Retro Friday – Why I LOVE The Rocketeer

A few days ago, the Blu-ray version of The Rocketeer arrived in the mail. I’ve been waiting for this movie for so long and finally Disney released the BD on it’s 20th Anniversary. I’m dismayed that there are NO special features whatsoever which is just so lame, I mean to call it a ’20th Anniversary Special Edition’ with nothing but the trailer is just cruel!

But I suppose for die hard fans like me and Marc who are super excited for this release, I guess this will have to do. I can’t wait to re-watch it this weekend and re-live the excitement I had the first time I saw it on the big screen with my big brother. We both were fans of adventure movies like Indiana Jones and this was so much in the same vein. It’s mind-boggling to me why this movie failed to ignite at the box office, grossing only $46 million domestically. I blame that on marketing campaign as the reviews were generally favorable, even Peter Travers @ Rolling Stone Magazine called it “The Rocketeer is more than one of the best films of the summer; it’s the kind of movie magic that we don’t see much anymore,” he continued, “the kind that charms us, rather than bullying us, into suspending disbelief. (per Wiki)

In any case, now that it’s available on Blu-ray, I hope more people would see it. Here are some of the reasons why I LOVE this wildly underrated movie:

The storyline

Based on a comic book by Dave Stevens in the early 80s, the story is set in late 1930s L.A. Our hero The Rocketeer is Cliff Secord, a young stunt pilot who stumbles upon a top secret prototype jetpack that allows him to fly. It’s a classic ‘regular-guy-turned-unlikely-hero’ story we all know and love.

Billy Campbell with Alan Arkin

The awesome cast

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair… Dalton steals every scene he’s in and as he’s one of the major reasons I LOVE this movie. I’ve dedicated a whole post just on his character last year in his honor. When I saw this film in high school, I didn’t come out of the theater having a crush on the hero, but it’s Dalton’s Errol Flynn-personified Sinclair that left an indelible mark in me.

Dalton with mob boss Paul Sorvino

Now, Billy Campbell has the tall, dashing looks and certain likable quality to pull off the heroic protagonist, and he has a nice, sincere chemistry with Connelly. Yet he just lacks the palpable charisma against someone like Dalton so he ends up being upstaged by him and the other supporting cast here. Perhaps that could be the reason his career did not um skyrocket, pardon the pun, after this movie’s release.

Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes … Forget Leo DiCaprio in the Scorsese’s movie, I think O’Quinn makes for a much more believable and compelling aviation mogul. In fact when I watched The Aviator, I often thought how good O’Quinn was in the role. Just like Sorvino as the mob boss, O’Quinn looked like he literally stepped out of that era.

Jennifer Connelly as the Betty Page-ish love interest … again perfect casting here as Connelly could easily belong in this era with her raven hair and voluptuous figure. She is so skinny now because that is what Hollywood is into these days but her fuller look combined with her breathy voice is far sexier and I think most guys would agree. It’s not exactly an ‘acting’ role as she’s not required much but to look gorgeous, but I think she’s done more to the part than a lesser talent would’ve done otherwise. I love the line she delivered after smashing Neville in the head with a flower pot… “I’ve finally played a scene with Neville Sinclaire.” She nailed that line beautifully.


Alan Arkin as Peevey, Cliff’s technician BFF and Paul Sorvino as a posh mobster Eddie Valentine are both perfect in the roles. Arkin’s got this snarky yet lovable personality… I love it when he told Cliff that he looked like a hood ornament when he don the Rocketeer helmet!

The dynamic script and one liners

I think every single line out of Dalton’s mouth is a hoot, he practically got all the great one liners in this movie, and like Hans Gruber in Die Hard, he practically upstaged the hero in this one.  The script pokes fun at the cockiness of Hollywood matinee idols

Neville: If I go to the Feds, I’m taking you down with me. Who are they going to believe? A petty crook, or the No 3 box-office star in America?

Cliff Secord: [Cliff knocks Neville Sinclair down] Where’s your stuntman now, Sinclair?

Neville: [Neville Sinclair knocks Cliff down] I do my own stunts!

The fantastic retro look & feel

There’s something so charming about superhero movies in period setting. In fact, my hubby and I would love to see a Superman movie set in the 30s or Batman done an actual 30s pulp noir (like this Den of Geek article suggests) That’s part of what I love about X-Men: First Class and this one. Disney got the perfect guy, Joe Johnston, to direct this film. As those of you who’ve seen Captain America would agree, Johnston had a penchant for creating the perfect period set pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia. Everything from the costume, cars (including that awesome yellow Rolls Royce!), planes, the whole ambiance of this movie is so meticulously crafted that really takes you back to the bygone era.

I love the throwback to the Hollywood Golden era, mixing real life characters like Clark Gable and Howard Hughes in fictitious scenarios. Per Wikipedia, the characterization of Neville Sinclair was inspired by movie star Errol Flynn, or rather by the image of Flynn that had been popularized by Charles Higham’s unauthorized and fabricated biography of the actor, in which he asserted that Flynn was, among other things, a Nazi spy.

That set pieces of the dinner scene of Connelly and Dalton was constructed with painstaking detail as to evokes the movie stars’ glitz and glamor. Even the finale refers to the Hollywood sign in regards to how it lost the last four letters of its original name.

The rousing soundtrack by James Horner

This could be one of my all time favorite scores from award-winning composer! It just elevates the adventurous spirit of this movie and makes it soar. Every time I hear it I just want to stand up and cheer. It has the right amount of nostalgia, heroism and exhilarating fun!

