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Film / The Rocketeer

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Howard Hughes: How did it feel, strapping that thing to your back and flying like a bat out of hell?
Cliff Secord: Well, it's the closest I'll ever get to heaven, Mr. Hughes.

The Rocketeer is a 1991 Disney note  live-action film, adapted from Dave Stevens's series of comic books and directed by Joe Johnston. The Rocketeer follows the adventures of its titular hero: stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who uses a serendipitously found experimental rocket pack to fight crime in 1938 Los Angeles.

It was nominated for a Hugo in 1992, but lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

On another note entirely, its primary musical theme by James Horner, Take Off, is practically a movie trailer standard.

A computer-animated television series for Disney Junior premiered in 2019 and focuses on Cliff Secord's great-grandaughter, Kit, who receives the helmet and rocket pack on her seventh birthday and becomes the new Rocketeer.

A sequel was first announced in 2016, after 25 years after the original's release, but it wouldn't enter active development until 2021 with the casting of David Oyelowo in the title role. The new film, titled The Return of the Rocketeer, will be released as a Disney+ original.

This film provides examples of:

  • The '30s: The film takes place in 1938.
  • Accent Relapse: Neville Sinclair speaks perfect English in an upper-class English accent during the whole movie — until he is exposed as a Nazi spy, after which he reverts to speaking in a German accent.
  • Ace Pilot: Played straight with Cliff, a stunt pilot; implied as the backstory for Malcolm, allegedly a World War I ace, but now in his dotage.
    Cliff: I can fly a shoebox if it had wings!
  • Action Survivor: Cliff is just a stunt pilot trying to make a living. Even when he picks up the jetpack, it's only for the purpose of flying it at a show to recoup some of the losses of his crashed plane (and to have some fun, since he loves flying). But when a friend is aloft in a floundering airplane, he immediately grabs the jetpack that they've never flown manned to rescue him, and when his girlfriend is in danger, he insists on going to rescue her rather than leaving it to the authorities. The fact that his skill is as a pilot, not a fighter, is highlighted towards the end, when ends up in a fist-fight against the Big Bad, an actor who does his own stunts, and promptly gets knocked all over the room.
  • Actor Allusion: During the fight scene on board the zeppelin Cliff says to Neville, "Where's your stuntman now Sinclair?" which Neville replies "I do my own stunts." This line is in reference to Timothy Dalton's time as James Bond, since he is known for being the only Bond actor to perform most of his own stunts.
  • Adaptational Badass: Cliff Secord between the comic book (in which he was assisted by other pulp heroes) and the movie (which he actually saved other people, mostly by himself).
  • Adaptational Heroism: Cliff and Peevy were a bit more grumpy jerks in the comics, as well as Cliff needing help to save the day.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Lothar in the comic was more tragic, blaming Cliff for the death of the woman he loved. In the film, he's a straight-up thug willfully working for Sinclair.
  • Advertising by Association: The 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray associates Joe Johnston with Captain America: The First Avenger — another pulpy Live-Action Adaptation of a comic in which a superhero fights Nazis — on the back, and in a sticker on the front of the shrinkwrap.
  • Age Lift: In the comics, Peevy was quite older. Oddly, movie Peevy looks like how Malcolm (the pilot Cliff saves) looked in the comics, while movie Malcolm is elderly like comics Peevy.
  • All Part of the Show: Said word for word when the Rocketeer first appears, and saves bumbling pilot Malcolm from fiery death. However, the airfield owner saying that has a hard time keeping up that line as the crashing plane destroys another of his fuel trucks.
  • Alternate History: But only slightly so. Everything's mostly the same as it was in our 1938, except Howard Hughes has invented a jetpack, the Germans still use zeppelins, and the Hollywoodland sign ends up losing the "-land" eleven years early. The later parts of the movies also hint of World War II starting off differently and the rocket's blueprints technically out in the open.
  • Are We Getting This?: When the Rocketeer makes his debut appearance at the airshow to rescue Malcolm, surprised cameramen struggle to follow the action. The cameraman asked replies that he may not know what it is, but he is getting it.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Cliff asking Eddie Valentine, "What's it like working for a Nazi? Does he pay you in dollars or Deutschmarks?"
  • Art Deco: The movie's poster, which serves as the image for this page, is one of the more famous examples of Art Deco movie posters in modern (say, post-1950 or so) cinema. The rest of the movie features a fair amount of Art Deco, being set in 1938 Los Angeles — the South Seas Club is the most prominent example.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The question Cliff asks to Eddie Valentine about whether he's paid in dollars or Deutschmarks is anachronistic, since it refers to a currency which didn't exist in 1938. The Deutsche Mark didn't exist until 1948; in 1938, the German currency was named Reichsmark.
    • In the movie, airship travel is still a thing in 1938, when in Real Life, it ended for good in 1937 after the Hindenburg Disaster.
