The Rocketeer

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

June 19, 1991

THE ROCKETEER has all the right ingredients for an aw schucks old timey circa-1938 super hero yarn. The hero, Cliff (Billy Campbell, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD), is a pilot for air shows – small time enough to be an underdog, but cool enough to strut around in his brown leather pilot’s jacket and clock a guy when necessary.

The setting is Los Angeles, so his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly, CREEPERS, LABYRINTH) is an aspiring ingenue, the villain is suave, swashbuckling “#3 box office star” Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, BRENDA STARR), and the experimental technology they’re fighting over was originated by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn, THE STEPFATHER). Also involved are mobsters (because Sinclair hired them), Nazis (because he is one), G-men (led by Ed Lauter, DEATH WISH 3, THE ARTIST) and a giant named Lothar (former Austrian basketball pro Tiny Ron Taylor [ROAD HOUSE, SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN] made up by Rick Baker to look like Rondo Hatton).

The random way Cliff becomes a jet-packing hero is pretty cool. During a test flight of the craft he and his mechanic/mentor Peevy (Alan Arkin, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) have been working on for years, he flies over a chase between the mobsters and the FBI. The mobsters think he’s with the feds and turn their tommy guns on him! Some kind of mixup causes the gangsters to get away without the jetpack they stole from Howard Hughes, but Cliff accidentally finds where they stashed it.

He doesn’t intend to become a super hero, he just wants to fuck around with this thing until claimed by its rightful owner. I mean, it’s a jet pack! He and Peevy test it, and build a helmet for it, and then he’s forced to use it first to rescue a friend from an air show accident, then fight back against the mobsters trying to kill him (a misunderstanding causes the feds to be after him too, so he can’t just go to them).

Second-time director Joe Johnston (HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS) recaptured some of this tone 20 years later in his other best movie, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. But this being right before the CGI revolution it’s kind of a last gasp for old school Industrial Light and Magic fun. The flying sequences remind me of the speeder bike chase in RETURN OF THE JEDI (which Johnston was the art director for) – fast, carefully planned out to be full of twists and turns, highs and lows. You look and you know it’s not real, but not the digital type of not real we have now. The sequence where he flies around farmland barely in control is particularly great. Right when you think he’s done he introduces the concept of sitting in the back of a pickup truck in neutral to act as its rocket engine.

Paul Sorvino, the year after GOODFELLAS (not to mention DICK TRACY), plays mob boss Eddie Valentine, Sinclair’s hired muscle. A great example of the movie’s sense of fun is that Cliff escapes Valentine’s wrath simply by telling him that Sinclair is a secret Nazi. With that trademark Sorvino sincerity, you see outrage flash across his eyes and he declares that “I may be a criminal lunatic, but I’m an American criminal lunatic!” And all the sudden it’s gangsters firing tommy guns at Nazi goons.

Sinclair’s plan for America involves an army of flying Nazi rocketeers, a concept we see depicted in animation. Since it’s done in the form of a Nazi propaganda film I kept thinking about the poor Disney animator who had to draw a swastika flag waving in the wind. Sorry, bud. THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER already had enough people on staff. (Animation director Mark Dindal later directed CATS DON’T DANCE, THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE and CHICKEN LITTLE, all Nazi-free I believe.)

In a certain sense this could be seen as a right wing fantasy: a super rich guy sort of saves the day, and the movie industry is infiltrated by actual Nazis. (I’m talking about old fashioned conservatives having this fantasy, obviously, not Trump’s Republican party who are still against Hollywood but warmly welcome all Nazis, white supremacists, unfrozen Confederates, etc.) More generally it’s about American dreams: a tight-knit group of nice people working together, their ingenuity, bravery and loyalty to each other creating something new and great and also winning one for Good over Evil. Cliff’s best friend is an old man, he’s loved and protected by the regulars at the local diner (including waitress Margo Martindale). They all just want him to do good at the airplane flying nationals. And Jenny is in the trenches in Hollywood, an extra trying to get a line, a popular archetype from the era their evoking all the way through to last year’s LA LA LAND.

