The Delta Force

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The Delta Force
Delta force poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMenahem Golan
Written by
  • James Bruner
  • Menahem Golan
Produced by
CinematographyDavid Gurfinkel
Edited byAlain Jakubowicz
Music byAlan Silvestri
Distributed byThe Cannon Group
Release date
  • February 14, 1986 (1986-02-14)
Running time
129 minutes
  • Israel,
  • United States[1]
  • English,
  • Arabic,
  • Greek,
  • French,
  • Hebrew
Budget$9 million
Box office$17.76 million (U.S.A.Collection)

The Delta Force is a 1986 American action film starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin (in his final film appearance) as leaders of an elite group of Special Operations Forces personnel based on the real life U.S. Army Delta Force unit. Directed, co-written and co-produced by Menahem Golan, the film features Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Vaughn, Steve James, Robert Forster, Shelley Winters, George Kennedy, and an uncredited Liam Neeson in an early role.[2] It is the first installment in The Delta Force film series. Two sequels were produced, entitled Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection and the direct-to-video Delta Force 3: The Killing Game. The Delta Force was "inspired" by the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.[3]


In 1980, Operation Eagle Claw is aborted after a fatal helicopter crash, with the U.S. Delta Force evacuating to their C-130 transports. Among them is Captain Scott McCoy, who, against orders, rescues his wounded comrade, Peterson, from the burning helicopter before the team finally evacuates. McCoy expresses his disgust for the politicians and the military hierarchy that forced the mission to launch despite the risks, and announces his resignation.

5 years later, in 1985 a group of Lebanese terrorists hijack American Travelways Airlines Flight 282, a Boeing 707 flying from Cairo to New York City via Athens and Rome. Taking all 144 passengers and crew hostage on the Athens-Rome leg, the pro-Khomeini New World Revolutionary Organization (based on Hezbollah), led by two terrorists named Abdul Rafai and Mustafa, force Captain Roger Campbell and his crew to fly the 707 to Beirut, where they make demands to the United States government that, if not met, will result in the death of each of the hostages. During the crisis, they segregate the Jewish passengers from the Americans by forcing a reluctant flight purser of German heritage named Ingrid Harding to identify them. A Catholic priest, William O'Malley, joins the Jews in solidarity. Unbeknownst to the authorities, the Jewish hostages are then taken off the plane and transported to a militant-controlled area of Beirut, while a dozen additional henchmen are brought on board.

The flight departs for Algiers, where the terrorists release the female hostages and children. Meanwhile, Delta Force, led by Colonel Nick Alexander and a recalled-to-duty and newly promoted-to-Major McCoy are deployed to resolve the crisis. Once the female hostages are evacuated, they launch their assault, only to discover too late that there are additional hijackers on board. When the Delta Force blow their cover, Abdul kills a U.S. Navy Diver named Tom Hale. He then forces the pilots to return to Beirut and takes the remaining male passengers with him.

Upon returning to Beirut, the terrorists transport the passengers to a separate location, while the pilots and two male flight attendants remain in the 707. Working with a sympathetic Greek Orthodox priest, Israeli Army Intelligence prepares an operation to free the hostages. McCoy and Peterson are able to enter into Lebanon disguised as a Canadian television crew. In a prolonged campaign against the terrorists, the Delta Force bide their time to identify the terrorist leaders and locate the hostages. Once the hostages are located, Delta Force assaults the terrorist holdouts, freeing the hostages and evacuating them to the airport. During the battle, McCoy, Peterson, and their team hunt for Abdul and the Jewish hostages. They kill most of the militants but Abdul gravely injures Peterson and flees. While the commandos tend to Peterson, McCoy chases Abdul and tracks him down to an abandoned home. He then engages him in a vicious hand-to-hand fight, breaking Abdul's arm. As the terrorist leader prepares to shoot McCoy, he is killed when McCoy launches a rocket into his car.