    • At the end of the film, the Nazi commandos are shown using MP-40s, which would not be introduced for two years.
    • Cliff escapes from Howard Hughes's offices by briefly using a scale model of the "Spruce Goose" as a glider. In reality development of the aircraft did not begin until 1942.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Jenny is a huge fan of Neville Sinclair who gets to work with him in a film.
  • Asshole Victim: Bigalow is folded in half by Lothar, but he did mockingly bill Cliff and Peevy for accident damage that wasn't their fault and showed complete disregard for the safety of his guests and pilots during an air show mishap.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": The scene on the set of Jenny's acting job reveals that the small speaking part she was hoping to land, with the line "O my sweet prince, that I may drink of your lips as deeply!", instead went to the producer's niece. The first take drives home that it was not due to the niece's acting skills. (The second take was better...)
    Director: Acting is acting like you're not acting. So act, but don't act like you're acting.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Early in the film, mentioned by name, when the FBI and LAPD are chasing after Eddie's goons, one of the FBI agents wishes the "black and white" (the cop car) would get out of the way so he could fire on Eddie's men. After the cop car wrecks, it exposes the agents to Eddie's men's Tommy gun.
    • Jenny finds her romantic life with Cliff lacking, as they just tend to go to the same places and hand out at the Bulldog cafe with the same people, while she longs for more glamor and excitement. But when she gets a date with Neville Sinclair and is taken to a lavish restaurant, she finds that he's a tremendous bore, only able to recite lines from his own films to romance her and is leered at by other patrons.
  • Behind the Black: Almost literally, as the enormous airship, the Luxembourg, suddenly looms out of the night from behind the Griffith Observatory, surprising the characters as well as the audience.
  • Big Bad: Neville Sinclair is the man who wants to get the rocket. He hired Eddie Valentine and his gang to steal it and gives orders to Lothar to find it. He is a Nazi, and working to get the rocket to his superiors to use for world domination.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Cliff and the gangsters are all held at gunpoint by Nazi paratroopers, about to be mowed down at Sinclair's orders, as he leaves with Jenny as his hostage. Suddenly, headlights light up and FBI Agents and the LAPD appear with machine guns while their leader roars, "This is the FBI! Throw down your guns!"
    • Then, later on, Howard Hughes and Peevy show up in an autogyro and rescue Cliff and Jenny from the exploding zeppelin.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The German is left untranslated, though they got one bit of German wrong. At one point, the Nazi G-Man says "Ich habe meine Bestellung", which means "I have my orders", but "Bestellung" actually refers to the type of orders you'd give a waiter. He should've said "Befehle".
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • Jenny delivers one after clocking Neville as part of her attempt to seduce him and escape.
      Jenny: I finally played a scene with Neville Sinclair. (Zips up her dress)
    • Neville Sinclair delivers one himself to the captain of the Luxembourg. Made even funnier by the fact that at the time the film was made, Timothy Dalton actually WAS Bond. Moments after the zeppelin's captain states that they are losing altitude and must "drop some weight," Sinclair, fed up with the Gestapo agent badgering him, pulls a pistol and shoots the agent, causing him to fall to his death through an open window. When the captain gives him a horrified look, Sinclair, after thinking for a moment, quips:
      Sinclair: For the Fatherland!
      Captain: (nervously) Ja.
  • Bookcase Passage: When Jenny wakes up in Neville Sinclair's mansion, she spots him through a window emerging from a hidden passage behind a rotating bookcase. This pays off when she flees from Lothar and can quickly locate the book that operates the door. It leads to his secret radio room for contacting the Nazis, since he's a spy.
  • Borrowed Without Permission: After Cliff and Peevey test the rocketpack, Cliff says "I don't want to keep it, I just want to borrow it for a while.", but Peevey retorts "Cliff, when you borrow something and you don't tell nobody, they call that stealing, you know.".
  • Broken Pedestal: Jenny is a huge fan of Neville Sinclair until she sees he's a creep. And a Nazi spy.
  • The Brute: Lothar, who is an Expy of Rondo Hatton, the actor on whom Universal build the Creeper.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Neville Sinclair shoots a Gestapo agent - his erstwhile ally if not superior - when the latter, furious over how badly their mission has gone awry, delivers one insult too many.
  • Burning the Flag: A Nazi propaganda film which shows their rocket soldiers attacking America has a burning American flag falling to the ground as the Nazi banner rises in its place. This gets an Ironic Echo when the swastika emblazoned on the Luxembourg's tailfin is consumed by flames.
  • Buzzing the Deck: Cliff buzzes a road near the beginning which happens to have a shooting chase between mobsters and the police. One of the mobsters sees the plane and shoots at it, damaging its engine and controls.
