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Film: Space Cowboys

Space Cowboys is a movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood released in 2000. It tells the story of a four-man team who, while test pilots for the USAF in the 1950s, missed out on their chance to join the American space program, but who get another chance 40 years later.

It turns out that one of them had devised a satellite system that was stolen by Soviet spies. They ended up using it for their own satellite, which they say is a large communication satellite, too large to be carried back to Earth in a shuttle. Seventeen years after its launch, its orbit is decaying, and the Russians are being surprisingly insistent on having the satellite fixed, saying that its loss could cause a catastrophic breakdown in Russian communications, and at worse, touch off a civil war. The only person who can do the job is the original designer - who agrees, but only if his three old buddies come along as well. Hilarity Ensues as NASA must prepare the oldsters for the trip.

What they don't find out until almost too late is that the satellite is actually a nuclear missile platform, making the mission more dramatic.

Not to be confused with Space Truckers, or stories that contain cowboy-style people in space - see Space Western.


Contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Played with. The four leads have played Badass characters in other films (most notably Clint) and here they're a team of badasses.
    • The scene in which Maryann the chimp tries to shake Frank's hand could be a reference to Every Which Way But Loose, in which Clint Eastwood starred alongside a chimpanzee.
  • All-Star Cast: Almost all the lead actors are played by highly-skilled veteran actors who have been in a number of notable pictures, which could explain why the chemistry between them is excellent.
  • Artistic License - Physics: The satellite's orbit is decaying because it's heavy. In real life, a satellite's orbit decays due to drag from the outer atmosphere; a heavy satellite's orbit would decay more slowly than a light satellite's orbit.
    • Not necessarily. It actually depends on, ironically, its aerodynamics. And that didn't exactly look like the Concorde. Still the wrong rationale used in-film, though.
      • Of course, the "Too Heavy" part may have been a cover, given the satellite's real purpose.
      • Given that the satellite was 50 tons [Energia could only bring 20 to GTO. The N1 can only carry 25 tons beyond LEO] the Soviets probably didn't manage to launch it into GTO properly anyway. It might have started out much lower, or had an eccentric orbit that took it further into the atmosphere. Apogee drops faster than perigee, making the orbit more circular.
    • Also: a tour guide states that in order to reach the Moon, you only have to get something (in this case, a hypothetical baseball) halfway there, since the Moon's gravity would take it the rest of the way. This comes up again at the end, when there is not enough fuel available to get the satellite all the way to the Moon, but it's supposedly okay because there's enough, given a Heroic Sacrifice, to make it halfway. While it is true that you only need to get something partway to the Moon before the Moon's gravity will carry it the rest of the way in, the distance required is closer to 95%, not halfway.
  • Badass Grandpa: The movie.
  • Badass Preacher: "Tank" Sullivan (James Garner), Air Force test pilot turned Baptist minister.
  • Black Box: The only reason NASA even deigns to contact Corvin is because he is the only man still alive familiar with Skylab's and thereby the satellite's revolutionary yet antiquated guidance system. It does invert the usual reasons for this trope. The system isn't a black box because it's revolutionary and advanced, it's a black box because it's so obsolete no-one can figure it out.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Jerry (Sutherland). He nonetheless passes the NASA eyesight test by memorizing the letters. Later on, he gets custom-made Cool Shades.
  • (Flying) Brick Joke/Continuity Nod: About the Shuttle.
    Roger Hines: It's not an airplane, Colonel, it's a flying brick on approach.
    (later...)
    Eugene 'Gene' Davis: Easy, Frank, she's not a fighter jet.
    Frank Corvin: "Flying brick".
    Eugene 'Gene' Davis: I hope not.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Frank and his wife were surprised, to say the least, when the NASA agents showed up.
  • The Casanova: Jerry is an unrepentant—and for his age, pretty successful—womanizer.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Double the pleasure, double the fun.
    • First, the whole point of the story. See Black Box. Frank apparently got involved in the Apollo Applications Program, and designed the guidance system for Skylab. That's what was used on the satellite that they need to repair so urgently. And he's the only one left alive that knows anything about it.
    • Second, their own skill as pilots, which proves early on not to have decayed much over time. It ultimately helps them through the Reentry Scare.
  • Cool Old Guy: A band of them.
  • Companion Cube: The hula-dancing Hawaiian girl dashboard ornament.
  • Contemplative Boss: When Gerson summons Corvin (Eastwood) and Hawkins (Jones) to his office after they have crashed yet another prototype, he stands with his back to them, looking out the window, and pointedly asks why he's seeing smoke in the distance.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: The satellite's boosters fire on a trajectory that conveniently gets to the moon - and quickly enough that Hawk's air doesn't run out.
  • Convenient Terminal Illness: Hawkins has pancreatic cancer, so he doesn't mind saving the world by taking a one-way trip to the moon.
