Film: Flash Gordon


Flash Gordon is a 1980 film from Universal Studios based on the Flash Gordon comics and film serials from the 1930s, with a soundtrack by Queen.

Unlike most science fiction or fantasy films of the time, it takes a high camp approach with tongue firmly in cheek, getting high quality theatre actors to deliver large helpings of ham. It is also one of the earliest science fiction or fantasy films to have a rock soundtrack, in this case by Queen.

Its actual financial success was pants. The only country where it really made it big was the UK, the same country that invented pantomime, wry humour and the band Queen, who did the soundtrack. But it was Vindicated by Cable in The Eighties, and became a Cult Classic (to the point that it figures into the plot of Seth Mac Farlane's Ted, along with the soundtrack by Queen).

Herewith a rundown of the plot, courtesy of the dialogue sampled for the title track of the soundtrack album (by Queen):

"Seemingly there is no reason for these extraordinary intergalactic upsets. Only Dr Hans Zarkov, formerly at NASA, has provided any explanation... This morning's unprecedented solar eclipse is no cause for alarm."
"What's happening, Flash?"
"Strange object imaged in the Imperial Vortex."
"General Kala — Flash Gordon approaching."
"What do you mean, 'Flash Gordon approaching'?! ...Open fire! All weapons! ...Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to bring back his body!"
"GORDON'S ALIVE?!!" ... ive...ive
"Flash! Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"

However, merely reading the above cannot do it justice. Watch the music video and stand in awe.

Interesting side note: George Lucas tried to purchase the film rights to Flash Gordon, but Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis was sitting on them. Lucas instead went on to create his own space adventure flick, whose success spurred this one into production, complete with a soundtrack by Queen.