  • Call of the Wild Blue Yonder: Test pilot Cliff Secord has flown some developmental aircraft. When Fate delivers a prototype rocket pack unto him, Cliff becomes a literal flying man. The learning curve is much steeper than with fixed-wing aircraft, but Cliff's enthusiasm steadily raises his airworthiness.
  • The Cameo:
    • Tiny Ron as one of the men who see Cliff fly by before crashing.
    • Cliff and Peevy's bulldog friend from the comics appears in one scene, appropriately outside the Bulldog Cafe.
  • Canon Foreigner: Jenny was created to replace Betty, Cliff's pinup model girlfriend in the comics, after Disney objected to including a character who was so sexualized and bore such a strong resemblance to a real, living person.
  • The Casanova: Subverted; Neville tries to seduce Jenny, but his chat-up lines are all from his own movies which Jenny (as an avid fan) knows off by heart. The Bookcase Passage to Neville's Nazi communications room was even opened by a book called "The Conquests of Casanova".
  • Chandler American Time: The Golden Age Hollywood variant, all glam and grit.
  • The Chanteuse: The South Seas Club singer has the Pimped-Out Dress and melancholic singing voice required for the role.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Nazi airship is briefly mentioned in a newsreel the characters watch at the opening of the film. You've probably forgotten all about it until it suddenly shows up overhead at the climax.
    • The bullet hole in the rocket pack, which could have caused a fatal explosion if Peevy didn't notice and plug it before the pack was fired up. Sinclair does not notice when Cliff uncovers the hole before giving him the pack.
    • Cliff's habit of chewing gum and putting a piece of chewed gum on his aircraft "for luck" saves his life by providing something to plug the bullet hole on the rocket pack and dooms Neville Sinclair's when Cliff can easily and subtly slides it back off before handing the pack over. So would this be Chekhov's gum?
  • Civvie Spandex: The Rocketeer's "costume" is actually fairly mundane pilot garb for the 1930's. The only truly remarkable thing about it is the helmet and the jetpack.
  • Climbing Climax: The climax takes place on Cliff having to mount a zeppelin.
  • Come Alone: Cliff is summoned to the Griffith Park Observatory and told to come alone or they'll kill Jenny.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Cliff Secord does this when he's at the South Seas Club, where his girlfriend Jenny is with Neville Sinclair, who's looking for the rocketpack. He "accidentally" spills some champagne on Jenny just before she tells Neville about him and how he's got the rocketpack.
  • Cool Airship: The Luxembourg, a giant, hydrogen-filled dirigible, like the Hindenburg, ostensibly touring the U.S. for peaceful purposes.
  • Cool Guns: The FBI Agents and the Police use Colt Official Police revolvers, while the mobsters use Colt 1911 pistols and Colt 1903/1908 Hammerless Pistols. Also, in a nod to the comic books, The Rocketeer uses a Mauser C96 near and during the climax. In the comics, the Mauser C96 Broomhandle was his weapon of choice. In the climax, all the gangsters and G-men use Thompson sub-machine guns with drum magazines because, well, it's a pastiche of 1930s pulp adventure comics and movies.
  • Cool Helmet: The Rocketeer's helmet is a bold bronze color with distinctive decorative ridges and a big dorsal fin used as a rudder to enable him to steer. (Looks pretty good for something Peevy made out of a cut-up radio casing...)
  • Cool Old Guy: Peevy. He may be old, but he is a Gadgeteer Genius who quickly figures out how to maintain and repair the rocketpack, and the climax shows he even knows how to make a better one.
  • Cool Plane: Actual flying Gee Bee racer replicas.
  • Creator Cameo: Blink and you'll miss him, but that's Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens playing the test pilot in the German film Howard Hughes shows Cliff.
  • Damsel in Distress: Sinclair targets Jenny as a way to get to her boyfriend, Cliff, first with seduction, because Sinclair doesn't know who Cliff is and needs to find out who has the jetpack, and then by drugging and kidnapping her to lure the Rocketeer to him. The Rocketeer needs to intervene in both cases. However, Jenny, while requiring rescue, does a lot to help save herself. In fact, the reason she doesn't escape before being kidnapped was that she went back to help Cliff when he was cornered in the club.
  • Dance of Romance: Neville Sinclair attempts to invoke this in his seduction of Jenny at the South Seas Club. It doesn't stick.
  • Deadly Sparring: Neville Sinclair's Establishing Character Moment shows him filming an action scene of his latest movie, where his heroic character is engaged in a sword fight against a villain. When the actor portraying the villain is stabbed for real, the director yells "cut," and the other actor accuses Sinclair of hogging all the attention for himself, an accusation that Sinclair neither confirms nor denies, and then Sinclair asks his driver to use his limo to take the actor to the hospital.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Peevy makes quite some snarky comments. Cliff has his moments, too.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Neville Sinclair, who is secretly working for the Nazis.
  • Diesel Punk: The art direction has a lovely Deco Punk look.
