound of the helicopter blades surrounding us in the theater.

The only drawback on that opening day was that the film broke four times, due to the new platter system as the manager explained to us. Nevertheless, the film’s impact was not lost on me or the rest of the audience. I shall never forget it.

egcarter on August 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I was at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood on opening day. A very long line snaked from the entrance down Sunset and around the corner, enclosing the parking lot. An interesting aspect of this engagement was the mobile home trailer parked in the Dome’s parking lot, fronting Sunset Blvd. It was the HQ for the big “partay” for the APOCALYPSE NOW production crew! They were having a grand old time considering what an ordeal this child’s gestation had turned out to be.

The presentation in the Dome was the finest ever for that venue. The 70mm projection was flawless (except for the geometric distortions one can see at times on that deeply curved screen). The audio was remarkable; particularly the split surrounds.

At the end, the packed house was totally silent as everyone filed out through the various exits, each being handed a black program booklet with the film credits (as there were none on the film).

Coppola also had no credits on his unauthorized presentation of the work-in-progress ONE FROM THE HEART at Radio City Music Hall; another remarkable presentation that I attended.

moviebuff82 on August 16, 2009 at 2:34 pm

My dad went to see this movie when it was playing at the Ziegfeld back in 1979. I first saw the movie when I got the Dossier Edition for around $10 at Wal-Mart, which contains the original and expanded version of the movie. Sadly, the original two-and-a-half hour movie is chopped up on two discs, in regard to the branching of extended scenes for the special edition and some special features. The movie is pretty good. I never saw the documentary that chronicled the making of the film, but I read the stories about how difficult it was for Coppola to finance his first war-themed movie after the success of the first two Godfather movies as well as The Conversation. During the release, United Artists released it theatrically, until the 1980s when Paramount bought the rights when it came to home video. The film would be re-released with extended footage in association with Miramax in 2001 with a digitally restored Dolby Digital surround sound mix and was met with limited success. Hopefully they get Apocalpyse Now on Blu-Ray soon.

KingBiscuits on August 16, 2009 at 3:03 pm

When the film was first in development in 1971, George Lucas was going to direct the film and it was going to shot in Vietnam. However since the Vietnam War was still going on, Coppola and Lucas delayed the project and Lucas ended up developing a little project called Star Wars.

jimpiscitelli on August 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Originally I saw the movie on ABC-TV. I recorded the original on VHS from The Movie Channel. Later I saw the “Redux” version at the Yorktown Cinema in Lombard, IL and later got the DVD of the “Redux” version. Paramount should release this on Blu-ray.

neeb on August 17, 2009 at 4:01 am

D. Roben.

Thanks! I haven’t seen the TOWN theater of CT, is it under a different name?

ceasar on August 17, 2009 at 6:40 am

Apoclyspe Now was my first R-rated film. To this day I love watching the choppers swoop in to the Wagner’s Valkryie. At the time the ending perturbed critics as anti-clamtic. I watched the last half-hour of Apoclypse Now Redux on HBO Saturday night. Just to see it again,the surreal color images leaping back at you,brought back memories when I first saw it.
Apolypse Now had been reeditied and the redux version of the ending,the fires and explosions are taken out. There in the theatrical version. But redux which I have on dvd is interesting too watch. Coppla wanted to make the journey more surreal. Like the use of the French plantation for example. But still it’s true journey into the heart of darkness.