Cliff is a local-boy-made-good super hero. He has the sleek equipment that nations fight over, but he has to patch a bullet hole with a piece of gum (which also works as a self-destruct button). He’s the super hero you can brag you grow up with and truly say he hasn’t changed a bit.

THE ROCKETEER seems widely appealing to me, but of course it’s an example of that can’t-hit subgenre that I love: the old timey adventure hero like THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM, JOHN CARTER or THE LONE RANGER. This one is more consistent than I remembered, putting it higher on that list for me.

Unlike those other ones, THE ROCKETEER was based on a modern comic book, started in the early ’80s by artist Dave Stevens, who had been a storyboard artist on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, as well as Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the 3D GODZILLA film that Steve Miner almost made. In fact Miner was the first to option The Rocketeer back in 1983, when it could’ve been his followup to FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D. William Dear (HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS) was later attached as director at one point (he ended up with a story credit). The screenplay was by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, who had done TRANCERS and ZONE TROOPERS.

Stevens first met Johnston in an ILM warehouse during the filming of STAR WARS. He went to apply for an advertising art job that he didn’t get, but got to stay and watch them work on the Death Star scenes. When it came time to do his own movie he was allowed to be on set throughout filming, provided voluminous reference materials to the designers and built a helmet to convince Michael Eisner not to change it from the comic book design (which might have killed the whole movie, honestly!)

They were signed on to do three films with Touchstone Pictures, but Jeffrey Katzenberg needed a live action hit and moved it over to Disney. This changed some of the content, particularly the wholesome Jenny replacing his original girlfriend, who had been based on pin-up queen Bettie Page.

According to this great interview with Stevens (which is the source of some of the facts mentioned in this review), it was softened in order to sell toys, a plan that did not come together. “When the film didn’t perform in the first couple of weeks like they’d anticipated it should, they lost faith in it,” Stevens said, “and just blew out all that merchandise to the Midwest. A lot of it was never even seen on the East or West coasts. It ended up in places like Pick ‘n’ Save and 99¢ stores.”

But to be fair, my research has found that some of the merchandise was not necessarily worthy of a price much higher than 99 cents. I’m not sure if this is an improvement over the turtle-shaped DICK TRACY figures or not.

That summer, the box office was dominated by TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. THE ROCKETEER was a financial disappointment, not even becoming the highest grossing flight-related movie of the season (that would be HOT SHOTS!). Some blamed the beautiful art-deco movie poster by John Alvin, but that seems like some bullshit to me. BATMAN did pretty good with just a bat symbol, and I doubt anybody said “Ah fuck, I would’ve gone to see that if I knew Bill Campbell was in it!”

But decades later THE ROCKETEER does have a modest following, and it’s definitely a movie that holds up well. It seems to me like people talk about it more now than they talk about ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, the movie everybody went to instead.

I’m thrilled that for some reason a year ago Disney was talking about doing a new one with plural Rocketeers. I have a hunch if they pull the trigger on that one I will be able to cover it in a future series of summer movies that didn’t catch on, but I also think it could be alot of fun.

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66 Responses to “The Rocketeer”

  1. There was a different, more traditional poster for this, probably for the VHS release, that I had on my wall when I was a kid. Not because I particularly liked THE ROCKETEER or anything. (It’s a decent movie, and I like it more now than I did then, when I thought it was a bit soft for my tastes. I’ve mellowed a lot since I was 13.) And it certainly wasn’t for Not Bruce Campbell. If the whole thing was just Jennifer Connelly filling the hell out of that white evening gown with the words “the rocketeer” in fine print at the bottom, I guarantee they’d have sold more tickets.