With the hostages and rescue teams secured, the team seizes Flight 282 by secretly infiltrating the airfield through a cotton plantation. Using silenced weapons, Alexander and the Delta team kill the terrorist guards and save the crew. They board the 707 with all of the hostages, taking off to Israel just as McCoy storms the runway on his motorcycle; managing to board after destroying several terrorist jeeps. On board, the team tends to the wounded passengers and the dying Peterson. After having confirmed the hostages are safe and en route home, Peterson says his farewells to McCoy before succumbing to his wounds. In the main cabin the ex-hostages and Delta commandos join together in a rousing rendition of "America The Beautiful", not knowing about Peterson's death, except for Alexander, Bobby, McCoy, and O'Malley. In Israel, the Boeing 707 lands safely and the hostages are greeted by their families, while Delta Force disembarks with Peterson's body in tow to their C-130. The team concludes their operation and departs for the United States amidst celebrations by the people.


Chuck Norris on the film set.



At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, Cannon announced they would make Delta Force with their two most popular stars, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson.[5] The budget was to be $12 million.[6]

"We look at Chuck as having the potential of a Clint Eastwood," said Menahem Golan. "His acting talent is getting better. He's in the right style, and he's very popular."[7]

In response to the hijacking of TWA flight 847, Norris said the United States is becoming a "paper tiger" in the Middle East. "What we're facing here is the fact that our passive approach to terrorism is going to instigate much more terrorism throughout the world," he said, adding, "I would have sent the Delta Force immediately."[8]

"I've been all over the world, and seeing the devastation that terrorism has done in Europe and the Middle East, I know eventually it's going to come here," added Norris. "It's just a matter of time. They're doing all this devastation in Europe now, and the next stepping stone is America and Canada. Being a free country, with the freedom of movement that we have, it's an open door policy for terrorism. It's like Khadafy said a few weeks ago. 'If Reagan doesn't back off, I'm going to release my killer squads in America.' And there's no doubt in my mind that he has them."[7]

Bronson ended up deciding not to appear in the film though he did make Death Wish IV for Cannon. He was replaced by Lee Marvin.[9] Marvin said the film "shows the American audience a larger view of terrorism than they're used to seeing on the small screen and the news. There you see a plane at the end of the runway. But what's it like to be on a plane as the facilities deterioriate? It's bad enough on a seven-hour flight - imagine what the bathrooms are like after three or four days."[10]

Norris' fee was a reported $2 million.[11]

"It is the first time that Chuck works with an ensemble of first-class actors," said Golan.[12]

Before the film came out Cannon signed a seven-picture contract with Norris.[13]


Filming started in October 1985. The Delta Force was entirely shot in Israel.[14] Pentagon scenes were shot at the GG Israel Studios facility near Jerusalem, owned by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The Athens, Beirut, Algiers, and Tel Aviv airport scenes were filmed at Ben Gurion International Airport and its military portion, Lod Air Force Base, although one Athens airport scene where an accomplice of the hijackers exits a taxi, was filmed at the eastern terminal of Ellinikon International Airport while the Athens airport concourse (interior) scenes were filmed in Ben Gurion's present-day Terminal (then the main terminal). Jaffa was used for scenes of the siege and hostage rescue in the Beirut countryside including midnight oceanic scenes.[citation needed] The film's budget was $9 million.[15]


The Lockheed C-130H Hercules in the film actually belonged to the Israeli Air Force, registered as 89–9106. It was lent to the Golan-Globus company for filming after it was given a false registration, 14X-FBB and U.S. Air Force designs. Its lease arrangement was similar to Iron Eagle, wherein the United States Air Force refused to participate due to a long-standing policy about not cooperating on any film involving the theft of an aircraft, causing the filmmakers to turn to the Israeli Air Force for the necessary aerial sequences. The army vehicles for the military and terrorists came from the U.S. Army and Israel Defense Forces.

The Boeing 707-139(B) with the registration N778PA, was operated by several airlines including Olympic Airways, Aer Lingus, Saudia, Turkish Airlines, Pan American World Airways, which operated it as Clipper Skylark from 1962 to 1976. Prior to filming in 1985, the aircraft had been operated by Israeli charter-operator MAOF Air and was retired from commercial service in December 1984. The aircraft was then leased to Golan-Globus Productions in late 1985 while in storage at Tel Aviv (just after the TWA-847 hijacking) and repainted with the fake airline name "American Transworld Airlines" while retaining the MAOF livery, but later changed to "American Travelways Airlines" to avoid confusion and legal action. Upon completion of the film, it was sold to Jet Avionic Systems Incorporated on May 28, 1985. Aerocar Aviation acquired it in January 1986 and sold it to Boeing Military Aircraft Company on March 20, 1986 to be used as a source of spares for the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker program. The U.S. Air Force acquired it later on and parted its vertical stabilizer and engines for the Boeing KC-135E Stratotanker. N778PA was destroyed by fire in a welding accident while in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1992. Portions of the airframe may still exist.