The 1980 movie provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The scene in which Ming gives Flash a We Can Rule Together offer in Vultan's palace is quiet and understated, and practically the only time someone isn't Chewing the Scenery.
  • Agony Beam
  • Alien Blood:
    • Ming bleeds green, although his daughter Princess Aura doesn't.
    • General Kala has black blood.
    • After Ming stabs Prince Thun, bright blue blood can be seen on the sword.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Apparently Mongo is an English-speaking world group. The novelization explains that the Mongian language was beamed into our heroes' heads during their trip through the vortex.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Dr. Hans Zarkov is never stated outright to be Jewish, although his memories, seen when Ming's secret police attempts to erase them, and his reference to his study of the Talmud as the reason why that attempt failed, make it pretty clear. Plus, he's played by Chaim Topol. Interestingly, he is also Herr Doktor.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Emperor Ming to Dale Arden.
  • Anything But That!: "No! Not the bore worms!"
  • Back from the Dead: Flash himself, after being executed by poison gas. He's saved by a doctor's injection he received beforehand, though Princess Aura pretends that she revived him with a kiss.
  • Badass Beard: Prince Vultan.
  • Badass Boast: Fico (Richard O'Brien) gets in a good one.
    Flash Gordon: Where are the weapons?
    Fico: (knife in Flash's back) Feel one.
  • Badass Mustache: Barin.
  • Bald of Evil: Prince Ming.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Both male and female examples.
  • Beard of Evil: Ming, of course.
  • Big Damn Heroes
  • Big Red Button: Hans Zarkov's spaceship has a Big Red Launch Button.
  • Big "YES!":
    Monitor: Hail Flash Gordon. You saved your Earth. Have a nice day.
    Flash: (tossing away his sword) YEAH!!!!!!!!
    Queen soundtrack: (STAND FOR EVERY ONE OF US!)
  • Blatant Lies: During Princess Aura's torture/interrogation, General Kala...who's basically a whipping Aura's back while the Dr. Doom-ish Stalker with a Crush, Klytus, is grabbing Aura's hair and yelling at her. Quoth Kala, "Tell us! And we won't hurt you any more! We don't like doing this at all! ". Suuuuuuurrrrrrreeeee.....
  • Black Guy Dies First: Prince Thun. The only black speaking character, whose only brief scene, early on, consists of getting skewered with his sword by Ming.
  • Blood Sport: Vultan's wobbly arena equipped with Spikes of Doom.
  • B-Movie: Nothing more need be said than "Flash, I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!". Still you've got to admire Dale's priorities.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Vultan. Not surprising, since he's played by BRIAN BLESSED.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Ming personally meets with Flash after he kills Klytus and, instead of dragging him off, makes him a We Can Rule Together offer if he will serve Ming or else — death. Flash refuses and Ming proceeds to leave him on the floating castle and return to his ship to bomb the castle, giving Flash time to find one of the Hawkmen's flying vehicles.
  • The Cameo: Richard O'Brien (Riff-Raff) shows up as one of the Arboreans. This is, presumably, how he knows about Flash Gordon being there in silver underwear.
  • Camp: The film's scriptwriter was Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who wrote scripts for and was Executive Script Director of the 1960s Batman TV series.
  • Cat Fight: Princess Aura (after her Heel-Face Turn) and Dale Arden, much to the amusement of everybody watching. Half of it is a pillow fight, too.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: "No! Not the Bore Worms!"
  • Cult Soundtrack: Pretty much the entire movie soundtrack by Queen. Especially the theme song. It's Queen. What do you expect?
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Princess Aura, until redeemed by the love of a good man.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Dale graduates to Action Girl territory in her escape from Ming.
  • Dark Chick: General Kala.
  • Deadly Gas: Flash is apparently executed with poisonous gas.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Klytus.
  • Death by Adaptation: Prince Thun. In the comics, he's a full-on character with a story arc and everything, but here, he's sadly reduced to a dog for Ming to kick.
  • Death's Hourglass: When Flash is in Ming's dungeon, Klytus shows him an hourglass and tells him that he has until the sands run... up.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Flash and Barin.
  • Demoted to Extra: The Frigians. We don't have time for everybody from the comics.
  • Disintegrator Ray: The flying robot in Ming's palace uses one to destroy an escaping lizard man and the pistol in Dr. Zarkov's pocket.
  • Distressed Dude: Flash in little leather shorts strapped to a chair....
