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Film / Miracle Mile

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Miracle Mile is a 1988 apocalyptic thriller written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt (Cherry 2000).

Harry (Anthony Edwards) makes a date with Julie (Mare Winningham), but his alarm clock fails to ring and he oversleeps. Instead, Harry receives an anonymous phone call, and the panicked caller tells him that nuclear strikes have been ordered, and all-out nuclear war will begin within the hour.

The call turns out to be a wrong number, the caller is interrupted by someone else who tells him it was a joke and Harry is left wondering whether the news is legitimate. The remainder of the film is spent more or less in Real Time as Harry looks for Julie, tries to confirm the news, and wonders what to do next.


MAJOR SPOILERS follow. As the film depends heavily on twists and reveals for its impact, spoilers are unavoidable. If you want to keep your surprise, watch the film first, then come back here. And don't click any of the icons on the top of the page. You Have Been Warned.

Miracle Mile provides examples of:

  • Apocalypse Anarchy:
    • Since the message keeps on spreading without any confirmation from anyone over the course of the film, by third act it hits the point where an entire city reaches a state of panic and utter chaos emerges within minutes. Harry starts to seriously question what he's done after witnessing the carnage.
    • It turns out Harry was being told the truth from the phone call and the nuclear missiles impact not long after he questions himself on if he was just pranked by a phone call. Though he shouldn't have these thoughts after having the phone call's authenticity already confirmed by Landa in the diner.
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  • Apocalypse How: Class 1; if the voice on the phone is telling the truth, much of the United States and Soviet Union are dead.
  • Armies Are Evil: They've probably started World War III, without any prior indications of tense international situation or ongoing conflict. And they want to keep it secret from their own civilian population.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Harry screams at the diner patrons to shut up when they ignore his talk about the man on the phone.
  • The Cameo: One of two major motion picture appearances for Denise Crosby after she left Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • Cassandra Truth: Refreshingly averted, as most people Harry actually talks to do believe him, especially in the diner after Landa is quickly convinced and cites her reasons to everyone else there. There are a couple people who don't believe Harry or Landa.
  • The Conspiracy: Apparently, someone deliberately wants to keep the public uninformed about incoming missiles, killing launch technicians in the process.
  • Cop Killer: The car thief Harry briefly partners up with accidentally kills two police officers, as he sprays them with gasoline to escape arrest, and then the officers fire their guns, lighting themselves on fire. When Harry re-encounters the thief, the police are hot on his tail due to his actions.
  • Creepy Gas Station Attendant: An urban version of the creepy gas station attendant appears when Harry and Wilson the stereo thief stop at a service station to call Julie on the payphone. The gun-totting nightwatchman pointedly calls Wilson "Boy" and makes the customers pump their own gas. When the police show up to arrest Harry and Wilson, the attendant forms an Enemy Mine situation with Wilson due to fear of being arrested if the police realize that he doesn't have a permit for his shotgun.
  • Deadline News: The newscast about "reports of panic caused by unconfirmed nuclear attack" cuts to a reporter on the streets who gets shot in the next 10 seconds. The cameraman is shot soon after. And technically even the anchorman will be this once the nukes drop.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: Sure, the streets are going to get packed. But it's 4 in the morning when the news first dropped, so that won't happen right away. Harry could've been able to get to the airport by car without a problem for most of the film.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The man who tries to kill Harry for jumping on top of his car.
  • Downer Ending: The call was real. Nuclear war commences, and Harry and Julie fail to escape Los Angeles on time, dying as the missiles fall around them.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole movie takes place over the course of a day. After Harry receives the phone call, the movie runs in Real Time.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Harry and Julie take comfort in dying in the La Brea Tar Pits to join the past extinct animals, and according to the director, they will become diamonds in the future.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • If his alarm clock had rung, Harry would have been out with Julie and wouldn't have gotten the phone call. Harry realizes this in the third act, and wonders why he couldn't just have found out like everybody else.
    • If Julie had just waited for Harry at the heliport, they would've made it to the airport with time to spare.
    • Even earlier, Harry could've simply waited for Julie's parents to take them to the airport. The streets don't get packed until the last 15 minutes.