  • Dirty Coward: Neville Sinclair. He always lets others do most of the fighting for him, only getting physical himself when fighting Cliff in the climax. And the moment he has the jetpack, he abandons the zeppelin and his allies to escape.
  • Disney Villain Death: A variation: Neville Sinclair voluntarily flies out of the zeppelin with the rocketpack, but its fuel leak causes it to burst into a massive fireball, causing Neville to fall crashing into the Hollywoodland sign and explode spectacularly.
  • Disposable Pilot: As Neville Sinclair is making his escape aboard a Nazi zeppelin, the captain tells Sinclair that their pilot is the best in Germany, when Lothar's unconscious body knocks the pilot out of the zeppelin.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When one of the nazis insults Neville by calling him an "actor", Neville responds by shooting him out of the zepplin.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: When Cliff and Peevy first discover the rocket pack, which Peevy thinks they should return to its owner immediately, because the feds are involved, while Cliff wants to use it for the air race:
    Cliff: I don't want to keep it, I just want to borrow it for a while.
    Peevy: Clifford, when you borrow something and you don't tell nobody, they call that stealing, you know.
    Cliff: Just a couple of weeks. As soon as we can afford a new plane, we'll give it back, I swear.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: As Cliff reaches out to touch the rocket pack for the first time, Peevy tells him, "I wouldn't touch that if I were you!"
  • The Dragon: Lothar also plays this to Neville, being his closest accomplice and the one tasked to find the rocket.
    • Eddie Valentine also seems to be this, as he takes many orders from Sinclair, however, when he finds out Sinclair is really a German sleeper agent, Valentine has a Hell Face Turn and fights with the FBI against Sinclair and the german forces.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Cliff knocks Lothar out in a quick fight atop the zeppelin, and then proceeds to take on Neville. Once he's killed, Lothar is shown to have regained consciousness and prepares to kill Cliff and Jenny before the zeppelin begins blowing up, killing the giant man while our heroes escape.
  • Dumb Muscle:
    • Lothar is an aversion. Despite looking the type, he's a competent thug and shown to be even Wicked Cultured.
    • Also averted with Eddie's men. He clearly makes it a point to surround himself with people who are not only loyal, but smart. They're capable of thinking quickly on their feet and dealing with unexpected situations. This is made clear during the confrontation when Cliff accuses Neville of being a Nazi. While Neville is denying it and trying to sweet-talk Eddie, Lothar tries to inconspicuously reach into his pockets for his gun. He stops when one of Eddie's men, acting without even a word from Eddie, shoves the barrel of a Tommy Gun into his ribs. "Relax, Frankenstein. You ain't bulletproof." Like Eddie, each of his men has quickly figured out they're being played for suckers. And like Eddie, they don't work for no Nazis.
  • Enemy Mine: When the FBI shows up in the Climax, Valentine and his men pick up their guns and open fire on the Nazis. During the fight, Valentine finds himself sanding alongside an FBI agent. They glance at each other, Valentine grins weakly, and they resume firing.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Eddie Valentine quits working for Sinclair after finding out he's a Nazi. Reflects Truth in Television, as a lot of Real Life American gangsters during that era weren't too thrilled with fascism. In fact, gangsters were the police forces' biggest allies in weeding out Nazi supporters. This is due to Mussolini persecuting the Sicilian Families back in the Old Country.
    Neville Sinclair: C'mon, Eddie. I'm paying you well. Does it matter who I work for?
    Eddie Valentine: It matters to me. I may not make an honest buck, but I'm 100% American and I don't work for no two-bit Nazi. Now let her go.
  • Evil Brit: Suave leading man Neville Sinclair is the one after the jetpack. However, it turns out he's actually German—a Nazi spy.
  • Evil Plan: Neville Sinclair seeks to acquire the title character's Jet Pack for the Nazis to mass-produce for their armies.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Sinclair hears Cliff talking to Jenny about the rocketpack on the set of his latest movie.
  • Expy: Lothar is Rondo Hatton, while Neville Sinclair is Errol Flynn, who was (wrongly) accused of being a Nazi spy.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: After the Rocketeer's first appearance, a scene shows kids selling newspapers in this manner.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Despite all of the plot developments and intrigue, it's implied that the entire movie takes place over approximately 48 hours.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Sinclair gets burned alive by the exploding rocket pack and falls to his death in a fiery explosion.
  • Fanservice: Jennifer Connelly, as she puts on a stocking; her cleavage in the latter parts of the movie. Or basically, just Jennifer Connelly.
  • A Father to His Men: Eddie Valentine is protective of his fellow gangsters.
  • Flag Drop: Near the end, there's a scene where the character stands in front of an American flag and has a spotlight shine on him before a dramatic fiery takeoff. For better or for worse, he's about to go fight some Nazis.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The cover used for home video releases after executives theorized that the art deco marquee poster (pictured above) looked ''too'' old-fashioned, and would turn off most moviegoers.
