On Deadly Ground is a 1994 environmental action-adventure film, directed, co-produced by and starring Steven Seagal, and co-starring Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley and R. Lee Ermey. It is, to date, Seagal's only directorial effort, and features a minor appearance by Billy Bob Thornton in one of his early roles.

On Deadly Ground earned $38.6 million during its theatrical run, failing to bring back its reported $50 million budget and received negative reviews.


Aegis Oil operates Aegis 1, an oil refinery and several oil rigs in Alaska. They purchased the oil rights from the local Alaskan Natives 20 years ago, but stand to lose them if the refinery isn’t on-line by a certain deadline. With 13 days to go, and billions of dollars at stake, the company cuts corners and uses faulty equipment. Hugh Palmer, a rig foreman, is aware of this; as he predicts, his rig catches fire. It takes Forrest Taft (Seagal), a specialist in dealing with oil drilling-related fires, to extinguish the fire. Taft refuses to believe Hugh’s story of faulty equipment at first, but later discovers that it is true after accessing the company’s computer records and finding that the next shipments of new, adequate equipment have been delayed way past the deadline. Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), the ruthless CEO of Aegis, deludedly believes that Hugh's carelessness is to blame for the rig fire and, after discovering his efforts to alert the EPA about the use of substandard equipment, arranges for him to be ‘dealt with’ by his henchmen MacGruder (John C. McGinley) and Otto (Sven-Ole Thorsen).

Jennings is alerted to Taft's activities and orders that Taft also get eliminated as well. MacGruder and Otto brutally ransack Palmer's cabin for the evidence against Jennings, and torture and murder Palmer without finding it. Taft is set up for a trap by investigating a supposedly damaged pump station. He is badly wounded by an explosion, but survives and is rescued by Masu (Joan Chen), the daughter of Silook, the chief of her tribe.

MacGruder and Otto are unable to locate Taft's body, and Jennings assumes that he is still alive. Taft is being cared for by Silook's tribe. After unsuccessfully trying to leave using a dogsled, Silook has Taft undergo a vision quest in which he sees the truth. When made to choose between two women, Taft opts for the elderly, clothed grandmother, forgoing the erotically-charged nude Iñupiaq seductress. The grandmother warns Taft that time is running out for those who pollute the world. Taft realizes that his only option is to see the refinery closed. He takes off, with MacGruder and Otto hot on his trail.

At Silook's village, they demand to know where Taft is. Silook refuses to give the information and is fatally shot by MacGruder. Jennings berates MacGruder for killing Silook in front of his entire tribe. They bring in a group of New Orleans-based mercenaries led by Stone (R. Lee Ermey) to finish off Taft before Aegis 1 can go on-line. They also have an FBI Anti-Terrorist Unit at the refinery.

Accompanied by Masu, Taft (who is probably ex-CIA and an expert on sabotage and demolition), collects weapons and explosives and manages to enter the refinery complex, and begins to effectively sabotage the refinery. MacGruder (who is killed by Taft in the process of getting thrown into the helicopter's tail rotor blades for killing Hugh and Silook), Otto (who was killed earlier at Hugh's cabin) and Jennings’ ruthlessly efficient female assistant Liles (who crashes her truck into a gasoline tank in an escape attempt), are powerless to defeat him and are all killed in various gruesome ways; the FBI also pulls out, revealing in the process that Taft might be ex-CIA.

Taft and Masu confront Jennings, string him up, and drop him into a pool of oil, effectively drowning Jennings in his own wealth. They then escape as a series of explosions destroy the rest of Aegis 1.

As an epilogue, Taft, far from being arrested for sabotage and multiple murders (self defense), is asked to deliver a speech at the Alaska State Capitol about the dangers of oil pollution, and the companies that are endangering the ecosystem.[2] During the speech they show a scene of one of the first commercial hydrogen fuel cell systems developed by Perry Energy Systems.


