G.I. Jane: The Flop That People Still Joke About

G.I. Jane is a film about a female sailor, Jordan O’Neil, played by Demi Moore, who is thrust into the U.S. Navy’s Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. It’s part of a political ploy to see if women are physically or mentally strong enough to become Navy SEALs.

Demi Moore / Demi Moore / Demi Moore / The cast of G.I. Jane.
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The film had so much potential. It could have been a period piece, a feminist piece, and a message to the U.S. Navy, but it completely flopped. In 1997 when the film was released, women were not allowed to try out for the SEAL training program, so technically O’Neil was the first.

Demi Moore Made Big Bucks from the Film

G.I. Jane was not a great film. It received mixed reviews from critics, and it tanked at the box office. Many people thought it was poorly made, badly researched, and terribly cast.

A still of Demi Moore in a scene from the film.
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Although people hated Demi Moore’s performance, she received $1 million for the project (about $1.7 million today). It’s a shocking number considering how poorly the film did.

The Stunt Double Deserves an Award

If you’ve seen Demi Moore act in any of her other films such as St. Elmo’s Fire or Blame It on Rio, you know she didn’t do many stunts. So it’s safe to assume she didn’t do all the stunts for G.I. Jane either. In fact, she had a pretty dedicated stunt double.

A still of Demi Moore during training.
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Leigh Hennessy got her big break on G.I. Jane as Demi Moore’s double. She shaved her head, jumped out of helicopters and planes, and was beat up by Viggo Mortensen. Her hard work and dedication on the film opened up many doors for her in Hollywood.

Leigh Hennessy’s Big Break

Leigh has been a stunt double for the past 20 years, and her illustrious career began with G.I. Jane. She started out as a model, but when she was offered to stunt double for Demi Moore, she couldn’t turn it down, and it’s a good thing she didn’t.

A photo of Leigh Hennessy.
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She has been a stunt double in some of Hollywood’s biggest action movies. She doubled for Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, Téa Leoni in Bad Boys, and Helen Mirren in Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Regardless of how poorly G.I. Jane did in the box office, Hennessy’s talents were recognized, and this one role changed her entire life and career.

Winner of a Shocking Accolade

The film was bad but based on the criticism Demi Moore received for the role, you would think it was the worst movie ever made. But it was actually nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight and a Golden Reel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing.

A photo of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis at the film premiere.
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It won just one award, though, during the season, and that was given to Demi Moore. She won the Razzie Award for Worst Actress. Who knew they even gave worst actress awards? Demi Moore has won real awards since then, so I guess Worst Actress didn’t stunt her ego too badly.

Did Any Navy SEALs Appear in the Film?

It turns out that G.I. Jane is completely fictitious. There were no real U.S. Navy SEALs on the set or present during any part of the filmmaking process. Part of the reason the film rated so poorly was due to the lack of accuracy and preparation.

Demi Moore is stared down in a scene from the film.
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It might have turned out better if a Navy SEAL had been on the set. Those involved in the film, including Demi Moore and Director Ridley Scott, tried to do the necessary research, but the fact remains that Tom Hawkins, President of the Underwater Demolition SEAL Association, believed the film was nothing but a dangerous fantasy.

An Alternate Ending Was Filmed

Ridley Scott secretly filmed another ending to G.I. Jane without Disney or Hollywood Pictures Executives knowing about it. When he screened the film, he included the shocking and twisted ending, surprising the viewers and executives who were present.

A still of Demi Moore shaving her head.
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They agreed to test screen both endings, see which one did better, and then decide which one to keep. Surprisingly, the alternate ending tested better than the original ending, but Disney refused to change it. Maybe if they had, the film would have done better.

The Dark and Shocking Ending

The alternate ending that was filmed for G.I. Jane had a dark and shocking twist. At the end of the film, Jordan O’Neil is killed as she risks her life trying to save her commander. She is then eulogized by the senator on live television. The last shot of the film features a pan of the new Navy SEAL recruits, and among them are three women.

Demi Moore is in a still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Though sad, this ending offers more substance to the film and leaves viewers feeling distraught but also hopeful. But no one will ever see that ending or experience how that alternate ending might have changed things.

The Real-Life G.I. Jane

Before 2020, two women tried to become the first female Navy SEAL. There is currently only one female sailor who has successfully completed the course and become a Navy SEAL. The training is extremely taxing and difficult. Jordan O’Neil was a fictional character, but even she had a hard time becoming a SEAL.