  • Dirty Old Man: Jerry, again.
    • Frank actually gets this from his wife in their last moment of normal life before the NASA officials showed up. They briefly thought he was assaulting her before realizing they were a married couple playing around.
  • Evil Is Petty: Bob Gerson is just plain mean to everyone, especially Frank, for no apparent reason other than his own bitterness.
  • Genre Shift: From a light-hearted comedy to a compelling drama, just over half way through. Handled quite well.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The bittersweet yet heartwarming ending: after Hawk manually ignites the rockets on the Russian satellite and "pilots" it to the moon, finally getting to make the journey. The closing moments show him lying in the wreckage gazing down on the Earth as Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" plays.
    • Not so bittersweet when you remember that Hawk has a Convenient Terminal Illness
    • How did he survive the impact with the lunar surface at all? The rockets he ignited would have only put him on a lunar intercept trajectory; he'd need more rockets to slow the fall.
    • He didn't — there's little doubt about that even in the movie. Hawk's suit is not intact and his supplementary oxygen tank was breached. Nor did he have a moon suit. His goal wasn't to land on the moon — it was to be buried there.
    • He was probably dead long before anyway. It takes three days for conventional rockets to get to the Moon. The Extravehicular Mobility Unit only has 8 1/2 hours of oxygen.
      • Of course, he mostly skipped the "deceleration" phase of his trip; that would save time.
      • He does ask for every spare oxygen bottle they have before leaving. And they did have one remaining Payload Assist Module, which an extraordinarily skilled pilot might have been able to use to cushion a crash landing on the moon.
      • Given he's no longer strapped to the rocket but leaning against a moon boulder looking towards Earth, while it's possible he was flung there by the impact the movie seems to want us to think he lived long enough to literally walk on the moon for a moment.
  • Husky Russkie: Genral Vostov fits this trope pretty damn well.
  • Idiot Ball: Ethan Glance grabs it, tucks it under his arm, and runs all the way to the endzone.
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted, most impressively in the final scene mentioned above, where all we see is Hawk's reflective faceplate - arguably making it more poignant.
  • Jerk Ass: Bob Gerson, played magnificently by James Cromwell.
  • Leno Device: Team Daedalus take a break from their training at NASA to make an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The actors appeared in character on the show and it doubled as promotion for the film.
  • Looping Lines: The opening sequence has Eastwood and Jones doing a fairly obvious dub job over the younger actors.
  • Missed the Call: Team Daedalus never got to go into space back in the day because NASA decided to use monkeys instead.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: a non-human example (so it may be another trope), but IKON, for a communications satellite, is a gigantic and intimidating thing.
    • Granted, it's not really a communications satellite...
  • Naked People Are Funny: All four must strip naked for their physical examination. When the (female) doctor enters the room, they cover their private parts in embarrassment, except Jerry who allows her to get an eyeful. And she obviously likes what she sees.
  • Older and Wiser: Averted. Older the protagonists may be, but they still behave, by their own admission, like "kids who never grew up".
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Corvin insists on reuniting Team Daedalus and going into space as the price for his co-operation, so NASA sends out two people to round them up.
  • Reentry Scare
    • Comes together with a Chekhov's Skill during the earlier flight simulator scene: in a some variety of Technician Versus Performer, or Good Old Ways, or any of the related tropes, the Team Daedalus manage to "land" the "Space Shuttle", but only after the computer is disabled and they have to do it manually. The younger generation astronauts find this nigh-unbelievable.
  • Retired Badass: The whole of Team Daedalus.
  • Running Gag: Whenever the four men catch wind of an old peer from someone, they ask how that person is doing. The response is usually that they're dead.
    "Have you noticed that everyone's dead lately?"
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: First Bob, then Hawk, with the latter only possible because of the former.
  • Space Is Noisy
  • Technology Marches On: The reason for the entire plot. Corvin is chosen for the mission because of his familiarity with several outdated computer systems and programming languages.
  • Truth in Television: The story was inspired by John Glenn's 1998 space flight, when he was 77.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Hawk and Frank. They're always fighting.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A young man wants a ride on Hawk's bi-plane for his birthday. Everyone, from Hawk to the audience (but not his girlfriend, thanks to Hawk), learns that the kid does not have a strong stomach.
  • Younger than They Look: Tommy Lee Jones is 11 years younger than Donald Sutherland, 17 than Clint Eastwood, and 19 than James Garner, yet is portrayed as being around the same age bracket as them (though he is the youngest member of Team Daedalus). Jones was 54 when starring in a film where there was a Running Gag of all the leads' old friends having passed away from age and the like.


Solaris (2002)Science Fiction FilmsSunshine
Snow DayFilms of 2000 - 2004 The Specials

alternative title(s): Space Cowboys
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