  • Steven Seagal as Forrest Taft, a specialist who puts out oil fires and runs afoul of Aegis Oil
  • Michael Caine as Michael Jennings, the corrupt, ruthless CEO of Aegis Oil
  • Joan Chen as Masu, the daughter of Eskimo tribe chief Silook
  • John C. McGinley as MacGruder, chief of security of Aegis Oil and Jennings' main henchman
  • R. Lee Ermey as Stone, the leader of the mercenary group based in New Orleans
  • Shari Shattuck as Liles, Jennings' treacherous secretary
  • Billy Bob Thornton as Homer Carlton, one of Stone's men
  • Richard Hamilton as Hugh Palmer, rig foreman of Aegis Oil
  • Chief Irvin Brink as Silook, chief of the Alaskan Eskimo tribe
  • Apanguluk Charlie Kairaiuak as Tunrak
  • Elsie Pistolhead as Takanapsaluk
  • John Trudell as Johnny Redfeather
  • Mike Starr as Big Mike
  • Sven-Ole Thorsen as Otto, Jennings' other henchman
  • Jules Desjarlais as Drunken Eskimo
  • Irvin Kershner as Walters, the director of the Aegis Oil commercial
  • Bart the Bear as The Bear




Critical response

On Deadly Ground has received negative reviews from critics. The film bears a 10% freshness rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews.[3] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[4]

At the time of its release, Gene Siskel included the film in his "Worst of" list for 1994, singling out the melancholy tone of the film, and the quality of Seagal's dialogue.[5] On their syndicated TV show Siskel & Ebert, Siskel called the film's pyrotechnics "low rent" and stated that he "didn't think the fight sequences were anything special." However, he noted that Seagal's speech at the end was "more interesting than the actual fighting." Roger Ebert, for his part, called the speech "absurd" and "shameless" but opined that while "it doesn't pay to devote close attention to the plot," "if you like to see lots of stuff blowed up real good, this’d be a movie for you."[6] The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[7]

Variety film critic Leonard Klady referred to the film as "a vanity production parading as a social statement" and commented that the film seemingly borrowed heavily from the earlier film, Billy Jack but opined that Seagal lacked "acting technique and the ability behind the camera to keep the story simple and direct" that Billy Jack star Tom Laughlin, exhibited. Like Siskel, Klady also singled out the speech by Seagal's character at the end of the film.[8][9]

Seagalogy author Vern considers On Deadly Ground to be one of Seagal's defining works, writing, "It's the corniest, most unintentionally hilarious movie of his career... But it's also Seagal's most sincere and his most ballsy," going on to claim, "You can't understand Seagal if you haven't seen On Deadly Ground." [10] He points out that many of the most important themes and motifs that define Seagal's work are present here more overtly than in any of his other films.[11]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Subject Result
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Actress Joan Chen Nominated
Worst Actor Steven Seagal Nominated
Worst Director Won
Worst Picture Nominated
A. Kitman Ho Nominated
Julius R. Nasso Nominated
Worst Screenplay Ed Horowitz Nominated
Robin U. Russin Nominated
Worst Original Song ("Under the Same Sun") Mark Hudson Nominated
Klaus Meine Nominated
Bruce Fairbairn Nominated



Warner Bros. Entertainment Wiki has a collection of images and media related to On Deadly Ground.



  1. 1.0 1.1 "On Deadly Ground (1994) - Box Office Mojo".. Retrieved on 24 June 2015.
  2. Script error
  3. On Deadly Ground, Rotten Tomatoes, accessed February 1, 2014.
  4. "CinemaScore"..
  5. Siskel, Gene, Ebert, Robert. (1994). "Siskel and Ebert at the movies: Best and worst of 1994" [Television recording] Buena-Vista Entertainment Ltd
  6. Script error
  7. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0. 
  8. Klady, Leonard. "On Deadly Ground Review", Variety, February 21, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.
  9. Harrington, Ricard. "On Deadly Ground (R)", The Washington Post, February 19, 1994, accessed May 24, 2011.
  10. Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books, page 69. ISBN 978-0857687227. 
  11. Vern (March 2012). Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. London: Titan Books, page 78. ISBN 978-0857687227. 

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