Follow TV Tropes


Film / Thunderbirds

Go To

Thunderbirds is a live-action/CGI action film directed by Jonathan Frakes, and starring Philip Winchester, Ben Kingsley, Bill Paxton and a young Vanessa Hudgens, released in 2004 by Universal. It is based on Gerry Anderson's famous Supermarionation show, Thunderbirds.

Led by former astronaut Jeff Tracy, the Tracy family operate International Rescue — a secret organization that aids those in need during disasters using technologically advanced machines called Thunderbirds. When Thunderbird 5 is damaged by an apparent meteorite strike, Jeff and his sons walk into a trap set by the Hood, who invades Tracy Island and hijacks their command centre, stranding the majority of the Tracy family in space — except for youngest son Alan, who has to stop the Hood from stealing the remaining Thunderbirds so he can ruin International Rescue’s reputation, and take back Tracy Island to save his family.

Thunderbirds provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The Thunderbird vehicles could be justified as being more advanced tech. The year isn't stated in the film, but the monorail in London is stated to be the "Olympic Monorail" and the team is called away by a "Madame President" at the end.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Transom to Brains.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Brains is fiddling around with a neural net control system- basically allowing telekinesis. He succeeds in lifting a cell phone off his worktable — completely unaware he managed to lift the Mole in the background as well.
  • Action Girl:
    • Lady Penelope, even more than in the series.
    • Tin-Tin, unlike in the series.note 
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Not only Lady Penelope, who is a full Girly Bruiser here, but also The Hood: here, his psychic powers are seriously amped up (see below) and, unlike the original series, actually succeeds in his goal of hijacking the Thunderbird craft for his own ends. Bonus points for IR actually being aware of him this time (in the 60s series, The Hood's existence didn't seem to be known at all to IR — they were aware of "enemies", but not The Hood in particular).
    • Tin-Tin has also inherited The Hood's Psychic Powers, and gives him a serious run for his money during the climax.
    • Even Thunderbird 2 was given this treatment: now instead of having one pod containing one vehicle loaded in at a time, it has multiple pods to store multiple vehicles and devices, including The Mole, Firefly, the Thunderizer and others, and the pods themselves can be reconfigurednote  The landing struts were also given a makeover, as the production team felt the original's struts were too flimsy for such a vehicle.
  • Age Lift: In all directions; even the Tracys' birth order is changed.
    • The series: Scott is the oldest at 26, John (25), Virgil (24), Gordon (22) and Alan (21).
    • The film: Scott is still the eldest but at 24, John is the second oldest at 22, Virgil (20), Gordon (18) and Alan (14).
    • Brains, who is 25 in the series, is close to Jeff's age in the film.
    • Tin-Tin is in her mid-teens.
  • All There in the Manual: Much of the info about the Thunderbird craft — including abilities not seen or referenced in it — we noted in the "X-Ray Cross Sections" book. For instance, Thunderbird 5 is armed with a multi-purpose cannon to shoot down incoming space hazards like old rocket debris and meteor fragments.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: What the Hood attempts to do on Tracy Island for most of the film.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song:
    • In the UK, "Thunderbirds Are Go" by Busted served as the film’s theme song.
    • "Take Me Away" by Caleigh Peters was use outside of the UK.
    • The Japanese release used "Thunderbird - your voice -" by V6 for the theme song.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The Tracys are called off on another mission at the end of the film.
  • Animated Credits Opening: A very nice one, showing both the people and the vehicles of International Rescue.
  • The Artifact: The Stinger (below) is a remnant of a deleted scene where The Hood would've shot down the FAB-1 with his submarine (that's why Transom is seen trying to contact someone when they detect the FAB-1 flying in, but nothing happens).
    • Also, look closely in the Thunderbird 2 hangar, you'll see some jet-skis lying around that aren't used. In one script, these were dubbed "Thunderskis" and were to be used to rescue people from flooding bank vaults (part of The Hood's plan).
