Film / Battlefield Earth

"When you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!"

The film version of L. Ron Hubbard's Science Fiction novel Battlefield Earth was released in America on May 12, 2000, directed by Roger Christian and starring John Travolta as Psychlo leader Terl (he originally wanted to play the part of the book's hero, Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler, but that role eventually went to Barry Pepper because Travolta was too old by then). Travolta, a self-proclaimed Hubbard fan (and Scientologist), wanted to do the film for a long time, but had trouble securing money for it because of studios' apprehension to bankroll the film due to its connections with the real life Church of Happyology. He later poured most of his own money into the project and signed on as a co-producer, and the rest... well, is history.

After MGM and Fox Studios turned down offers to distribute the film, it was eventually picked up by Franchise Pictures, a company known for helping stars rescue their troubled pet projects. To this day, it has yet to gross $30M — its budget was $44M.

The film covers the first half of the doorstopper book: The Psychlos come to Earth, beat the humans in about nine minutes, and establish an outpost here. They are here for gold—Goooooooooooooooooooooold!—the rarest and most valuable ore in the universe, it seems. Jonnie leads a band of slaves to rise up against their masters. Travolta is still intent on having the second half of the book produced.

Has the dubious honor of winning nine Razzies — a record that stood until 2012's Jack and Jill, which won one more — including the Worst Movie of 2000, the Worst Drama of the award's first 25 years, and Worst Movie of the Decade, 2000-2009.

While you were still learning how to SPELL YOUR NAME, Battlefield Earth was being trained to apply these tropes!

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: While the original novel isn't exactly regarded as a masterpiece of plotting, the film still introduces various plot holes and problems of its own. Perhaps the most glaring is that the Psychlos somehow missed Fort Knox altogether in the film, whereas in the novel it was one of the first locations they hit.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: You can hardly ever sympathize with most of the Psychlos. Except maybe Ker and the Bartender.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Many of the cavemen Jonnie encounter mistook product mascots for humans petrified for "angering the gods".
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: Courtesy of Rifftrax.
  • And Man Grew Proud: The humans have forgotten that the Psychlos invaded Earth and took it over 1000 years ago, instead believing that demons came down from the sky because the gods were angry.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Gold is apparently the rarest and most valuable material in the universe. There are dozens of rarer elements.
    • The planet Psychlo has an atmosphere that spontaneously ignites in the presence of radiation. This means radioactive decay does not naturally occur on the planet, meaning the planet ignores the second law of thermodynamics and is effectively a perpetual motion machine.
      • On a related note, the Psychlos have eyes, which means the Planet Psychlo must orbit a light-producing star. Stars give off radiation. Lots and lots of radiation.
      • A highly advanced, star-faring and extremely warlike species going by without using radioactive materials.
      • The novel does suggest that the Psychlo home world exists in another universe altogether (Jonnie Goodboy concludes this when attempting to understand Psychlo math).
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Terl intentionally hands a human prisoner a ready-to-fire weapon, to prove his point that the "man-animals" are too stupid to operate firearms, even though the human has already shot one person, according to his subordinates. The prisoner ends up killing Terl's lieutenant with it. Psychlos are shown not to store loaded weapons, so this is apparently another example of the bizarre arrogance that Psychlos have toward humans in believing that they're not sentient, despite all the technology that Terl admits they had.
    Terl: Well, I'll be damned. *laughs*
  • Barbarian Longhair: Both humans and aliens alike are sporting long flowing un-groomed locks.
  • Beard of Evil: Some of the Psychlos, namely Terl and Zete.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Harriers that saved Carlo from being killed by a Psychlo fighter.
  • Big "NO!": Most of Jonnie's lines involve him violently expressing his grief over someone/something.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Psychlos have tall heads, like the Coneheads with dreadlocks, breathe air that is toxic to humans (and vice versa), and even the slightest amount of radiation is deadly to them. At least one female Psychlo has an Overly Long Tongue that would make a Luxan proud, though this seems to be unusual for the race as both Terl and Ker regard it as a fetish. Additionally, Terl has six fingers, though the camera doesn't focus on any other Psychlo's hands to see if that's normal. (In the book, it's mentioned obliquely that Psychlos have six fingers one hand, and five on the other).