    I recently watched a period behind-the-scenes special about its making (Remember when they used to have those? It was what we had back before DVD special features.) and there really are some cool techniques on display. Most of the time, the Rocketeer himself is a stop-motion puppet, which I’m a sucker for. I’m not a CGI hater by any means, but it does not create the kind of tales of backstage ingenuity that analog effects did. You learn how they made THE ROCKETEER and it makes the movie better. The same can’t usually be said with more CGI-heavy movies. In fact, it’s often the opposite.

  2. It’s kinda funny that Disney tried not once but twice to have their own BATMAN. Always really liked this one as well. I was surprised to learn years after it had come out that it didn’t do so hot at the box office. Surprised because to my little kid eyes and mind it was really well liked plus people were still talking about it (positively) for years afterward. In fact I never met anyone didn’t care for it until a few years ago while at college (even then the guy begrudgingly admitted it that it may be better than he was snarkily saying it was).

  3. True story I only watched this because I couldn’t sneak into another showing of T2. I liked the art in the marketing but didn’t know anything about this and never sought it out.

    I had watched TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY went out to play some arcades then tried to sneak into the show my friends were attending later on but it was sold out. Not that that kept people away from the showing I saw. People were literally sitting on the steps because fuck a fire hazard Arnold is shooting a water robot to oblivion. But I still couldn’t budge my way in.

    Since nobody was guarding the theater showing THE ROCKETEER and there were barely any people there I walked in took a seat and the combination of Jennifer Connelly and seeing James Bond mustache twirling for a change kept my ass in that seat.

  4. Great little film that did not deserve the box office drubbing it got.

    And Dave Stevens – boy, what a genius. Truly, one of the all-time greats of the comics world.

    Gone way too soon and much missed.

  5. Man, I really wanna see this again, but it never runs on TV, the DVD is OOP even used expensive as fuck and streaming services don’t bother with it. Fucking German Disney Cinemagic airs that one movie, where Chevy Chase plays Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ stepfather almost every time I turn my TV on, but ROCKETEER? Never! (Also never Dick Tracy, for some reason.)

  6. Don’t get the DVD. It’s non-anamorphic. The anniversary Blu-ray seems to be okay but yeah, pretty pricey.

  7. I love this one. I didn’t know it bombed. I mean, I guess I knew it wasn’t a huge hit, if I had thought about it, but I would’ve thought it did okay. Everyone I knew at the time saw it and loved it.

    And the boys may have been more interested in Jenny in the white dress, but us girls liked The Rocketeer in his tight leather jacket just fine.

  8. I loved this movie as a kid, and like Geoffrey, I was completely shocked to find out years later that the movie was a flop. I mean, how could it have been a flop when there were tons of Rocketeer toys everywhere?

    I mentioned on another post that I have no clue what sells a film to the general public, and that goes for The Rocketeer as well. As a kid, the poster was immediately striking, but like Vern, I’ve read more than one postmortems that claimed the poster was one of the reasons why the film bombed.

  9. My favorite ‘The poster made the movie bomb’ scenario was for LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE. One of the producers said the poster had too much airbrushing on it and they (and I quote) “…airbrushed the boxoffice out it!”

  10. *out of it

  11. Looks like I’m not the only person who has no clue what it takes to sell a movie.

  12. grimgrinningchris

    May 31st, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Hands down my favorite of all the movies in this subgenre.
    Actually just a couple of weeks ago, I got my hands on a pre-release (it’s printed dated 1990 on the back, so this would have had to be used likely around the holidays that year) teaser lobby standee- just the classic art deco image and “THE ROCKETEER- COMING SUMMER 1991” at the bottom. One would think that even well-stored that after 27 years, it would have lost its lustre, but it is beautiful and the colors still POP.

    Vern, I am surprised that you didn’t mention Horner’s score. It’s phenomenal. And still used to this day in trailers and as ambient (or whatever you wanna call it) piped into the Disney parks- mostly EPCOT and DHS, but I’ve heard they have it on some of the loops in Tomorrowland at Disneyland too.

  13. I love 80’s & 90’s Jennifer Connelly.

  14. grimgrinningchris

    May 31st, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    And Billy Campbell hasn’t had a terribly exciting career, but he was note-perfect in/for this role.