  • Batman Gambit: The Hood's plan, citing Eastern martial arts, banks on taking what the Thunderbirds are good at and using it against them. In this case, their purpose is to rescue, so The Hood has Transom fire a missile at Thunderbird 5 so the Thunderbirds would go to the space station while he swoops in, takes over their base, and traps the Thunderbirds onboard the station.
  • Battle Cry: "Thunderbirds are go!"
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Lady Penelope (blonde), Tin-Tin and Ohana (brunettes) and Transom (redhead)
  • Broken Pedestal: Alan potentially suffers one when he asks Jeff if the Hood was telling the truth that Jeff left him to die. Despite having always talked about the importance of International Rescue’s mission to save lives, Jeff confirms that the Hood was telling the truth, but justifies it by explaining that he only left the Hood behind because he could see no way to save the Hood that wouldn’t have put them both at risk with no guarantee that they could get away.
  • Butter Face: Transom's introduction has her climbing down a ladder in some very form-fitting Painted-On Pants, complete with Male Gaze... Then she turns around.
  • Call-Back:
    • "Fermat/Alan, my friend, what you don't know can't hurt you."
    • And this one:
      Jeff: Saving lives is a dangerous business. But it's what we do.

      Alan: I don't want to save your life. But it's what we do.
  • Canon Foreigner: Transom and Mullion do not have counterparts in the original; the Hood usually worked alone. Fermat doesn't either, as Brains was childless in the original. The Thunderizer is a vehicular case; this was an all-new vehicle created for the film (though the name had been used in off-screen material to describe another vehicle that had went unnamed originally).
  • Cast from Hit Points: The Hood's use of his powers physically weakens him.
  • Casting Gag: In the film, the late Bill Paxton portrays former astronaut Jeff Tracy. He previously portrayed astronaut Fred Haise in Apollo 13.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Lady Penelope is being attacked by the Hood's Evil Genius. All she has to say is this:
    Lady Penelope: Do you know how much a manicure costs these days?
  • Closest Thing We Got: All stated in the trailer: "In a family of heroes, Alan Tracy was always left behind, until... he was the last one left."
  • Co-Dragons: The Hood has two main henchmen: Transom and Mullion.
  • Color-Coded Characters: The Tracy brothers, as shown in their portraits.
    • John: Orange
    • Virgil: Green
    • Scott: Blue
    • Gordon: Red
    • Alan: Yellow
  • Combat Stilettos: Lady Penelope mostly uses her feet clad in pink high heels to stun her opponents. And we get a lot of close-ups of the shoes which are definitely played for Fanservice.
  • Cool Car: The FAB-1, even if it isn't a Rolls-Royce this time around — the Ford Thunderbird it is now can fly and turn into a boat. (Apparently, they had offered Rolls-Royce the job to build a new FAB-1, but they declined because they were busy with creating the RR Phantom.)
  • Covered in Gunge: When Mullion and his goons break into the Thunderbird 2 hangar, Tin-Tin fires a ton of (oddly green colored) fire-retarding foam from the Firefly's turret.
  • Creator Cameo: Visual effects director Mark Nelmes is briefly seen as an ice-cream stand operator in London when Thunderbird 2 lands there; for added points, he's wearing the 1960s-style International Rescue hat. Visual effects supervisor Mike McGee is seen as one of the guys working the Tower Bridge bascule, and Frakes himself is one of the policemen at the end.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Parker.
    Henchman: You've broken my nose!
    Parker: Yes, that was the intention of the maneuver.
  • Demoted to Extra: The elder Tracy brothers are co-leads in the series. They're Distressed Dudes through most of the film.
  • Designated Girl Fight:
    • When Lady Penelope and Parker take on the Hood's henchmen, Parker ends up fighting Mullion while Lady Penelope fights Transom.
    • During the climax, Parker refuses to fight Transom, saying "I can't hit a lady". Tin-Tin on the other hand...
