The Heartland Toy Company is acquired (and renamed Heartland Playsystems) by the multinational conglomerate GloboTech Industries, which is expanding from manufacturing high-quality military hardware. GloboTech CEO, Gil Mars, pays a visit to Heartland to meet with Larry Benson and Irwin Wayfair concerning their newest projects, which involve the creation of intelligent, interactive toys. Irwin introduces the Gorgonites, peaceful, kind-hearted creatures built for educational purposes, while Larry introduces the Commando Elite, a group of evil gung-ho super-soldiers. Gil supports Larry's concept more, but complains when he observes a promotional advert for the toys, complaining that the toys cannot actually do what they can do in the advert (e.g. punch a hole through a box), so he tasks Irwin and Larry to develop actual live-action toys capable of 'playing back'. Although originally not interested in the Gorgonites, he allows them to be incorporated into the line of toys as the Commando Elite's enemies/victims. In order to get the money rolling, Mars also orders drastic shortcuts in the production time, which eliminates testing periods for product safety. That night, Larry searches through GloboTech's hardware online database and decides to use an intelligent AI munitions computer chip to power the toys, the X-1000, which are put on production. Unfortunately, as it later turns out, these chips tend to enhance their basic programming, making them capable of evolving but also prone to over-dedication in their basic pusuits.
A collection of the toys are distributed to an old toy store owned by the Abernathy family, their son Alan signing off for the toys. He and a delivery truck driver Joe investigate the toys, introducing the Gorgonites' leader Archer (voiced by Frank Langella), and the Commando Elite's leader Chip Hazard (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones). Alan's next door neighbour's daughter, Christie Fimple, visits the store with her younger brother, shopping for a birthday present for him. Alan expresses interest in her, but she reveals that she is dating another boy. That night, Alan discovers Archer has somehow snuck into his rucksack and quickly realises he is more than an interactive toy but a sentient individual, who is following his toy programming and trying to learn. The Commando Elite awaken, and seek to destroy the Gorgonites, seemingly destroying the ones present in the toy store. Discovering Archer is still alive, Chip Hazard and his squad manage to pursue Alan to his home and attempt to kill him and Archer. Alan is attacked by the Commando Elite member Nick Nitro, who he mortally wounds using a rubbish dispenser. The Commando Elite retreat to the Fimples' garage, where Nick dies in Hazard's arms.
Alan and Archer search the toy store for the Gorgonites, eventually finding them in the dumpster outside. Taking them back to his house, Alan learns the group seek their homeland called Gorgon, and mistake Yosemite National Park for their land. The Commando Elite, aware of Alan's interest in Christie, invade the Fimples' house. They drug Christie's parents, place her brother Timmy in a closet, turn Christie's collection of Gwendy dolls into mercenaries, and finally capture Christie herself. They send a video message to Alan, telling him to surrender the Gorgonites or Christie will die. Alan and Archer sneak into the Fimples' house to save Christie, and are then pursued down the street by the Commando Elite who use veavily armed improvised vehicles, but they are all destroyed during the chase - except Hazard, who locates a truck full of Commando toys (which have been recalled) driven by Joe.
At Alan's house, Irwin and Larry seek out Alan after monitoring a phone call from him regarding the toys and finding out the potential danger from the chips Larry had ordered. Hazard attacks the house with his new army, and a war breaks out between the Commando Elite and the humans inside. During the battle, the humans realise they can fry the toys' chips with an EMP blast. Alan heads out to destroy a nearby powerline, which would create such a pulse; Christie, Irwin and Larry head to the Fimples' house to turn all the electronic items inside to reinforce the pulse. The Gorgonites, who have been hiding for most of the film, decide to fight back against the Commando Elite. Hazard confronts Alan on top of the powerline pole, briefly battling and defeating Archer. Alan seizes Hazard and jams him into the powerline, triggering an EMP blast which kills all of the Commando Elite and Gwendy toys, including Hazard.