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: At the start of the Arborian Male-Coming-Of-Age Ceremony (with the wood-beast), the men pound large staffs on the ground while one of them does panting noises. It goes at a faster pace into a climax. "I love initiations!" says Aura.
    • Also, when Dale's captive in Ming's bedroom, she is served a drink that makes her "time with Ming more agreeable". It's also apparently alcoholic. As part of her escape plan, she talks a handmaiden into drinking the stuff until she passes out with, "C'mon, this is quality stuff!".
  • Double Edged Answer: Emperor Ming offers to give Earth to Flash to rule.
    Flash: You'd call off the attack? ... Everyone would be saved?
    Ming: Yes, and no. After the earthquakes and tidal waves, they won't be the same human beings. They'll be more tractable. Easier for you to rule, in the name of Ming.
  • The Dragon: Klytus to Ming, General Kala to Klytus.
  • Duel to the Death: Between Flash and Prince Barin.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Egopolis: Mingo City
  • The Eighties
  • '80s Hair: Ohh boy...
  • The Emperor: Ming the Merciless.
  • The Empire: Mongo
  • The End... Or Is It?: The film ends with a close-up of Ming's ring, lying where it fell as he died — then a gloved hand picks it up, Ming's laughter is heard, and the words THE END? appear. HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!
    • As it turns out, they originally had three films planned, with a script for the second and a treatment for the third, but after the first bombed so badly at the box office, the others were never made.
  • Enemy Mine: Princes Barin and Vultan hate each other at first. Only Flash is able to convince them to team up and fight Ming.
    • After the day is won, Vultan is quick to note that Barin is the rightful heir to Mongo, ending any leadership squabbles before they can arise.
  • Evil Gloating
  • Evil Laugh
    Klytus: Will you destroy this... Earth?
    Ming: Later! I like to play with things awhile... before annihilation. HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!
  • Eye Scream: Klytus' eyeballs bugging out of his mask when he dies. Yucko!
  • Face Death with Dignity: Flash goes to his execution calmly.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Flash. (Stand for every one of us!)
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Klytus.
  • Fanservice:
    • Aura, Dale, Ming's handmaidens, and every other female in the film.
    • Flash's very little leather shorts in the execution scene. There's something for everyone!
  • Femme Fatale: Aura, though she does a Heel-Face Turn.
  • Fighter Launching Sequence: Hawkmen vs. War Rocket Ajax.
  • Finish Him!: Voltan to Flash, during Flash's Duel to the Death with Prince Barin. Flash is too heroic to let Barin fall out of the sky.
    You've won! Let him go.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dale's brief moment of Badass is foreshadowed in the tribute scene: she must've been a cheerleader in high school and college.
    • The brief superimposition we see of Ming charging right at Flash and Dale from the fireball of death as they are being transported via airplane to Dr. Zarkov.
  • For Great Justice: Vultan
  • For the Evulz: "I like to play with things awhile... before annihilation."
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: But of course. It's cheesy Sci-Fi action, it's practically a law.
  • Future Spandex: Both General Kala and Princess Aura wear lycra/spandex costumes.
  • Galactic Conqueror: Ming the Merciless' reveal that he threatens whole star systems with destruction definitely places him on this level. He is also referred to as the Emperor of the Universe and the Galaxy.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The soldiers in Ming's palace.
  • Gender Flip: Kala, who in the comics was a male fishman, is here a female general who looks basically human.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Ming "tests" Dale with his ring (complete with Forced Perspective), he's clearly forcing her to have an Immodest Orgasm. If that weren't enough, you have this exchange:
    Ming: (fascinated) Did you ever see such... response?
  • Gladiator Games: Vultan forces Flash and Barin to fight it out in a spinning arena.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: Dale.
  • Groin Attack: One of Ming's goon squad to Flash before the "football game" begins.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Every single scene with any dialogue. Period.
  • Hand in the Hole: In Arboria, with the woodbeast.
  • Heel-Face Turn:
    • Aura: Realizing that Ming allowed Klytus to torture her.
    • Barin: Flash showed Barin The Power of Friendship. Also, Defeat Equals Friendship.
    • Vultan: Vultan hates Ming, and Flash's open defiance of Ming shows him there's still a chance to overthrow him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Zarkov intends to kill Ming with his pistol ("One life for billions? A fair trade."), but Ming's security bot vaporizes it while in his pocket.
