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Film / Reign of Fire

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Ancient man had made them into myths, but nature had made something far more terrible.

Quinn: He's a Dragon Slayer.
Creedy: What?
Quinn: A Dragon Slayer.
Creedy: Oh, he's a Dragon Slayer. I suppose that would make you King Arthur, does it?

Reign of Fire is a 2002 Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction Action film directed by Rob Bowman (The X-Files: Fight the Future) and starring Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey and Izabella Scorupco.

In 2008, 12-year-old Quinn Abercromby stumbles upon a sleeping dragon recently unearthed at a construction site in London. Said dragon then awakens and proceeds to decimate the construction site and kill everyone present, except for young Quinn. Before long more dragons hatch and proceed to multiply across the face of the Earth at an exponential rate, burning human civilization as they go. After Paris is burnt to the ground and attacks in Kenya kill dozens of people, the humans decide to just nuke the dragons out of existence. Unfortunately, this backfires, and while they do kill some dragons they also end up wiping out human civilization as we know it and sending the survivors back to the dark ages.

12 years later, Quinn (Bale) is leading with his best friend Creedy (Butler) a small band of surviving humans living in Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. The people hope to survive by keeping their heads down until the dragons run out of food and starve themselves to death, as fossil evidence in Antarctica suggests they had before. Unfortunately, a dragon follows some of the people back to the village and burns their crops. Days later, a band of American dragon hunters, led by Denton Van Zan (McConaughey) and Alex Jensen (Scorupco), comes to the village. After killing the dragon that burned the crops, Van Zan reveals that all of the dragons seen in the world are female, and there is only one male, who fertilizes the females' eggs like a salmon. If this dragon can be slain, the dragons will be unable to reproduce.

Received two Licensed Games, one for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Xbox (notable for the PS2 and Xbox versions to get an M rating while the Gamecube version received a T), and another for Game Boy Advance. Both games can put the player in the role of either a human or a maturing dragon.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: The dragons can't see well in the light of dawn and dusk.
  • Action Duo: Quinn is the Action Survivor, Van Zan the Action Hero. This puts them at loggerheads for much of the film.
  • Action Girl: She's not that over the top an example, but in the final confrontation Alex is no less competent than Van Zan or Quinn.
  • After the End: Between the opening scenes and the movie proper, dragons have destroyed about everything.
  • All There in the Manual: Quinn's last name.
  • America Saves the Day: Lampshaded by the British characters snarking that the Irregulars are worse than the looter gang they initially expected them to be. Subverted in that nothing goes well for the Americans, they cause the destruction of the castle, many needless deaths with nothing to show for it, Van Zan dies rather spectacularly, Quinn is the one that actually kills the male dragon, and only a handful of Americans are still alive at the end.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Van Zan makes it clear that refusing to give aid and shelter to his dragon slaying force is not an option, given their superior firepower.
  • Anti-Hero: Van Zan. Depending on how you look at it Quinn might count as an anti-hero for much of the film.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 2 for humanity, with the possibility of it growing into a Class 3a if the dragons outlast the humans. For the biosphere it's a Class 4 due to the dragons scorching all the lands to ashes for them to consume, and humans' Nuke 'em actions before society collapsed likely helped.
  • Apocalyptic Log: As the introducing voice-over explains what happened after the first dragon awakens, we see a newspaper montage covering different stages of the dragon apocalypse, from the first scientific articles to the war itself. A nib pen, presumably Quinn's, scratches out a message to his adopted son.
  • Artistic License Biology: Numerous, but most strangely is the fact there seems to be millions of dragons across the entire planet, but only one of them is male.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The entire "skydiving with a metal net to make a dragon fall to its death" tactic the Americans use. Talk about going around the world to get across the street. Van Zan himself points out how incredibly inefficient a strategy that usually results in three people killed for every dead dragon is.
    • The Chieftain tank — its BFG is good for intimidating settlements, not so for blowing up flying creatures.
    • Likewise, while Van Zan's shotgun lends weight to his badass killer image when dealing with Quinn's crew, it's only effective at relatively short range, and next to useless against a dragon fifty feet in the air.
  • Badass Boast: "There's nothing magical about them; they're flesh and blood. You remove the heart, you bring down the beast!" Also, after being told that the sky is the dragon's territory; "No, that's my territory. That's your territory. They're just renting it."
  • Bald of Authority: Gideon, the lead Archangel. Unusually for this trope, he has a sense of humour.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Alex and the other girls get every bit as beaten up as the boys.