Dublinboyo on August 17, 2009 at 10:45 am

I saw it during it’s original run at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood USA on August 19th,1979. Bought the tickets 2 weeks ahead of time at the Cinerama Box office in antiscipation for the whopping price of $5.00 each! They were tickets printed especially for the run with the date of the showing and the name of the film. Lined up an hour ahead of time so we could sit in the “sweet seats” at the Dome. When you walked in they gave you a special program with the credits as this was the original 70mm version without any end credits. This was very much an event. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. The 6 track multi-dimentional sound at the Dome was amazing with the soundtrack surrounding you as the sound travelled from one channel to another and from front to back. Absolutely amazing. I forget what types of speakers the Dome ran back then, maybe JBL’s, but the sound was magnificent! When the film ended I was blown away but knew I needed to see it again, so I ran out and around to the box office (now closed) and bought 2 more tickets for the following Sunday. Seeing Apocalypse Now at the Cinerama Dome in it’s original run in 1979 counts as one of the greatest days of my love of film and I was very disappointed to see that Arclight or American Cinemateque had not scheduled a 30th anniversary screening of the film at the Dome or Egypitian theater. But on August 19th, 2009 I’ll screen my DVD copy on my flat screen and have my own 30 year anniversary party.

CSWalczak on August 17, 2009 at 3:59 pm

neeb: The Town is listed here on CT as the Roosevelt; it should be listed as the Town, as the general practice is to list the theater as its most recent name.

DavidWallick on August 17, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I was lucky enough to see this at the Ziegfeld during the original reserved performance run in 1979. It was an amazing cinema-going experience, something that would be hard to believe today. I remember the audience walking out in near silence and being handed a program book with the credits as we exited the auditorium. And if I’m not mistaken, the ticket price was $4.

Mikeoaklandpark on August 18, 2009 at 3:45 am

After the Ziegfeld run, it moved over to the Warner on broadway in 70mm. That was where I saw it. It was in the upstairs theatre.

William on August 18, 2009 at 6:14 am

It moved over to the Warner Cinerama on Nov. 6th. 1979 from the Ziegfeld. It returned back to the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 21st. 1980.

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on August 18, 2009 at 7:53 am

Unfortunately, I was only 12 years-old in 1979 and was not allowed to see APOCALYPSE NOW. I saw it for the first time years later when it was edited for ABC-TV. In 2001, I did get to finally see it on the big screen as APOLCALYPSE NOW REDUX.

Shigeaki on August 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm

I saw APOLCALYPSE NOW at the now defunct and demolished grand old Waikiki #3 Theatre in Honolulu. The theatre was not yet capable of 70mm presentations until it was remodeled a few month later. The Waikiki#3 was a beautiful theatre and although APOLCALYPSE NOW was a standard 35mm presentation with mono sound, I was very impressed with the film. I saw the film again many years later at another Honolulu theatre, the Waikiki #2 . This time it was longer and titled APOLCALYPSE NOW-Redux. I got to see it with six track digital sound (SRD) and the projected images was from a gorgeous dry transfer Technicolo print.


Murdoch on October 1, 2009 at 11:31 pm

It comes on cable a lot. It’s interesting to see all the young stars in the movies this movie had in it.

CaptVonKrapp on October 2, 2009 at 12:17 am

I saw Apocalypse Now at the Century 21 in San Jose on its opening day there. (I also remember being impressed by the $5.00 it took to buy a ticket, too.) The strongest memory I have of the experience was that at the end of the movie,the sound of the curtains closing over the screen and the air conditioning were the only things audible in a packed theater—the entire audience was amazed by what it had just seen.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on October 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Ithink it could have used about 30 minutes of editing.Mostly Brando’s raving at the end.

TLSLOEWS on December 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

We showed this movie at the LOEWS CRESCENT. Nashville, Tennessee.It did great business ran for about 14 weeks, it was very long though,some nights on the last show everyone would leave and we would still have to show 20 minutes of credits to an empty house,Party Time.Right Mike?This movie like the war took up too much time.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 5, 2009 at 10:43 am

I didn’t realize that early that films had credits that long? I know today they want to credit everyone even the guy that picks up extra napkins for craft services. I think it is way too long,but we don’t have to worry about it. I think SUPERMAN when it played at the IMPERIAL had long credits.IT played at MASTERS 4 ,we never got it.