    • Prince Thun intends one. He fails.
    • Flash intends one, piloting War Rocket Ajax into Ming's ceremony. Even Vultan thinks Flash will be a martyr, pronouncing that today would forever be known as Flash Gordon's Day. Flash quotes Zarkov's earlier line about one life for billions.
  • Herr Doktor: Hans Zarkov.
  • High Heel-Face Turn: Princess Aura
  • Highly Conspicuous Uniform
  • Honor Before Reason: Dale refuses Aura's offer of a poison she can give Ming on their wedding night, because she has promised to be a good wife to Ming in exchange for his sparing Prince Barin and Dr. Zarkoff.
    Aura: My father has never kept a vow in his life!
    Dale: I can't help that. Keeping our word is one of the things that make us better than you.
  • Human Aliens: The people of Mongo, as well as the Arboreans. This is almost true of the Hawkmen, as well.
  • Humans Are Special: Aside from Ming viewing them as a threat due to Zarkov attempting to stop the disasters with a single rocketship, the latter also tells Dale he never got brainwashed due to focusing on human songs and thoughts. Hence he was never really under Ming's control later in the film and simply acted as if he was..
  • Hypno Ray: Ming's ring.
  • Hypnotize the Princess. Ming does this to Dale Arden, and apparently his own daughter!
  • Hypno Trinket: Ming's ring
  • Iconic Outfit:
  • I Gave My Word
  • Ignored Expert: Hans Zarkov warning about an attack from space.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: "Prepare her for our pleasure!", also Ming's "wedding vows" on the trope page.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: Flash uses football tactics to beat up a bunch of imperial guardsmen.
  • Impairment Shot: Flash's vision clears from blurred as Zarkov tosses him a football, which allows him to mop the floor with Klytus' soldiers.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • Klytus on a bed of spikes.
    • Ming on the nosecone of a rocket.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet:
    Ming: Klytus, I'm bored. What plaything can you offer me today?
    Klytus: An obscure body in the SK system, Your Majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet... Earth.
    Ming: How peaceful it looks... (activates button marked EARTH QUAKE)
  • It Has Been an Honor: Prince Vultan to Flash before Flash's suicide run.
  • It's Up to You: "Flash! I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"
  • Join or Die: Emperor Ming offers to let Flash join him and rule the Earth under Ming's control. If he refuses, he will be killed.
  • Just in Time: To save the Earth — down to the second! Apparently a little impalement did the trick.
  • Labcoat of Science and Medicine: Zarkov and Munson both have one of these. Given that the science they're engaged in mainly requires looking at radar screens and printouts — except whenever they assembled that rather nifty rocket, which would have been better done wearing overalls — there can be no other reason for their labcoats than to visually label them "scientists."
  • Lampshade Hanging: When Flash declares that he needs to save his friends and stop Ming, Princess Aura snarks about him saying that to Ming's daughter.
  • Large Ham: Enough ham to end hunger in a medium sized third world nation. Special mention goes out to BRIAN BLESSED's Prince Vultan.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Vultan's refusal to help Flash ends up with his city being destroyed and forcing him into exile in his hated enemy Barin's planet.
  • Last Request: Klytus asks if Flash has "any final requests" before his execution.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: Produced by Bally in 1981, and treated the license with all seriousness, unlike the movie. Although it lacked a soundtrack by Queen, it ended up becoming Bally's best-selling game of the year.
  • Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Played with. A rock cover of the Lohengrin chorus plays in Ming's wedding scene.
  • Love Dodecahedron: As in the comics, Barin loves Aura, who lusts after Flash, who loves Dale.
  • Mad Scientist: Zarkov, who can't understand why NASA fired him or why Flash and Dale seemed frightened of him...
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Princess Aura, though Ming is a Mad Emperor rather than a Mad Scientist.
  • Made of Evil
  • Magic Countdown: The timer that shows how long is left before the Earth is destroyed.
  • Mask Power: Klytus.
  • Mental Picture Projector: The Mind Probe/Memory Eraser also functions as a way of projecting memories on a screen.
  • Mind Probe: "We're going to empty your mind as we might empty your pockets... doctor."
  • Mondegreen: Many people think Vultan is screaming, "DIEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!", not "DIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!" Both work, though. Later in the battle he actually does yell "DIEEEE!!" in the same way while fighting.