A photo of the real-life G.I. Jane.
Source: YouTube

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training is a very rigorous 37-week program, and very few make it. After graduating from the program, crew members who qualify to become SEALs are assigned to a Special Boat Team or go on to complete further training.

The Set Location for G.I. Jane

Most of G.I. Jane takes place in a training camp, so the filmmakers chose Camp Blanding, a 30,000-acre National Guard training site in northern Florida. It was not an actual Navy SEAL facility, but the National Guard training site offered a realistic backdrop for the film.

A still from the film.
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Scenes that took place outside the training site were filmed in Huguenot Park in Jacksonville, Florida; Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina; Washington, DC; Virginia; and Maryland. The film had many locations, and they scoured the country for the perfect sets.

Too Many Fight Scenes

Ridley Scott tried to emphasize the grueling training process many Navy SEALs have to go through, but he may have overdone it. There are many scenes between Demi Moore and Anne Bancroft, who plays her SEAL commander, that are filled with abuses of power and power plays that were intended to offer interesting insights.

A photo of Demi Moore, Jason Beghe, and Ridley Scott behind the scenes.
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As the film progresses, there is training scene after training scene as Moore tries to prove herself to her fellow SEAL recruits. It becomes very boring and repetitive, and the character loses her individuality. Stripping people of their individuality may work for the Army, but it doesn’t really work for a film.

An Overlooked Important Message

G.I. Jane has some strong underlying feminist themes that are incredibly important, but they are often overshadowed by the overdone Navy SEAL training scenes. The scenes are filmed mostly at night during torrential downpours. The sequences are meant to shock the viewers and show them the reality of becoming a Navy SEAL.

A promotional poster of Demi Moore for the film.
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Scott also portrayed other forms of abuse such as waterboarding and simulated torture that were used to prepare the recruits. And then there are the sexism and harassment O’Neil faces because she’s a woman. All this is crucial, but the feminist narrative could have been pushed further.

The Shaved Head Controversy

Moore’s haircut in the film seems to have been so polarizing that it is still joked about today (even by Chris Rock at award shows). But this divisive haircut is only a small part of Demi Moore’s performance. Lt. Jordan O’Neil is portrayed as a product of many U.S. military and Navy political power plays.

A still of Demi Moore shaving her head.
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She is recruited for Navy SEAL training after a female U.S. Senator points out gender inequality in the program. O’Neil must prove that women are mentally and physically capable of becoming Navy SEALs, and shaving her head was the first step to creating that equality.

The Many Errors in the Film

G.I. Jane is supposed to be a film that offers an inside look into Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEAL training, but there are so many technical errors that it’s hard to appreciate the film. To start, the training is called SEAL CRT training, which is a completely fictitious name that stands for Combined Reconnaissance Team.

A still from a scene during army training in the film.
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Another huge mistake is when the admiral announces that the SEAL training dropout rate is around 60 percent. With a little research, they could have found that actually the dropout rate is closer to 75 or 80 percent.

The Mistake That Tanked the Film

At the end of the film, O’Neil graduates from the training and is supposed to receive a trident badge, but her commander hands her a badge that looks nothing like a trident. On top of that, the other commanders are wearing SEAL tridents throughout the film.

A still of Demi Moore in a scene from the film.
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All these mistakes add to the unprofessional and untrue nature of the film. It offers more ground for negativity toward the film. Overall, the number of flaws and technical errors are endless. When producing a piece with historical significance, viewers expect some proper research, which simply wasn’t done.

Former Navy SEAL Speaks Out

Tom Hawkins is a retired Navy SEAL with strong opinions regarding G.I. Jane, and he has made those opinions very public. The 54-year-old retiree from Norfolk, Virginia, was angry about the film, calling it a false depiction. He claimed that the way the instructors were portrayed was entirely incorrect, and “the way they present training is bloody way off the mark.”

A portrait of Tom Hawkins wearing his Navy SEAL uniform.
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Despite Hawkins’ harsh opinion, the Navy hasn’t made any public comment on the film. However, it is important to note that in 1997 when the film was released, women were not allowed to try out for Navy SEAL training.

