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The Rocketeer: Where Are They Now?

by  in Lists Comment
The Rocketeer: Where Are They Now?

In 1991, two years after the blockbuster success of Tim Burton’s Batman, Disney threw its hat into the comic book movie ring with The Rocketeer. Based on Dave Stevens’ popular adventure series, the plot revolved around a young racing pilot named Cliff Secord, who discovers an experimental personal rocket pack called the “Cirrus X-3.” On the run from the FBI, the mob and a devilish Nazi spy posing as a popular matinee idol, Secord uses the turbo-charged rocket to foil a nefarious plan that would have seen Hitler’s Germany send an armada of flying soldiers to take over the world.

RELATED: The Blade Trilogy: Where Are They Now?

Despite the “Disney-fication” of Stevens’ original vision, which featured racy depictions of Secord’s pin-up girlfriend Betty, the film was notable for its unassuming charm, state-of-the-art special effects and lush visual tone. Boasting a largely unknown star in the title role, the cast also included several well-respected character actors, a former pro basketball player and one future Academy Award-winner. Just over 25 years after its original release, The Rocketeer remains a cult classic among comic book movie aficionados. But whatever happened to the actors who played these iconic heroes and villains? Strap yourselves in for a rollicking, rocket-fueled trip down memory lane as we catch up with the cast of The Rocketeer.

SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers ahead for both the Disney movie and Dave Stevens’ original comic book series.

15. MELORA HARDIN (SOUTH SEAS SINGER)

Rocketeer Cast Hardin

If the striking lounge singer at Eddie Valentine’s South Seas Club seemed familiar, then you probably picked out Melora Hardin lending her exceptional talents to the cast of The Rocketeer. Although little more than a cameo role, Hardin’s classic beauty and rich, clear voice makes for a memorable moment, helping to establish the club as one of the movie’s most memorable settings.

Perhaps best known for her role as Michael Scott’s love interest Jan Levinson in American version of the hit comedy franchise The Office, Hardin has also appeared in several TV, film and stage productions over the years, including standout appearances in Scandal, Falling Skies and The Blacklist. Most recently, she was nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actress Emmy Award for her recurring role as Tammy in the critically-acclaimed Showtime series, Transparent.

14. BILLY CAMPBELL (CLIFF SECORD)

Rocketeer Cast Campbell

Even a quarter of a century after its theatrical release, The Rocketeer still stands as one of Billy Campbell’s most memorable performances. Largely unknown at the time of his casting, Campbell brought a natural charm and endearing earnestness to the role of brash, young adventurer Cliff Secord. Often confused in love yet supremely confident when soaring through the skies, Campbell’s Secord feels as if it was lifted directly off of the printed page.

In the years since his breakout role, Campbell has enjoyed his fair share of ups and downs, but has also boasted notable performances such as vampire hunter Quincy Morris in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jennifer Lopez’s sadistic husband in Enough and a chilling turn as infamous serial killer Ted Bundy in Stranger Beside Me. Most recently he starred in the Canadian TV series Cardinal, in which he plays the titular brooding homicide detective John Cardinal.

13. TIMOTHY DALTON (NEVILLE SINCLAIR)

Rocketeer Cast Dalton

Timothy Dalton has enjoyed a long and productive career in movies and on the stage. The Welsh-born actor started out in the theatre, before transitioning to television and movies. His first foray into the world of comics was in the lacklustre Brenda Starr, starring opposite Brooke Shields. He is perhaps best known for his gritty portrayal of James Bond in The Living Daylights and License to Kill but refused to return to the iconic role for a third film.

In The Rocketeer, he stars as Neville Sinclair, a Nazi spy posing as an Errol Flynn-inspired matinee idol. Dalton played Sinclair to manic perfection, using a winning combination of old-time greasiness and over-the-top schlock. You almost expected him to twist his moustache every time he chewed up the scenery as Sinclair. No stranger to success, Dalton most recently starred in the Showtime hit series Penny Dreadful as the intrepid explorer Sir Malcolm Murray.

12. ALAN ARKIN (PEEVY)

Rocketeer Cast Arkin

Alan Arkin is arguably the most respected actor on our list. His long career includes many career-making performances, including memorable roles in Catch-22, Glengarry Glen Ross and Edward Scissorhands. In 2006, he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Edwin Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine. He was nominated in the same category in 2012 for his portrayal of Lester Siegel in Ben Affleck’s Argo.

In The Rocketeer, he plays Peevy, Cliff Secord’s friend, mentor and chief engineer. Out of all the supporting characters in the film, Peevy’s is the one that is most faithful to his comic book origins.Perhaps the most important supporting role in the entire film, next to Jennifer Connelly’s Jenny Blake, Peevy sticks with Cliff Secord through thick and thin, even when the brash young pilot is intent on throwing all caution to the wind.