  • Flynning: During the filming of a movie with Neville Sinclair
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the beginning, when Cliff's plane is shot and he's struggling to keep it flying, he passes above an ad for Wings of Honor, Neville Sinclair's latest movie.
    • The newsreel that's playing as Cliff and Jenny arrive at the cinema for their date takes on significance at the end when it's revealed the Nazis are behind everything, and the Zeppelin being touted in the reel shows up loaded with Nazi commandos.
    • "Chewing gum ain't gonna keep you up in the air!" (It will when there's a bullet hole in your jetpack's fuel tank, and no time for a better fix!)
  • Genre Throwback: To the adventure serials of the 1930s.
  • Giant Mook: Lothar towers over most of the other characters. Not surprising since he is being played by 7ft tall Ron Taylor.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: One is performing at the South Seas Club (though technically it's not quite wartime yet).
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: This being a Disney flick, even with it being released under the more adult-oriented Touchstone brand overseas, it was to be expected.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: Eddie Valentine's gang stealing the rocket-pack kickstarts the film.
  • Greasy Spoon: The Bulldog Café, itself based off of a real-life café of the same name, which stood from 1928 to 1955.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Sinclair is the main bad guy in this plot, but behind him, and looming over the rest of the world is the Third Reich.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Cliff tries this against Lothar aboard the zeppelin, though it only annoys Lothar, and worse, Cliff gets hurt trying it.
    • Jenny stomps on the zeppelin pilot's foot with her heel before kicking him in the groin, though her white dress obscures the kick itself. Also causing him to fall out of the zeppelin.
  • Guns Akimbo: Lothar's preferred combat choice.
  • Handwave: The reason the jetpack's operator's legs don't get fried to a crisp by the exhaust is that it's a "cool" propulsion powered by alcohol.
  • Hello Again, Officer: Cliff keeps running into the same three feds...
  • Hindenburg Incendiary Principle: At the end, Jenny fires off a flare gun in the cockpit, and the zeppelin the Nazis intend to escape in goes up in flames.
  • Historical Domain Character: Howard Hughes. Clark Gable and W. C. Fields also appear at the South Seas Club.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • Cliff escapes from Howard Hughes by grabbing a (large) model plane and jumping off a balcony, gliding to safety. The plane is a model of the "Spruce Goose", and Hughes comments, "The son-of-a-bitch will fly."
    • Los Angeles' famous "Hollywood" sign used to read "Hollywoodland". Neville Sinclair makes a dramatic exit from the burning airship, right after he smirks "I'll miss Hollywood..." He then crashes into the last four letters of the sign, obliterating them — but he did MISS the Hollywood part of the sign. (In reality, the "-land" was removed in 1949 to reduce maintenance costs and to better reflect the district, rather than the initial housing development)
    • The newsreel shows that the first place to be visited by the German zeppelin is Lakehurst, New Jersey—though that could also be showing their work, since Lakehurst was one of a handful of places in the country with airship landing facilities.
    • Errol Flynn was suspected of being a Nazi spy. Unlike his Expy, he wasn't.note 
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Neville Sinclair is killed when the jetpack he's been trying to get the whole movie malfunctions and explodes.
    • Literally in Lothar's case—he dies when the same harness he'd strapped himself in to avoid falling off the zeppelin prevents him from escaping when said zeppelin finally blows up.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: In his first flight, Cliff has considerable trouble with the jetpack, including accidentally ramming his head through the plane he was trying to intercept, repeatedly having to restart the pack in mid-air after turning off the power, buzzing too close to the ground and plowing through (rather than flying over) obstacles, and finally crashing into a body of water.
  • I Have Your Wife: The bad guys kidnap Cliff's girlfriend as leverage to get him to give them the rocket pack.
  • Insult Backfire: "Where's your stuntman now, Sinclair?" *PUNCH!* "I do my own stunts."
  • Jet Pack: The rocket everyone is after. Plus the plot consists of thwarting Stupid Jetpack Hitler.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: Jenny spends nearly half of the movie wearing a fancy white evening gown. During that time, she whacks two villains over the head, nearly escapes from Sinclair's mansion, and knocks a Nazi out of the zeppelin to his death after a struggle.
  • Kitchen Chase: Cliff Secord is chased by Lothar and other gangsters through the kitchen of the South Seas Club. Justified as Cliff was disguised as a waiter.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Patsy surprises Cliff, he says, "You scared the livin'... heck out of me."
  • Lethally Expensive: When Howard Hughes shows Cliff the Nazi propaganda film, he says "Keep watching, kid. It cost a man's life to get this out of Germany."
  • Lighter and Softer: A slight case — in the comic, Cliff's girlfriend is a nude model named "Betty" after pin-up icon Bettie Page; in the movie she's Jenny, who works as a film extra.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: After such false starts as "Rocketman", "Rocketboy" and "Missile Man", Bigelow coins "Rocketeer" after noticing a billboard for Pioneer Petroleum outside.