  • Fetch Quest: A seemingly never-ending string of these happen to Harry. It eventually get him and Julie killed, since he wasted almost the entire time they had without progressing even a step toward safety.
  • Genre Shift: From Romantic Comedy to apocalyptic drama. It even manages to mislead the audience, as the first scenes are shown as if it's happening in the future, with Harry having lost Julie.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The film starts as an ordinary romance between two quirky young adults, until Harry gets the phone call.
  • Hero of Another Story: Since the film is loaded with dozens of characters, but focuses on Harry's adventures exclusively, it's a given. There are all the diner patrons, the thief between meeting Harry for the first and second time, the yuppies at the skyscraper's roof, the pilot between his flights, Julie's parents...
  • Hope Spot:
    • At one point, it seems that Chips had been in fact lying, as the nukes fail to appear at the time he said they would. This trope is played straight when, only a few minutes later, a missile flies by overhead, confirming Chip's story.
    • The helicopter pilot appears at the landing pad, although wounded, and tries to fly Harry and Julie out of Los Angeles. Then a nuke detonates over the city, causing an EMP and the helicopter to crash into the La Brea Tar Pits.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The diner's owner's steadfast refusal to do anything else than going straight to the airport with as much supplies as he can carry. At this point, wasting even few seconds on just about anything can be lethal, so he doesn't even slow down that much when Harry jumps out of the truck. He doesn't let Harry go for Julie because he knows that anyone else would immediately ask to pick up their loved ones as well, sending them all into a Fetch Quest, losing valuable time.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The home video cover pretty much gives away that the call is real.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: For a story told in Real Time, the film is crowded to the brim with characters, each of them playing their own part and each with their own story going on.
  • Manly Gay: The pilot and his boyfriend manage to be and act manly. All while wearing spandex and '80s Hair.
  • Man on Fire: The police officers who accidentally light themselves on fire.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Harry after Julie tells him all of this was just a cruel prank, since they've should be dead already. And even after she is proven wrong and the missiles are really closing in, Harry is still in shock due to the widespread carnage he caused.
  • No Name Given: Brian Thompson's pilot character is never named. He was only called "helicopter pilot" in the credits.
  • Prank Call: It is not made clear until the third act if the call was genuine or just an elaborate prank.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Justified. The group from the diner consists of random strangers, who all happend to be in the joint in the middle of the night, ranging from bussinesswoman to homeless hobo. From what's seen, they create a suprisingly effective team.
  • Real Time: After the opening, the story is told exclusively in real time.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Harry and Julie spend most of the movie trying to get to safety. They don't make it; their helicopter is affected by the EMP and crashes in the La Brea Tar Pits. Cue credits.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Chip the silo technician, for spreading the warning by calling Harry on a wrong number, and Landa, who appears for less than ten minutes, for confirming it by calling local politicians she knows and finding out they've all left town, which convinces most of the others at the diner.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two cops who get sprayed with gasoline. Both cops know what they got sprayed with yet one of them fires off her gun which ignites the gas and sets her ablaze. Once she's on the ground burning, the other cop runs over and jumps on top of her in an attempt to put out the fire. Since he was also covered with gasoline, the fire only gets stronger and burns both officers alive.
  • Trope Breaker: The story requires both widespread public phones and lack of cell phones to work.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Chip, the anonymous caller. The entire suspense of the film is build around the inability to check if his call was real.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Harry drops a lit cigarette without putting it out. As a result, a bird picks it up, accidentally causing a fire that knocks out the power in Harry's apartment. As a result, he's late in picking Julie up, and arrives at the diner in time to pick up the phone call.
  • The Voice: The caller, Chips, and whoever picked the phone after shooting him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The film is told entirely from Harry's perspective, so we never find out what happened to the other diner patrons or staff. When the car thief reappears near the end, he's clearly had an adventure as crazy as Harry's but he dies before he can explain what happened to him.
    • The diner survivors aren't seen after Harry dives out of the van. We know they planned on going to the Antarctic, but we do not know if they succeed or if they didn't make it to safety in time.


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