  15. This was a good one, and fairly true to Stevens’ work. Fast-moving, energetic, just a whole mess o’ fun.

    I’ve read a few of The Mouse’s ideas for a new flick and they sound, well…awful. And without participation from the late, great Dave Stevens, I think it would be a project lacking any sort of creative soul.

  16. To chime in on Prince of Thieves; this was HUGE in the UK, despite it taking hilarious geographical liberties and Costner’s accent. I still recall gawking in awe at the tie-in Tree-top Fortress action set.

    But what really made the film was Rickman’s bastard Sheriff of Nottingham. Apparently Costner, concerned he was getting acted off the screen by the Englishman, insisted on a bunch of cuts to a variety of key Rickman scenes. I heartily suggest picking up the Extended/Directors Cut version where they’ve been restored. It’s also a touch more violent if memory serves.

    Back on topic – <3 Jennifer Connelly

  17. Didn’t the head of the UK ratings board once say: “The only regret I have was giving PRINCE OF THIEVES such a low rating”? But yeah, Rickman’s mega acting makes that movie still re-watchable.

  18. Guys, Connelly was born in 1970, so please let the love before, let’s say, 1986 be brotherly.

  19. Wasn’t that Tree-top Fortress just the Ewok play-set repurposed?

    Man that ROBIN HOOD PRINC OF THIEVES movie was big. I think it’s entered the pantheon of movies that was huge but is both forgotten and people are embarrassed they liked it though. ROCKETEER though, is forever.

  20. I think Dean Paul Martin (actor/athelete/singer/jet pilot) would have been the perfect Cliff Secord if the film had been made in 1986 as he unfortunately died in a plane crash in 1987. Check out his comedic skills in Misfits of Science (“Not All Great Minds Think Alike” – A Billy Hayes AMV on YouTube).

  21. Like grimgrinningchris I’m in love with James Horners ROCKETEER score. It’s one of the first CDs I’ve bought as a teenager and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of music – 25 years later.

    Another spectacular score from this era leads to a potential SUMMER FLINGS candidate – John Debneys CUTTHROAT ISLAND.

  22. Cutthroat Island was a holiday release but definitely deserves some sort of retrospective.

    Is it too soon to nominate this summer’s movies? Things didn’t go so well for a Detective John Baywatch. What happened?

  23. What happened with BAYWATCH, was obviously that as much fun as 21 JUMP STREET was, people would prefer to see “their” TV shows, even (or especially) the cheesy and dated ones, as “real” versions on the big screen. Nostalgia is all about “Man, that shit was so cool” and not about “Damn, Hollywood is laughing at me for liking this!”

  24. All I know is that the eventual MAGNUM P.I. motion picture better not bet self referential crap. Can’t think of anybody with a worthy enough mustache to do the role any justice though.

  25. This obsession with a THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE approach to TV adaptations also makes me appreciate Joe Carnahan’s THE A-TEAM even more for being as earnest as it was.

  26. I don’t think most people who went to see 21 JUMP STREET even remembered that the show existed. They just thought it looked funny, and it had recent It Hunk Channing Tatum in it to draw in the casuals. It might as well have been an original property for all the brand awareness it inspired in its intended audience. BAYWATCH, however, is remembered by everyone and enjoyed by none. It was watched back in the day because it was on and because it had cleavage in it. That’s it. Nobody has any fondness for the property now. It’s like making a movie out of the 1983 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. It had a dirty job to do and it did it, but there’s no reason to resurrect it now when there are millions of other things that do the same thing better and more efficiently.

    The funny thing is, I saw like two episodes of BAYWATCH in my life (They were both terrible, and I think I was on acid for one of them) and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie one of these days. The Rock is a perfect fit for this type of ludicrous action-comedy vehicle, and Zac Efron is funny as this kind of vain meathead character. I bet it’s amusing. But I won’t pay to see it in the theater, and if I won’t, nobody will.