Final Thoughts:

The Rocketeer is what you’d call a rip-roaring adventure movie with a terrific mix of action, romance, drama and intrigue, it’s the ultimate escapist entertainment that you can enjoy time and time again. Check out this trailer and tell me you don’t agree 🙂

So have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. And if you haven’t, well what are you waiting for? 😀

34 thoughts on “Retro Friday – Why I LOVE The Rocketeer

  1. Fantastic look at this still under-appreciated gem by Joe Johnston, Ruth. I recently screening the Blu-ray with my kids and were justly awed by it. You hit on the points that made this film so great. Why it was ignored for so long remains a head-scratcher. Well done. Thanks.

    1. Oooh I’m glad you showed this to your kids, Michael. I love how this movie appeals to both kids and adults. Now we just have to wait for all those special features to be released 🙂

      1. FYI, I learned this today from J.D. on Facebook about the lack of extras on ‘The Rocketeer’ BD:

        “The sad thing is that before he died, Dave Stevens compiled a bunch of extras in case Disney ever decided to do a special edition but they never contacted him.”

  2. You nailed it in every category Ruth! And I think one of the best parts that was criminally underutilized is definitely Terry O’Quinn as HH. I can’t wait to hear you rave how pretty it is on BD:) Btw, Horner’s work here is one of my top 5 scores of all time and that sure says a lot for this little film dontcha think?

    I too was sure was hoping for a lot of extras for a 20th anniversary edition…but I knew that since Disney lost a lot of money of this they would be hard pressed to fork over anything in this release. Such a shame. Also, thanks for the shoutout Ruth, have fun this weekend and…Rocketeer to the rescue!!!

    1. It does look pretty in BD, Marc! And yeah, I remember your FourScore post featuring Horner’s work here, definitely amongst the best scores there is out there. Again I think it’s a shame there isn’t anything Disney could include besides the trailer, I was really hoping to see some behind-the-scenes featurette or something. Ah well, at least the movies still entertains!

    1. What? Never heard of this one? Well I’m sure glad it’s in your radar now, I remember you liked Captain America so I reckon you’ll enjoy this one too!

  3. Ted S.

    It’s a fun movie, I remember seeing it in theater back in summer of 1991. I believe the reason it tanked was because it opened the same summer as Terminator 2 and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, those two films dominated the box office that summer. It’s been a long time but I kind of remember that Disney actually heavily promoted the film and Billy Campbell was touted to be the next big named star. But most people ignored the film, it’s too bad. I wonder had Disney opened it in the fall or winter of that year, it might’ve been a hit.

    I’m gonna have to pick buy the BD soon, haven’t seen it in years.

    1. Hi Ted, yeah I suppose the competition was fierce then but this one is quite different from T-2 and Robin Hood. Well I could see why Disney would want to make Campbell a big name star, too bad he didn’t really have much charisma. It proves how timing is crucial when it comes to big-budget releases.

      Hey I can lend you the BD next time we meet. I’ll DM you.

  4. Hi, Ruth and company:

    Great choice for a personal favorite!

    Being a fan of the old Republic serials of Commander Cody. The Rocketeer always struck me as a high end, big budgeted version with a much more glamorous cast.

    William Campbell rocks. Alan Arkin is better than serviceable. Timothy Dalton is superb in his take on Errol Flynn and Jennifer Connelly is a wonderful Damsel in Distress. All backed up by great cast of solid and up and coming talent.

    One of my favorites is the tall, hulking henchman who fights The Rocketeer on top of the Zeppellin in Rondo Hatton make-up.. A delightful little homage in a film full of them!

    1. Hello Jack, I’m so glad you like this one too! Yes totally agree with what you said about the cat. Ahah, yes that Jaws-like henchman is pretty amusing, but to me the scene stealer is definitely Dalton.

  5. Matt Stewart

    Ah I have heard so many good things about this but never taken the time to see it. Maybe I should give it a go now! Oh and you can ALWAYS expect a powerful and incredible score from James Horner, such a brilliant composer.

    Nice write-up Ruth!

  6. Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes? That’s more interesting now that I know who O’Quinn is.

    You’re totally right, Ruth; this is an underrated movie. No Batman-sized levels of angst or darkness, just a rollicking good time.

    1. O’Quinn is such a great character actor, I only realized it later that he’s the same guy in LOST. Absolutely right Rich, no angsty, brooding superhero in this one, and that is totally fine by me.

  7. I watched the blu-ray of this two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen in over 20 years and I really enjoyed watching it again. It was fun seeing Terry O’Quinn looking much younger than he did on Lost. Timothy Dalton makes a great bad-guy. He’s one of the reasons why I enjoy the campy Flash Gordon.

    1. Hi Max, yep Dalton is the only reason I love Flash Gordon, he stole scenes from the lead role in that one as well. He and Ornella Muti make for one gorgeous couple.

  8. I love my retro Ruth 🙂 I have not seen the film completely but from what I have seen it I have liked! Did not realize Joe Johnston had directed this as well. TOTALLY makes sense.

    1. You definitely will love this one Iba, the retro look is spectacular, it really takes you back to the 30s, that’s Johnston specialty it seems.

  9. Great review Ruth! I’ve never seen The Rocketeer- I only knew of its reputation as a gem that never really got the credit it deserved. This looks like the perfect movie to enjoy on a lazy afternoon with a big bucket of popcorn.

    1. Hi Adam, yes this one somehow get more love after its release but seeing it again after all these years, this movie still doesn’t disappoint.

  10. PrairieGirl

    I LOVE this movie. Since I’ve only seen parts of it on TV, I’m really looking forward to seeing it all in one piece from beginning to end one of these days.

  11. Yay! Comic book/superhero movies aren’t typically my thing but I’ve always loved this one and for all the reasons you expertly mention, particularly that retro look and feel. So wonderfully old fashioned. Now I want to watch this again. It’s been years.

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