11. JON POLITO (BIGELOW)

Rocketeer Cast Polito

In The Rocketeer, Jon Polito plays Otis Bigelow, owner of the airfield, where Cliff Secord and his engineer/mentor Peevy rent their hangar. An opportunistic hustler who also runs a high-flying air circus, Bigelow at one time also employed Cliff as a clown stunt pilot. After Cliff and Peevy come into possession of the Cirrus X-3, Neville Sinclair’s enforcer Lothar pays Bigelow a visit that costs the shady businessman his life.

A highly respected character actor who started his career on the stage off Broadway, Polito’s had well over 200 credits to his name. His most memorable role was as the tough-as-nails Baltimore detective in Steve Crossetti in the critically-acclaimed cop drama Homicide: Life on the Streets. Also a prolific voice actor who lent his talents to several animated comic book features, one of Polito’s last roles, before his death from cancer in 2016, was as the gangster Hammerhead in Ultimate Spider-Man.

10. JENNIFER CONNELLY (JENNY BLAKE)

Rocketeer Cast Connelly

Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly first burst onto the scene thanks to her starring role in Jim Henson’s fantasy epic Labyrinth. In The Rocketeer, Connelly plays the role of Cliff Secord’s beautiful, strong-willed girlfriend Jenny Blake, an aspiring actress who falls under the sway of the deliciously nefarious Hollywood leading man, Neville Sinclair. More than just a pretty face, it is Jenny who uncovers Sinclair’s Nazi loyalties, using her wits and moxie to save Cliff’s bacon during the film’s climactic sky battle.

Connelly of course evolved into one of Hollywood’s most accomplished actresses, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2001 for her portrayal of Alicia Nash in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. She returned to comic books in 2003 in Ang Lee’s Hulk, taking on the role of Bruce Banner’s fiancée Betty Ross. Most recently, she provided the voice of Karen, Peter Parker’s on-board AI in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

9. PAUL SORVINO (EDDIE VALENTINE)

Rocketeer Cast Sorvino

A talented character actor and opera singer, Paul Sorvino has played numerous heroes and villains on both sides of the law. His memorable turn as gangster Paulie Cicero in Martin Scorcese’s classic mob film Goodfellas didn’t exactly prepare him for the more cartoonish role of mobster Eddie Valentine in The Rocketeer but it probably didn’t hurt either. At the beginning of the movie, film idol Neville Sinclair employs Valentine to steal the experimental Cirrus X-3 rocket pack, but by film’s end the fiercely patriotic gangster learns his boss is a Ratzi spy and joins the feds in taking down the nefarious actor.

The versatile Sorvino has enjoyed a long, illustrious career with notable roles in Law & Order, Nixon and The Goldbergs. This fall, he’s set to star as Nicolo Rizzuto in Bad Blood, a Canadian crime series chronicling the rise and fall of Montreal’s notorious Rizzuto crime family.

8. TERRY O’QUINN (HOWARD HUGHES)

Rocketeer Cast O'Quinn

A respected character actor who broke out in 1987 thanks to his role(s) as a serial killer suffering from multiple personality disorder in The Stepfather, Terry O’Quinn played a supporting role in The Rocketeer as Howard Hughes, the famous millionaire inventor who created the Cirrus X-3 rocket pack. Hughes presence in the film wasn’t just intended to lend historical credence to the period adventure. During the movie’s climactic sky battle upon a massive Nazi zeppelin, Hughes and Cliff’s mentor Peevy, rescue the young hero and his girl from a horrifying fiery death, seconds before the airship explodes.

In the years since The Rocketeer, O’Quinn has lent his superlative chops to numerous genre TV shows such as Millennium, Alias and perhaps most notably Lost, for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy in 2007. Most recently, O’Quinn appeared in the spin-off Blacklist: Redemption, as rogue agent Tom Keen’s father Howard Hargrave.

7. MAX GRODENCHIK (WILMER)

Rocketeer Cast Grodenchik

The Rocketeer opens with a harrowing car chase that sees two bumbling gangsters fleeing FBI agents Fitch and Wooly. Larry takes a bullet and doesn’t make it through the opening scene but Wilmer, played by Max Grodenchik, barrels onto Bigelow’s airfield and manages to stash the purloined Cirrus X-3 in Cliff Secord’s old air circus plane. His victory is short-lived, though. In a harebrained attempt to escape the feds, he drives his car into a fuel truck, rolling to relative safety seconds before the resulting conflagration.

Wilmer ends up in traction at the local hospital, where he becomes easy prey for the gruesome Lothar, who tortures him for information before killing him. Grodenchik is perhaps best known for his role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where he played the Ferengi Quark’s hapless brother Rom. His latest venture is a starring role as Jeppo Sorensen in the comedic biopic Tycho.

6. ED LAUTER (FITCH)

Rocketeer Cast Lauter

A prolific character actor who appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s final movie, Family Plot, Ed Lauter played hard-nosed FBI agent Fitch in The Rocketeer. Along with his partner Wooly, Fitch is on the hunt for Howard Hughes’ stolen Cirrus X-3 rocket pack, which was invented for the U.S. government for use in the impending war versus Nazi Germany. Initially butting heads — and exchanging blows — with the trash-talking Cliff Secord, Fitch proves to be a loyal ally during the film’s final battle scene, which features the FBI teaming up with Eddie Valentine’s mobsters versus the Nazis.