  • BFG: A slightly obscure example. Quinn's rifle is an Ulriks Mauser T-Rex, a very rare and expensive Mauser-pattern rifle chambered in .577 Nitro Express, normally used to put down rampaging African elephants. One scene gives a very brief close-up shot of Quinn loading these enormous rounds into his rifle. With good shot placement, he probably could kill a regular female dragon. Against the big male, though, the elephant gun does little more than piss him off.
  • Big "NO!": Parodied when the protagonists are acting out a scene from The Empire Strikes Back as a play.
    The Black Knight stares through the holes in his mask, and says, "I [breathes heavily] am your father!"
    Watching kids: YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAH!
  • Blatant Lies: Quinn claims he thought up The Empire Strikes Back to the children.
  • Born After the End: After twenty years of hiding from dragons, there are lots of kids at the castle refuge who have such limited knowledge of the outside world that their leaders can claim to have invented everything in a skit heavily borrowing from The Empire Strikes Back.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Being The Hero sucks. Just ask Quinn about it. He's responsible for an entire community, has to make hugely unpopular decisions for the good of everyone, and honestly has no real clue what he's doing. The reason he's in charge? Because someone has to be and everyone agrees he is. No wonder he's training Jared to take over.
  • Character Death: Eddie, Barlow, AJ, Creedy, Van Zan.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Quinn, the first person to see a dragon in the flesh, which happens to be the bull dragon itself, not only ends up becoming the leader of a group of survivors but is the one who ultimately kills the bull dragon and saves the world.
  • Converging-Stream Weapon: The dragons shoot two streams of chemicals that collide in mid-air and ignite.
  • Covers Always Lie: AH-64 Apache helicopters swooping in to combat rampaging dragons? Sorry, not here.
  • Crown-Shaped Head: The sole male dragon, i.e. their "king", has extra spikes on its head to identify it.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Van Zan, a trained soldier, completely dominates his brawl with Quinn, an Action Survivor; Quinn may have the righteous anger of a Papa Wolf defending his people from being seduced by a General Ripper, but he only gets a couple of good hits in while Van Zan nearly beats him to death.
    • The male dragon wipes out Van Zan's convoy in a single pass, then goes on to destroy Quinn's castle in about ten minutes.
    • Yeah, Van Zan is a badass and all that, but no one is going to survive leaping through the air from the top of a high tower, at an 80ft dragon, with nothing but an axe, when it's heading right for you.
  • Death from Above: Dragons to people, Archangels to dragons.
  • Defiant to the End: Van Zan. "Come on, big boy!"
  • Disappeared Dad: Quinn's dad is apparently not with his mom, and he's also unwilling to pay for Quinn's education, explaining why she's upset that he's lost a scholarship. It appears he does not care much about Quinn.
  • Doing In the Wizard: How the dragons make fire, via a reaction of two chemicals similar to a bombardier beetle.
  • The Dragons Come Back: The initial trigger of the central plot.
  • Dragon Hoard: When the young Quinn first stumbles into where the dragon is hibernating, the walls are covered by Pyrite...or possibly gold. We didn't get long to look at it before all the burning and the death starts.
  • The Dragonslayer: Van Zan (and his fellow Americans) are all specialists in slaying dragons. They have knowledge of the dragons' weaknesses and exploit these with a range of specialized equipment, including a tank and a helicopter that can drop troops onto flying dragons to force them to land. According to Alex, they've confirm-killed fifty dragons.
  • Dug Too Deep: How the dragons were awakened.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: He may not inflict any damage, but the way Van Zan goes out is still awesomely badass.
  • Easy Logistics:
    • Despite the complete collapse of human society, an entire armored division is still able to support itself. You have to wonder how much fuel they expended just to get to Britain in a world where presumably there is no more oil extraction. This is handwaved when Van Zan admits that they're running on fumes.
    • Van Zan explains that they flew in on an Air National Guard C-5. While the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is an enormous plane, they have more vehicles than would fit in a single C-5. Additionally, their tank alone would be too heavy for the C-5 to carry with just two working engines. Granted, the tank is an old British Chieftan (heavily modified, of course), so it's technically possible that they could have found it and their other vehicles in Britain after they landed. However, they have fuel, ammo, and proficiency in operating a very complicated main battle tank, so there's a pretty strong implication that Van Zan's men brought them from America, and that the tank is supposed to be an M1 Abrams.