The next day, while the police and firefighters are still mopping up the site, Gil Mars arrives in his helicopter. He quickly proceeds to bribe Joe, the Fimples, and the Abernathys into silence by handing them extremely large checks. He then orders Larry and Irwin to get in touch with Globotech's military division: the Commando Elite might be unsuitable as toys, but they're obviously well-suited for actual combat. Alan and Christie share a kiss. Alan then discovers that the Gorgonites survived the EMP blast, by hiding underneath a, large, satellite dish, that the Fimples bought, and since their mind is set on finding Gorgon, he accompanies them into Yosemite National Park and sends them out in a large toy boat from his father's store.
- Alan Abernathy - The 15-year-old protagonist of the movie has been expelled from two schools for playing pranks, though the rumors around his new school say ten. His parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio, hoping to start over. He befriends the Gorgonites and becomes their primary protector.
- Christy Fimple - A girl whom Alan has a crush on and who happens to be his next-door neighbor. She was captured by the Commando Elite, but after Alan rescues her, she starts a relationship with him.
- Stuart Abernathy - Alan's father, a short-tempered, stressed out individual, who owns a traditional toy store that sells no electronic toys or violent action figures (and therefore gets very little business). It is strongly hinted that his father's anxiety are the fault of Alan's antics and expulsion.
- Phil Fimple - Christy's father and the Abernathys' technophilic, somewhat annoying neighbor.
- Timmy Fimple - Christy's younger brother. Like many boys his age, he is into "anything that maims, kills, or destroys".
- Gil Mars - Globotech's ultra-wealthy CEO, who cares about very little other than his company's profit margin.
The Commando Elite are the villains. This team is the enemy of the Gorgonites and those who ally with them.
- Chip Hazard - The leader of the Commando Elite.
- Link Static - The communications expert.
- Brick Bazooka - The muscular artillery expert.
- Kip Killigan - The cigar-chomping covert operations expert.
- Butch Meathook - The heavyset African American sniper.
- Nick Nitro - The demolitions expert.
- Rex Riley - Ironworker expert.
The Gorgonites are the heroes. This team of fantasy creatures are programmed to search for the peaceful land of Gorgon. Led by Archer, the Gorgonites originally have only two options when dealing with the Commando Elite - hide or die - that are hardcoded into their original programming.
- Archer - The leader of the Gorgonites. As his name suggests, Archer is armed with a crossbow attached to his left arm. Archer is the bravest of the Gorgonites.
- Ocula - A one-eyed tripedal creature who is very shy. He can only speak in screeches unlike the others, and does not seem adverse to put his only eye in jeopardy.
- Punch-It & Scratch-It - They are constant companions. Punch-It resembles a humanoid Brontotherium, while Scratch-It looks like an orange legless creature who resembles a frog and walks on her hands. She sits on Punch-It when traveling.
- Insaniac - A hyperactive purple creature. He spins about like the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes and speaks very quickly. His weapon is a Flail.
- Slamfist - A hunchback, he is Archer's best friend. His left hand is replaced by large boulder-like fist. He is intellectually slow, but his fist is a powerful and useful weapon.
- Freakenstein - Originally known as only Troglokhan, Freakenstein is a Frankenstein's monster-like creature. He was disassembled by the Commandos when they wreaked havoc in the toy store and rebuilt by the Gorgonites, with a radio as part of the body.
- Gregory Smith - Alan Abernathy
- Kirsten Dunst - Christy Fimple
- Jay Mohr - Larry Benson
- David Cross - Irwin Wayfair
- Phil Hartman - Phil Fimple
- Kevin Dunn - Stuart Abernathy
- Ann Magnuson - Irene Abernathy
- Wendy Schaal - Marion Fimple
- Jacob Smith - Timmy Fimple
- Dick Miller - Joe
- Robert Picardo - Ralph
- Denis Leary - Gil Mars
- Joseph Urbanski - Simon Edwards
- Tommy Lee Jones - Chip Hazard
- Frank Langella - Archer
- Ernest Borgnine - Kip Killigan
- Sarah Michelle Gellar - Gwendy Dolls
- Christina Ricci - Gwendy Dolls
- Jim Brown - Butch Meathook
- Bruce Dern - Link Static
- George Kennedy - Brick Bazooka
- Clint Walker - Nick Nitro
- Christopher Guest - Slamfist, Scratch-It
- Michael McKean - Insaniac, Freakenstein
- Harry Shearer - Punch-It
- Jim Cummings - Ocula (uncredited)
- Rush - "Tom Sawyer" (DJ Z-Trip remix)
- Led Zeppelin - "Communication Breakdown"
- Pat Benatar - "Love Is a Battlefield" (Kay Gee remix)
- Gary Glitter - "Rock and Roll (Part 2)"
- Queen - "Another One Bites the Dust" (Small Soldiers remix)
- Cheap Trick - "Surrender"
- The Cult - "Love Removal Machine"
- Billy Squier - "The Stroke" (Dallas Austin remix)
- Edwin Starr - "War" (Bone Thugs-n-Harmony remix)
A video game titled simply "Small Soldiers" was released in 1998 for the Playstaion game console. Although the game is of the same name, it is based off of another story.