  • Look Ma, No Plane!: During Cliff's first flight, he encounters a plane full of startled people. He even attempts a salute.
  • Made of Iron: Lothar. Cliff hurts himself when he tries to low blow him.
  • Male Gaze: When Jenny is introduced to famed comedian W.C. Fields, the camera drops to her cleavage to show exactly why he is "Charmed. Doubly charmed" to meet her.
  • Marquee Alter Ego: Defied - Cliff in costume looks exactly like the original comics, right down to the Cool Helmet. Disney CEO and infamous jackass Michael Eisner wanted it to be changed to an astronaut-style bubble helmet that could show off the actor's face better, but director Joe Johnston stood his ground and won.
  • Master Actor: German sleeper agent Neville Sinclair not only flawlessly delivers a perfect Welsh accent, but he's so deep into his persona that he's honed his skills and played the Hollywood system so perfectly he's worked his way up to being the number three box office star/draw in America out of THE REST OF HOLLYWOOD.
  • Match Cut: Hills to a close-up of bedsheets; a flaming airship to a bunch of oranges.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Averted—Peevy makes it to the end.
  • Men of Sherwood: The FBI agents aren't the best investigators, but the climax shows that they're worth a lot in a Tommy gun fight, especially when they bring more men for backup.
  • Middle-Management Mook: Eddie Valentine, leader of the Valentine Gang; he and his gang have been hired by Sinclair.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Theft of prototype rocket-pack → Nazi aerial invasion of the world.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Eddie Valentine, because working for a Nazi is not what he signed on for.
  • Mr. Fixit: Peevy, who is even stated by Cliff to be "able to fix anything". He even out-engineers Howard Hughes himself.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jennifer Connelly at her peak. Well, as much as a 21-year-old can peak.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: When Cliff arrives at the South Seas Club, he hides the rocket and helmet in a laundry bag in the laundry room. When he returns, he finds the room full of a dozen more bags.
  • Nepotism: Jenny loses out on the speaking role she had a promising audition for, instead working as an extra, after the role is given to the producer's niece. This is revealed in a scene on the film set when the niece delivers the single line Jenny had told Cliff about...very, very badly.
  • Newsreel: Important exposition is given by the newsreel that Cliff and Jenny watch at the theater.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Neville Sinclair is an Errol Flynn-style '30s action hero actor who turns out to be a Nazi spy, killing multiple people (enemy and ally alike) in his quest to steal the jetpack for his Nazi superiors so they can take over the world. He's short-tempered toward the young starlet who kept messing up her takes, got Jenny fired, and stabbed his co-star (not entirely accidentally, it's implied, although he was on-edge by then) when Cliff destroyed the set.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jenny was about to take a taxi home from the South Seas Club when Cliff had to fly into the ballroom and trash the place, piquing her curiosity and getting herself kidnapped by Sinclair.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Sinclair snaps at a waiter (a disguised Cliff) for spilling soup and shoves various studio workers out of his way while looking for Cliff.
  • No MacGuffin, No Winner: The rocket pack gets destroyed when Neville Sinclair crashes and burns into the Hollywoodland sign, although Peevy took very good notes when they dismantled the rocket pack earlier in the movie, and got his notes back from Jenny after she swiped them back from Sinclair...
  • Nonindicative Name: In fact, everyone keeps calling the device in question "The Rocket" when everything that's shown tells us it's basically a jet engine. Completely justified by the fact that in 1938 "jet engine" was something that few people were aware of, and even fewer could have recognized one, while rockets were fairly well understood.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • When their car gets shot up in the opening scene, the FBI duo mention that this is the third time that's happened this month, and after their mission ends in failure, one of them says that it's his partner's turn to call their boss and report failure.
    • Peevy's last long-ago romantic entanglement.
      "Flora Maxwell. There wasn't any point datin' nobody after her..."
  • No OSHA Compliance: The zeppelin does not even have so much as a handrail in front of its rather fragile windows, causing several characters to be pushed into a window and out of the blimp.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Justified. The rocket pack we see is the prototype; Howard Hughes burns the plans ten minutes into the movie out of despair thinking that it was destroyed, but Peevy draws new ones, with plans to build an improved version. It's also worth noting that the prototype didn't work before Peevy tweaked the design.
  • No-Sell: Sinclair tries to seduce Jenny, but his lines are just dialogue from movies he's acted in. Being a dedicated fan, Jenny quickly realises this.
  • Not Wearing Tights: Since he's not actually a superhero, but a pulp hero, Cliff just wears normal pilot gear as the Rocketeer.
  • Not What I Signed on For: Valentine, when he learns that his boss, Sinclair, is a Nazi.