  27. Also they probably should’ve made a BAYWATCH NIGHTS movie instead. Would’ve given an excuse to include elaborate effects and supernatural stuff that the kiddies love now a days.

  28. With BAYWATCH bombing and POWER RANGERS greatly under-performing it does not seem mining ’90s properties for big budget movies is paying off. Good.

    I just think that it’s a case of no one ever ‘really/truly’ liked BAYWATCH so even doing a silly parody/comedy version with Dwayne Johnson was not enough to make people care. Also it looked like a 21 JUMP STREET clone and an unfunny one at that so that’s extra ‘who gives a shit?’ Like RBatty I’m not good at telling what the populous wants so I may be way off base there. I was sure that PIRATE5 would have a bad opening because I figured no one really cared anymore but it seemed to do pretty decent. Talking in the KING ARTHUR thread, a lot of us dread VALERINE is going to be the big bomb of the year, I’m hoping its good and Besson managed to get good performances out of it’s leads. I can’t imagine MUMMY: IMPOSSIBLE doing too great either. Seems Universal is dead-set on their stupid Dark Universe being a thing though so even if it bombs it seems they will STILL go ahead and make at least one of the other action monster movie remakes.

    Back to ROCKETEER: I too am skeptical of them doing rebootquielmakewhatevertheyarecallednow. I think we’re safe though because I’m also skeptical of it ever happening. Disney has Marvel now so why would they bother with an ‘off-brand’ superhero?

  29. Just go back to the 80s. I’m telling you guys: MAGNUM P.I. I’m sure Nick Offerman needs something to do.

  30. Broddie: Haha, I was telling my brother and others that if they did a BAYWATCH NIGHTS movie I would totally be interested in it and probably go see it. That thing was nuts and has the advantage of the whole ‘Why/how the hell was this thing even made?’ going for it.

  31. Let’s leave MAGNUM P.I. and COLUMBO pure, shall we?

  32. Sorry to tell you guys, but according to an interview with Tom Selleck from not too long ago, he keeps getting sent MAGNUM scripts years in hopes that he will say yes to a gratuitous cameo and each one is just a sometimes more, sometimes less R-rated string of silly mustache and Hawaii shirt jokes.

    I would love to see a COLUMBO movie done by the Coen Bros, btw.

  33. geoff my cousin was obsessed with BAYWATCH. While I always wondered WTF he ever saw in the show outside of the obvious. Once BAYWATCH NIGHTS hit though we found some common ground. A supernatural private dick show starring The Hoff? who would want to miss that. Sometimes I think it was a hallucination brought on by a really bad fever but then I go: “No wait that actually did happen…..and it was alright” sure it was no THUNDER IN PARADISE but it had it’s moments. Far more engrossing than BAYWATCH proper could ever hope to be.

    CJ – I always viewed Tom as my distant white uncle and now I love him even more. Right on Selleck if it’s not set in the 80s WITHOUT a tongue in it’s cheek it’s not worth doing.

    Didn’t Johnny Depp want to do a KOLCHAK movie at some point? if anything ever asked for him and Burton to reteam it’s probably that. I still maintain that had they not approached DARK SHADOWS like JUMP STREET or the BRADY movies and just embraced the gothic melodrama and soapy tropes it really could’ve been a contender.

  34. They better not mess with FRAGGLE ROCK…

  35. Wasn’t HBO of all networks considering bringing back the Fraggles?

    Still trips me out that HBO of all networks invested so much in SESAME STREET too. Someone over there really loves them some Muppets.

  36. HBO? Will it be FRAGGLE FUCK?

  37. FRAGGLE ROCK was always on HBO. They coproduced and aired its original run.

  38. Well, we never had HBO thirty years back, so obviously it never ired on HBO here.

  39. You’re right Mr. M

    I used to watch it on TNT growing up but realized those were the reruns. The year when it’s original run ended (the always awesome 1987) is when I really started watching TV regularly and actually remembering things.