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: Both Lady Penelope and Jeff have cell phone ringtones that play the leitmotif of the original series' "Thunderbird March".
  • "Die Hard" on an X: The middle act is "Die Hard" on Tracy Island.
  • Dining in the Buff: Lady Penelope drinks her tea while relaxing in the tub.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: A stressed-out Alan takes a hard dig at Fermat's stutter. Brains could probably handle it, but Fermat? NOT COOL.
  • Energy Weapon: A surprisingly-realistic version — the Thunderizer vehicle uses a single laser, which is then deflected by tiny mirrors arranged in a circle around the emitter, to cut holes in objects.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: Alan uses his rock skipper to fire a stone at The Hood, but it does nothing but create a shower of sparks. The Hood laughs and taunts him.
    The Hood: It's not me you're angry at, Alan.
    Alan: It's not you I'm aiming at. [fires again, this time hitting the button to open the trap door him and his friends were standing on]
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Surprisingly enough, averted! Despite the futuristic tech on display, the only laser beam present is from the Thunderizer, which itself is more of a scaled-up laser cutting tool (with a bunch of mirrors to reflect the laser). When Lady Penelope confronts the Hood inside the bank vault, she's shown wielding an actual bullet-firing gun, though she doesn't actually get a chance to fire it.
  • A Father to His Men: Bill Paxton became this on the set to the other Tracy actors.
  • Foreshadowing: During the Animated Credits Opening, we see the Mole rescue people from underground, but it leaves two people behind. This is what happened to The Hood prior to the movie- he had been running an illegal diamond mine operation when it collapsed- being one of the first missions for International Rescue. While Jeff rescued his brother, Kyrano, he left the Hood to die, but Jeff later explains to Alan that he only did it because he genuinely couldn't see any way to save the Hood at the time. While the Hood survived, he developed an intense hatred towards the Thunderbirds and the Tracys from that point on.
  • For Want of a Nail: The plot could've been very different if Brains hadn't stuttered trying to pronounce the word "missile" as what hit Thunderbird 5, which is instead assumed to be a meteor.
  • Frame-Up: The Hood intends to rob the world's largest banks, using the Thunderbirds' equipment, so that they will be held responsible for the ensuing financial crisis that ensues.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: At one point, we see a readout for Thunderbird 5 — it's shown in one of its late concept designs with a couple of extra solar panels and a shorter antenna at the base. Additionally, at the bottom of the screen, there's also a readout for a "Thunderbird 6".
  • Girly Bruiser: Lady Penelope gets some Xenafication — and does so while wearing bright pink. She even uses her parasol as a weapon.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: Lady Penelope is dainty and princess-like, but she is not hesitant to kick anyone's ass with her combat skills.
  • Heroism Equals Job Qualification: Alan Tracy gets made a full member of the team after saving the day... despite the fact he's only 14 YEARS OLD!!
    • It isn't too bad; Gordon's 16 and he's a full member of the team.
  • Hypocrite: Jeff; despite telling Alan he's too young to go on missions he allows the 16-year-old Gordon to do the same.
  • Ill-Timed Sneeze: Fermat's allergies cause him to sneeze while in the ducts, nearly causing them to get caught.
  • An Insert: As an in-joke on the series' use of human hands in close-ups, the Thunderbird 1 launch sequence briefly has a puppet hand on a lever instead of Fermat's human hand.
  • Instant Costume Change: Lady Penelope keeps changing hairstyles and outfits between scenes when there logically isn't any place for her to do it; this was lampshaded on the DVD commentary.
  • Large Ham: The Hood.
  • Man Bites Man: Tin-Tin bites Mullion when he tries to grab Alan and Fermat, allowing them to escape into the hanger bay.
  • Missing Mom: Notably, three fathers are in this show (Jeff, Kyrano, Brains) but only one mother; Onaha, apparently Tin-Tin's mother, who is not only absent from the original series, but without a single line of dialogue in her only rendition. Grandma Tracy getting Adapted Out means this can even apply to Jeff!
