Film: Broken Arrow (1996)

"You're out of your mind."
"Yeah! Ain't it cool?"
Riley Hale and Vic Deakins

Broken Arrow is about two stealth bomber pilots: Hale (Christian Slater) and Deakins (John Travolta) on a test flight while carrying a pair of live nuclear warheads. Deakins loses his marbles and attempts to hijack the nukes to ransom back to the U.S., but ends up crashing their plane in the middle of a national park. Undeterred, Deakins continues to carry through with the plan, leaving Hale to try and stop him with the help of a sexy park ranger (Samantha Mathis).

The term "Broken Arrow" is US military jargon for a nuclear weapons snafu, though the correct term for the plot is actually an "Empty Quiver" (stolen nukes) made to seem like a "Broken Arrow" (missing nukes).

Ignoring the Jean-Claude Van Damme Ego Trip that was Hard Target, this film was western cinema's first proper introduction to John Woo's Heroic Bloodshed genre of film, the popularity of which is cemented one year later in 1997 by Face/Off, also by John Woo and starring John Travolta.

Broken Arrow provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artistic License Nuclear Physics This film contains an amazing palette of both averted and played straight nuclear physics tropes.
    • Averted: After the crash of a Stealth bomber carrying nuclear missiles, it is correctly stated that the warheads cannot be detonated by burning jet fuel.
    • Averted: Chief Rhodes says that he is going to destroy one of the bombs by opening up the access panel and drop a couple of grenades in there. That is a prudent action since it is an intended safety philosophy that nuclear weapons will be rendered harmless if they are tampered with. This also makes this an example of Aluminum Christmas Trees.
    • Averted: Broken Arrow is the correct United States military nuclear incident terminology for a nuclear weapon being lost in transit. Curiously the actual incident is an Empty Quiver, that is to say theft of nuclear weapons, but the deception by the Big Bad Deakins makes it look like an accident. Or does it?! Because...
    • Played Straight: Deakins has his henchmen act as if they are dying in agony from radiation from damaged weapons. But Plutonium is only mildly radioactive and cannot induce acute radiation sickness.
    • Played Straight: Even assuming Plutonium is highly radioactive, acute radiation sickness takes hours to set in. And when it does you first become nauseous, then you feel all right for several days, and then you die from organ failure. It is not this instant affair that the henchmen put on a big show of.
    • Played straight: And even assuming that acute radiation sickness is an instant killer, then the team - specialized in the recovery of nuclear weapons - would not have run in head first into a hot-spot without detection equipment and protective clothing. No-one would be fooled by the deception because such - supposed - behaviour would be incompetence of the highest order.
    • Played Straight: Hale says they are safe after nuclear explosion in the mine since it was underground. This is false since we see a big fireball that is chock-full of fresh fission by-products. Don't breathe this...
    • Played Straight: The underground nuclear explosion produces an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that knocks out all electronics in the area and makes a helicopter crash. But underground nuclear explosions do not produce this effect. Only atmospheric explosions can cause EM Ps. And for the truly spectacular EM Ps, those can only be caused by exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions. Finally: the helicopter is too old to be affected by malfunctioning electronics in that manner.
    • Averted: The villain tells his team not to shoot at the warheads. Even if he knows that they will not detonate from this, the admonition is warranted because if the weapons are damaged they will go from being valuable assets to useless junk.
    • Averted: Hale says they will disable the weapons by entering the wrong access codes enough times into the PAL - Permissive Action Links - of the weapon. In real life this would work. But alas...
    • Played Straight: Deakins has removed the access codes to the PAL, so that Hale accidentally activates the weapon without any possibility to de-activate it. In real life these codes cannot be disabled, at least not by someone with Deakins's pay grade and especially not out in the wild.
    • Played Straight: The process of arming a nuclear weapon has several more steps than just authorizing yourself to the weapon. It is not the one-step affair we see in the film. This and the point above for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious.
    • And finally, averted, as the train carrying the nuke crashes with the momentum of the crash launching the warhead straight into Deakins' chest, through a few walls, and right into an exploding helicopter without it detonating.
  • Ax-Crazy: Vic Deakins
  • Bookends: The film begins with Hale losing $20 to Deakins in a boxing match, and ends with Hale successfully beating down Deak and finding the $20 bill in the wreckage.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: A major complaint in Roger Ebert's review.
  • Bottomless Magazines
    • Hale fires maybe 40 rounds out of a 13 shot pistol and 6 round revolver in the mine shoot out with out reloading once.
    • Also averted early in the movie. When Hale first gets the revolver, he fires six shots at the helicopter and has to ask Terry for more bullets.
  • Car Fu
    • "Run him down!" Though he misses at the last second. One of his Mooks gets run over instead.
    • Also a with a helicopter near the end.
  • Clothing Damage: Terry loses her belt in the river. Later she strips off her jacket after it catches on fire from the spilled gasoline of the helicopter.
  • The Dragon: Kelly