  40. Oh come on, don’t lump DARK SHADOWS in with those “Ha ha, the original show is old, so our movie version is about dick jokes” “parodies”. Yeah, DS was definitely more tongue in cheek than the original was (From what I’ve heard. NEver saw it.), but it was more like a serious movie, that wasn’t afraid of pointing out its own silliness from time to time, in a respectful “But that’s why we love it” way.

    It also should be said that the BRADY BUNCH movie stands out, because it actually WAS a parody and not just an unrelated comedy, that has the same name as a classic TV show. And it was a great parody! How the Bradys said their dialogue with pauses for the laugh track (which in the movie never came) is maybe one of my favourite jokes ever!

  41. my dad and i really bonded over this one, he loved it cause it was a WHOLESOME action adventure, i loved it cause it was A DAMN JETPACK DUDE FLYING AROUND!!!

  42. I really just wanted to say Detective John Baywatch, but still hope Vern brings his perspective to it. I know his stance on reviewing comedies but the buddy action emphasis should qualify this one (not to mention woefully misguided assumptions about what constitutes summer excitement).

  43. Hooray! I really like this movie. I like the feel. I’m not usually too into the superhero thing in general, but I like the Indiana Jones-esque setting so much, plus the old-timey Hollywood B-story is pretty fun for a movie villain.

    Also happy to see this coincidentally follow the DICK TRACY review- Lothar looks like he wandered into THE ROCKETEER from that movie.

  44. CJ I love those BRADY movies. I think A VERY BRADY SEQUEL is up there with ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES & GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH when it comes to some of the greatest underrated sequels. Funny how they were all comedies too. Comedy sequels are usually the worse.

  45. “Oh my god! I’m tripping with the Bradys!”

  46. Franchise Fred, thanks for the correction. I forgot that CUTTHROAT ISLAND was a holiday release in the United States because I’ve sometimes stumble over my German cinema ticket from June ’96, conserved in the case of the score CD.

    Today these blockbusters are released at the same day or within a few weeks around the globe. It’s easy to forget that I often had to wait months until I could see a American movie in Germany.

  47. I’d pay to see a Michael Mann-produced Baywatch Nights remake.

  48. grimgrinningchris

    June 2nd, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Regardless of how bad the reviews are, there are three things that will get me to watch BAYWATCH… The Rock, Zac Efron and Daddario… Mmmmm… Daddario.

  49. grimgrinningchris

    June 2nd, 2017 at 5:53 am

    The Rocke-who???

  50. I think the simplest explanation for why this tanked is summed up in Roger Ebert’s review at the time: “The hero of “The Rocketeer” is being marketed as a new action hero along the lines of Indiana Jones, but the difference between this movie and the Indy series is fundamental: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” took the Saturday afternoon serials of the late 1930s and 1940s as an inspiration, while “The Rocketeer” takes them as a model. Indy kidded them, “The Rocketeer” copies them. The movie lacks the wit and self-mocking irony of the Indiana Jones movies, and instead seems like a throwback to the simple-minded, clean-cut sensibility of a less complicated time. That doesn’t mean “The Rocketeer” is not entertaining. But adjustments are necessary to enjoy it; you have to dial down, to return to an age of innocence when an eccentric inventor and a clear-eyed hero could take on the bad guys with a new gizmo they’d dreamed up overnight.”

    Also worth looking up at Ebert’s still-existing website: this 25th anniversary retrospective from last year.

    Before the First Avenger: "The Rocketeer" 25 Years Later | Balder and Dash | Roger Ebert

    A celebration of Disney's "The Rocketeer" on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.

  51. THE ROCKETEER is one of the few films I have specific memories of watching with my dad, when I was like 7 (other highlights: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dick Tracy (as it happens), and Messenger of Death, starring Charles Bronson).

