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Film / Iron Eagle

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"God doesn't give people talents that he doesn't want people to use. And he gave you The Touch. It's a power inside of you, down there where you keep your guts boy. It's all you need to blast your way in and get back what they took from you."
Charles "Chappy" Sinclair

Iron Eagle is an action film series that lasted just under ten years, from 1986 to 1995. They follows the exploits of the United States Air Force Colonel (later Brigadier General) Charles "Chappy" Sinclair (played by Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr.) in his seemingly never-ending battles against hostile foreign regimes, drug smugglers, terrorists, and rogue government agents. The films were directed by Canadian filmmaker Sidney J. Furie, with the exception of the third entry which was helmed by former Bond director John Glen. The films are known for their spectacular aerial action sequences, over-the-top soundtracks, and jingoistic political sentiments - the latter courtesy of screenwriter Kevin Alyn Elders and whichever government was helping produce the film.

The first film was not a financial success nor was it critically well-received, but it performed well-enough on the home video and cable TV market to spawn several sequels, with the continuity character oddly being Chappy instead of Doug. Iron Eagle II even goes so far as to kill Doug off in the first five minutes.


With their focus on High-Altitude Battles and Old-School Dogfights, the films have inevitable drawn comparisons with Top Gun, with the first film often being perceived as a cash-in attempt off its unprecedented success. In fact, the first Iron Eagle entered production before Top Gun, was released first, and had a slightly higher budget. This hasn't stopped it from being referred to as "the poor man's Top Gun", a fact not helped by the increasingly preposterous and cheap sequels. That many of the films were produced in Canada or Israel helps add to "foreign ripoff" perception.

There have been four installments in the Iron Eagle film series to date, with the last coming out in 1995. They are:

  • Iron Eagle (1986) - When Air Force Colonel Ted Masters is shot down by an anonymous Middle Eastern country and taken prisoner, his oldest son and hotshot wannabe pilot, Doug (Jason Gedrick), becomes frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape in the effort to have his father released. Taking matters into their own hands, he and his friends turn to retired Colonel Charles "Chappy" Sinclair (Gossett Jr.) to mount their own rescue operation. "Chappy" refuses at first, but identifies with Doug's pain, having seen his own friends left behind. He challenges Doug to demonstrate his skill, and is amazed to learn that the kid is a prodigy in the cockpit. Finally convinced, they use their connections on the base, a bit of cunning, and a bit of subterfuge to procure two F-16s, armed to the teeth, and proceed to launch an all-out assault on the enemy nation. However, when Chappy is shot down in a border skirmish, Doug is forced to muster the courage to go it alone. Cue epic air battles and lots of asskicking. One of the iconic elements of the film is Doug's music - he's an expert pilot when amped up on Queen, not so much when forced to do without. If you remember nothing else about Iron Eagle, you'll still recall Doug blowing the crap out of Evil Foreigners to the tune of "One Vision".
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  • Iron Eagle II (1988) - After Doug is shot down and (presumably) killed over Soviet airspace, Chappy is brought out of retirement to lead a joint American-Soviet strike force against yet another anonymous Middle Eastern country, this time to destroy a nuclear weapons compound that threatens both the United States and the Soviet Union. As one might expect, tensions are high between the two groups, especially when it's revealed the Soviet ace pilot (played by Colm Feore) is the one responsible for Doug's death. The two groups must learn to put their differences aside and work together to pulls off the mission. This entry is notable for being the first to be shot mostly in Canada (the original was a Canadian-US-Israeli co-production, but was shot mostly in California and Tel Aviv), meaning the sudden influx of Canadian actors playing both Americans and Russians.
  • Aces: Iron Eagle III (1992) - Aces came out four years after the last film, with change in producer, studio, and director resulting in an noticeable shift in tone and direction (most notably, this movie carries an R rating as opposed to the PG and PG-13 ratings of the other movies). Rather than focus on a group of young, hot, scrappy misfits learning to work together, the film instead follows a group of aging World War II fighter aces whose best days are behind them, banding together to do fight a South American drug ring led by an ex-Nazi war criminal (Paul Freeman), using vintage warbirds.
  • Iron Eagle On the Attack (1995) - Features the return of Doug Masters (played by a different actor and retconned to have survived the opening of the second film), retired and living alone when he's picked up by his old friend Chappy to help run a flight school for juvenile delinquents. The trainees trainees inadvertently stumble upon a group of Air Force officers dealing in toxic waste, and a conspiracy led by a rogue Air Force officer that could kill hundreds. This is the final entry in the series, and is much closer in style and plot to the first two, with a younger cast and Canadian locations. It's the only entry in the series not written by Kevin Alyn Elders, and was released direct-to-video without a wide theatrical release.