    • Played straight when the residents of Northumberland Castle draw weapons from their armory to resist a possible attack. They have lots of rifles, SMGs (including at least one M1 Thompson), and shotguns. A moment later, though, they discover that their ammunition reserve is critically low, and they have no way to replace what they shoot.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: Van Zan does the "easy or real easy" variant, though Quinn isn't cowed.
  • Elemental Baggage: Averted. The film explains how the dragons create the fire: two glands each produce half of what is called "natural napalm," which when combined, ignites upon contact with the air. Being rather large animals, the dragons can breathe fire for more than long enough.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Kentucky Irregulars are content to cheer Van Zan on in his Curb-Stomp Battle against Quinn as long as it's what they consider a clean fight, but they immediately pull Van Zan off and hold him back when it becomes clear things have escalated to Van Zan trying to kill Quinn.
  • Evil Takes a Nap: The film has a London construction crew dig down to a hibernating dragon, which soon wakes, then roars, then barbecues everyone on-site, then wrecks the place, and goes flying off. This somehow awakens more dragons, until London gets turned into a scorched no man's land.
  • Expanded Universe: The video game of the movie shows juvenile dragons, who are ground-dwelling creatures looking much like dinosaurs.
  • Eye Scream: A mild case — when Quinn finds the dragon, some of the chemicals responsible for its fire drips into his eyes, turning them blood red.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The film starts with twelve-year-old Quinn meeting up with his mother on the construction site where she works. We learn what Quinn's lost — a £3000-a-year scholarship and that his (presumably wealthy) father is no longer in the picture — and for a minute it looks as though the film's going to be a serious picture about Quinn and his mother struggling to make ends meet... aaand then the dragons appear.
  • Feed It a Bomb: How the male dragon is killed: shooting an explosive-wrapped crossbow bolt into its wide open mouth when it's about to fire its Breath Weapon.
  • Final Boss: The male dragon, whose defeat spells the end of the entire species.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Van Zan. Quinn can look this way to certain members of his community. As Creedy puts it "I'm your best friend. And some days, even I don't like you."
  • The Hero: Quinn to the castle community and the film.
  • Hero Killer: The big male, who is the original dragon and responsible for the death of Quinn's mother. When Van Zan tells Quinn about him, Quinn is visibly scared, and even Van Zan (the man who will take on a dragon with a chopper and a harpoon gun) wants a small army with him when he goes hunting for it. It even has the reputation you'd expect: Quinn relates an incident wherein a group from Pembery went to London and disturbed him, resulting in 90 deaths and the destruction of the castle. The male subsequently goes on to wipe out Van Zan's army, burn the castle down, killing AJ and Creedy in the process, cannibalize several of his own, and kill Van Zan. On top of all that, his vast size makes him the only dragon that's easily distinguishable and recognizable.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Van Zan is heading there at a rapid pace. To quote Alex after his fight with Quinn: "He would have killed you. He doesn't feel things. It's the only way he can do what he does."
  • Hollywood Tactics: The soldiers in this movie don't seem to have any solution to the dragons other than More Dakka.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The male dragon is killed with an exploding magnesium crossbow bolt fired just as he's igniting his flames, which thus chars him from the inside out.
  • Informed Ability: The Archangel's ability to take down dragons in mid-air is hyped up, but when shown in action it fails horribly with most of them killed. Of course, Alex and Van Zan openly admit that once an Archangel jumps from the helicopter, they have a life expectancy of 17 seconds, so this was probably just a poorer showing than most.
  • Just Plane Wrong: You'd really need a lot more support for a helicopter than is seen in the movie.
  • Keystone Army: There is only one male dragon. Kill him and the entire species dies out.
  • Kaiju: The male dragon. It's a good ten times the size of the females (which are on par with Alex's helicopter). Reared up on all fours, it's as big as Quinn's castle. Your Size May Vary seems to be in effect in the final battle though, as it's nothing like that large when it's chasing Quinn and Alex through the streets.
  • The Lancer: Creedy to Quinn.
  • Large and in Charge: The big male is at least three or four times the size of the females, possibly far more.
  • The Leader: Quinn to his community, Van Zan to his soldiers.