TLSLOEWS on December 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Yes Mike I think we showed it 4 times a day, we opened at Noon and ran till after midnight-overtime for the booth.We ran matinees at the Crescent 7 days a week 365 days a year.I think this movie ran almost 3 and ½ hours,lots of movie for your money.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 12, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I remember playing FIREFOX with Clint Eastwood. Our last show was like 10:00 pm it was aftermidnight when we walked out,Yeah, It was over time for the booth but not for a dogbeat Assistant manager.

JohnnyCool on January 10, 2010 at 9:55 am

I saw ‘AN’ at Toronto’s lovely University Theatre the week it opened, at the Friday evening 7 PM (I think it was 7, might have been 8) show.

Frederic Forrest (Chef) was sitting in front of me, and had obviously had a few as he was giddy before it started and during the first part of the film, until he nodded off. The esteemed Canadian journalist Patrick Watson sat on my right. It was breathtaking as a cinematic viewing experience and as a work of art. Haven’t yet watched the ‘official’ redux version, but saw an approximation of it which included the French colonial plantation segment on a VHS bootleg a friend had many years ago.

Can’t say it seemed any better longer…FFC should have left well enough alone. Too often these hindsight tinkerings are nothing more than a cynical marketing excercise when it is felt all the dollars possible have been wrung out of a home entertainment money spinner.

bwhitish on August 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I saw it in the first week at the Cinerama Dome in L.A. My friend that went with me changed his college major to film studies at U.C.L.A. after seeing this film. Still have the program they handed out. The most amazing movie going experience of my life.

raysson on July 28, 2014 at 9:57 pm

FYI: In the Carolinas…APOCALYPSE NOW was given the full general release in selected cities in 35MM and Dolby Stereo. Other cities like the small town venues didn’t get the film until Christmas of 1979.

raysson on July 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm

There were no reserved seat 70mm engagements in the Carolinas. The general release dates for October 16,1979 first-run exclusive engagement showings…… NORTH CAROLINA: October 16, 1979 Charlotte: Manor -DOLBY STEREO

Greensboro: Janus-Showing on 2 screens DOLBY STEREO

Raleigh/Cary: Imperial IV-DOBLY STEREO

Fayetteville: King Twin-DOLBY STEREO

November 2, 1979 were general release 35MM DOBLY prints

Durham: Yorktowne Twin

Winston-Salem: University Plaza 1 & 2-DOLBY STEREO

Asheville: Merrimon Twin-DOLBY STEREO

Chapel Hill: Carolina 1 & 2

Wilmington: New Centre Triple

November 23,1979 High Point: Capri Triple-DOLBY STEREO

raysson on July 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

If there were reserved seat 70mm Dolby Stereo engagements in the Carolinas…the only theatre that had this would be Charlotte’s Park Terrace Theatre. The Park Terrace was absent from the 70mm engagement showings in the Carolinas. Only Charlotte’s Manor Theatre was shown as a general release in 35mm and DOLBY STEREO on October 16,1979.

raysson on July 28, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Saw it in 35mm DOLBY STEREO at Greensboro’s Janus Theatre where it played on 2 screens in DOLBY on October 16,1979.

Public on July 31, 2014 at 11:00 am

I saw it both the second and third nights at The Uptown in DC, which I recall was the 7th theater to show AN. Handout programs and no credits. 70mm with the new Dolby. The most awesome film I’d ever seen, which is why I returned the next night. Also to write down the titles of the books on Kurtz' table, which seemed to be key information, as indeed they turned out to be: Goethe’s Faust, The Golden Bough, From Ritual to Romance, and of course Kurtz' reading of The Hollow Men from Eliot’s Four Quartets. I left the theater stunned, just a “Wow” experience. But after 35 subsequent viewings on VHS and then DVD (and a couple college theses), I’d really like to see it again in 70mm. Seems to me that I also saw a retro big screen viewing in the late 1980’s in Boston, but maybe it was something else.

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