  • Offing the Annoyance: The Gestapo officer who spends all of his screen time screaming furiously at Sinclair is just begging for Sinclair to get fed up and shoot him out of a Zeppelin.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe: at the end, after Sinclair has been exposed as a Nazi spy, his natural German accent begins increasingly slipping through his otherwise hitherto impeccable English accent as he gets more frustrated with things, until he ends up just doing a full Accent Relapse.
  • Parrot Expo-WHAT?: "The Rock-a-who?"
  • Police Are Useless: The police don't really get involved until they show up during the standoff between the Nazis and the mob.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The comic's plot mostly consisted of Cliff trying to evade the government agents searching for the jetpack, until the end where he's the only one who can stop Nazi spies from stealing an experimental aircraft.
    • In the comic, the jetpack was invented by classic pulp hero Doc Savage, and he and his crew show up in person searching for it, but they're left unnamed. Peevy mistakes them for eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes and his associates. The movie simplifies things by making Howard Hughes the actual inventor.
    • For obvious reasons, Dave Stevens's fanservice drawings of women in skimpy clothing didn't quite make the cut.
    • Cliff's love interest is made into less of a transparent expy of Bettie Page (though she's still made up to resemble her), so she becomes an aspiring actress instead of a model.
  • Product Placement: The Spruce Goose, weirdly enough. At the time of shooting, Disney had purchased it from the Hughes Estate, and tried to turn it into a tourist attraction. Proving itself to be a flop, rumor-weeds stating that the entire Howard Hughes plotline in this movie was an excuse to promote the plane slowly began to crop up.
  • Protagonist Title: Who else, but Cliff "The Rocketeer" Secord.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Eddie Valentine, kind of — he is a professional gangster, but he's only interested in the rocket because he's getting paid to get it by Sinclair and clearly doesn't particularly like him very much. Even before he discovers Sinclair's a Nazi.
    • Lothar, albeit to a lesser extent. Though he's more loyal to Sinclair, he doesn't seem to be particularly invested in the Nazi party and only serves as an operative when on-call.
  • Punny Name: Lothar, which sounds like Lothario, a philanderer from Don Quijote, which this guy is anything but.
  • Pursued Protagonist: Well, pursued Punch-Clock Villain anyway. The second scene shows two Valentine Mooks with the jetpack MacGuffin fleeing from several police cars. One of them is quickly killed, while the other hides the jetpack in the protagonist's workplace (where he quickly finds it) before being captured.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: This movie may not be very well-remembered, but unless you haven't been to a movie theater since 1991, you absolutely have heard this score used in trailers for dozens hundreds of other movies. Have a listen.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Cliff is Red to Peevey's Blue.
  • Remaster: The 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray release. Its HD picture looks especially remarkable in comparison to the Pan and Scan VHS and non-anamorphic Letterbox laserdisc and DVD.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Sinclair screams like this when the rocketpack on him explodes and engulfs him in a fireball, after which he is hurled into the "-LAND" letters of the Hollywoodland sign.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Famous!: Neville Sinclair gloats about this when his gangster henchman threatens to squeal.
  • Secret Identity: Toyed with. The movie's compressed timespan (it takes place over the course of a mere three days) means that, over the course of the movie, Cliff's identity is a secret only in that it hasn't been publicly revealed, and not a lot of people have heard of the Rocketeer. There's no indication that he was trying particularly hard to keep it a secret—or even that he wanted to keep it a secret, long-term—and the film shows that anyone really interested in the Rocketeer's identity discovers it pretty quickly. In fact, when Cliff tells Jenny his big secret—that he's the Rocketeer—Jenny just says, "The Rock-a-who?"
  • Sequel Hook: Jenny returns Peevy's reverse-engineered rocketpack schematics. "Oh, no," groans Peevy.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Cliff never flies without some Beeman's Gum, just like Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. It's also Truth in Television, as Beeman's was long considered the lucky gum of pilots.
    • In the air show, the announcer refers to Secord as "the Fearless Freep", a reference to the Looney Tunes cartoon short "High Diving Hare." An anachronism, as "High Diving Hare" came out in 1949 and The Rocketeer is set eleven years earlier.
    • The Nazi agent who meets Sinclair on the Zeppelin looks exactly like Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Lothar literally folds one of Valentine's men in half to prevent him from talking to the FBI after he already scared the location of the rocket out of him.
  • Silent Antagonist: Lothar only says four things in the whole film note . The only other times he's not quiet are when he's grunting, growling or laughing.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Jenny is briefly dazzled by Neville's charm and star power, but quickly returns to her long-term boyfriend because he loves and respects her. Also because Neville keeps trying to court her by quoting lines from his own movies. And then there's the evil—and not just any run-of-the-mill evil, but being a Nazi spy. Not the best dating tactic. Nor is chloroforming and kidnapping your date. And definitely not taking her hostage for a rocket pack, of all things.