    Coincidentally I just watched it for the first time in years about a month ago, and adored it still. If anything it felt like it had got better. I loved all the things I loved as a kid (the costumes and style, the performances, the flying scenes), but now found things I wouldn’t have noticed then, like the supporting cast (including Sorvino, but I was also really happy to see Jon Polito; also Max Grodenchik off of the Star Trek). And I really liked the fact that [SPOILERS FOR A 25 YEAR OLD MOVIE] he defeats the bad guy with smarts, instead of just punching him in the face. Though he does a bit of that too.

  52. As for that alleged sequel, its like Disney’s never-ending boner apparently for TRON 3 (or getting rebooted for Jared Leto) that baffles me on a rational business level, but hey I’m glad somebody that’s got a boner for that sort of thing will get served by Disney having no qualms blowing their money.

    geoffreyjar – Since you brought up Marvel, I’ve got a better idea: retroactively put this movie in the MCU’s continuity, Have Howard Stark or Peggy Carter or whoever show up in that WW2-era sequel that Disney wants to do or whatever. OK I doubt that would do better business, but at least you would get the Internet to care (or pretend to care anyway) more about that sequel.

    I guess it says something nice that ROCKETEER went from being that embarrassing flop for Disney to Marvel effectively rehashing it tonally (and getting the same director) to launch Captain America and audiences/critics 20 years later seemed cool with that, and now you had people compare the big budget spandex movie out this weekend to ROCKETEER (well more Captain America TFA, but that’s to be understood since that came out more recently and hey another battle in the Marvel/DC pissing war is always click gold.)

  53. Sabalos – I like how the hero calls James Bond #4 a dandy/wuss and Dalton is insulted, and beats him up. “I do my own stunts!”

    one weak link in the movie for me was Connelly. If that whole cast was in retro throwback game and being scenery-chewing or bland/earnest or whatever, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Maybe she was too young? (Or maybe its just me because I’ve never really been a fan of her work?)

  54. That Roger Ebert basically said “Rocketeer took itself too seriously, while INDIANA JONES didn’t”, is a bit weird. The main reason why I never loved RAIDERS as much as the rest of the world, was how serious it took itself. Oddly enough, TEMPLE and CRUSADE where criticized for taking themself less serious and they all came out before ROCKETEER.

    And Max Grodenchik is in it? I forgot about that. Tiny Ron was after all the servant of the Grand Nagus and shared more than one scene with Grodenchick on DS9 through its 7 year run.

  55. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I’ve always been kind of so-so on this one, in general, and more specifically preferring DICK TRACY, THE SHADOW and THE PHANTOM (and BATMAN for that matter), none of which have endured as much of a cult following. It always struck me as a little… bland? As tired as I get of living in a Marveltopia sometimes, I have to admit that I felt THE FIRST AVENGER was pretty much Johnson pulling off what this one attempted.

    That said, I do prefer it to PRINCE OF THIEVES (which looked at a not dissimilar proposition through the other end of the telescope), although I can concur that it was indeed huge in the UK, and still pretty popular here now whereas THE ROCKETEER has faded into obscurity. It is also correct that James Ferman regretted allowing it in our cinemas with a PG (much stricter than a US PG, even then) with a few, relatively minor cuts. It drew a number of complaints from parents, leading to a much more extensively cut film being released on UK VHS, and later DVD. It has more recently been released uncut here, upgrade to 12+

    The most interesting thing to me about PRINCE OF THIEVES is that in 1991 a lot of critics saw it as an overly glum, gloomy, cynical and violent reinvention of the myth, but by 2010 the Scott/Crowe ROBIN HOOD came along with more than a hint of “this isn’t that campy Costner stuff”

  56. I love this movie, was really bummed out when I learned it flopped.

  57. Yeah I loved this one as a kid but on a recent rewatch I had to agree with some of the criticisms about it being a little too slow and talky and devoid of action. I mean, there’s that entire draggy middle section, and The Rocketeer only rocketeers like, one and a half times in the entire movie, but the movie gets a pass on charm and style and an iconic score helps (along with Willow, one of the times when James Horner out-John Williams’ed John Williams). If they ever actually do the sequel, they’ll obviously have to amp up the action at the cost of charm, and then people will just end up thinking of it as the poor man’s Iron Man minus the cool gadgets, so they should just kinda leave it alone.