  • Love Interest: Alex is very quietly the Love Interest to Quinn. It's actually handled nicely, with the love interest being shown to have bloomed after the plot is resolved.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Early on, Van Zan demands to speak to the person in charge. Everyone turns to Quinn. "Well, that'd be you then." A constant theme of the movie is the community's dependence on Quinn as the leader. At the end, Jared rides up to inform Quinn that they have a message from France, and that "They want to speak to the person in charge." Quinn by this point can safely look at his protege and say, "Well, that'd be you then."
    • Van Zan tells Quinn early on, "I lead, you follow." At the end, as they enter the tunnels, Van Zan tells Quinn "You lead, we follow."
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: The male dragon, having presumably consumed every human or animal for miles around its lair, resorts to killing and eating one of the female dragons.
  • Monumental Damage: Quinn looks through old magazines, where the photographers only seemed interested in catching famous landmarks on fire — the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, etc. The angles are such you wonder how on Earth the photographers made it out to publish their photographs! Later in the film the characters see the actual ruins of the Tower of London, Big Ben, and Tower Bridge.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The area around London is shown to be hilly, but in reality it's quite flat.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey... they could've called this "Hunks vs Dragons: The Movie", with more emphasis on the hunks than the dragons.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Quinn scoffs at the idea that the Kentucky Irregulars are dragonslayers. "I liked the plane story better. That one's not even original."
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The poster showed dragons attacking London, and coming in contact with the human military, implying that it's an Independence Day-style invasion movie. The movie's actually set After the End. The trailer itself also inexplicably declares the film to be set in 2084, rather than 2020 as the plot requires.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Van Zan ignores Quinn's warning about London being a dragon stronghold and gets his entire unit, with the exception of Alex, along with a fair portion of the castle defenders killed during his ill-advised assault.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Van Zan starts to administer one to Quinn, but they are dragged apart.
  • No OSHA Compliance: In the opening scene, none of the workers display any objection to a child (Quinn) entering a construction site without any protective gear. When their digging hits an unexpected cave, one of the workers even suggests Quinn go take a look inside. To top the stupidity off, once Quinn comes rushing out of there, the same worker keeps saying "It's not safe!" If it's not safe, why the hell did you have a child go in there? The last part is somewhat handwaved in that this construction worker is implied to be the job site's resident Jerkass.
  • Not So Stoic: Van Zan is in visible pain when his comrades are killed.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Izabella Scorupco (Alex, the helicopter pilot) is with an American unit and thus implied to be American, but her Polish-Swedish roots slip into her speech now and then, especially at the end.
  • Off with His Head!: Its hard to see, but after Quinn shoots the explosive arrow down the male's throat, the resulting explosion occurs in the neck and separates his head from his body.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Oh, so different. They have only four limbs, connected by a bat-like membrane of skin like a wyvern. They breathe fire through a chemical reaction. Finally, there is only one male who fertilizes all the eggs of the females like a male salmon.
  • Parental Abandonment: Quinn, Jared, and likely most of the kids in the community have lost their parents.
  • Parental Substitute: Quinn to Jared, a boy he rescued from a destroyed town.
  • Passing the Torch: Quinn's objective with Jared, who he is training as his replacement.
  • Perma-Stubble: Van Zan
  • Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: It was the dragons who killed the dinosaurs the last time they were active.
  • Pun-Based Title: It's "raining" fire during the dragons' "reign" of fire.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The first time we see Van Zan's dragonslayers in action, things go horribly wrong and he loses three men to bring down one dragon. It's implied that while their strategy doesn't always go to plan, this particular outing was an especially poor showing. Interestingly for his character archetype, Van Zan is fully aware that his tactics aren't sustainable and won't lead to significant victory.
  • Properly Paranoid: Quinn and Creedy's concerns about Van Zan aren't too far off.
  • Quick Nip: Subverted
    Quinn: Hey! This is water!
  • Red Shirt: The skydivers know they've got a limited life expectancy, but that doesn't stop them from dying pointlessly.
  • Red Shirt Army: The Kentucky Irregulars as a whole count as this despite posing themselves as badass veteran dragonslayers. Their entire force is killed off in a single attack by the male dragon.
  • Rule of Drama: Even after proving themselves as competent dragon killers, Quinn is suspicious and distrustful of the Americans, wanting no part in their attempt to solve the dragon problem out of the belief they'll drag his community into the crossfire.
  • Shout-Out: The re-enactment of the iconic Luke, I Am Your Father scene from The Empire Strikes Back. In the post-apocalyptic future, Quinn and Creedy claim authorship to the story and use it to entertain the children.