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    Tropes that apply to the entire series: 
  • Artistic License – Military: The film plays pretty fast and loose with real-life military procedure, to the point it can often come across as comical. The only film where this isn't the case is the fourth, because at that point the characters are mostly civilians.
  • Artifact Title: The term "iron eagle" refers an American military officer who has attained the rank of colonel but will not be promoted to the rank of general. In the first film, the term refers to Chappy who retired as a Colonel, but it's rendered irrelevant by the fact he's promoted to Brigadier General in the second and maintains it for the rest of the series.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The films were all backed by the Israeli Air Force, and use Israeli military facilities and aircraft throughout. Needless to say, this creates quite a few discrepancies.

     Iron Eagle contains examples of: 
  • Abandon Ship:
  • Ace Pilot: Doug and Chappy, not to mention Colonel Masters and Colonel Nakesh.
  • Anti-Air: A battery of guns open up during the raid on the first air base. Chappie gets tagged by one and goes down in the Med.
  • Artistic License – Military: Kids allowed to run around a military base unrestricted? Stealing two F-16s? A lot of personnel at that base must have gotten disciplined after the affair. This gets a subtle Hand Wave at the end when Doug is allowed to enroll in the Air Force Academy on the condition that he "keep his big mouth shut", implying that all were sworn to absolute secrecy to save the military the embarrassment of revealing what really happened.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Justified, since rank is supposed to indicate flying experience and proficiency. However, it's also subverted, as Doug, with no rank at all and zero combat experience, outflies everyone.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Doug's gotten in enough trouble for fighting that one more incident will get him jailed or kicked out of school. Knotcher takes full advantage of this.
  • The Cavalry: Shows up at the end, as Doug's aircraft is nearly out of fuel and ammo and being pursued by enemy fighters.
    Doug: "They're ours, Dad! They're Americans!"
  • Chekhov's Skill: during Colonel Masters' "trial," the Defense Minister casually drops that he too is a fighter pilot. Guess who hops into a fighter plane at the end to take the fight to Doug personally...
  • Cool Big Bro: Doug has a warm relationship with his two sisters.
  • Cool Old Guy: Chappy, an Air Force colonel who plans strike missions while jamming out to Blues music and takes it upon himself to look after a cocky young pilot he meets in passing.
  • Congruent Memory: Doug learned to fly in a flight simulator while listening to music. Now he can't fly without listening to music.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The more enemy fighters there are, the easier they are to shoot down.
  • Creator Cameo: The leader of The Cavalry is played by the film's co-writer/executive producer Kevin Elders.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The damage to the Big Bad's country and air force is inflicted by a mere two F-16s in the hands of one combat veteran and one very skilled amateur pilot. Mostly the amateur pilot.
  • Dead Man Writing: Chappy records several taped messages for Doug in the event he goes down. They obviously get used.
  • Disney Death: Chappy gets shot down during the mission, but shortly after Doug rescues his father, Chappy is revealed to have been picked up by American forces after he went down.
  • Ejection Seat: How Chappy survives, not to mention Colonel Masters in the beginning of the film.
  • Final Battle: Doug and Col. Nakir Nakesh end up in a one-on-one aerial duel at the film's climax. A follow-up battle with more of Nakesh's men is pre-empted by the arrival of a force of USAF fighters who warn them off.
  • "Hell, Yes!" Moment: Doug has one when The Cavalry arrive.
  • Just a Kid: Doug Masters gets this from Chappy.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: The "Bilyan" characters all speak English at all times, regardless of whether they're addressing each other or the sole American.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Since the Pentagon refused to back the film, they had to use Israeli aircraft. While the Israelis also fly F-16s, they use a desert camo color scheme instead of the varying shades of gray used by the USAF. The real issue, however, comes up with the so-called "MiG-23" fighters used by the enemy pilots, which in fact are actually Kfirs, an Israeli-made version of the French Mirage V fighter.
    • Made even stranger by the fact that Mirages by then were a pretty common sight in the air forces of various Arab nations, including Libya and Iraq, so it wouldn't have been out of place to simply acknowledge them as such. Presumably, "MiG" just sounded more villainous.
  • Karma Houdini: Knotcher and his cohorts sabotage Doug's civilian plane to win a race at the risk of possibly getting Doug killed, and we see the Jerkass get nothing more than a punch in the face. It's implied that this is probably what happened to the previous kid who attempted to race against Knotcher.
  • Kick the Dog: Col. Nakesh orders his snipers to kill Doug's father as soon as Doug's plane touches down on the runway.
  • Left the Background Music On: A Running Gag throughout the movie, as much of the music we hear turns out to be from Doug's walkman. During the flashback when Doug is taking an illicit training flight with his dad, it gets a Lampshade Hanging when a fellow pilot questions Col. Masters about "hearing music".
  • Loved Ones Montage: Doug's inspiration to continue comes in large part from his buddies' spirit back home.
  • Magic Feather: Doug's music is clearly this, but in an inversion of the usual trope, Chappy encourages Doug to use it when he learns how much better it makes him fly.
  • Military Brat: Doug has a whole group of True Companions composed of them, actually, who use their access via parents to assist in planning the rescue mission..
  • Missing Man Formation: Doug asks the fighters that rescued him if they could fly the formation for "Chappy" Sinclair, who was shot down during the mission or so everyone thought. The USAF major in command of the flight responds that they were waiting for Doug to take the lead position.
  • My Greatest Failure: Chappy never got over the loss of his comrades in the war, which is part of his motivation to help Doug.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several such moments occur.
    • The first is on the ground, after the first stage of the rescue is successful.
      Doug: "Dad, will a Maverick fire if we're still on the ground?"note 