The Portrayal of Military Higher-Ups

In the film, the master chiefs are evil, white, male conspirators who are utterly disgusted by the idea of a female Navy SEAL. Hawkins feels as though the portrayal is unrealistic considering SEALs are judged based on their ability. There is still only one female Navy SEAL.

A still of Viggo Mortensen and Demi Moore in a scene from the film.
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He also believes that the sexist comments about O’Neil’s physique and the Tampon jokes would never occur in a real training facility, although some believe women have an inherent limited capacity, leaving the door open for such comments in the Navy SEALs “boys club.”

A Female Perspective on the Film

Georgia Sadler, a retired U.S. Navy captain, believes the treatment of O’Neil in G.I. Jane was not too far off. She explains that the SEALs are a very macho organization filled with men, and they would never be much help to a female trainee.

A still of the Navy in a scene at the beach.
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She doesn’t think the film is entirely accurate either, but the idea of sending a woman into a male-dominated program would result in some kind of similar treatment. Many military personnel agree with Sadler and that Demi Moore played the role as accurately as possible.

The cast went through and practiced the various training exercises that would be featured in the film.

Demi Moore as Jordan O’Neil

Demi Moore was perfect for the role. She was one of the biggest actresses of her time. One of the screenwriters, Danielle Alexandra, wrote the part with Moore in mind. Director Ridley Scott said the casting process was a dream. It went so smoothly, and every character was perfectly cast. Moore was dedicated to the role and the film.

A still of Demi Moore as Jordan O’Neil.
Source: YouTube

Moore and Scott both agreed that in order for the film to be believable, the cast would have to endure some form of SEAL training. So Moore got sweaty and dirty during training just like everyone else.

Who Is Demi Moore?

Demi Moore is an American actress who was very popular in the ’80s and ’90s. She made her film debut in 1981 and then got cast in the soap opera General Hospital. She gained recognition and became a member of the Brat Pack.

A portrait of Demi Moore.
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The Brat Pack was the name used for the popular group of teen actors who starred in coming-of-age teen films in the 1980s, and Demi Moore was one of them. She transitioned to film with roles in Blame It on Rio, St. Elmo’s Fire, and About Last Night.

Viggo Mortensen as Command Master Chief John Urgayle

Ridley Scott was looking for someone fresh and new when it came to casting the role of Command Master Chief John Urgayle. He needed someone tough and strong, and he didn’t want an actor with a huge reputation. He saw Viggo Mortensen in the film The Indian Runner and knew he would be a perfect fit.

A still of Viggo Mortensen as Command Master Chief John Urgayle.
Source: YouTube

The film is a very dark movie about a criminal who seeks help from his brother, a policeman. Mortensen plays the criminal and brings an interesting presence to the role. After Tony Scott, famous filmmaker, and Ridley Scott’s brother, used Mortensen in his film Crimson Tide, Ridley knew it would be a perfect fit.

Who Is Viggo Mortensen?

Viggo Peter Mortensen Jr. is an American actor, musician, painter, author, photographer, and poet. He is a very talented man who hails from New York but lived in Argentina for a few years as a kid. He got his breakthrough role in The Lord of the Rings when he was the last-minute replacement for Stuart Townsend in the part of Aragorn.

Viggo Mortensen attends an event.
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Since then, he has been awarded many accolades, including a Screen Actors Guild Award. He has been nominated for three BAFTA Awards, three Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards. Hopefully he will win one soon because this talented actor deserves it.

Anne Bancroft as Senator Lillian DeHaven

Anne Bancroft played the role of Senator Lillian DeHaven. She is the politician who picks Jordan O’Neil for Special Categories military training. Senator DeHaven really gets the ball rolling in terms of the plot of the film, and the filmmakers looked right to Academy Award winner Anne Bancroft for the part.

A still of Anne Bancroft as Senator Lillian DeHaven.
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They knew she would bring a sense of elegant professionalism to the politician. They didn’t want a caricature; they wanted someone sympathetic but also tough, and Bancroft was perfect. The filmmakers go so far as to say that in real life Bancroft would make a good politician.

Who Is Anne Bancroft?

Anne Bancroft is a legendary American actress who is highly regarded for her versatility on screen. She has the ability to play a wide variety of roles and always delivers perfection. She has received an Oscar, three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Tony Awards, and two Primetime Emmy Awards. She has multiple EGOTs (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards)!