  • Signs of Disrepair: On the way to London, there's a highway exit sign on which someone has scrawled "NO EXIT" and an extra '6' to make "666".
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Van Zan.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Van Zan in the game.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Used in the opening to show the dragons destroying the planet.
  • Square-Cube Law: An animal as large as the male dragon would never get airborne, but the designers did attempt to show their work by giving the dragons extremely wide wings even for their size.
  • Survival Mantra: The children's prayer is actually a list of survival instructions and psychological prepping.
    What do we do when we wake?
    Keep both eyes on the sky.
    What do we do when we sleep?
    Keep one eye on the sky.
    What do we do when we see 'em?
    Dig hard, dig deep, run for shelter, never look back.
  • Tank Goodness: The tank Van Zan's crew has with them causes noticeable concern among Quinn and his community.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: Van Zan's tank is a Chieftain main battle tank used by the British Army in the 60s and 70s, with some cosmetic modifications (including the commander's M2 Browning .50-cal being mocked up to resemble a Russian DShK for no apparent reason). Averted in that nobody ever actually says anything about the tank, where they got it, or how long they've had it. However, given that the Americans have fuel, ammo, and are proficient in using it, Fridge Logic tells us that it's supposed to stand in for a more modern and capable M1 Abrams.
  • Tanks for Nothing: The Chieftain tank does diddly squat against any dragon.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Matthew McConaughey plays his character this way. Trivia has it that McConaughey WRESTLED COWS to get his build for the movie.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Eddie, a member of Quinn's community. First he tries to pick the crop out of season (admittedly it's because he has starving kids, but still the same counts for everyone) attracting a dragon in the process and costing them half their crop. Later on, he joins up with Van Zan's doomed raid on London and is killed.
    • His children seem to have inherited that same lack of IQ, as one when rescued by Quinn in the fireproof trucks, decides to stand in the exposed turret without a protective suit and thus gets barbecued.
  • Uncertain Doom: Eddie and Barlow are never actually seen getting burned during the doomed raid on London, so its possible they lived.
  • Victory by Endurance: Quinn's plan at the start of the film is basically to outlast the dragons, whose destructive rampages are unsustainable for their population. The problem, of course, is that said rampages are equally destructive for the humans, so it's down to a contest of who starves first. By the start of the movie, Eddie's screw-up at the crops has drastically put their survival chances in doubt with half of it going up in flames, and Van Zan even responds to Quinn's refusal to help his forces fight the male dragon under the grounds of keeping them alive by saying Quinn's just "letting them die slowly." Once the male is dead, the prospects for the humans outliving the dragons go up significantly.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Van Zan.
  • Watching Troy Burn: Quinn gets to do this to the castle after the big male arrives.
  • Wasteland Elder: Quinn leads a castle full of people who have spent twenty years avoiding rampaging dragons. He's a young example of the trope, but after twenty years without much adequate food or medicine, there aren't many elderly survivors left.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Gideon, the only surviving Archangel, disappears from the film after having his moment in the spotlight. He is mentioned briefly after that, but we don't know what happened to him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Van Zan tears the Brits a new one when they throw a party; to them, they're celebrating the death of the dragon that had devastated their food supply. To him, they're celebrating the death of one dragon and three of his men. However, Quinn gives him one in return, since they have lost hundreds of their community to dragons and have never seen one slain, whilst Van Zan has just arrived and thrown his weight around like he owns the place.
    Van Zan: (magnanimously) Envy the country that has heroes, eh?
    crowd cheers
    Van Zan: (now in an accusing tone) And I say pity the country that needs 'em! What're y'all celebrating? One dragon down, three good men dead! Why hell, at that rate we just might be gettin' somewhere in about three-hundred-and-twenty years! We'll bury our dead at dawn. You go on and have your little...soirée. Personally, you disgust me.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The third act is essentially an homage to the third act of Jaws, with dragons instead of sharks.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Van Zan and the Kentucky Irregulars claim to be experienced dragonslayers. In their battle at the castle, they lose three men and need Quinn's help to win. Against the male, they're all burned to a crisp save Van Zan and Alex. Finally, Van Zan gets eaten in a futile attack against the male after he fails to kill it with the exploding arrow.
  • You Will Know What to Do: Parodied when Van Zan's convoy turns up on their doorstep.
    Quinn: I'm going out. Anything happens, you know what to do.
    Creedy: Uh, no, I have no idea.
    Quinn: Yeah, me neither.

Alternative Title(s): Reign Of Fire