The 1985 Suzuki SP600 motorcycle used by Chuck Norris was designed by Suzuki specifically for the film. After modifying it and adding the weaponry, Suzuki America gave the bike to Golan-Globus production in Israel prior to filming.


Alan Silvestri's electronic score gained a new life when ABC Sports used it to intro their Indianapolis 500 broadcasts from 19881998 and again in 2001. It was also used for the intro of the Brickyard 400 until ABC lost the race rights to NBC Sports in 2001. According to famous Indianapolis 500 anchor Paul Page, he does not want any ESPN/ABC anchor to use this music in intros for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 unless he narrates the intros himself. It is now used on the XM Satellite broadcasts of IndyCar racing events, of which Paul Page is the announcer.[citation needed]

The soundtrack album was initially released by Enigma Records, and later by Milan Records (minus "The Rescue") on an album paired with Jerry Goldsmith's King Solomon's Mines; in 2008 Intrada Records issued a limited edition CD with the entire score. Quartet Records released a two-disc set in 2013 featuring the Intrada album programme on disc one and the Enigma album listing on disc two; all are now out of production.


Box office[edit]

The Delta Force opened in 1,720 theaters and debuted as #3 in the box office losing to The Color Purple and Down and Out in Beverly Hills; it beat A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and Youngblood.[16] The Delta Force earned $5,959,505 on its opening weekend and had a total gross of $17,768,900 in the United States.[15][17] The film was released on DVD on September 28, 2000.[18] The Delta Force has been released on Blu-ray in the US, and more recently in the UK by video label Arrow Films.[19]

Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports as of December 2020 that 17% of 12 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 4.3/10.[20] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 37 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[21] In a positive review for the Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and called it "a well-made action film that tantalizes us with its parallels to real life."[3] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it "will be the 1986 film all others will have to beat for sheer, unashamed, hilariously vulgar vaingloriousness."[22] Variety described it as "an exercise in wish fulfillment for those who favor using force instead of diplomacy."[23] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review: " ...of so big a project, The Delta Force is drawn out and complicated."[24] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one star out of four and called it "a prime example" of "second-rate action pictures" and added, "The action in Beirut is more appropriate for a bad James Bond film than for a subject that has been all too real lately. Norris gets off shooting rocket launchers from his specially built motorcycle, and we sit there stunned at the movie industry's ability to make money off any tragedy."[25] Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post called the film "one of those disaster movies that Hollywood was churning out 10 years ago," which "doesn't even deliver on its own sordid level. There isn't any action till 70 minutes into the film—and that's a pallid car chase, immediately deflated by composer Alan Silvestri's idiotic disco fanfare. After the car chase, it's another 30 minutes till you can watch Chuck do any karate."[26]

"I felt better after that film was made," said Norris. "I did, I swear to God. I think it's a way for other people to release their tensions. I think it's good therapy.[27]

Jack Shaheen listed The Delta Force in his "Worst List" of films with anti-Arab stereotypes.

Historical resemblances[edit]

The film, although fiction, draws inspiration from two real-life events; the flight 847 hijacking and Operation Entebbe. Below are a key elements from both real-life and film.

TWA Flight 847[edit]

  • The hijacked TWA 847 took off from Athens on 14 June 1985; the film's ATW likewise departed Athens, on 19 July 1985.
  • The abbreviation of airline in the film, American Travelways Airlines, is ATW and is an anagram of Trans World Airlines. The film portrays the plane as a Boeing 707 while TWA used a Boeing 727 for flight 847.
  • The airline's route is Cairo-Athens-Rome. While TWA 847 has stopovers in Boston and Los Angeles and ending in San Diego, the film's flight terminates in New York City.
  • Two terrorists hijack the flight; the third is arrested in Athens in both real-life and film.
  • The flight is managed by a German American flight purser, who is forced by the hijackers to segregate Jewish passengers from the non-Jews by identifying them through collected passports. The film's purser is partially based on Uli Derickson.
  • A member of the U.S. Navy is shot and dumped off the plane into the tarmac. The film depicts the setting as Algiers at night as opposed to Beirut during daytime hours in real-life.
  • Additional henchmen board the plane along with the released hijacker.