  • Bloodless Carnage: The film is clean of blood, be it human or Psychlo. Rather jarring; a few Psychlos (eg. Ker and Terl) lost at least one limb (not to mention the decapitated head of the Bartender). The humans? None.
  • Blown Across the Room: Carlo, the first time he gets hit by a Psychlo's ray gun. Especially noteworthy since this every other time a human gets hit, the shot merely knocks them back a bit or causes them to fall over. Bonus points for it being a ray gun, which, realistically, should cause no recoil at all.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Suspiciously clean buckskins (Travolta didn't want the movie to look too grimy), for the first act, anyway. The Psychlos, though irredeemably evil, are nice enough to give the man-animals jumpsuits after capture.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Apparently, fighter jets that have been in storage for the last thousand years are perfectly serviceable when needed.
  • Call a Human a "Meatbag": The Psychlos typically refer to humans as "man-animals."
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": They always refer to the stuff they breathe as "breath gas," as opposed to "air."
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": It's not surprising that the Psychlos have Euclidean geometry. What is surprising is that they call it Euclidean geometry.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Virtually all the Psychlos other than Ker, the bartender and one or two other low-ranking flunkies.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Terl would casually teleport back to the planet Psychlo of an evening just to go to a bar.
  • Catch Phrase: "Piece of cake!" by the humans, "Leverage!" by the Psychlos.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Subverted. Jonnie teaches his followers Euclidean geometry, claiming it will be of great importance. It never is (beyond what they would need for piloting anyway). Even better, he teaches some of his fellow prisoners geometry and some others piloting.
  • Chewing the Scenery/Evil Is Hammy/World of Ham: All the villains.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Again, the Psychlos. Especially Terl.
  • Color Wash: Mostly blue saturates everything. In some scenes, yellow. In-universe, Psychlo security footage is all in green for no discernible reason. Perhaps they use old Apple IIe monitors.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Terl towards his subordinates.
  • Decapitation Presentation: "It could even be... OUR FRIENDLY BARTENDER!"
  • Discretion Shot: At one point, a human gets his head exploded by a prisoner collar. The scene cuts away from showing the actual explosion to show other characters' reactions to it.
  • Domed Hometown: The Psychlo outpost is one of these, because of the whole "exploding breath gas" thing. In a shocking subversion, it's more of a pyramid...which doesn't stop the characters from referring to it as a dome.
  • Dull Surprise: Lots and lots of characters, but special mention goes to Terl's reaction to losing his right arm. Also earlier, Ker when losing his left hand.
  • Dutch Angle: The Movie. Notoriously used to the point of excess. As Roger Ebert noted in his review:
    "The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why."
    • It's even used in-universe. When Terl looks at some security camera footage, that too is tilted.
    • It gets worse. The director himself said that dutch angles were used in all but one shot of the film.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: A nuke sent to Psychlo causes a reaction with its atmosphere and blows up the planet...except this time Psychlo is reduced to a cloud of noxious gas.
  • Easily Conquered World: The Psychlo army wipe out all of Earth's military in nine minutes, apparently by teleporting millions of nerve gas drones all across the world. And then, to show the trope goes both ways, they're taken out by an army of cavemen in thousand-year-old Harriers.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Hardly any of the Psychlos actually have names, and even in the credits are generally only referred to by their ranking.
  • Evil Laugh: There's enough "normal" Evil Laughter and fake, mocking laughter to fill a half-hour sitcom, not to mention Forest Whitaker's hearty chortles and some disturbingly fey laughter by Travolta. The Psychlos are a merry bunch (makes you either wonder what gas they're breathing, or think that's why their air is so volatile).
  • Exact Words: Terl promises Jonnie he wouldn't kill a prisoner destined to die... only to give Ker the trigger to the explosive device and have him do it. As he puts it, "I only said I wouldn't kill him."
  • Explosive Stupidity: Subverted; while Terl has an explosive collar strapped to his arm when he triggers the detonator that he believes will kill Jonnie's love interest, he doesn't die from it.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Psychlos love gold. They came to earth looking for it, and spent a millennium on the planet doing so, mining it, and shipping it off. And yet in that millennium, they somehow failed to find Fort Knox, which is crammed with the stuff.
    • Made worse by the fact that the Psychlos didn't overlook Fort Knox in the book.
