The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper

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The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Produced by
  • Daniel Wigutow
  • Michael Taylor
Screenplay by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin
Based on Free Fall: A Novel
by J.D. Reed
Music by James Horner
Edited by
  • Allan Jacobs
  • Robbe Roberts
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • November 13, 1981 (1981-11-13)
Running time
100 minutes
Language English
Budget $12 million[1]
Box office $3.7 million

The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper is a 1981 American crime thriller film about infamous aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper, who escaped with $200,000 after leaping from the back of a Boeing 727 airliner on November 24, 1971. The bulk of the film fictionalizes Cooper's escape after he landed on the ground.


In 1971, the hijacker, identified as "D.B. Cooper", jumps from an airliner using by the rear exit. He jumps on a clear day, parachuting into a forest in Washington state. The man is later identified as Jim Meade (Treat Williams), an ex-Army man with big dreams. Meade escapes the manhunt using a Jeep he had previously hidden in the forest and concealing the money in the carcass of a deer. He eventually meets up with his estranged wife Hannah (Kathryn Harrold), who operates a river rafting company. Meanwhile, Meade is being hunted by Bill Gruen (Robert Duvall), an insurance investigator who was Meade's sergeant in the Army, and Meade's Army buddy, Remson (Paul Gleason), who remembered Meade talking about hijacking an aircraft.

Gruen confronts the Meades at the rafting company, but they escape down the river. The Meades lead Gruen and Remson on a cross-country chase involving various stolen cars. Gruen is fired by his employer, but continues the chase to claim the money for himself. At the aircraft boneyard near Tucson, Arizona, the Meades acquire a hot-air balloon, but Gruen steals the money from Hannah. Meade chases him down with a barely functioning Boeing-Stearman PT-17 crop duster biplane. Meade runs Gruen off the road but crashes his aircraft.

Recovering from the wrecks, Meade has Gruen's gun and for a few minutes, they discuss how Gruen knew that Meade was D. B. Cooper. Along with clues he had left, the previous encounters between the two men in the Army had convinced Gruen that only Meade could have pulled off the audacious hijacking.

Meade leaves Gruen with a couple bundles of the cash, and walks away with the rest, to be picked up by Hannah. With Gruen abandoning the pursuit, it is up to Remson to try to recover the stolen money. When he reaches a crossroads the Meades have just passed, thinking he sees their truck parked nearby, Remson continues the chase.



The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper was based on American poet J.D. Reed's 1980 novel, Free Fall: A Novel.[2] John Frankenheimer was the original director, but he was replaced by Buzz Kulik before shooting began. Well into shooting Kulik was replaced by Roger Spottiswoode. Only Spottiswoode received screen credit. The film almost never got finished. The change in directors led to numerous re-shoots and obvious continuity problems with the finished product.

In an attempt to drum up publicity for the film, Universal Pictures offered a million dollar reward for any information that would lead to the capture and arrest of the real D.B. Cooper. No one ever claimed the money. [Note 1]

Aircraft in the film[edit]

The Boeing 727-173C (c/n 19504-527, N690WA) leased from World Airways, played the part of the Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 featured in the sky hijacking. Painted in the fictitious "Northern Pacific" company livery, it appeared in the first scene, being photographed by pilot Clay Lacy from his Learjet. Four professional parachutists performed the parachute jump from the rear exit stair of the Boeing 727.[3]

Other aircraft in the film were the wrecks found in the Davis–Monthan Air Force Base, including twin-engine and four-engine propeller aircraft such as the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Lockheed P2V Neptune, Lockheed C-121 Constellation and Douglas C-54 Skymaster. Numerous Sikorsky H-34 and Sikorsky CH-37 Mojave helicopters were also featured. A Boeing-Stearman PT-17 (s/n 41 25304, N56949) flown by Art Scholl was used in the climatic car-aircraft chase in the film.[4]


The musical score included the song "Shine", written and sung by Waylon Jennings. A soundtrack album was also released on Polydor (PD-1-6344),[5] consisting mostly of country songs. The musical score was composed by James Horner. It includes the song "Shine", which was also released on Jennings' 1982 album Black on Black.

Track listing
No. Title Writer(s) Artist Length
1. "Shine" Jennings Waylon Jennings 2:49
2. "Maybe He Knows About You" Enid Levine Rita Coolidge 2:40
3. "Bittersweet Love" Enid Levine Jessi Colter 3:15
4. "Money" John Sebastian Rita Coolidge 3:42
5. "Wyoming Bound" James Horner James Horner (conductor) 1:37
6. "Silk Dresses" Michael Smotherman The Marshall Tucker Band 3:15
7. "Money" (Instrumental) Enid Levine James Horner (conductor) 2:45
8. "You Were Never There" Michael Smotherman Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter 3:38
9. "White Water" James Horner James Horner (conductor) 4:11
10. "Shine (Bluegrass Version)" Waylon Jennings Waylon Jennings 2:35
Total length: 30:27


The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper, although similar to other hijacking films of the period, was not a success at the box office. [6] In a critical review of the film, Vincent Canby in his assessment for The New York Times, succinctly noted that "... a number of excellent actors (were coerced) into performing what is a dismally unfunny chase-comedy that eventually seems as aimless, shortsighted and cheerlessly cute as the character they've made up and called 'D.B. Cooper'."[7]

In 1982 Frankenheimer described The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper as "... probably my worst-ever experience. A key member in the chain of command had been lying to both management and myself with the result that we all thought we were making a different movie."[8] After doing very poorly in theatres, the film went straight to video.[9]

Roger Spottiswoode, however, would win the Special Jury Prize at the 1982 Cognac Festival du Film Policier.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper includes a lot of inaccuracies; in the film, it shows D. B. Cooper jumping during daylight with clear weather, however, in the actual event, Cooper jumped during the night and it was raining heavily.


  1. ^ "Movie : 'The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper'." The Numbers. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  2. ^ Reed 1980, p. 3.
  3. ^ Santoir, Christian. "The Pursuit of DB Cooper." Aeromovies. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  4. ^ "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper." The Internet Movie Plane Database, March 1, 2016. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  5. ^ "Music: 'The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.'" Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  6. ^ Paris 1995, p. 204.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent. "In pursuit of the hijacker who leaped to fame." The New York Times, November 13, 1981. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  8. ^ Mann, R. " Frankenheimer speeds on." Los Angeles Times. September 26, 1982. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  9. ^ "Film 'The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper'." Hulu. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.
  10. ^ "Awards: 'The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper'." IMDb. Retrieved: December 22, 2016.


  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-719-0-4074-0.
  • Reed, J.D. Free Fall: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0-4400-2724-9

External links[edit]