The Final Countdown (film)

The Final Countdown (film)

Infobox Film
name=The Final Countdown

caption=Theatrical release poster
director=Don Taylor
writer=Thomas Hunter
Peter Powell
David Ambrose
Gerry Davis
starring=Kirk Douglas
Martin Sheen
Katharine Ross
James Farentino
Ron O'Neal
Charles Durning
producer=Peter Vincent Douglas
distributor=United Artists
released=August 1, 1980
runtime=103 min
country = United States
amg_id = 1:17285

"The Final Countdown" is a 1980 science fiction film about a modern aircraft carrier that travels through time to just before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. It was directed by Don Taylor, and stars Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino and Katharine Ross.


The setting is the year 1980. Captain Matthew Yelland (Douglas), commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, has been ordered to take on a civilian observer, Warren Lasky (Sheen) during a training mission in the Pacific Ocean. Lasky's boss, Mr. Tideman, watches Lasky's departure from inside a limousine, his face concealed from both the audience and Lasky, who has never actually met him face to face. Tideman helped design the Nimitz, and Lasky's assignment is to watch and make recommendations while the ship goes on exercises near Hawaii. When Air Wing Commander Owen (Farentino) mildly confronts him about disrupting the ship's operations that are working just fine, Lasky replies, "There are always alternatives, commander." The ship encounters a strange storm vortex, which disappears after they pass through. Then they find that all the usual communication with shore has been cut off. There is only static, even from the White House, except for World War II broadcasts, and a very old Jack Benny radio skit. One of the crewmen overhears the senior staff's bewilderment before Yelland dismisses him, and he panics as he tells a disbelieving buddy that World War III has begun. Yelland dispatches an F-8 Crusader to Pearl Harbor, and two F-14A Tomcats to patrol locally. The Tomcat pilots are surprised to encounter two "mint condition" Japanese A6M Zeros, as are the Zero pilots to see jet aircraft. They also fly over a pleasure craft, which has fictional Senator Samuel S. Chapman (Charles Durning), his secretary Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross), her dog, Charlie, and Chapman's friend, Harvey, on board. They marvel at the speed of these "rocket planes," and Chapman wonders about the American insignia. His position in the Senate keeps him informed of all military hardware, but he's naturally never heard of anything like the Tomcats. The Zeros strafe the boat to kill the passengers, so that they cannot warn Pearl Harbor of foreign aircraft. Chapman, Laurel, Harvey and Laurel's dog manage to dive off before the Zeros make another pass, which hits the ship's fuel tank causing it to explode. When the Zeros turn for another run, Chapman and Laurel remove their life vests so they can duck underneath the water's surface. They escape, but Harvey does not. Unwilling to remove his life vest, he shouts "I can't swim" a few seconds before being shot to death. When the F-14s report what happened, Yelland orders them to "play" with the Zeros but not destroy them. The pilots did a fast turbulent flyby of the Zeroes. The Tomcats perform maneuvers like diving toward the water and pulling up at the last second, feats impossible for World War II-era planes. The Japanese pilots appear impressed but shoot at them anyway. Some of the bullets narrowly miss one of the F-14s, prompting the pilot to wonder why they were just playing with them. After the pilots report that the Zeroes are heading toward the Nimitz, Yelland orders them to "splash the Zeros," in other words eliminate them, which proves no difficult task. One F-14 fires a missile and obliterates one Zero, and the other fires its rotary cannon to down the other. That Zero's pilot survives the watery crash. He is rescued when Yelland sends SH-3 Sea King helicopters to pick up Chapman and Laurel, and separately, to rescue the Japanese pilot, now a prisoner of war. The reconnaissance plane returns with a photograph that Lasky finds familiar. It perfectly matches one that Owen is using for his upcoming World War II book: the scene is of the Pearl Harbor naval forces on December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Now Captain Yelland has the dilemma of deciding whether to use the full power of the "Nimitz" to foil the Japanese attack and alter the course of history, or to stand by and allow history to proceed as "normal" (thus, the standard dilemma in every time-travel film; if the history timeline is altered, it's possible the Nimitz might never be built. Which would mean the ship never travels back to 1941, which restores history, so the Nimitz does get built, etc.). In a