  • Empty Quiver: The Title Drop is the former Trope Namer.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Every speaking villain, especially Travolta.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Deak. He's a chipper bastard.
  • For the Evulz: Deakins' motives are never explained as such. Hale surmises that Deakins is bitter about being passed over for promotion, but later decides that Deak is a plain sociopath.
  • Genius Bruiser: Terry nearly bites off more than she can chew by trying to sneak-attack a mook in Nerd Glasses and a lab coat.
    "You probably thought I was some science nerd! I was a Navy SEAL, lady! You should see what I can do with just my thumb!"
  • Guns Akimbo: Briefly featured in the ferocious battle within the copper-mines.
  • Gun Fu
  • Helicopter Blender: The colonel has his helicopter fly alongside the train to chop some mooks chasing Hale on the roof of the cars. The first notices and drops, while the second catches the edge and gets his chest sliced open.
  • Heroic Bloodshed: Liberally crossed with the western.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Deak hilariously and literally gets hit by the nuke he intended to slaughter innocent millions with. It doesn't detonate, though.
  • Honor Before Reason: Hale has Deak (who was out of bullets) at gunpoint. Deak has his hand on the detonator button. Instead of prolonging the Mexican Standoff, Deak ordered Hale to put it down then challenged him to a fist fight. May be justified in that Deak is insane and prolonging the standoff doesn't gain either side an advantage.
  • I Lied: Terry's got Hale dead-to-rights with a gun she told him wasn't loaded. He reminds her what she said. She responds with this, firing it into the air to prove it.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Deak's Mooks are shooting at Riley and Terry while they flee in a boxcar. With an open door. That's made of wood slats.
  • It Gets Easier: Sort of:
    Vic Deakins: I just realized something. I never actually killed anyone before. I mean, I dropped bombs on Baghdad, but, uh... never face to face. [Beat] I don't know what the big deal is. I really don't.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Terry pulls this one on Hale during their Mexican Standoff. She's lying, as she demonstrates after she's wrested the gun back from him.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Deak has two back-up plans. One, he knows an Air Force commando team will be sent in to secure the warhead so he buys off one of the members. Two, in case someone finds the bomb, he has planted a Salt Lake City radiology tag in the Hummer with it to make everyone think he's taking it east instead of west.
  • Large Ham: John Travolta is having the time of his life with Deak.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Sir, please turn around."
  • Made of Iron: Almost the entire cast, with one exception. Kelly hurts his hand hitting the side of a tunnel while shooting at a helicopter, and clearly gives a shout of pain. Kinda surprising, considering that Kelly is played by Howie Long, who played pro football for over 10 years, and would be the cast member with the highest tolerance to pain.
  • Mexican Standoff
    • Hale with a gun, and Terry with a knife. Lampshaded by Hale: "This isn't a standoff, lady, I've got the gun!" Terry counters that she never keeps it loaded.
    • Also, Hale and Deak with the shotgun and remote detonator.
    • Lampshaded with Hale pointing a gun at one of Deak's men who in turn is pointing a gun at Terry, and when Hale tells him to stop the Humvee they're in, the guy says "Looks like we have a standoff." Hale's response? Shoots him in the leg and slams him headfirst into the steering wheel while shouting "No! We! Don't!"
    • A villainous one happens between Kelly and Deak.
  • My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: The classic Foreman/Ali "rope-a-dope" is referenced from the movie's very beginning, with Deak constantly having the upper hand over Hale in their first boxing match, and then again through most of the movie — until the very last fight, the implication being that Hale has pulled a rope-a-dope on Deak.
  • New Old West
  • Offing The Annoyance: Deakins kills Pritchett for shouting too much. Not that anybody misses him.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: One of Deak's mooks does this due to one of his arms being all shot to hell.
  • Plucky Girl: Terry, notably for a 90's action movie, is not The Load. She's out of her depth when it comes to military tactics and nuclear warheads (understandably, being a park ranger), but Hale clearly wouldn't have gotten far without her help. She arguably graduates to outright Action Girl status by the end.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Deak: "Would you mind. not. shooting. at the. thermo. nuclear. weapons".
  • Short Lived Aerial Escape: No less than four helicopters get totaled in this film!
  • Shout-Out: After taking down a helicopter with an EMP shockwave, Deak says "I say Goddamn!", a callback to Pulp Fiction.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: Hale takes down the first helicopter by shooting the pilot through the cockpit glass. The dying pilot falls over the controls, the chopper falls out of control, crashes, and explodes.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The briefing as to the effect of a nuclear detonation in Denver.
  • Stop Helping Me!: invoked To quote Deak through clenched teeth: "Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?"
  • Stuff Blowing Up
  • Traintop Battle: The ending. A damn spectacular one, to be specific.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Riley/Terry
  • Verbal Tic: Hale likes to bet $20.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Deak lets a few swears fly when Hale steals the nukes back.
  • The Western: Albeit a "Techno-Western".