The Final Countdown insert movie poster image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries
Director Don Taylor and United Artists brought the fantastic The Final Countdown to movie theaters in 1980. Kirk Douglas stars as the captain of the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, with Martin Sheen and James Farentino also on board.
Don Taylor Directs The Final Countdown
Thomas Hunter, Peter Powell, David Ambrose and Gerry Davis wrote the screenplay for Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions, Polyc International BV and United Artists. The story’s original setting was World War I, but that was changed in favor of the Pearl Harbor attack, which heralded America’s entry into the Second World War.
Actor Don Taylor (1920-1998) directed the picture. At the time, Taylor’s directorial credits had largely been confined to episodic television and made-for-TV movies. In 1971, however, he had directed the science fiction feature film Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
Kirk Douglas Heads The Final Countdown Cast
Kirk Douglas stars as Captain Matthew Yelland. Other players include Martin Sheen (Warren Lasky), Katharine Ross (Laurel Scott/Mrs. Tideman), James Farentino (Command Richard T. Owens/Richard Tideman), Ron O’Neal (Commander Dan Thurman), Charles Durning (Senator Samuel Chapman), Victor Mohica (Black Cloud), James C. Lawrence (Lt. Perry), Soon-Tek Oh (Simura), Joe Lowry (Commander Damon), Alvin Ing (Lt. Kajima) and the crew of the USS Nimitz.
The Final Countdown Filmed Aboard the USS Nimitz
Much of The Final Countdown was filmed aboard the USS Nimitz during the aircraft carrier’s September 1979 to May 1980 deployment in the Atlantic Ocean. Reportedly, shooting had to be wrapped up early so the Nimitz could return to her home port in Norfolk, Virginia, in order to take on helicopters and crew. They were subsequently deployed in Operation Eagle Claw, the unsuccessful April 24, 1980, rescue attempt to free the American hostages in Iran.
Other U.S. military locations employed in the film included Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii and Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida.
Thanks to the cooperation of the United States Navy, real F-14A Tomcats flying off the Nimitz were used during filming. Portraying the enemy aircraft were specially-modified AT-6 Texan trainers, mocked up to look like the A6M2 Mitsubishi Japanese Zero of World War II infamy.
All ten aviation squadrons aboard the Nimitz garnered camera time: VF-41 and VF-84 (Tomcats), VA-35 (Intruders), VA-82 and VA-86 (Corsair II’s), VFP-63 (Crusaders), VAQ-134 (Prowlers), VS-24 (Vikings), VAW-112 (Hawkeyes) and HS-9 (Sea King helicopters).
In order to capture the Tomcats and mock-up Zeros in the same camera shot, the Zeros flew at full throttle while the technologically superior Tomcats slowed down to near stall speed. Performing one of the movie’s best flying stunts was Commander Richard “Fox” Farrell, executive officer of VF-84 (The Jolly Rogers), whose Tomcat is seen coming perilously close to the water before pulling up for altitude.
The USS Nimitz Returns to Pearl Harbor Attack
The year is 1980, and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is preparing to embark on a training mission from Pearl Harbor. Coming aboard as a civilian adviser is Warren Lasky, who secretly works for mysterious Tideman Industries.
While deployed in the Pacific the Nimitz is engulfed by a freakish electromagnetic storm, which temporarily renders the crew unconscious. Upon awakening, the storm has passed, but normal communications are inoperable, save for old World War II news broadcasts and a radio skit from The Jack Benny Show.
Unsure of their present position, Captain Matt Yelland dispatches an F-8 Crusader and two F-14A Tomcats on a search and report mission. The Tomcats soon encounter a pair of Japanese Zeros of WW II vintage, who strafe a pleasure boat occupied by Senator Samuel Chapman. The senator and his aide, Laurel Scott, along with a dog named Charlie, manage to escape the burning craft while the Tomcats distract the Zeros.
Captain Yelland and the crew of the Nimitz later discover the hard truth. The date is December 7, 1941, and at dawn a Japanese strike force will hit Pearl Harbor in a lightning attack, plunging the United States into World War II.
The Nimitz skipper now readies his own strike force, preparing to meet the Japanese invaders head-on before they reach Hawaii. But ominously brewing on the horizon is another preternatural storm, which is gradually closing in on the Nimitz.
The Final Countdown hit American movie theaters on August 1, 1980.
“This is the kind of movie that some kids would probably enjoy – it’s filled with technology, special effects and action. But it just doesn’t make any sense,” observed Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (8/5/80).
“As a documentary on the USS Nimitz, The Final Countdown is wonderful. As entertainment, however, it has the feeling of a telepic that strayed onto the big screen,” reported Variety.
The Final Countdown Box Office, DVD
- The Final Countdown grossed $16,647,800 at the American box office, earning the #42 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1980.
- On DVD: The Final Countdown Widescreen Edition (Blue Underground, 2004).
“If the United States falls under attack our job is to defend her in the past, present and future,” argues Kirk Douglas as the skipper.
No doubt President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would agree, back for a belated fifth term as Commander in Chief…