A 1991movie based on a novel of the same name by Stephen Coonts, taking place during the Vietnam War. It follows the exploits of Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton following the death of his Bombadier-Navigator during a pointless air strike.
Contains examples of the following:
Ace Pilot: A subversion, as "Cool Hand" Grafton is a bomber pilot. That said, he's considered to be an exceptionally skilled one.
There is a scene in a bar featuring a game where someone rides a chair down a rail towards a mud pit. They have to pull the lever dropping a hook just in time to catch the wire to stop them. Pull the lever too soon or too late, and they get launched into the mud pit. A fighter pilot tries and fails, then Jake tries it and succeeds.
And because the bombs didn't drop the first time due to a malfunction, they have to do it again.
Anachronism Stew: The A-6E wasn't fielded in Vietnam during the setting of the film, but this was forgivable as all previous A and B models had been refit. What's not forgivable is a song by Stevie Ray Vaughan (from 1988) being played during a bar fight, despite the film being set in 1971.
Anti-Air: Given the protagonists' role as ground-attack pilots, tasked with flying at low altitude, they find themselves constantly exposed to virtually every flavor of this imaginable, often with horrifying results. Late in the film, Cole and Grafton decide to get some payback by attacking SAM City.
Berserk Button: While he is more than willing to perform airstrikes that kill hundreds of enemy troops, Grafton does not want to be reminded of how many peoples' deaths he has personally caused in his air strikes.
Commander Camparelli seems to have almost nothing but berserk buttons. Or at least, Grafton seems incapable of doing anything except push them.
Coming In Hot: In the beginning of the film. There isn't anything particularly wrong with their plane, but Grafton's Bombadier-Navigator has been mortally wounded, and Jake is trying to help control the bleeding while trying to land the plane.
Cool Plane: Half of the point of the movie is that the Grumman A-6 Intruder could be considered an aversion. Limited to subsonic speeds, carrying no guns or air-to-air weapons, and resembling nothing so much as a giant tadpole with wings, the Intruder is as uncool as it gets, but is remarkably good at what it does, which is low-level attack, often at night.
The Douglas A-1 Skyraider, call sign "Sandy", is a cool plane just because it's a prop-driven attack plane in a war that's two decades into the jet age.
Composite Character: Several supporting characters get merged (or get callsigns from other characters who are written out. Notably, New Guy becomes Razor, and Tiger Cole gets Razor's Porn Stache and Major Allen's fate.
Cool Ship: The USS Independence. It's a supercarrier that can carry and launch upwards of a hundred jets.
Death from Above: More often than not, the main characters. During the climax of the film, the US Air Force A-1 "Sandy" attack planes as well, which we get to see strafing and bombing the North Vietnamese Army troops and dealing out a Mercy Kill to Tiger Cole.
Desk Jockey: The Intel officer is obviously not an aviator.
Every Helicopter Is A Huey: Averted. The one time a helicopter is featured in the film, it is an HH-3 "Jolly Green Giant" rescue chopper, easily recognized for being designed with a boat-hull for a lower body, being designed for amphibious operations.
Fatal Family Photo: The Boxman dies soon after receiving a letter from a girlfriend saying they're having a baby.
They call the anti-aircraft missiles "Sam": Surface to Air Missile
Guns Akimbo: How Grafton takes out the sniper at the climax of the film.
Guy in Back: Due to the way their plane is designed, he's actually a Guy On The Right. The Bombadier-Navigators. note The senseless death of Grafton's first GIB, Morg, is what sets the plot in motion.
High-Speed Missile Dodge: The pilots find themselves having to dive towards incoming missiles more than once in order to force them to overshoot. One pilot fails to do this, and is killed by the Splash Damage when the missile detonates near his plane.
Ironic Nickname: Razor, decided upon as a better nickname than New Guy, for a pilot who doesn't look old enough to start shaving yet. When he turns out to be very bloodthirsty when it comes to defending downed fellow pilots, Camparelli decides that his new callsign is "Straight Razor".
Karma Houdini: Grafton and Tiger Cole fly into restricted airspace and bomb a missile stockpile in downtown Hanoi, against standing orders. After a brief court martial, the judging officers learn that President Richard Nixon has just authorized Operation Linebacker II, the unlimited aerial bombing of all enemy targets in North Vietnam, they are told not to tell anybody and returned to duty to avoid the embarrassment of punishing pilots doing precisely that.
Kill It with Fire: The Air Force "Sandy" attack planes drop napalm on the North Vietnamese troops to keep them away from downed American aviators.
Murphy's Bullet: After Grafton and Morg use sophisticated electronic countermeasures to throw off radar-guided anti-aircraft guns, Morg is hit when a man on the ground blindly fires a single shot into the night sky at the sound of a jet.
New Meat: A new pilot has the bad timing to arrive very soon after the death of a beloved comrade. Everybody is too emotionally drained to come up with a nickname for him, they briefly consider calling him "New Guy", but decide on Razor instead.
Nom de Guerre: Being a movie about combat pilots, there are quite a few. Cool Hand, Razor, The Boxman, Morgue, Tiger, etc.
No One Gets Left Behind: The climax of the film. The North Vietnamese capitalize on this by using downed airmen as bait to draw the Air Force rescue aircraft in closer to their anti-aircraft guns. Leads to a Heroic Sacrifice.
Percussive Maintenance: Tiger claims that when the targeting computer fails, that the manual says you should kick it to get it going again. Which he proceeds to do.
Plane Spotting: Where to start? Obviously, there is the A-6 Intruder and its A-6B "Iron Hand" SAM-hunting variant. We also see A-1 Skyraiders, an HH-3 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter, and a variety of other planes.
Playing Possum: An NVA trooper is shot dead by Commander Camparelli when he tries to search the cockpit of his crashed plane.
Porn Stache: It's a wonder that Wilem Dafoe's mustache didn't get a casting credit.
Race Lift: The Sino-American girl that Grafton has a romance with in the book is replaced by the blonde widow of a pilot unnamed in the film, who was a friend to the slain Morg and his family.
Revised Ending: The ending is tightened up a bit by the removal of the Air Force Major, and thus his entire mini-arc, from the end of the book. His Heroic Sacrifice instead goes to Tiger Cole, calling in an airstrike on himself because the NVA are using him as bait. A lot more of the supporting characters are otherwise directly involved, however, with Grafton saving Dookie Camparelli rather than Tiger Cole.
Rogue Agent: Grafton and Tiger Cole decide to do a two-man raid in downtown Hanoi. In the book, the target was the Communist Party Headquarters, in the movie, it was a stockpile of anti-aircraft missiles
Wild Weasel: One mission flown in the movie has them in a variant of the Intruder designed for "Iron Hand" missions, hunting down enemy Anti-Air radar sites. A key weapon in this mission is the Shrike, which can follow the enemy's radar signal to the target. The climactic battle at the end of the film has the Intruders flying a daylight mission to suppress enemy air defenses and clear a safe path for the Air Force bombers.
Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Not on purpose, anyhow. Although the one-plane air raid Grafton and Cole went on went dangerously close to averting this.