    Besides, the best thing about the movie that can’t be recreated is Dalton’s awesome performance as a thinly disguised Errol Flynn. This movie made me look up his wikipedia and page and hoo-boy, Flynn’s crazy life is ripe for a proper biopic.

    Also of note: I remember Jennifer Connolly’s side profile being a bit more uh, eye-popping on the poster for this, but like most people my age, I’m probably conflating that with the legendary poster for Career Opportunities. I’m sure Vern will never get around to reviewing that one, but like I’ve said many a time, that may have been the first movie I saw as a kid where it was clear something was wrong with production and you could see the seams showing from rewrites and reshoots. Which is a shame since there’s an absolutely perfect 50 or so minutes sandwiched in those 80 minutes.

  58. Jennifer Connolly, man, when I saw THE HOT SPOT it was almost like a religious experience.

  59. Literally everyone I know who’s ever seen this has said its a real gem, so I’m slightly surprised to see it considered a flop. I guess I hadn’t thought of it as a major event movie.

  60. neal: I’m sure they made an Errol Flynn biopic starring Kevin Klinenot too long ago. But it only seems to cover his last few days and I’ve never watched it, so I don’t know if it’s satisfying.

  61. “In like Flynn” takes on a whole new, icky meaning when you know where it came from.

  62. The Rock a Who?

  63. Good news for those who like Billy Campbell, The Killing, and running jokes, because Hulu is now playing the Canadian cop show “Cardinal” starring Billy Campbell as….uh…Detective John Cardinal. It’s literally The Killing with Campbell playing the cop instead of the suspect this time, except it’s even MORE dark, slow, and humorless. If that’s your thing you may enjoy it – I’m about halfway through and it’s testing my patience but I’m hoping it has a good resolution. Campbell is pretty great in it though, which is funny because a hard-boiled, grizzled cop is a complete 180 from The Rocketeer but he’s equally good as both.

  64. I was watching that other show with Billy Campbell. The SyFy one that I quit halfway through season 2. What happened to that show anyway? It just dissappeared and I never even heard if it was cancelled.

  65. We just completed “The Rocketeer Minute Podcast,” recounting this great Disney film at the rate of one minute of screen time per episode. After our first episode premiered, I got a Tweet from The Rocketeer himself, Billy Campbell, saying “love your show – can I be on as a guest?” We wound up having Mr. Campbell for two dozen appearances, talking about behind-the-scenes stuff and his own feelings about the movie, now a quarter-century on.

    The show has become the missing commentary track for the film, and we’ve had everyone from director Joe Johnston’s ex-wife (the “Oh my Prince!” woman from The Laughing Bandit movie-within-the-movie) to some of the stunt pilots who worked on the airshow scenes. Quite a great experience, and it’s available now for your binge-listening pleasure here.

  66. I finally had a chance to rewatch it for the first time in 25 years and yeah, it still holds up. But it has one element that annoys me, whenever Hollywood shoots scenes in foreign languages (I just assume they do that to other languages too, not just German): The scenes where the Nazis speak German, are a mix of 100% accurate and flawless lines, obviously phonetic linereading and weird gibberish.

    They obviously had some German actors in it. The guy on the radio, when Jennifer Connelly tried to get help, for example. But then the guy with the glasses on the zeppelin had only a barely audible accent, yet said a few lines that made me pause the movie for a few seconds to figure out what the hell he just said.

    For example at one point he says: “Du hast deine Bestellungen!”, which means “You have your orders”, but not “orders” as in “I order you to do it”, but as in “I order a pizza” (If this makes any sense to you). It’s always a headscratcher to me, when something like that happens. As if none of the native speakers pointed it out and offered a correction. But maybe they did and where either fired or because of guild regulations not allowed to change it.

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