Blue Thunder

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This article is about the film. For other uses, see Blue Thunder (disambiguation).
Blue Thunder
Blue Thunder.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Badham
Produced by Gordon Carroll
Phil Feldman
Andrew Fogelson
Written by Dan O'Bannon
Don Jakoby
Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Edited by Edward M. Abroms
Frank Morriss
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • May 13, 1983 (1983-05-13)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million
Box office $42,313,354

Blue Thunder is a 1983 action thriller film that features a high-tech helicopter of the same name. The movie was directed by John Badham and stars Roy Scheider.[1] A spin-off television series also called Blue Thunder lasted 11 episodes in 1984.[2]


Francis McNeil "Frank" Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helicopter-pilot-officer and troubled Vietnam War veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His newly assigned field partner is Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern). The two patrol Los Angeles at night and give assistance to police forces on the ground.

Murphy is selected to pilot the world's most advanced helicopter, nicknamed "Blue Thunder", a military-style combat helicopter intended for police use in surveillance and against possible large-scale civic disobedience during the forthcoming Olympic games. With powerful armament, stealth technology that allows it to fly virtually undetected, and other accoutrements (such as infrared scanners, powerful microphones and cameras, and a U-Matic VCR), Blue Thunder appears to be a formidable tool in the war on crime. Murphy notes wryly that with enough of these helicopters "you could run the whole damn country."

But when the death of city councilwoman Diane McNeely turns out to be more than just a random murder, Murphy begins his own covert investigation. He discovers that a subversive action group is intending instead to use Blue Thunder in a military role to quell disorder under the project codename THOR (for "Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response"), and is secretly eliminating political opponents to advance their agenda.

Murphy suspects the involvement of his old wartime nemesis, former United States Army Colonel F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), the primary test pilot for Blue Thunder and someone who felt Murphy was "unsuitable" for the program. Murphy and Lymangood use Blue Thunder to record a meeting between Cochrane and the other government officials which would implicate them in the conspiracy, but Cochrane looks out the window and sees Blue Thunder and realizes what has happened. After landing, Lymangood secures the tape and hides it, but is captured upon returning to his home, interrogated, and killed while trying to escape. Murphy steals Blue Thunder and arranges to have his girlfriend Kate (Candy Clark) retrieve the tape and deliver it to the local news station, using the helicopter to thwart her pursuers. Kate arrives at the news station, but is almost captured by one of the conspirators; the reporter Kate was sent to find intercepts Kate and gets the tape back, while the conspirator is knocked unconscious by a security guard.

Two Air National Guard F-16 fighters are deployed to deal with Murphy, but he manages to shoot one down and evade the other. However, in the process, one missile destroys a barbeque stand in Little Tokyo and a second destroys the top of a high-rise building in Downtown Los Angeles. The operation is then suspended by the Mayor. Cochrane, disobeying orders to stand down, confronts Blue Thunder in a heavily armed Hughes 500 helicopter, and after a tense battle, Murphy is able to shoot him down after executing a 360° loop through use of Blue Thunder's turbine boost function. Murphy then destroys Blue Thunder by landing it in front of an approaching freight train.

In the meantime the tape is made public and as a result the conspirators are arrested.



Co-writers Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby began developing the plot while living together in a Hollywood apartment in the late 1970s, where low-flying police helicopters awoke them on a regular basis. Their original script was a more political one, attacking the concept of a police state controlling the population through high-tech surveillance and heavy armament. They sought and received extensive script help from Captain Bob Woods, then-chief of the LAPD's Air Support Division.

The first draft of the screenplay for Blue Thunder was written in 1979 and featured Frank Murphy as more of a crazy main character with deeper psychological issues, who went on a rampage and destroyed much of Los Angeles before finally falling to F-16s.[3] Filmed on location in Los Angeles during the early months of 1980, this was one of Warren Oates's last films before his death on April 3, 1982, which occurred during post-production nearly two years after principal filming had ended, and it is dedicated to him. He made one movie and one TV episode before and after filming during 1981-1982 that were released after Blue Thunder.