  • Mood Dissonance: The wedding of Ming and Dale:
    • Instead of the white dress she'd been put in earlier, she's now wearing a black empress getup covered in sequins.
    • "Here Comes The Bride" as an electric guitar rock riff with dirge undertones. And the war rockets flying by in the background towing signs:
  • Moral Event Horizoninvoked: In-universe. Aura states that she never truly understood how evil her father was til he allowed Klytus to torture her, especially considering Klytus was Aura's Stalker with a Crush who was getting some petty revenge for her sleeping with everyone but him.
    • The real tipping point appears to be Ming allowing Klytus to use creatures called "Bore Worms" on her. Until that point, she was more angry than frightened about the whole incident.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Barin's reason for entrapping Flash into a deadly ritual. He realizes he underestimed Flash after he successfully passes the test twice, refuses to keep alternating with Flash - essentially forcing him to to the test over and over til he dies.
  • Music of Note: With a soundtrack by Queen.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes it look like Ming faces off with Flash using his ring. In the film he just turns it on himself and is vaporized.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ming claims to only destroy planets that are advanced enough to realize his attacks aren't natural disasters. If his claim is true, and he's not just doing whatever he feels like, it's Zarkov's own attempt to contact whoever was launching the attacks that nearly dooms the Earth.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: General Kala orders Zarkov to be programmed with high-level information about Mongo's technology and security systems, thus equipping him with all the knowledge he'll need to assist the revolution. Downplayed in that he was getting information programmed into his mind anyway, just not as much (the programming is literally numbered, and Kala was told to use a lower number rather than not programming Zarkov at all).
  • No, Except Yes:
    Vultan: WHAT IS THIS?
    Zarkov: Humanity.
  • No Indoor Voice: Ming, Vultan, and Kala are the main offenders.
  • Noodle Implements: Those gosh-darn bore worms!
  • Notable Original Music
  • Not So Different: When Klytus is probing Hans Zarkov's brain to learn more about humans, he sees images of Adolf Hitler and World War II. He then comments that "now... he had potential" as he watches those scenes play out.
  • Ominous Floating Castle
  • One-Woman Wail: The "Aura Revives Flash" song.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Flash. (King of the Impossible!)
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Aura crying because she was betrayed by her father, who allowed Klytus to torture her with The Dreaded Noodle Implements, is what convinces Dale she's being honest.
  • Parental Incest: Ming's fixation with his daughter - and with torturing her - edges into this territory.
    • All but stated outright in the novelization when Aura pouts to Ming about 'missing their closeness.' They're into bondage too. Triple Squick
  • Pistol-Whipping: Dale Arden takes out a couple of Ming's guards this way.
  • Planetary Romance
  • Pleasure Planet: Princess Aura had her personal pleasure moon, Cytherea.
    • One of the servant girls mentions an entire galaxy of pleasure where a certain drink comes from.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Just in case the movie itself wasn't campy enough for you, it's got a soundtrack by Queen's Brian May.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some of the planets and creatures were cut out, but are at least mentioned, and ones that are featured get major focus. The main story beats are all hit.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Both the Hawkmen - a race of Winged Humanoid Vikings - and the Arborians - basically a race of Robin Hood people.
  • Pstandard Psychic Pstance: Dale does this during the telepathy sequence between Flash and Dale.
  • Psychic Static: Dr. Zarkov uses this tactic to resist memory draining.
    Zarkov: As I was going under, I started to recite Shakespeare, The Talmud, the formulas of Einstein, anything I could remember, even a song from The Beatles. It armored me, girl. They couldn't wipe those things away. You can't beat the human spirit.
  • Public Execution: Flash's "death" by lethal gas by order of Emperor Ming.
  • Puny Earthlings: Pathetic earthlings, who will save you now?
  • Race Against the Clock: Flash must stop Emperor Ming before the Moon crashes into the Earth.
  • Raygun Gothic: The source material is one of the Trope Codifiers, along with Buck Rogers and the Lensman series, so it's preserved here.
  • Really Gets Around:
    • Princess Aura.
    • Ming is a male example.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning
