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Film / Miracle Mile

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Miracle Mile is a 1988 apocalyptic thriller film written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt (Cherry 2000). The title refers to the film's setting, the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles.

The film starts out as a romantic comedy, with Harry (Anthony Edwards), a jazz musician, and Julie (Mare Winningham), a coffee shop waitress, meeting and falling in love one afternoon. The two make plans for a date later that evening after Julie finishes work, but Harry's alarm clock fails to ring due to a power failure and he oversleeps. Waking up in the middle of the night, he races to the coffee shop, only to find that Julie has already left, so he leaves her an apologetic message on a pay phone. After he hangs up, the phone rings and Harry answers it, hoping it's Julie; instead, a panicked voice tells him that missile 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 Harry it was a joke and to forget everything he's heard, 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 the third act it hits the point where an entire city reaches a state of panic and utter chaos emerges.
    • This is despite the fact that it is 5am and most of the city would just be waking up and getting ready for work.
  • Apocalypse How: Nuclear war has apparently already begun. All that's left to do is wait for the missiles to land.
  • 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 Damn Heroes: Attempted by the helicopter pilot at the end, when he keeps his promise to return for Harry and Julie, even while injured, but it is negated when the EMP of one of the warheads knocks the helicopter out of the sky. Still, he gets points for trying.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Harry screams at the diner patrons to shut up when they ignore his talk about the man on the phone.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends at La Brea Tar Pits.
  • The Cameo: Author, actor and former career criminal Eddie Bunker plays the gas station attendant.
  • Cold War: The cold war has apparently gone nuclear without any warning.
  • Cool Car: Harry starts out the film with a very nice 1960 Buick Electra 225 sedan. Unfortunately, it's stolen soon after he tells the people in the diner about the call.
    • An old flame of Julie's elderly roommate is shown driving a well-maintained 1950 Pontiac Streamliner Station Wagon.
    • When he first runs into Harry, Wilson is shown driving an iconic Chevrolet Chevy II "Nova" convertible.
  • Cop Killer: Wilson 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 Wilson, the police are hot on his tail. They explicitly call him a cop killer on their bullhorn.
  • The Conspiracy: Apparently, someone deliberately wants to keep the public uninformed about incoming missiles, killing launch technicians in the process.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Harry leaves his keys in the ignition of his car before heading into the diner. Once everyone inside becomes aware that nuclear war after the next hour is a very real possibility, someone steals his car due to the keys having been left inside. Had Harry just done what any sane person living in Los Angeles and owning a desirable classic car would do and taken the keys inside with him, he would have been able to pick up Julie, meet up with the other patrons at the airport and gotten out of town with at least a half hour to spare.
  • 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.
  • 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 in time, dying as the missiles fall around them.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: In the third act, when everything is going to hell, one car attempts to ram through traffic and explodes on impact. It's referenced in the film's poster, providing the mushroom cloud.
  • 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.
  • Eye Scream: Once the missiles strike and detonate, Gearstead covers his face to avoid the blinding light, though he wasn't quick enough as his eyes proceed to melt through his fingers.
  • Foreshadowing: Harry jokes with some schoolkids about what their skulls will look like if they're found in the tar pits in 10,000 years. In the end, he and Julie are both submerged in the tar pits, and Harry notes that they might be found inside one day.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: 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.
  • Genre Shift: From Romantic Comedy to apocalyptic thriller. 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 first 15 minutes, until the inciting incident, is a romance between two quirky young adults. When Harry gets the phone call, the genre promptly shifts.
  • Hellish Copter: Played with. The pilot does return for Julie and Harry, though he is badly wounded. They do manage to take off but three missiles hit the city and detonate, the EMP blast knocking out the helicopter's engine and causing it to splash down in the La Brea tar pits where it starts sinking and filling with tar and all Harry can do is comfort Julie in their final moments.
  • 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 crashes.
  • 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. The Bluray cover simply has a flaming palm tree.
  • Manly Gay: The "powerlifter" helicopter pilot (played by the rugged Brian Thompson) is quite macho. When his loved one Leslie turns out to be a man, it's treated as a surprise. He defiantly asks Harry if he's going to have a problem with it before they get down to business.
  • Man on Fire: The police officers who accidentally light themselves on fire.
  • Meet Cute: Harry and Julie meet at La Brea Tar Pits, where Harry amuses her with various jokes, but the moment he tries to make his move, an old couple gets between them, and she walks away. Just as he's lamenting his bad fortune, she finds him, and they go on a date.
  • 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's called "powerlifter" in the credits.
  • Posthumous Narration: Harry narrates the opening scene of the film about falling in love with Julie, but they both die in the end.
  • Prank Call: Discussed. The diner patrons insist that "Chip" is just a prank caller before Landa starts corraborating parts of his story. Even Harry starts to doubt in the third act.
  • 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 a bussinesswoman to a 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.
  • Shown Their Work: A minor example, but Chip admits that he accidentally dialed a 213 area code (Los Angeles) when he was trying to contact someone in the Orange County area code of 714.
  • 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 tries to instruct her to get away from the pumps. However, due to being covered in gas as well, he catches on fire, falls on top of his partner and the fire only gets stronger, burns both officers alive and causes the gas station to explode.
  • 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, Chip, 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.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The transvestite at the diner is a pretty early example and displays no Camp Gay stereotypical features. Instead, she spends most of her dialogue simply trying to give an old man proper directions across town. When the diner patrons start panicking over Harry's story of the caller, she calmly decides to disregard the the story as a Prank Call.