Sadly, Lauter passed away at the age of 74 in 2013 but he enjoyed a long, productive career with appearances in dozens of movies and TV shows. Shortly before his death, he appeared in four episodes of Showtime’s critically acclaimed Shameless.

5. DON PUGSLEY (GOOSE)

Rocketeer Cast Pugsley

In The Rocketeer: Cliff’s New York Adventure, the character of Goose is introduced, after Cliff chases his girlfriend Betty all the way to the Big Apple to stop her from boarding an ocean liner to Europe with the creepy photographer Marco of Hollywood. Goose offers Cliff a job for the mysterious Mr. Jonas, aka Lamont Cranston, the mysterious crimefighter known as the Shadow (although Stevens never names him as such).

A talented engineer and pilot, Goose helps Cliff fight off the murderous giant Lothar, who seeks to avenge the death of a sideshow dwarf named Teena from his carny past. Unfortunately, in the movie, Goose is relegated to a bit part as part of Cliff’s flight crew. Don Pugsley, who brought the character to life, went on to appear in several other small roles in films and TV shows like Space: Above and Beyond, Malcom in the Middle and Louie.

4. “TINY” RON TAYLOR (LOTHAR)

Rocketeer Cast Taylor

A man of few words noted for his towering height, “Tiny” Ron Taylor’s most notable role came courtesy of The Rocketeer. As Neville Sinclair’s giant henchman Lothar, he was tasked with recovering the Cirrus X-3 from Cliff, no matter the consequences. In the comics, the character of Lothar has a much more personal connection to Cliff Secord. As a member of the same traveling carnival, they both performed in the Great Orsini’s escape act. He targets his former carny comrades for murder to avenge the death of his love, a sideshow dwarf named Teena.

Taylor’s most notable roles in the years since his appearance as Lothar include Roc, in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and the mute Hupyrian manservant Maihar’du, who attended upon the Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek, in seven episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which put him on the same stage as Max Grodenchik, who he murdered in The Rocketeer).

3. WILLIAM SANDERSON (SKEETS)

Rocketeer Cast Sanderson

Although Skeets Moran is little more than a bit player in both the comic and the movie, the actor who plays him The Rocketeer is arguably the best known of Cliff Secord’s ground crew. William Sanderson is probably best known for his roles as Larry in the long-running sitcom Newhart and J.F. Sebastian in one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, Bladerunner.

In The Rocketeer, his biggest scene occurs when he helps disarm one of Eddie Valentine’s thugs at the Bulldog Café. You’d think with a pedigree like his, Sanderson would have warranted a little more screen time. Go figure. In the years since, Sanderson has played major roles in the cult classic western Deadwood (portraying the real-life mayor of the titular town, E.B. Farnum) and in the hit vampire soap opera True Blood (as the rotten Sheriff Bud Dearborne).

2. JAMES HANDY (WOOLY)

Rocketeer Cast Handy

A noted character actor with numerous film and TV credits to his name, James Handy played the FBI agent Wooly in The Rocketeer, opposite Ed Lauter. Playing good cop to Lauter’s hard-edged bad cop Fitch, Wooly was easily the more even-tempered of the two federal agents. It’s Wooly who first believes the Rocketeer has a chance at stopping Sinclair, when the combined forces of the FBI and the Los Angeles mob fail to bring him to heel.

Over the years, Handy has appeared in several notable TV series, such as NYPD Blue (as Captain Haverhill), Alias (as Arthur Devlin) and The Profiler (as Lou Handleman). Somewhere in there, he also found time to play the priest in M. Night Shyamalan’s everyman superhero flick Unbreakable. Eagle-eyed viewers picked him out of the cast of Logan, as the old doctor who treated Hugh Jackman after his first fight with X-24.

1. JOE JOHNSTON (DIRECTOR)

Rocketeer Cast Johnston

A noted concept artist, special effects tech and art director for popular film franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Joe Johnston only had one previous director credit before helming Disney’s adaptation of Dave Stevens’ classic comic series The Rocketeer. Although it wasn’t a financial success, the film still managed to resonate with fans, thanks to its period setting and Johnston’s attention to detail. 1938 truly came to life under the neophyte director’s discerning eye, with lush set pieces, gorgeous costumes and faithful dialogue.

Johnston would later go on to direct more successful flicks such as Jumanji, October Sky and Jurassic Park III. His stylish visuals and ability to bring the past to startling life was instrumental to winning him the job as director of Marvel Studios’ surprisingly successful Captain America: First Avenger, a film that serves as a lynchpin in its burgeoning cinematic universe.

Who was your favorite cast member of The Rocketeer? Let us know in the Comments!

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