  • Refusal of the Call: Zarkov's assistant, Munson, who balks at being shot into space. He gets killed because he ran away.
  • Removable Turret Gun: Prince Barin takes one away from one of Ming's mooks and uses it to Shoot Out the Locks and go through doors.
  • Retro Rocket:
    • Zarkov's ship
    • War Rocket Ajax with its swept wings, pepper-shaker body, and nice pointy spike...
  • Same Language Dub: All of Sam J. Jones' lines were dubbed by an uncredited actor whose identity remains a mystery to this day.
  • Scenery Porn: The swirling background colors that accompany Flash's entire voyage to Mars.
  • Secret Test: Emperor Ming puts the entire human race through one of these, or so he claims. More likely, he's just bored and evil.
  • Sequel Hook: Someone picks up Ming's ring.
  • Shirtless Captives: After Flash is taken into custody, he is next shown in the dungeon, wrists shackled to the ceiling, shirtless.
  • She-Fu: Dale gives a startling display of this during her escape from the palace.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Prince Barin does this several times with a Removable Turret Gun he took away from one of Ming's mooks.
  • Shout Out:
    • Two from The Wizard of Oz (1939).
      • While Flash was in Ming's dungeon.
      Klytus: You have until the up.
      Dale: It won't turn over! It won't turn over!
      • After General Kala is killed, her body melts in much the same way as the Wicked Witch of the West did after Dorothy "liquidated" her.
    • The execution, during which Flash Gordon is there in silver underwear. Made all the more evidently deliberate by the casting of Richard O'Brien as one of the Arboreans.
    • In the scene where Princess Aura first appears she tells her dwarf servant "Come along, Fellini", a reference to the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini.
  • Single-Biome Planet: At least two of the moons of Mongo fit this trope, and the clues are in their names. Arboria is a Jungle/Swamp Planet and Frigia is described as an Ice Planet.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Flash, of course! Also, Vultan.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Wonderfully idealistic.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: In probably the most kickass manner yet.
  • Take My Hand: Flash does this for Barin at the end of their duel.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Barin. You have to be handsome to play James Bond, after all.
  • Tap on the Head: Vultan to Ming's goon squad and Hans Zarkov to Flash.
  • Technicolor Science
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Ming promised Dale that if she married him, he would spare Barin & Zarkov (Flash was presumed to be killed when Ming blew up the Hawkmen's floating city). However, during the wedding, General Kala broadcasts to the people of Mongo that "all channels" will show "for your entertainment" the execution of Barin & Zarkov.
  • They Called Me Mad!: Dr. Zarkov is a rare heroic example.
  • Title Drop: All the damn time of course, but particularly notable is Flash's coffin after his execution, which bears the movie's logo.
  • Title Theme Tune: By Queen.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Princess Aura according to Klytus; obviously subverted in reality.
  • Trapped in Another World: Dale, Flash and Zarkov are brought to Mongo where they save the Earth. In the end, they are still in Mongo and Dale asks if they'll ever get home. "I don't know but we'll try," says Zarkov. Barin instead offers for them to stay.
  • Universal Driver's Licence: Flash using the Hawkmen rocketcycle and piloting War Rocket Ajax.
  • Villainous Rescue: Barin saves Flash from being eaten by a swamp creature so he can off him.
  • Watching the Reflection Undress: In the scene after Flash is revived, Princess Aura tells him to change into a noble's uniform and turns around. However, she uses a mirror to watch Flash while he undresses.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: This is why Ming isn't overthrown; the races of Mongo are busy fighting amongst themselves.
  • We Can Rule Together: Ming offers Flash rulership of the Earth in Ming's name at one point.
  • Whip It Good: Flash and Barin duel with whips in one scene. Luckily, Defeat Means Friendship.
    • Aura's torture before the bore worms got in on the action.
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Basic human emotions have been driven out of Mongo by Ming, where honor, justice, even crying have been forgotten and replaced by constant violent bickering and infighting, stirred up by Ming.
    Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes!
    Ming: It's what they call "tears". It's a sign of their weakness.
  • World of Badass: Mongo.
  • World of Ham: Mongo again. BRIAN BLESSED is just one of its many hammy kings.
  • "YEAH!" Shot:
    Monitor: Hail Flash Gordon. You saved your Earth. Have a nice day.
    Flash: (tossing away his sword) YEAH!!!!!!!!

Queen. FLASH!

Alternative Title(s):

Flash Gordon 1980