      Col. Masters: "I don't know, I never tried it, why?"
      Doug: "Because something is about to have us for breakfast..."
    • The second is in the Final Battle, when Col. Nakesh realizes that the last missile Doug fired was an AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missile.
      Doug: "So long, asshole!" (fires Sidewinder)
      Nakesh: "(screams)" (His MiG explodes)
    • The third is an implied Oh Crap on the part of the remaining enemy fighters when The Cavalry shows up.
      Pilot: "Attention unidentified aircraft, this is Major Dwight Smiley of the United States Air Force. You are following one of our F-16s in international airspace. Do you wish to engage?"
      (MiGs retreat)
      Smiley: "I didn't think so."
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Col. Masters gets shot in the shoulder by a sniper to hinder Doug's rescue. Aside from being in pain, he doesn't seem to suffer at all from the shock, loss of blood, etc.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Paired with Dramatic Irony. The audience knows from the get-go that Doug's dad has been shot down, but he goes through most of the first act worrying about getting into the Air Force Academy with his lackluster grades, listening to loud music, hanging out with friends, engaging in dangerous airplane races, and even fighting the school bully before he receives the news and the focus shifts to the main plot.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Chappy's jukebox operates this way, rather than by actual coins.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Doug delivers a pair of these to Col. Nakesh, the first being after Nakesh ordered the sniper to gun down Col. Masters on the runway during Doug's rescue attempt.
      Doug: "YOU SON OF A BITCH!!!"
    • The second one comes when Doug locks-onto Nakesh's fighter in the final battle:
      Doug: "So long, asshole!"
    • Not to mention the quick F-bomb that Chappie drops at the start of his "Twenty-two years" speech.
  • Prepare to Die: Colonel Nakesh says, "Time to die, Iron Eagle." Things didn't quite work out as he planned.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Colonel Nakesh displays this when the sniper wounds Col. Masters in the climax.
  • Qurac: the Tin Pot Dictator version. The country is unnamed, but a map of the Libyan coastline appears in briefings and it's mentioned that their hostility to the U.S. comes from arguments over the limits of their territorial waters, which mirror the real life arguments between the U.S. and Libya over the Gulf of Sidra. The flag of the country, however, is entirely made up.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: Doug's mission is basically to blow away anything in the unnamed Arab country that gets in the way of rescuing his father, and after Chappy is shot down he takes out an oil refinery.
  • Rousing Speech: Chappy's taped messages to Doug, intended to be played posthumously.
    "First thing you have to believe is nothing can stop you. You have to believe that plane you're in is like a suit of armor. Like an Iron Eagle that nothing can penetrate."
  • Say My Name: Doug's good at these. "CHAPPYYYYYYYYYYY!" *boom* . And after the sniper guns down Col. Masters, "DAAAADDD!"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chappy still struggles with the loss of his fellow pilots in Vietnam.
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: One of the mission objectives is to bomb the enemy's oil refineries if they refuse to return Col. Masters.
    Doug: "Looks like they'll be importing oil this year, Chappy."
  • Shout-Out: The callsign for "Chappy" Sinclair was originally held (albeit with a slightly different spelling) by Daniel James, Jr, a US Air Force pilot who was the first four star African-American general.
  • Skewed Priorities: Doug skips school to practice flying, hoping to sharpen his skills so he can follow in his father's footsteps as an Air Force pilot. Problem is, the Air Force Academy isn't interested in a juvenile delinquent who skips school and he should have realized that.
  • Storming the Castle: In this case, Doug storms a whole nation in his quest to rescue his father.
  • Take That!: while in jail, Colonel Masters helpfully suggests to Colonel Nakesh that he have his "Beloved Leader" (see Expy above) visit him in his cell, with a colorful suggestion as to what he'll do to him.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Chappy left detailed instructions, including answering a question Doug asked aloud in response to the previous recorded comment.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Doug literally cannot fly well without his music. But crank up the Queen, and he can score perfect hits. So when the rock starts rolling, you know ass is about to be kicked. In fact, at one point, it is implied that Doug's music causes the jets to fly faster.
  • Tranquil Fury: Doug is frustrated at how slow the progress is in trying to get his dad out of the Quraqi prison. Chappie tries to reassure him, only for Doug to accuse him of not caring what happens to Doug's dad. Chappie glares at Doug and responds:
    Chappie: Now look, let me clue you in on something right now. I've given this country twenty-two damn, fucking years of my life. Twenty-two years! I've seen young boys blown out of the air, over the Pacific. I've seen their guts sprawled all over the rice paddies in Vietnam, so whenever somebody dies for this country, believe me boy, I give a shit!
  • True Companions: Doug's high-school friends are constantly there and supportive of him throughout the movie.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Knotcher loosens the oil cap for the engine of Doug's plane just before a race against the rival's motorcycle, resulting in the plane spilling oil once the loosened cap works the rest of the way off due to engine vibration.
  • War Is Hell: A big part of why none of the Air Force officers are in a hurry to push for an armed intervention. See Chappie's Tranquil Fury speech when Doug accuses him of wanting to avoid a fight out of apathy.
  • Weapons Understudies: The Arab MiGs are played by Israeli and American jets, as well as Israeli F-16s standing in for American ones. The giveaway that the F-16s aren't American is that the Air Force has never used a desert camo pattern on the F-16s, instead painting them in a two-tone low-viz grey scheme.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Knotcher. He has Doug's Cessna sabotaged so the engine will seize, very nearly causing it to crash (all so he can win a race over nothing but bragging rights). Soon after Doug limps out of his plane and punches Knotcher in the face, we find out that Doug's dad has been shot down, and we never see or hear Knotcher again.