The film got mixed reviews, scoring a 48% on Rotten Tomaotes.
- This was Phil Hartman's final live action film performance. The film was posthumously released less than two months after his murder.
- The film included a short single blooper of Phil after the credits, followed by the words "For Phil".
- Due to the gruesome nature of Hartman's death, several scenes of toys aiming their guns at his character were cut from the release. A scene in which he said, "I think I'm having an aneurysm" was also cut.
- At one point, Chip Hazard addresses his men and readies them for the battle against the Gorgonites. It is extremely similar to the speech in Patton wherein General George S. Patton gives a speech urging his men to fight the Germans. The music is identical and, like Patton, Chip speaks in front of a Jigsaw-puzzle American flag. Chip's speech combines the Patton speech with other military or patriotic phrases in such a way as to appear nonsensical and thus further their characteristic of being militaristic and even jingoistic caricatures of military institutions, as seen below:
|“||Soldiers, no poor sap ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by being all that he can be. Damn the torpedoes, or give me death! Eternal vigilance is the price of duty. And, to the victors go the spoils. So remember: you are the best of the best of the few and the proud. So ask not what your country can do for you, only regret that you have but one life to live! The war against the Gorgonites will be won! Commando Elite, let the first shot be fired! Search out the Gorgonites and frag 'em all!||”|
- The voices of the Commando Elite, except for Chip Hazard and Link Static, are provided by the actors of The Dirty Dozen.
- The voices of the Gorgonites, except for Archer and Ocula, are played by the actors of This Is Spinal Tap.
- During the battle, when Slamfist is swinging on the bell, he is chanting "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" as a parody of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".
- During the finale, there is a direct reference to Apocalypse Now, with Chip Hazard flying into the house on a toy helicopter, while the Ride of the Valkyries plays. Chip also says "I love the smell of polyurethane in the morning!".
- The film is one of the few films to feature music by Led Zeppelin ("Communication Breakdown"), a band who are known to rarely license their music for use in films. The scene in which the song is used takes place in a bedroom covered by Led Zeppelin posters.
- When the Commando Elite are charging through the break in the fence. they are chanting "I don't know what I've been told, but Gorgonite blood runs mighty cold". This is a reference to Full Metal Jacket, wherein the troops are chanting "I don't know what I've been told, but Eskimo pussy is mighty cold".
- A Powerman 5000 poster can be seen above the stair in Alan's bedroom.
- When Alan is trying to escape in order to blow the transformer, he is shot at with a nailgun by Butch Meathook and Kip Killigan with Nick Nitro exclaiming at the sametime "Hey kid, don't you like nine inch nails?!".
- Butch says "All quiet on the Western Front...yard", which parodies the title of the war movie All Quiet on the Western Front.
- After Larry discovers the site of the X-1000 on the internet, he says "Hello, Mr. Chips": a reference to Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
- Before Nick dies, he says "It's only a flesh wound", a reference to the Black Knight character of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- During the scene when Alan rescues Christy from the Gwendy dolls, Christy grabs a baton and proceeds to viciously destroy the remaining Gwendys. One of the dolls shouts, "It's a baton death march!
- Also during the scene where Nick Nitro dies, Chip Hazard says, "His battery has run out, but his memory will keep going and going and going." A reference to Energizer Batteries.
- When Brick Bazooka sees the dog, when hanging off Alan's bike, its status is "Hungay", instead of "Hungry".