An Officer and a Gentleman is a 1982 American romantic drama film starring Richard Gere, Debra Winger, and Louis Gossett Jr., who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film, making him the first African American to do so. It tells the story of Zack Mayo (Gere), a United States Navy Aviation Officer Candidate who is beginning his training at Aviation Officer Candidate School. While Zack meets his first true girlfriend during his training, a young “townie” named Paula (Winger), he also comes into conflict with the hard-driving Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (Gossett Jr.) training his class.
The film was written by Douglas Day Stewart and directed by Taylor Hackford. Its title is an old expression from the Royal Navy and later from the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice‘s charge of “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman” (from 1860). The film was commercially released in the U.S. on August 13, 1982. It was well received by critics, with a number calling it the best film of 1982. It also was a financial success, grossing $130 million against a $6 million budget.
Zachary “Zack” Mayo prepares to report to Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) following college graduation and the death of his mother who committed suicide when he was a child. Despite the discouragement of his father Byron Mayo, a former Navy Chief Petty Officer/Chief Boatswain’s Mate, Zack is determined to go through with his childhood dreams of becoming a Navy pilot as well as prove to him that he can make it and in the end Byron would have to “salute” Zack.
Upon arrival at AOCS, Zack and his fellow AOCs are shocked by the harsh treatment they receive from their head drill instructor, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. Foley makes it clear that the 13-week program is designed to eliminate OCs who are found to be mentally or physically unfit for commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, which will earn them flight training worth over $1,000,000. Foley warns the male candidates about the “Puget Sound Debs,” consisting of young women in the area who dream of marrying a Naval Aviator to escape their dull, local lives. Foley claims they scout the regiment for OCs, and will feign pregnancy or even stop using birth control to become pregnant to trap the men. Zack and fellow candidate Sid Worley meet two local young women Paula Pokrifki and Lynette Pomeroy, who are factory workers, at a Navy Ball. Zack begins a romantic relationship with Paula, and Sid with Lynette. Meanwhile, recruit Topper Daniels drops out of the program after he almost drowns in the dunker crash-escape exercise.
Foley rides Zack mercilessly, believing he lacks motivation and is not a team player, though Foley also sees potential in Zack. When Zack’s side business of selling pre-shined shoes and belt buckles is discovered, Foley hazes him for an entire weekend in an attempt to make him Drop on Request (DOR), but Zack refuses, telling Foley that he has no other options in civilian life, and Foley lets up on him. After spending the next weekend with Paula to meet her family, Zack nearly breaks the record time for negotiating the obstacle course, but another recruit Casey Seeger faces disqualification when she cannot negotiate the 12-foot-high wall (3.7 m). Zack abandons his attempt to break the course record in order to coach Casey over the wall, and she succeeds.
While attending dinner with Sid and his parents, Zack learns that Sid has a long-time girlfriend back home, planning to marry her after he receives his commission. Meanwhile, Lynette has been dropping hints to Sid that she may be pregnant with his child. After having a severe anxiety attack during a high-altitude simulation in a pressure chamber, Sid DORs without saying goodbye. He goes to Lynette’s house and proposes marriage, but she turns him down and berates him for DORing, telling him that she was never pregnant and giving him the engagement ring back. Crestfallen over this, Sid checks in a motel and commits suicide. Zack heads back to base with the intent to DOR himself, but Foley will not let him quit. Zack challenges Foley to an unofficial martial arts bout, in which the latter wins.
Zack shows up for graduation and is sworn into the Navy with his class. Following naval tradition, he receives his first salute from Foley in exchange for a US silver dollar. While tradition calls for the drill instructor to place the coin in his left shirt pocket, Foley places the coin in his right pocket, acknowledging that Zack was a special candidate. Zack thanks him for not giving up on him and tells him he would never have made it without the hardships Foley delivered. While leaving the base, he sees Foley initiating a set of new AOCs who are in the same position he was 13 weeks prior. Zack, now Ensign Mayo with orders to undertake flight training, seeks out Paula at the factory, declaring his love to her. He picks her up and walks out with her in his arms to the applause of her co-workers, including Lynette.