    Iron Eagle II contains examples of: 
  • Ace Pilot: Cooper and Lebanov, both of whom have the skills and the stereotypical attitudes. The attitude part is deconstructed, a bit, as both are apparently viewed as too reckless, especially together, by some of their superiors which is why they were both assigned to the task force in the first place and it is mentioned that Lebanov has been "three times reprimanded by the party",
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: The Russian commander misidentifies Chappy in this manner, with obvious racial overtones (although to be fair, Bush was dressed in the most military fashion of the group).
  • Artistic License – Military: Nobody would ever be allowed to get away with the insubordinate behavior of some of these misfits. Which is sort of the point since the mission was set up to fail.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When the Russians return to the final furball to aid their American comrades.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Chappy.
    "I hear they shoot communists in the street in America." "In my hometown, Detroit, they shoot everybody in the street."
  • Demolitions Expert: Graves, who happily admits that;
    Graves: I blow things up, especially people.
  • Disney Death: Doug apparently dies in the first two minutes, a fact the promotional material "accidentally" omits; however, for some reason he's back for the fourth film.
  • Enemy Mine, Divided We Fall: The Russian and American pilots do not get along well, even when forced to work together. The finally bury the hatchet after a Rousing Speech from Chappy, and the knowledge that if they don't complete their mission, thousands will die.
  • Fat Slob: Graves hygiene and appearance aren't that military.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Cooper and Yuri Lebanov initially clash a lot for being rival hot-shot pilots, and for Lebanov having been one of the pilots who shot down Doug (and Cooper having crippled Lebnaov's wing mate in the same battle) but they eventually bury the hatchet and learn to work well.
  • General Ripper: Stillmore: Who is determined to sabotage any alliance with the Russians and use maximum force in the attack.
  • Ironic Fear: Major Bush is a competent soldier and pilot, but sufferrs from crippling claustrophobia attacks. This is Played for Drama.
  • Just Plane Wrong: F-4s and Kifirs as MIG stand-ins, but considering the era it would have been impossible to get actual MIGs. Top Gun suffered the same problem.
  • Lovable Rogue: Hickman is all but stated to have been transferred to the unit after being caught in some kind of criminal activity but is ultimately a reliable member.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: When it looks like one of Graves bomb has failed and he's being criticized.
    Graves: Never criticize the cuisine before it is served.
    Cue explosion.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Intentional — the general in charge wants the mission to fail.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: One of the Russians, Koshkin, once spent five years on disciplinary duty in Siberia.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Although intended to fail, the mission succeeds anyway.
  • The Squadette: Valeri Zuyeniko...despite the fact that the Soviet Union stopped using female combat pilots after World War II. Averted in that it's Valeri that makes the final trench run shot, not Cooper.

