Today’s feature is a 1986 aerial combat flick that isn’t Top Gun: the oft-forgotten Iron Eagle.
Iron Eagle was co-written and directed by Sidney J. Furie, whose other credits include Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Iron Eagle II, Iron Eagle IV, and Ladybugs. His co-writer on the film was executive producer Kevin Alyn Elders, who also wrote Aces: Iron Eagle III and Echelon Conspiracy.
The cinematographer on Iron Eagle was Adam Greenberg, who also shot Rush Hour, Ghost, Sphere, Junior, North, Toys, 3 Men and a Baby, The Terminator, and The Big Red One, among others.
The editor for the film was George Grenville, who cut the movies Billy Jack Goes To Washington, The Trial of Billy Jack, Wrong is Right, Bite the Bullet, and Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
The musical score for Iron Eagle was composed by Basil Poledouris, who is known for composing music for such movies as RoboCop, Conan The Barbarian, Red Dawn, Wired, RoboCop 3, On Deadly Ground, The Hunt For Red October, Hot Shots! Part Deux, and Starship Troopers.
The effects team for the film included Karen Kubeck (Battle Beyond The Stars, Trancers, Coneheads, Back to the Future Part II), Zivit Yakir (American Samurai, The Delta Force), Bernardo Munoz (Super Mario Bros., A Nightmare On Elm Street 3), Pini Klavir (The Expendables 2, The Order), Jarn Heil (House II, Critters 2, Critters 3, Critters 4), Bruce Hayes (Hancock, Stealth, The Rock, Congo), and Sandra Stewart (Waterworld, The People Under The Stairs, K-9).
The cast of Iron Eagle includes Louis Gossett Jr. (Enemy Mine, Jaws 3-D, The Punisher), Jason Gedrick (Summer Catch, Backdraft), David Suchet (Poirot, A Perfect Murder), Larry B. Scott (SpaceCamp, Revenge of the Nerds, The Karate Kid), Caroline Lagerfelt (Minority Report), Jerry Levine (Teen Wolf, K-9), Robert Jayne (Tremors, Tremors 3), and Shawnee Smith (Saw).
When Doug’s father, an Air Force Pilot, is shot down by MiGs belonging to a radical Middle Eastern state, no one seems able to get him out. Doug finds Chappy, an Air Force Colonel who is intrigued by the idea of sending in two fighters piloted by himself and Doug to rescue Doug’s father after bombing the MiG base. Their only problems: Borrowing two fighters, getting them from California to the Mediterranean without anyone noticing, and Doug’s inability to hit anything unless he has music playing. Then come the minor problems of the state’s air defenses.
Iron Eagle bears a number of similarities to another 1986 film: Top Gun. Many regard their similar styles, concepts, and near-concurrent releases as akin to the deep sea movie craze of 1989 (Leviathan, DeepStar Six, The Abyss), the twin 1998 asteroid disaster blockbusters (Armageddon, Deep Impact), or 2000’s pair of Mars-based films (Mission to Mars, Red Planet). The production team was clearly aware of the similarities, as Iron Eagle‘s theatrical release date was altered in order to avoid competition in the summer with Top Gun. Both films would also be equally skewered in the parody films Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux by Jim Abrahams.
Iron Eagle ultimately spawned multiple sequels: Iron Eagle II in 1988, Aces: Iron Eagle III in 1992, and Iron Eagle IV in 1995.
The fighter planes featured throughout the movie are all Israeli, and are thoroughly mocked up to look either American or vaguely foreign. The USAF was reportedly going to provide technical advising for the movie at one point, but decided to back out given how the plot reflects on the institution.
Iron Eagle was made on a production budget of $18 million, on which it grossed over $24 million domestically, making it a profitable feature. The reception, however, wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. The film currently holds a 5.2 rating on IMDb, alongside a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 57%. Ultimately, the movie was buried in the shadow of Top Gun in the public consciousness, despite its run of sequels.
The dialogue in Iron Eagle is absolutely terrible out of just about everyone in the film who isn’t Louis Gossett Jr. In particular, every word that comes out of a child actor is aggravatingly awful, which is exemplified in a sequence where the then-president is referred to as “Ronnie Ray-Gun.” On the flip side, Louis Gossett Jr.’s character is really memorable, and might be the only reason that the movie is remembered at all.
Speaking of child actors, I’m not entirely clear on why there needed to be so many of them in this movie. The lead character is a pending high school graduate, so why does he pal around with so many young kids? Would the plot not have worked with teens taking on the various sneaky tasks and manipulations? Then at least the relationships would have made more sense.
Something that really stands out now for me about the film is the transparent messaging, particularly in support of aggressive, militaristic foreign policy. The story is anything but subtle about the point, going so far as to have characters berate the military brass for not invading foreign countries on a whim, and directing speaking poorly of Jimmy Carter’s handling of the Iran hostage situation.
Getting back to the plot of the movie, the very concept behind this film is utterly preposterous. As far as realism goes, this movie gives SpaceCamp a run for its money in how detached it is. Iron Eagle supposes that children of American military officers could plot and execute a paramilitary operation using US military resources without anyone noticing. At the end of the film, it is even revealed that there are no repercussions for attacking a foreign nation with the unsanctioned use of military resources and personnel. There are so many problems and impossibilities with the scenario that there is just no way to suspend disbelief while watching the movie: the only response to any of this has to be laughter.
Overall, this is (and always was) a cheesy movie, and it certainly hasn’t aged gracefully. I had an absolute blast watching it, and will probably be digging up the sequels in the near future. The writing and acting are awful, and the tone is so excessively dramatic and self-important that it almost comes off as self-parody. I’m astounded that anyone was able to take this movie seriously in the 1980s, but I suppose that was a very different world. If you ask me, anyone into 80s nostalgia, bad movies, or the Hot Shots! films owes it to themselves to check out Iron Eagle at least once.