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1986: The Year the Child Took Flight

Films are almost always reflective of the era in which they were made. 1986 was not a good year for man and  technology: The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded moments after take-off; the Soviet Union’s nuclear power plant Chernobyl melted down; the United States was caught selling illegal weapons to Iran. Was it mere coincidence that in the same year, Hollywood would churn out a crop of movies examining the danger of big machines while taking them away from adults and placing them into the hands of children? Probably not. 

1986 was the year of Spacecamp in which a group of teenagers unwittingly boarded a space shuttle that shoots into orbit. It was also the year of Flight of the Navigator, where a boy flies an alien ship on a magical journey through time. But perhaps the best example of the rocketboy trend was that same year’s Iron Eagle in which a teenager steals an American F-16 fighter jet to rescue his father (a POW in the Middle East),

Sound satirical? Well, the producers pushed up the release date by six months to avoid a conflict with Top Gun later that year. This was no bit of caricature a la Hot Shots!.

There’s something vaguely comforting about watching a movie that’s so optimistic, about hearing a tale that insists that the world is in the hands of people who know how to handle it, about witnessing characters ready to rise to any challenge regardless of their skill sets. Add to that the fact that Eagle‘s dogfights do indeed rival those in Top Gun, that the cast succeeds in making an implausible story moderately believable, and that well, the jets are cool, and you end up with an action-packed film well worthy of the year in which it was made. This is vintage 1986.

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