    • Also, the humans fool the Psychlos into thinking they are working by giving them the gold from Ft. Knox and pretending they mined it themselves. The Psychlos never question how the humans smelted it into cast bars or imprinted a maker's mark on it. For reference, gold ore looks like this.
      • Hand Wave: Terl notices this, but believes Jonnie's obvious lie that the humans mined it quickly enough to refine it, and doubles production.
  • Faux Action Girl: Chrissy. Jonnie says she can handle herself better than most men, but she barely has any screen time since she's a Token Romance, and for most of it she has an explosive collar strapped around her neck and Terl holds her hostage.
  • Faux Affably Evil: This seems to be a personality trait of a few Psychlos, especially Terl.
  • Future Imperfect: Fast food and automobiles are the stuff of legends, and mannequins are people punished for offending the gods. The Psychlos are shown at one point examining old Earth photos of people driving with their dogs, leading them to believe that the dogs were the superior species since they had the humans chauffeuring them around.
    • They also note that dogs, while much more cooperative than "man-animals", which the Psychlos interpret to mean higher intelligence (after all, dogs recognize who their betters are), are almost useless for manual labor (further proof that dogs were the masters of "man-animals", who did all the work).
  • Gangsta Style: Because Psychlos are so much bigger than humans, a two-handed sideways grip seems to be the only way the humans can aim and fire the aliens' weapons.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Apparently Ker got tired of being surrounded by his Large Ham Idiot Ball-carrying species (especially Terl) and joined up with the humans at the end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When Carlo blows up his own ship to destroy the "dome", or when Mickey detonates the nuclear bomb.
  • Hilarity Ensues: "You are out of your skull-bone if you think I'm going to write on the report 'shot by man-animal' as the cause of death unless I see it!"
    • "Piece o' cake, piece o' cake, piece o' cake, piece o' cake!"
  • Hitler Cam: Used to emphasize the height of the giant alien Psychlos. At least it was less corny than those big elevator boots the actors wore.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Sort of. Though he doesn't actually die, Terl blows off his own arm with the exploding collar he used on Jonnie's girlfriend. And in the end he's put in a cage in Fort Knox, surrounded by gold. It's ironic, y'see, because he put Jonnie in a cage and started the whole scheme to get gold.
  • Humans Are Morons: Terl and his fellow Psychlos believe that the humans are too stupid to do anything on their own, so they give them some "assistance" in the form of Psychlo knowledge beams. Considering the fact that all of the Psychlos, Terl included, appear to have been issued an individual Idiot Ball at birth, this arguably comes a form of unintentional Hypocritical Humor.
    • More exasperating, the Psychlos know full well that Homo sapiens sapiens once had a thriving industrial society, and yet they still assume they're too dumb to walk and chew gum at the same time.
    • Part of this is actually a large In-Universe case of Strawman Has a Point. It wasn't until Terl used the machine to impart Psychlo knowledge to Jonnie that he even knew what a triangle was.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Jonnie delivers his stirring speech about how humanity has enough problems "without having to kill each other over food" having just beaten the crap out of someone over food.
  • Idiot Ball: Many characters grab this, but each Psychlo seems to have been issued an individual one at birth.
    • One example from many: Terl gets so into shooting cows to demonstrate his shooting prowess to the humans that he doesn't actually pay attention to his surroundings, and gets jumped from behind as a result.
    • Terl also teaches the humans how to work their aircraft, weaponry, and speak the Psychlo language. He seems to be the only Psychlo who realizes the humans have intelligence and are capable of performing complex tasks, but doesn't consider the possibility this could be used against him.
    • In any scene with Terl and Jonnie together, you can almost see them passing the ball back and forth. One memorable case is when Terl is inspecting the results of Jonnie's mining and quite understandably asks how Jonnie is presenting him with gold bars, rather than the ore he was expecting. Jonnie, who hadn't spotted that flaw in his plan, explains lamely, "I assumed, sir, that a Psychlo of your refinement wouldn't settle for anything as coarse as raw ore." Terl accepts the obvious fallacy without question.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The only marksmanship any Psychlo has ever exhibited is when Terl shoots up a herd of stationary cattle. The fact their guns are held upside down so as to be impossible to aim probably contributes.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: So obvious even cavemen can spot them.
  • Insane Troll Logic: In the end Jonnie keeps Terl alive so that if there are Psychlos outside the homeworld, and they come looking for revenge, humans can use Terl as leverage...because the Psychlos would be really pissed at Terl for indirectly dooming the if they get him, they won't bother with the humans, who directly doomed their homeworld... Seems like he Didn't Think This Through, did he?