A dated studio portrait of Anne Bancroft.
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Bancroft is one of 24 actors who have achieved the Triple Crown of Acting. She is a household name and most notably known for her roles in The Elephant Man, The Graduate, The Miracle Worker, Blazing Saddles, and many more.

Kevin Gage as Instructor Max Pyro

Kevin Gage plays the gruesome bully instructor Max Pyro. He works closely with Urgayle in the SEAL training program and is one crazy dude. Pyro is known for his melodically unpleasant bellow and for pushing the trainees to their limit.

A still of Kevin Gage in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

With his smug face and sadistic laugh, Pyro quickly becomes Lt. O’Neil’s number one hater. Kevin Gage was able to perfectly deliver all the specificities that came with the role, even down to the oscillation in his voice. He was even asked to ad lib much of the abusive dialogue he used with the trainees.

Who Is Kevin Gage?

Kevin Gage is an American actor known for his role in the crime action film Heat. He portrays Waingro, a murderous and rogue criminal, and his performance is notable. He is also known for his role as Detective Mike Gage in the film Strangeland, a police thriller about a sadist who captures and tortures teenagers.

A still of Kevin Gage in a scene from the film Heat.
Source: YouTube

Based on Gage’s history in crime and police films, instructor Max Pyro on G.I. Jane was a perfect fit. He has starred in several movies and many television shows, including Amnesia and Sons of Anarchy.

There Are No Small Actors

The actors who played the other trainees would be a big part of selling the film. These sailors had to be convincing. So, in order for the film to appear realistic, Ridley Scott decided they needed to go through some training exercises.

Ridley Scott speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

They had to be prepared physically and mentally for the role. They had to know what to do and how to do it correctly so the training scenes would be executed with purpose and accuracy. Everyone involved in the film thought this was incredibly important.

The Rigorous Training Process

The criteria for the trainees included being in perfect physical condition, having the stamina to run several miles at a fast pace, swim 400 yards with 30 of those yards being underwater, and do hundreds of sit-ups, pushups, and squat jumps. This was no joke.

A still of Demi Moore during an interview.
Source: GMA

But being physically fit was only part of the job. Phil Neilson, former member of the Marine Corps Elite Unit and Force Recon, was the stunt coordinator for the film. He said they were lucky the actors and extras were strong swimmers. Many of them even had a military background.

Found the ‘Top Forty’ and now on to the ‘Great Eight’

The Top Forty was what the filmmakers and crew called the 40 extras who played alongside Moore as her fellow SEAL trainees. After finding them, the next step was to find eight actors who would have feature roles.

A still from the film.
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These eight actors quickly became known as the Great Eight, and they were played by David Vadim, Morris Chestnut, Josh Hopkins, Jim Caviezel, Boyd Kestner, Angel David, Stephen Ramsey, and Gregg Bello. They were experienced actors who had to endure a grueling two-week military boot camp in order to properly prepare for the role.

Morris Chestnut Did Not Know What Was in Store

Morris Chestnut was cast as Lieutenant McCool in G.I. Jane. He was excited for the role and thought he was physically fit enough to play the part, but little did he know what was in store. After he was cast, he met with Ridley Scott who told him he would have to go through training.

A still of Morries Chestnut in a scene from the film.
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Chestnut thought that since he played basketball and other sports he would be totally fine, so he agreed. He was definitely not expecting 30-mile runs in 100-degree weather. He said training for the film utterly shocked him.

An Aggressive Training Approach

Harry Humphries was the military technical advisor on G.I. Jane, and his role was to help with the training. He said the training program they created was aggressive because they needed astronomical results in a very short period of time. They took a 17-week course and compacted it

into two weeks.

Harry Humphries speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

On top of the physical training, they had to teach the cast to properly handle weapons. Phil Neilson and the other SEAL training staff often yelled at the actors to do better or run faster to show them how Special Forces trainees are often harassed by training officers.

Demi Moore Was Determined to Train

In the film, Lt. Jordan O’Neil gets kicked around, beaten up, and almost drowns. It was not an easy role to play, and although she had a stunt double, Demi Moore wanted to go through the training and do as much as she could.

A portrait of Demi Moore at the time.
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She was one of the biggest female stars at the time and was determined to prove herself in this role. She had to play one of the most demanding and physically taxing roles any actor—male or female—has ever had to play. Producer Roger Birnbaum said, “She put her whole heart and soul into this, and she was there every single moment for this film.”