    Aces: Iron Eagle III contains examples of: 
  • Ace Custom: Technically, all of the heros are flying Ace Customs, but the Big Bad has a one-of-a-kind WWII vintage prototype German jet fighter.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: It's unclear if it's meant to be set in 1992 (the year it came out) or some years earlier in the closer aftermath of the second movie, given that the actors are too young to be WWII veterans.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: All of the heroes' planes are fully functional World War II combat planes whose sole modification was the addition of equipment so they could fire laser-guided missiles (and also a Nitro Boost for Chappie's). The villain's plane is a rebuild of a prototype German jet fighter, sure, but it was also designed in the same time period.
  • Buy Them Off: A heroic example, when the air force gives Stockman the air show promoter several mothballed modern fighters in order to keep him from rising a stink about his planes being los t or damaged in the final mission.
  • The Cartel: Kleiss runs a drug cartel in Peru.
  • The Cavalry: DEA Agent Crawford and his men in the climax, with shades of a Gunship Rescue.
  • Continuity Nod: Chappy wears a Soviet Union emblem on his lapel, likely as a souvenir from the Soviet team of the second movie.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Anna escapes on her own at one point while being held prisoner.
  • Darker and Edgier: This is the only Iron Eagle movie not directed by Sidney J. Furie and is also the only movie to be rated R.
  • The Dragon: General Simms, who provides the main opposition in the air battles.

    Iron Eagle On the Attack contains examples of: 
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Chappie pulls off a two-stage one: First he puts on his old uniform and sets up a checkpoint, stopping a military convoy for inspection, then he declares that he will accompany them onto the base to make sure their cargo is handled properly, passing himself off to the gate guards as the convoy commander.
    • What cargo does he want handled safely? Bleach and window cleaner, on the justification that if you mix them together, you get poison gas. The poor convoy commander got the third degree from Chappie for this too.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: At the end, Kettle is last seen entering the contaminated chamber, implying he may rather die than be arrested and maybe humiliated. However, we don't see the rest of his fate, though it's implied he dies.
  • Big Bad Friend: Kettle.
  • Continuity Nod: The events of the first and second movie are mentioned in passing.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: In a variant, the climax has Peter struggling to do this after boarding the bad guys plane, not to lighten the load of the plane, but to keep the gas canisters from reaching Cuba.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Major Pierce allows himself to be shot down by Doug during the final dogfight rather than eject from his plane, despite Doug's pleas.
    Major Pierce: Death, thou shalt die.
  • Karma Houdini: Luther, the drug dealer Wheeler hangs out with, unless you consider him blowing up his own money as his punishment.
  • Playful Hacker: Kitty, who sues this to save their lives.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Did we mention that it's a flight school for juvenile delinquents? Chappie runs the school as a sort of reform program to keep the kids out of jail.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Played with. Initially, the prop-driven trainers are able to get some cheap shots in on the F-16s sent after them because they fly too slow for the fast-moving jets to line up a shot on without overshooting. One of the pilots quickly figures out they are just using the wrong strategy, but gets shot down by Doug before he can apply what he had learned.
  • Run for the Border: Shortly after being placed under Chappy's care, Wheeler and Rudy make an attempt to steal a plane and fly to Mexico. He puts a stop to this fairly easily.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Doug Masters, after his time as a POW.
  • Staying Alive: Doug survived his Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome from the second film. It turns out, he managed to eject and was a guest in a Soviet prison for the duration of the Cold War.
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Kitty Shaw has a pretty long one.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kettle. He plans on using the chemical weapon Pandora on Cuba just to get rid of communism, though it would cost the lives of civilians in the process.
  • Western Terrorists: All USAF officers, of course, the ones trying to use chemical weapons on Cuba just to eliminate communism.


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