    • This was almost certainly meant to lead into the sequels; the adaptation stops a third of the way through the book.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Doubles as Not with the Safety on, You Won't, since Terl says this to Jonnie and his friends aiming them at him.
    Terl: If ANY of you rat-brains knew ANYTHING about firearms, you would know that you never store — loaded — weapons!
    • Of course, Terl correcting somebody else's gun safety is kind of ironic considering what OTHER film John Travolta was in.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Oh, so many examples. Nothing should be working after about a millennium; it takes years, not weeks, to learn to fly one; none of them has flight suits and yet they're all stunt dogfighter material. On the positive side, they do mention that Harrier jets can hover.
    • Harriers are so unreliable that it is almost ridiculous to suggest they can even be repaired.
  • Kick the Dog: Terl shoots the legs off a herd of cattle just to show how evil he is.
  • Large Ham: John Travolta. So very much. (Spoilers)
  • Laughably Evil: Terl.
  • Made of Explodium: The atmosphere on Planet Psychlo ignites thanks to a single nuclear bomb. The resulting explosion rips the entire planet apart — crust, mantle, core and all.
  • Made of Plasticine: The Psychlos, considering how easily they seem to lose limbs. Terl getting his arm blown off by a bomb is pretty understandable (though it was a mighty clean explosion, even for a shaped charge), but Ker losing an entire hand from a ray gun blast seems excessive. Especially since the same weapon does little more to a Puny Earthling than knock them around a bit, though this part could be explained by the gun having multiple settings.
  • Major Injury Underreaction. Ker gets his hand blown off. The most reaction this gets out of him seems to be mild confusion. Terl in turn loses his entire arm and manages to be annoyed by it. Maybe the Psychlo physiology makes such an injury not a big deal, but the movie explains squat.
  • Manly Tears: Mickey, just before he detonates the nuke.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: The Psychlos interpret surveillance photos of humans with dogs in car passenger seats as evidence of the dogs being the superior species, since the humans "chauffeur them around".
    • They also mention that the dogs were much more willing to cooperate with the alien masters than the man-animals. Unfortunately, dogs proved ill equipped for manual labor (which, once again, demonstrated their superiority, not needing to work). They can fetch, though.
  • Motifs: Nauseating camera angles, lurid blue or purple coloration, people dressed like cavemen hooting like howler monkeys.
  • Never Say "Die": The Psychlos are really fond of the word "Vaporize", though. Even though their guns don't actually vaporize anyone.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Psychlos don't even take poorly to amputations.
  • Overly Long Tongue: Terl's girlfriend, as played by John Travolta's wife Kelly Preston.
  • The Password is Always "Swordfish": The passcode to Terl's vault is his ID number backwards.
  • Plot Hole: Too many to count.
  • Portal Network: Psychlos put teleporters on all the planets they colonize.
  • Pun: The movie's tagline is "Prepare to go Psychlo".
  • Ragnarok-Proofing: The ruins of Denver look like they've only been abandoned for a year or so, with readable books instead of piles of dust. Then there's Fort Hood. Jets, nukes, stinger missiles and flight simulators still work just as fine.
  • Ramming Always Works: In one of the film's "highlights", a caveman-pilot who runs out of missiles ejects just before ramming a Psychlo fighter, completely overlooking the aircraft's 25mm cannon.
  • Real Is Brown: See Color Wash.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Terl has been Reassigned to Antarctica as petty revenge for getting involved with the daughter of a senator, which leads to the destruction of the Psychlo race.
  • Re Cut: The version on VHS and DVD removes a few scenes, adds a scene of the heroes discovering the instructions for the nuclear warhead, and the opening crawl that states the bloody obvious. The versions aired on TV are the original theatrical cut. For those scenes, see Deleted Scene.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Terl allows some of the slaves out in the wild to see what they will consume as food, as he doesn't know what humans like to eat. The only edible animals they find are rats, so that's what they eat, but Terl believes it was their preferred meal. Apparently he never stopped to consider that these slaves were so starved, they were actually willing to eat anything at this point (it's specifically stated that they haven't eaten for three days). They didn't even bother cooking it first, causing Terl to assume they prefer it raw.
