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Blue Thunder is a 1983 action film about a police helicopter pilot who discovers a Government Conspiracy to use an experimental Black Helicopter for urban riot control. It earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing and kicked off a subgenre of Cool Helicopter shows including a short-lived 1984 TV series of the same name and the enormously more popular Airwolf.

Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a Vietnam War veteran who flies helicopters for the Metropolitan Police Astro Division. In his time off, he deals with a failed relationship and his fears of going crazy, based on flashbacks he keeps getting to a traumatic 'Nam mission. In the course of training a new observer, rookie Richard Lymangood, he witnesses what appears to be the planned murder of a city councilwoman, but when he tries to report his suspicions, he's grounded due to earlier "extracurricular" activities.

Murphy tries to follow up on the killing on his own time, finding a scrap of paper that calls attention to something called the "THOR Project". Before his investigation can bear fruit, however, he's called up and his suspension is lifted so that he can participate in field testing of a new helicopter. Code-named "Blue Thunder", it's a heavily armed and armored machine with advanced sensors and stealth technology designed for urban riot control. He also meets his nemesis, Colonel Cochrane, a gung ho military test pilot who knows Murphy from Vietnam, and not in a friendly way.

During their first flight in Blue Thunder, Murphy and Lymangood decide to experiment with its stealth and sensor capabilities, while at the same time using the onboard computer to investigate THOR. They end up uncovering a conspiracy to incite unrest in the city's ghettos in order to showcase the new helicopter. When the bad guys realize they've been found out, all bets are off. The two must run for their lives with the evidence, and Murphy is forced to steal Blue Thunder and fight a high-stakes aerial battle over the city.

Tropes used in Blue Thunder include:

"This ship is equipped with a forward-mounted, twenty-millimeter electric cannon. Its six barrels are capable of firing four thousand rounds of ammunition per minute. And that, gentlemen, is one hell of a shit-storm in anybody's language!"

  • Evil Brit: Colonel Cochrane.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Remarkably averted, to the point where things that you'd think would explode pretty easily — like helicopters — don't, even when blown out of the sky by Blue Thunder's rotary cannon.
  • Fake Static: "Cannot read you, Special Base. Still garbled." Murphy is later called out on this by Captain Braddock.

"Who are you fooling with that phony radio bullshit? Jesus Christ, Frank, that went out three days after Marconi invented the fucking thing!"

  • Fun with Acronyms: JAFO (Just Another Fucking Observer)
    • And the THOR project itself. Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response.
  • Gatling Good: Blue Thunder is armed with a turret-mounted, automatically tracking 20mm rotary cannon. It's awesome.
  • Government Conspiracy: The T.H.O.R. Project.
  • Gunship Rescue: When Murphy's girlfriend is being pursued by the police, he rescues her with Blue Thunder.
    • Although the movie subverts it with a somewhat more realistic sequence of events than 'stole a helicopter to go save his girlfriend'. Murphy (after he's already a fugitive from the police) had broken into Blue Thunder's hangar to retrieve the copy of the evidence tape Lymangood had stored onboard, and was caught there by the police. His only way out of the hangar was to steal the helicopter he was already sitting in. Shortly after he'd got it airborne, he finds out that the message Lymangood had left onboard was not the evidence but instead the map to where he'd stashed the evidence. Since Murphy can't land the helicopter to go fetch it, he calls her and asks her to go pick it up and take it to the TV station... and then, knowing the crooked cops will try to stop her, flies gunship cover for her car on the way there.
  • Heroic BSOD: Based on his Vietnam flashbacks and the fact that he constantly tests himself for "sanity", it seems as if Murphy is teetering on the edge of one of these for the entire film. [2]
  • Hot Pursuit: Murphy's girlfriend attempts to outrun the cops while carrying the tape with the evidence to uncover the conspiracy. Murphy has to rescue her with Blue Thunder.
  • Immune to Bullets: Blue Thunder itself, at least to normal ammunition, although it has a few weak spots, particularly when military-issue armor-piercing rounds are involved.
  • Infrared X-Ray Camera: Blue Thunder's "infrared" camera can apparently see through walls and windows. Quite possibly the Trope Codifier if not the Ur Example.
  • In Memoriam: Dedicated to Warren Oates (Braddock) who passed away a month after filming had wrapped.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Lymangood comments to Murphy in a recorded message that it seems like they're playing "cops and robbers for real."
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Cochrane sabotages Murphy's helicopter during a tryout flight in an attempt to get him out of the way.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: The presumably high casualty count from a heat-seeking missile hitting a skyscraper is barely acknowledged. Either that or it's a Conveniently Empty Building. Frame-by-frame will reveal a large number of missing windows, but is it abandoned or slipshod Special Effects?
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: An apparent rape/mugging turns out to be a contracted hit which is in turn part of a larger conspiracy to incite urban riots.
  • More Dakka: The reason for Blue Thunder's existence.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The bad guys arrange for someone in the media lobby to steal the tape; all he does is free the tape from its container in the struggle, just when his superiors have chanced on the right erase code.
  • No Endor Holocaust: The question of whether engaging a helicopter with Air Force interceptors over the city is necessarily a good idea is at least brought up, if glossed over. However, the news anchor narrating the ending seems to blatantly ignore any mass casualties from what transpires.
    • The missiles hit a smokestack and the side of an office building after the end of normal working hours; it is entirely possible that there were no casualties to report.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Cochrane throwing the Vietnamese soldier out of Murphy's helicopter in the 'Nam Flash Back.
  • The Peeping Tom: One memorable scene involves the Blue Thunder's crew hovering outside a young lady's picture window to watch her practice nude yoga.
  • Plot Coupon: The tape containing the evidence to unmask the Government Conspiracy.
  • Power Perversion Potential: A variant — the Astro Division has a penchant for peeking in windows, and Murphy taking Lymangood to visit the "girl in Encino" (who happens to be quite fond of nude yoga and has a very large picture window) is what gets him grounded the first time.
  • Repeat Cut: Used twice, first in the climactic helicopter duel with Cochrane, and then at the end when Blue Thunder is destroyed by a train.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Murphy's flashbacks are triggered by his Vietnam War experiences.
  • Silent Running Mode: "Whisper Mode"
  • Stating the Simple Solution: After spending a lot of effort chasing down the tape with the evidence, one of the villains asks why they don't just remotely erase it, since it's previously established that they were designed with this functionality. The other villain replies that they don't know the code for the specific tape, to which he is told to just "erase them all", as if it should have been obvious.
  • Surprise Vehicle: The aforementioned Gunship Rescue scene.
  • Tagalong Kid: Lymangood, though he's not really all that annoying.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill/Bullets Do Not Work That Way: Murphy seems to go out of his way to avoid intentionally killing anybody while flying Blue Thunder around the city. All the killing in the movie, except for the very last battle with Cochrane, is done by the bad guys, nameless cops, or misguided military personnel (seriously, how do you justify firing heat-seeking missiles around in a goddamn city?).
    • When the city is (as far as the Air Force knows, at least) already under attack by a military aircraft, and the choices are either 'shoot it down' or 'let it strafe the city at will'.
  • Unflinching Walk: Accidentally subverted. Murphy flinches when the helicopter blows up behind him. (Director John Badham says he "didn't think [Roy Scheider] expected the explosion to be as loud and as big as it was.") At that point, Murphy was supposed to be exhausted, not to mention wounded, so "unflinching" may not have been the intent to begin with.
  • Wronski Feint: Used by Murphy to dodge a pair of heat-seeking missiles.
  1. See Trivia page
  2. See the Trivia page for more on this.