  • Mythology Gag: Actually, quite a few (including the above-mentioned insert with a puppet-hand).
    • When Thunderbird 2 lands in London, an ice-cream seller is wearing a hat much like the 1960s IR hat.
    • Busted's theme for the movie has one line- "Cause now, the boys are back in town, no strings to hold them down"- which references both the Tracys' nickname of the "Tracy boys" and the fact that they were once puppets.
    • Gordon comments that Alan may have "blown up" his previous school; that's a reference to one potential timeline provided in a Thunderbirds comic in which a young Alan caused damage to a school building when his experimental model rocket went haywire.
    • One of the control panels in the Tracy Island command center was marked with buttons that reference machines used in the series (though this was only known upon examination of the prop).
    • At one point, The Hood takes mental control of Brains and forces him to walk around, and he compares it to a puppet. The walk he does is very Supermarionation-esque.
    • The name "Thunderizer" dates back to a trading card collection for the original series (where it was given as the name for the "booster mortar" device seen in "Edge of Impact").
    • Lady Penelope has the emergency teapot-transmitter in her manor, and it plays a snippet of the "Thunderbird March".
    • In a Freeze-Frame Bonus, there's a mention of "Thunderbird 6".
  • Named by the Adaptation:
    • Unlike the original series, the names "The Hood" and "Tracy Island" are actually spoken in dialogue; previously, only books and other off-screen materials had given the names.
    • While the Hood has no real name in the original series, he is named Trangh Belagant in this film.
  • Noodle Incident: Parker claims that this isn't the first time his mind has been shredded.
  • Non-Lethal Warfare: The Hood's goons don't seem to have any weapons on them, and instead use martial arts as applicable. This may actually be justified since they weren't expecting to encounter any resistance on the island, and thus didn't come armed.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: The Hood arrives on Tracy Island and has everyone Locked in a Freezer. Parker notes that he can pick the lock, but he needs something to pick it with. Lady Penelope then asks everyone to look away so she can get a wire from her bra to pick the lock with.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: Averted. Unlike the old series, this version of International Rescue has no qualms about being known to the general public and they're frequently on the news, though nobody really knows who they are (and neither Tracy Island nor Thunderbird 5 seem to be common knowledge). On the other hand, one of the reasons they had the policy was so that their tech wouldn't fall into the wrong hands, which is what happens here. Admittedly, The Hood managed to do it by striking Thunderbird 5 with a missile to draw the Tracys out into space so he could take what he needed from Tracy Island. Not exactly something you could be prepared for.
    • Also, when Jeff chews out Alan for messing around with Thunderbird 1, he specifically tells him he should've engaged the "anti-detection shields", which presumably help block peoples' efforts to track the craft to and from the island.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • John panics when he realizes that the Hood's missile is going to hit Thunderbird 5. He has just enough time to issue a distress signal before the station is damaged.
    • Jeff and the rest of the Tracys aboard Thunderbird 5 when they learn that the Hood is going to use Thunderbird 2 to rob the Bank of London.
    • Tin-Tin upon realizing that the Hood is actually her uncle.
    • "Brains! The monorail is down! Repeat, the monorail is down!"
  • Parent Service: Lady Penelope is clearly this; her "Hello Boys" scene sticking out spectacularly. She also gets a scene where she delivers orders to Parker while in the bath.
  • Phony Newscast: The movie somehow manages to shoehorn a reporter (the same reporter at that, and played by the director's wife Genie Francis to boot) into every scene in which the Thunderbirds appear in the outside world.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Brains of all people (in addition to his earlier attempt, after which a track in Hans Zimmer's score is named — "Fafafa... No Way!"):
    Brains: Damn it, Jeff, wake up!
    • To a lesser extent, Busted's theme song contains the line "T-birds kick some ass".