  • Repeat Cut: When Terl's boss mentions that he plans to keep Terl on Earth instead of giving him a temporary reprieve, the movie plays back the "endless options for renewal!" part of the speech three times for some reason.
    • The same thing happens when a caveman tells Jonnie that the Psychlos can't be defeated.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Imagine the Coneheads with dreadlocks, furry hands, codpieces, limb extensions, and breathing tubes that look like rivets of snot dangling from their nostrils.
  • Rule of Cool
  • Scenery Porn: The mountains in the beginning.
  • Sequel Hook: Terl is alive, and the human victors face an unknown future after winning a ruined planet. There is actually a whole other half of the book left to go, and Travolta was is still hoping to tell it in a second film.
  • Shout-Out: When Jonnie is first shot, he falls through several glass panes similar to Blade Runner, taking no lasting damage.
    • Then, the first time we're presented with the Psychlo homeworld, the camera pans around a cityscape, also as in Blade Runner's opening.
    • Later at the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, Jonnie runs in slow motion through a bunch of pillars as they are shot, just like how Neo runs through the government lobby in The Matrix.
  • Slow Motion: Roughly a fourth of the film consists of slow-mo shots of Psychlos lumbering around shooting at people, Jonnie running away from Psychlos shooting at him (complete with Matrix-esque clouds of debris and shrapnel), or Jonnie mourning somebody's death.
  • Small Universe After All: The Psychlos generally think nothing of conquering entire galaxies. This is actually scaled down from the original book where they ruled several universes.
  • Smug Snake: Terl, in spades.
  • Stun Guns: The Psychlos' handguns have a stun setting, which they use to capture Jonnie without killing him. A closeup of one of these guns later shows its owner switching the setting between stunning and lethal.
  • Space Opera
  • Token Romance: Jonnie's girlfriend, Chrissy, gets about four scenes in this film. All we know is that she left the village against her father's wishes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The entire Psychlo race, but especially Terl. Terl's stupidity directly leads not only to his own downfall, but the destruction of his homeworld and everyone who lived on it.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: In record time too, and from scratch. Luckily, they did have an Upgrade Artifact to instantly train everyone, and...oh, wait...they forgot to use it.
  • Translation Convention: While the Psychlos are in private, their language is translated into English, but when the humans are the focus, it's left untranslated. It gets a little weird once Jonnie learns the language and is speaking both in the same scene and "translating".
  • Translation: Yes: A rare example of something done well by this film. Terl delivers a flowery and overdramatic threat to the humans he's sending to mine gold for him, which Jonnie accurately summarizes in six words: "Try to run, he'll kill us".
    Terl: <beat> That's it?
    Johnny nods.
    Terl shrugs.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Most scenes involving the Psychlos.
  • Upgrade Artifact: Used so our hero can become an Instant Expert without going through a Training Montage. Infamously not used to help the rest of humanity prepare for the revolution, despite the fact that having them do just that was a key plot point in the book.
  • Villain Ball: Held by the Psychlos' leader, Terl. Teaching your slaves everything to know about your civilization in an instant can only end badly, especially if you're supposedly doing it to help conquer their planet. Introducing your pet human to inspiring documents from the American Revolution will only make things worse. Holding your pet human's girlfriend hostage just makes things personal. Abusing your henchman only serves to set up the Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal in the final act. And not launching an all-out crackdown when the man-animals rebel and attack with air support... not a good idea Terl doesn't even notice an exploding collar Jonnie straps to his arm in a melee, and proceeds to amputate his own limb when he triumphantly hits the detonator. His (non)reaction shot is priceless. He appears to read the Bizarro Universe inversion of the Evil Overlord List, telling him exactly what to do wrong.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The nameless guy running around with Jonnie and Carlo in Aspen is never seen again after that scene. (He died immediately afterwards in a Deleted Scene where Ker thinks for some bizarre reason that humans must be able to fly, and Terl proves that they can't by throwing the guy in question into a chasm.)
    • The Planetship, Terl's direct superior, abruptly vanishes in the latter stages of the movie.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: After wiping out civilization, the Psychlo use the surviving humans as slave labor.
  • While You Were in Diapers: When another Psychlo mocks Terl and says that he could have taken a much less stressful job, he says something to this effect: that he was trained to be a Galactic Conqueror since birth (see the quotation under Memetic Mutation).