sub-plot, Lasky realizes that Senator Chapman was originally reported missing in the "original" history; he should have been killed by the Zeros. By surviving the attack, Chapman is in line to become President Roosevelt's next running mate, the next president after Roosevelt's death in 1945, instead of Harry S. Truman. Commander Dan Thurman insists that the Nimitz blow the Japanese task force out of the Pacific: indeed, Yelland ordered the Zeros "splashed" because he noted that the Zeros were heading toward the Nimitz and the flight deck had planes on it ready for launch. Thurman and Lasky argue about the implications for future history. Yelland settles the dispute by "going by the book": to defend America "past, present, and future" if attacked, and otherwise, to obey the orders of the commander-in-chief, FDR. Chapman, clad in a bathrobe, demands that Yelland notify Pearl Harbor at once. The Japanese POW (Soon-Tek Oh) uses a moment of distraction for a Marine guard, distracted by Laurel's dog and the Senator, to kill several guards and take Laurel as a hostage. He is shot after Commander Owen, at Lasky's advice and with Yelland's approval, distracts him by giving detailed information about the Japanese plans. Chapman demands to see the captain and questions Yelland about the information that Owen told the Japanese airman to shock him, then demands to speak by radio with Pearl Harbor. Yelland agrees, knowing what will happen. Once Chapman tells the radio operator at Pearl that he's aboard the "Nimitz", the operator accuses Chapman of making a crank call. Chapman then looks around at the senior staff and asks what's going on, receiving only stares. Then he demands to be flown to Pearl Harbor. To get the Senator and his secretary out of the way, Yelland pretends to agree, but he secretly orders Owen to take them to a deserted island north of Oahu where they'll be safe. Lasky tries to convince Yelland that letting Chapman live could be a mistake, if Chapman becomes FDR's vice-president in 1944, survives FDR in April 1945, and takes Harry Truman's place with regard to the atomic bombing of Japan, the Berlin Airlift, and the Korean conflict. Yelland replies that he has to make situational decisions regarding the ship and their oath to defend America, and would rather not have two civilians on board during the planned battle to defend Pearl Harbor from the Japanese attack. When noting that he, too, is a civilian, Lasky is permitted by Yelland to join Laurel and Chapman: Lasky realizes the opportunity to correct mistakes in America's World War II and postwar history. However, Owen prevents Lasky's attempt to board the chopper and change history, so he returns to Yelland, stating: "I wasn't invited." As they arrive on the deserted island, Chapman realizes that he's been conned, knocks a helicopter crewman unconscious, and attempts to hijack the helicopter, an SH-3 Sea King, with the flare gun, so he can warn Pearl Harbor authorities himself. After calmly noting the danger of the flare gun, the pilots lift off as ordered by Chapman. Owen tries to return to the departing helicopter, only to lose his grip and fall into the lagoon. This event turns out to have saved his life. The crewman regains consciousness and sees the situation, and bravely but foolishly tries to subdue Chapman. Chapman accidentally fires a flare, killing himself and the flight crew. Owen (having swum back to the island) and Scott are stranded, and "Nimitz's" crew believes they, too, are dead. Meanwhile, Yelland, per the oath to defend America "past, present, and future", begins to execute the attack against incoming Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, ordering American fighters into the air; but during the attempt, the freak storm returns and begins to send the ship back to 1980. Yelland calls back the strike force, so they, too, are caught within the storm and returned to 1980, leaving only Owen, left behind in 1941, and Laurel's dog, left behind in 1980. At the conclusion, Tideman's limousine is waiting to meet the "Nimitz" ship on her return to her homeport. As the chauffeur introduces Lasky to "Mr and Mrs Tideman", Lasky sees that they are a now-aged Owen and Laurel. Laurel and Charlie are happy to be reunited after nearly four decades apart.


This was the first appearance of the F-14 Tomcat in a commercial film.

Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman has a small role as Lt. Cmdr. Kaufman. He also worked as the associate producer, the experience on this film made him never want to deal with a major studio again [Quoted in "All I need to know about FILMMAKING, I learned from the Toxic Avenger", ISBN 0-425-16357-1]

External links

* [ "The Final Countdown" Fansite]
* [ Analysis of the temporal anomalies in the film]


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