Operation Entebbe[edit]

  • The hostage rescue scene when the commandos raid the terrorist quarters
  • A pregnant woman is on the flight.
  • A single casualty among the rescuers, near the end of the operation.


Marvin did publicity for the film, which was rare for him. He said the movie was "a good flick" and admitted "but I guess I might be protecting myself, keeping the doors open" with Cannon. "There aren't too many firm film offers these days that guarantee money up front." Marvin was considering doing a sequel where Delta Force would rescue hostages after a terrorist skyjacking of a luxury liner.[28]

Cannon announced they would make a TV series.[29] This did not eventuate. However the film led to two sequels; Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection in 1990 and Delta Force 3: The Killing Game in 1991.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Delta Force". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  2. ^ "The Delta Force". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "The Delta Force". Chicago Sun Times. Chicago: Sun-Times Media Group. February 14, 1986. Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  4. ^
  5. ^ AT CANNES, AN AMERICAN RESURGENCE: [THIRD Edition] Carr, Jay. Boston Globe 10 May 1985: 61.
  6. ^ ATTENBOROUGH PLANS FILM ON SOUTH AFRICAN ACTIVIST Ryan, Desmond. Philadelphia Inquirer 2 June 1985: I.2.
  7. ^ a b Action star Chuck Norris an intelligent Rambo: [FIN Edition] Ron Base Toronto Star. Toronto Star 11 Feb 1986: F4.
  8. ^ CAROL LAWRENCE JOINS A `NEW CAST': [SUN-SENTINEL Edition] Sun Sentinel 5 July 1985: 2.A.
  9. ^ MARVIN, NORRIS TO COSTAR IN 'THE DELTA FORCE' Boston Globe (3 Sep 1985: 27.
  10. ^ LEE MARVIN, A MAN OF MARVELOUS LEGEND Ryan, Desmond. Philadelphia Inquirer 22 Feb 1986: C.1.
  12. ^ Moviemakeing moxie helps Golan reach the heights SALEM ALATON. The Globe and Mail; Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]13 Feb 1986: C.8.
  13. ^ CHUCK NORRIS SIGNS SEVEN-YEAR PACT: [THIRD Edition] Boston Globe 14 Feb 1986: 44.
  14. ^ "Next Year in Jerusalem! Israel Lures the Hollywood Moviemakers". Haaretz. Tel Aviv: Haaretz Group. The Associated Press. September 29, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Andrew 1987, p. 189.
  16. ^ "New Movies Make Inroads At Box Office". Sun-Sentinel. United States: Tronc Inc. February 20, 1986. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  17. ^ "The Delta Force". Box Office Mojo. United States: Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  18. ^ "Delta Force, The". IGN. March 8, 2001. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  19. ^ Harley, Joe (May 1, 2014). "Blu-ray Review: THE DELTA FORCE (1986)". Starburst. United Kingdom: Starburst Magazine Limited. Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  20. ^ "The Delta Force (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. United States: Fandango. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  21. ^ "The Delta Force (1986) reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  22. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 14, 1986). "SCREEN:DELTA FORCE". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  23. ^ "The Delta Force". Variety. United States: Penske Media Corporation. 1986. Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  24. ^ Thomas, Kevin (February 14, 1986). "Movie Reviews : Norris Can't Rescue 'The Delta Force'". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  25. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 14, 1986). "'Delta Force' creates terror: Wasted actors, wasted topic". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, Page F.
  26. ^ Attanasio, Paul (February 14, 1986). "Hijack Chutzpah". The Washington Post. D3.
  27. ^ Chuck Norris: A Hero Hazards Comedy: [ALL EDITIONS] By Mike McGrady. Newsday, Combined editions; Long Island, N.Y. [Long Island, N.Y]30 Nov 1986: 09.
  28. ^ LEE MARVIN: THE 'FORCE' IS WITH HIM Beck, Marilyn. Philadelphia Daily News ]11 Feb 1986: 45.
  29. ^ FOR CANNON FILMS, A MOVE INTO TELEVISION-SERIES LAND Ryan, Desmond. Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia, Pa. [Philadelphia, Pa]06 Apr 1986: I.1.


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