The LAPD Hooper Heliport served as home base for the fictional police unit while construction of the heliport was still being completed. The drive-in theater scene where Frank's girlfriend Kate recovers the tape was filmed at the Pickwick Theatre in Burbank, California; the theater has since then been demolished and replaced by a Pavilions supermarket.[4]

Malcolm McDowell, who portrayed antagonist F. E. Cochrane, was intensely afraid of flying, and not even his then wife Mary Steenburgen could persuade him to overcome his phobia. In an interview for Starlog in 1983, Badham recalled, "He was terrified. He used to get out and throw up after a flight." McDowell's grimaces and discomfort can be seen during the climactic battle between Murphy and Cochrane in the film. Steenburgen commented to filmmakers afterward, "I don't know how you got him up there, I can't even get him in a 747!"[5]

Blue Thunder helicopter[edit]

A mock-up of Blue Thunder, as part of the Studio Backlot Tour of Disney's Hollywood Studios, Florida

Designer Mickey Michaels invented the helicopters used in the film after reviewing and rejecting various existing designs. The helicopter used for Blue Thunder was a French-made Aérospatiale SA-341G Gazelle modified with bolt-on parts and an Apache-style canopy.[6] Two modified Gazelle helicopters, a Hughes 500 helicopter, and two F-16 fighter aircraft were used in the filming of the movie.[7] The helicopters were purchased from Aérospatiale by Columbia Pictures for $190,000 each and flown to Cinema Air in Carlsbad, California where they were heavily modified for the film. These alterations made the helicopters so heavy that various tricks had to be employed to make it look fast and agile in the film. For instance, the 360° loop maneuver Murphy performs at the end of the film, which catches Cochrane so completely by surprise that he is easily shot down by Murphy's gunfire and killed, was carried out by a radio controlled model.[5]


Blue Thunder was released on May 13, 1983, and was the #1 ranked movie in the United States in its opening weekend, taking $8,258,149 at 1,539 theaters. It overtook Flashdance as the #1 movie that weekend. The movie was ranked #2 in its second and third weekends. Overall in the United States, it took $42,313,354 from 66 days on release. Blue Thunder was released in West Germany on February 5, 1983, before its United States release, then released worldwide between June and September 1983. Its UK release was August 25, 1983. It was released in East Germany and South Korea in 1984. Its international box office takings are unknown. The movie made $21.9 million in video rentals in the United States also.[8]

Blue Thunder received positive reviews, with an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Variety called it "a ripsnorting live-action cartoon, utterly implausible but no less enjoyable for that".[10]

Cultural references[edit]

An acronym used in the film, "JAFO", meaning "Just Another Fucking Observer", is police community jargon and is mentioned repeatedly in the film in reference to any police helicopter's non-pilot second officer,[citation needed] in this case Daniel Stern's character of Richard Lymangood. In the related TV series, the reference is expurgated as "Just Another Frustrated Observer".

Video game[edit]

In 1987, Coca-Cola Telecommunications released a Blue Thunder video tape cartridge for Worlds of Wonder's short lived Action Max game system. Using footage from the film, the player plays the pilot of the Blue Thunder helicopter as he tries to prevent the World Peace Coalition from being attacked by a terrorist organization.


Sony is developing a remake of Blue Thunder focusing on drone technology, with Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca as producers, and Craig Kyle as writer.[11]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Film View; Are Video Games About To Zap The Action Movie?" The New York Times, May 15, 1983. Retrieved: November 8, 2010.
  2. ^ "Blue Thunder: The Complete Series." Retrieved: November 19, 2010.
  3. ^ "Blue Thunder - Original 1979 First Draft Screenplay." Retrieved: April 10, 2012.
  4. ^ Blue Thunder DVD notes, commentaries and featurettes
  5. ^ a b Donner, Greg. "Blue Thunder: The Helicopter, Movie Information." Blue Thunder. Retrieved: April 10, 2012.
  6. ^ Farmer 1984, p. 98.
  7. ^ Farmer 1984, p. 84.
  8. ^ "Blue Thunder Box Office". Box Office Mojo - Weekend Box Office, May 13–15, 1983.
  9. ^ Blue Thunder at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ "Blue Thunder". Variety. Retrieved: April 10, 2012.
  11. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (March 18, 2015). "'Blue Thunder' Remake Kicks Off Drone-Themed Frenzy (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. 


  • Farmer, James H. Broken Wings: Hollywood's Air Crashes. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Pub Co., 1984. ISBN 978-0-933126-46-6.

External links[edit]