Moore Was Thankful She Got to Train

Apparently, Demi Moore considered the opportunity to train a bonus. She explained that she could have just asked the stunt woman to be there every step of the way, doing every obstacle course and training exercise.

A still of Demi Moore in a scene from the film.
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But she didn’t because she wanted the chance to experience what Navy SEALs actually go through, and this was a first-hand opportunity. She felt it was the reason for the film and didn’t want to miss out on it. She was grateful for the chance to train and learn from former military personnel.

Keeping a Close Eye on the Star

Demi Moore was not looking for any special treatment as the lead in the film. She wanted to train with everybody else. The fact of the matter remained that she was the lead. She had to look a certain way and couldn’t get scratches or bruises like the rest of the cast.

A closeup of Demi Moore in a scene from the film.
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Yes, she was athletic and capable, but it was of paramount importance that she sustain no injuries because she could not be replaced. Phil Neilson, the stunt coordinator, had to keep a close eye on her and make sure she didn’t get hurt.

People Were Impressed by Moore

Harry Humphries, the military technical advisor on the film, was very impressed with Demi Moore. He quickly noticed that she had never endured such intense working conditions before, but she was out there with the rest of the sailors.

A photo of Demi Moore with her family at the film premiere.
Photo by Trevor Gillespie/Getty Images

On the first day of training, Humphries was so impressed that he thought she was the stunt double. Moore was getting muddy doing pushups, situps, and squat jumps. That night, when everyone was introduced to each other, Humphries was shocked to find that Moore was the lead. He was moved by her tenacity and willpower.

The Last Step of Training

The last step to complete the condensed SEAL training that occurred on set was the notable and dreaded buzz cut. The actors had to be given the Special Forces hairstyle that included a clean shave. Many of the actors who were cast came to the set with long hair, beards, and mustaches. There was a lot to clean up in order to make them camera-ready.

A still of Demi Moore during training in a scene from the film.
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The regulation cut was an eighth of an inch. Now that’s not bald, but it’s very close to it, and for those with a mane, it was a hard pill to swallow. To maintain the length, they had to rebuzz everyone’s hair every four days.

‘Shave Your Dome’ Party

To honor the monumental moment, Demi Moore threw a Shave Your Dome party at a nightclub to celebrate the cast shaving their heads. The crew blocked off a part of the club where they wrangled each cast member into a chair and shaved their heads one by one.

A portrait of Demi Moore.
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Almost everyone at the party had long hair. Only about 10 percent started with a short haircut. Hairstylist Dorothy Fox had to get everyone’s hair cut ASAP so their scalps could tan throughout the rest of the training period and match their skin.

The Much-Awaited Day

Six weeks after Demi Moore threw the Shave Your Dome party and on an important shoot day, she did the deed. She shaved her head in front of everyone to finish off her look and match with her fellow castmates. Moore was committed to every facet of the film, and she was prepared and ready to do what needed to be done.

A still from the scene where Demi shaves her head.
Source: YouTube

There is a monumental scene in the film where Lt. O’Neil gets her hair cut off. It was an emotional moment for the character. So five to six months into filming, the time came for that scene to be shot, and Moore sat in the chair completely ready.

Cheers from the Cast and Crew

When Ridley Scott yelled cut and the one-take scene of Demi Moore getting her head shaved was over, the cast and crew erupted in cheers. The group of men present on set cheered in approval, but Moore was just ready to get on with the down-and-dirty training scenes.

A still of Demi Moore staring in front of a mirror in a scene from the film.
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She said her haircut elicited a series of surprising responses. People wanted to touch her head. Her children brought friends over to show and tell their mother’s new hairdo, and her husband found the entire thing hilarious. It was quite an eye-opening experience.

The Final Rating for G.I. Jane

In many ways, G.I. Jane could have been a stronger film. It could have been a more accurate portrayal, and the message could have been stronger. They were telling a poignant story about a current flaw in the U.S. Military and Navy SEALs.

A still of Demi Moore in a scene on the battlefield.
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The film had a budget of $50 million and only made a meager $48 million at the box office. It received a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Demi Moore received that Razzie Award for Worst Actress. Overall, the film was pretty inadequate, but people are still talking about it 20 years later, so it must have accomplished something.