  • So Long, Suckers!: A note-perfect example, complete with one-liner and swift, ironic death.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: A Nazi propaganda film shows German troops equipped with Jet Packs flying to the attack, with maps showing arrows representing them reaching out to conquer Europe and invade the U.S. It currently provides the trope's page image.
  • Stealth Pun: "I'll MISS Hollywood..."note 
  • Stocking Filler: Jenny wears these in her first scene.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Howard Hughes explains why it's so important to return the jetpack to him and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands by revealing a Nazi propaganda film centered on their plan to use jetpack-equipped soldiers to take over the world.
  • Tap on the Head: Many times; played with in that the victims sometimes recover faster than their assailants were planning.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: A villainous example. Valentine may be working for Neville Sinclair, but it's clear that he doesn't hold him in high regard. Finding out Sinclair is a Nazi doesn't improve his opinion of him, either.
  • Tempting Fate: The Captain notes that the Zepplin's pilot is the best in the Reich. Almost immediately after, an unconscious Lothar swings into the gondola and knocks said pilot right out the other side.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Towards the end, as Cliff picks up his helmet before flying after the zeppelin.
  • Thermal Dissonance: The rocketpack stays cool even after flight, attributed to a double-walled chamber and preheated fuel.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Averted. When Cliff runs out of the diner to try and stop Jenny from leaving in a huff, he takes his hamburger with him.
  • Think Nothing of It: Hughes turns up to show off a new Gee Bee plane (like the one destroyed at the beginning) that Cliff and company admire, before casually tossing Cliff a pack of his favorite gum with an enigmatic "Oh! Don't ever fly her without this" and slipping away as someone uncovers the pilot's name painted on the side of the plane: Cliff Secord. Cliff is distraught that he didn't get a chance to thank him, but Peevy assures him he didn't need to: "He saw the look on your face."
  • Those Two Guys: FBI agents Fitch and Wooly, who are always together and have a lot of humorous banter.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The real bad guys of the film. This is foreshadowed at the beginning of the film, when Cliff and Jenny go to the cinema.
  • Toasted Buns: The film only briefly attempts to Handwave why a jetpack doesn't burn the pilot...Unless, of course, it's leaking fuel and visibly engulfs him in flames.
  • Today, X. Tomorrow, the World!: The Nazi propaganda cartoon ends its montage of conquest via jetpack-propelled soldiers with "Today Europe, Tomorrow the World" (in German, of course: "Heute Europa, Morgen die Welt").
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Some people said they didn't need to see the film, the trailer told the whole story.
  • Trojan Horse: The Luxembourg airship, ostensibly in Los Angeles for peaceful purposes.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The comics and movie alike were loving homages to the pulp style of the Thirties. To such a degree that watching this movie may make you want to go out and sock a Nazi right in his no-good kisser.
  • Unconventional Food Usage: A bullethole in the jetpack is plugged with chewing gum.
  • Vanilla Edition: The laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray releases were all this, even the "20th Anniversary Edition".
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Jenny hides the rocket pack plans.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Neville Sinclair, though secretly a Nazi spy, is a beloved, famous actor in the vein of Errol Flynn.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Sinclair has it when he learns the jig is up and he is revealed as a Nazi. It first happens when he catches Jenny reading up on it and kidnaps her for real (and not having to fake it anymore). It then becomes more obvious when Cliff manages to convince Valentine and his gang that Sinclair, their boss, is a Nazi. When the gangsters confront their former boss with this information, not only does Sinclair confirm this by holding them all hostage with a new gang, a group of Nazi soldiers lurking in the shadows, but he does all this while speaking — nay, screaming, rather abruptly in German!
  • Villainous Friendship: Neville and Lothar seem to have this. Neville sounds distressed when seeing Lothar's unconscious body on the zeppelin.
  • Wag the Director: In-universe, Sinclair gets Jenny fired after Cliff accidentally destroyed the set of The Laughing Bandit looking for her.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Variation. "It wasn't lies, Jenny. It was acting!"
  • Wasn't That Fun?: After his first flight with the jetpack, Cliff simply says "I like it!"
  • Weird Historical War: Most of the plot involves the struggle to get the jetpack, which would invoke this if the Germans mass-produce it (jetpack-wearing Fallschirmjäger = Take Over the World).
  • Wicked Cultured: Neville Sinclair. Lothar, too, as he's introduced listening to opera, drinking tea from a dainty gold-rimmed cup and enjoying sandwiches with the crusts cut off when Sinclair calls him.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Neville, especially when he's no longer hiding the fact he's a Nazi.
  • You Must Be Cold: Jenny is given a jacket to wear over her evening gown when she is taken aboard the airship.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Since it's only a slightly alternate version of The '30s, the Germans use a zeppelin to visit 1938 Los Angeles (when in fact airship travel ended in 1937 with the Hindenburg).

Alternative Title(s): The Rocketeer 1991