  • Product Placement: The Ford Motor Company provided many of the vehicles used in the film, and they're going to make damn sure you know it. That every vehicle you see in the film is a Ford is understandable, but the fact that Ford also sponsors the recurring news program seen throughout the film is a bit weirder. To a far lesser extent, Unilever ice cream products are also given their dues (Ben and Jerry's is in the Tracy Island freezer {though that may be a touch of reality: for an isolated location like Tracy Island they probably buy ice-cream in bulk}, and the ice-cream stand Thunderbird 2 squashes in London is Heartbrand). The scene with Lady Penelope in the bath (see above) has her watching CNBC on another screen; by the time the movie was released, the NBCUniversal merger was on the verge of being completed.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • The Hood's powers are given a massive beef-up, from simply reading Kyrano's mind in the show to actual telekinesis and PG-rated Mind Rape.
    • Tin-Tin also has psychic powers.
  • Put on a Prison Bus: At the end of the film, the Metropolitan Police place the Hood and his minions in their personal vehicle.
  • Race Lift: Kyrano and his family are now from India instead of Malaysia. Still Asian, just a different part of Asia.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: A variant: The production crew came to the conclusion that if Thunderbird 1 launched beside the house as it does in the series, then there would be severe damage to the building. The solution? Add a smaller diving pool between the house and the main swimming pool. (An effect that was planned but never utilized for the film was that the diving pool was supposed to raise up, spilling water over the patio area as the main pool slid back underneath it.)
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Hood wears a red kimono with black gloves and slacks.
  • Scary Black Man: Mullion has an intimidating presence and can go toe-to-toe with Alan, Fermat, Tin-Tin, as well as Parker.
  • Self-Deprecation: On the DVD Commentary, Jonathan Frakes introduces himself as "the alleged director of Thunderbirds."
  • Ship Tease: Between Jeff and Lady Penelope, and Alan and Tin-Tin.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Hood likely didn't know of Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin's existence when he created his plan, and their lack of being captured allows them to ultimately derail the Hood's plans and save the day.
  • Speech Impediment: B-B-Brains' t-tendency to s-stutter is t-t-t-t-taken t-to r-r-ridiculous e-e-extremes.
  • Stealth Pun: Penelope's FAB1 was changed from a Rolls-Royce to a Ford Thunderbird. (There are also more Ford Thunderbirds floating around; a red one in the Tracy Island hangar, and a pink one at Lady Penelope's estate.)
  • Suddenly Shouting: "DAMN IT JEFF, WAKE UP!"
  • The Stinger: Right before the credits roll, we see Penelope and Parker in a pink lifeboat off Tracy Island, with Penny telling Parker to pedal faster.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Though it didn't have the obsession with pyrotechnics the series had, there's still a Russian oil-rig that goes up at the start, showcasing the Thunderbirds in action.
  • Team Hand-Stack: Done by Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin twice.
  • Teen Superspy: Alan, Fermat and Tin-Tin.
  • To the Batpole!: Here, each of the Tracy brothers have their own door with their faces on them, which take them to whichever Thunderbird they need.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: In the climax, Thunderbird 2 manages to get to London from Tracy Island (in the freaking South Pacific) in the amount of time it takes Parker to pick a lock, a lock which is even implied to be straightforward for him to pick. Thunderbird 1 proceeds to make the same journey in the amount of time it takes the Mole to drill under the Thames into the "Bank of London".
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: A fair bit between Tin-Tin and Alan.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Transom stuffs some of the stolen jewelry down her cleavage when no-one is looking.
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: "Who will rescue the rescuers?"
  • The Worf Effect: Lady Penelope and Parker deliver an effortless Curb-Stomp Battle to the Hood's goons largely so he can look more impressive when he defeats them with his Psychic Powers.
  • You Are Grounded!: Jeff grounds Alan for the rest of the spring break for firing up a Thunderbird without activating the anti-detection shield and putting everyone in danger when he acted selfishly.