Blue Thunder (1983)
Blue Thunder (1983)

Genre: Crime Drama and Action Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: May 13th, 1983 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Badham Actors: Roy Scheider, Daniel Stern, Malcolm McDowell, Warren Oates, Candy Clark, David Sheiner, Joe Santos, Paul Roebling, Ed Bernard




he hardware, weaponry, and surveillance systems depicted in the film are real and in use in the military today, insists the opening text, promising something cutting-edge and mind-blowing. However, the initial sequence is merely a cruise in a standard helicopter, though the aerial photography is convincing, even if it’s not particularly out-of-the-ordinary. A special detail, introduced by men from Washington bringing a highly classified aircraft prototype to a weapons evaluation center, soon spices things up – especially when the titular Blue Thunder anti-terrorist ship demonstrates its considerable firepower.

“Where the hell’s Murphy?” Veteran pilot Officer Francis “Frank” Murphy (Roy Scheider) is assigned to take youngster and observer Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) with him on a flight for the air support (astro) division of California’s Metropolitan Police Department to scope out late-night criminal activities. First up is a robbery, which they foil not only by using a spotlight, but also by hovering close enough to flatten an armed accomplice with gusts of air and dust. The chopper even absorbs some bullets, though this doesn’t rattle either of the pilots.

As the night goes on, the duo spot an abandoned vehicle, peep on a naked woman as she exercises, and then return to a road they previously surveilled to interrupt a rape in progress. It’s a rather eventful shift. But at its close, Murphy and Lymangood wind up in Captain Jack Braddock’s (Warren Oates) office for a stern censure – and a hint of corruption, as the rape incident seems fishy. The victim was an agent for a special task force on urban violence, working for the governor – a target for a coordinated, specific ambush, not a random, senseless crime. Further investigating is warranted, but the top brass shut it down. It also doesn’t help that Murphy suffers from PTSD from his time in Vietnam, has a short temper, and can’t sort out his relationship with girlfriend Kate (Candy Clark).

“Keep it under your hat.” After Murphy is privy to the advanced technology of Blue Thunder – and its indiscriminately deadly capabilities – he meets an old rival, Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), who immediately starts up with insults, brinkmanship, and sabotage. These reckless games reveal one of the minor themes of the picture, involving race relations in Los Angeles and the ways in which different groups of citizens react to a police presence. And then there’s the notion of excessive, invasive governmental surveillance – mischievous in the hands of goofballs but terrifying in the hands of the cunning.

There are plenty of conflicts brewing under the surface of military testing and cooperation with the local police force, but it takes too long to unearth the most stirring of the bunch. Conspiratorial endeavors, political intrigue, and assassination plots transform the film into a thriller, though one that feels sloppy just as it ramps up the excitement. After the main characters realize they’re caught up in something way over their heads, they exercise absolutely no caution, as if completely oblivious to the dangers of exposing government-sanctioned murder. This is disappointing, since they’re not duped by particularly clever operatives, but simply fail to behave with sensible prudence. And then, Frank sneaks back into the cockpit of Blue Thunder, as if this $5 million machine has no security, no locks, no special key, and no way to stop random officers from hijacking such a powerful weapon. Fortunately, the climax boasts some riveting helicopter combat, car chases, explosions, and ludicrous collateral damage – along with additional contrivances that make the government goons just as careless as the protagonists.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10