The Delta Force is a 1986 American action film starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin (in his final film appearance) as leaders of an elite group of Special Operations Forces personnel based on the real life US Army Delta Force unit. The Delta Force was “inspired” by the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
Directed, co-written and co-produced by Menahem Golan, the film features Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Vaughn, Steve James, Robert Forster, Shelley Winters, George Kennedy, and an uncredited Liam Neeson in an early role.
In 1980, Operation Eagle Claw is aborted after a fatal helicopter crash, with the US Delta Force evacuating to their C-130 transports. Among them is Captain Scott McCoy, who, against orders, rescues his wounded comrade, Peterson, from the burning helicopter before the team finally evacuates. McCoy expresses his disgust for the politicians and the military hierarchy that forced the mission to launch despite the risks, and announces his resignation.
Five years later, a group of Lebanese terrorists hijack American Travelways Airlines Flight 282, a Boeing 707 flying from Cairo to New York City via Athens and Rome. Taking all 144 passengers and crew hostage on the Athens-Rome leg, the pro-Khomeini New World Revolutionary Organization (based on Hezbollah), led by two terrorists named Abdul Rafai and Mustafa, force Captain Roger Campbell and his crew to fly the 707 to Beirut, where they make demands to the United States government that, if not met, will result in the death of each of the hostages. During the crisis, they segregate the Jewish passengers from the Americans by forcing a reluctant flight purser of German heritage named Ingrid Harding to identify them. A Catholic priest, William O’Malley, joins the Jews in solidarity. Unbeknownst to the authorities, the Jewish hostages are then taken off the plane and transported to a militant-controlled area of Beirut, while a dozen additional henchmen are brought on board.
The flight departs for Algiers, where the terrorists release the female hostages and children. Meanwhile, Delta Force, led by Colonel Nick Alexander and a recalled-to-duty and newly promoted-to-Major McCoy are deployed to resolve the crisis. Once the female hostages are evacuated, they launch their assault, only to discover too late that there are additional hijackers on board. When the Delta Force blow their cover, Abdul kills a US Navy Diver named Tom Hale. He then forces the pilots to return to Beirut and takes the remaining male passengers with him.
Upon returning to Beirut, the terrorists transport the passengers to a separate location, while the pilots remain in the 707. Working with a sympathetic Greek Orthodox priest, Israeli Army Intelligence prepares an operation to free the hostages. McCoy and a colleague are able to enter into Lebanon disguised as Canadian television crew. In a prolonged campaign against the terrorists, the Delta Force bide their time to identify the terrorist leaders and locate the hostages. Once the hostages are located, the Delta Force assault the terrorist holdouts, freeing the hostages and evacuating them to the airport. During the battle, McCoy, Peterson, and their team hunt for Abdul and the Jewish hostages. They kill most of the militants but Abdul gravely injures Peterson and flees. While the commandos tend to Peterson, McCoy chases Abdul and tracks him down to an abandoned home. He then engages him into a vicious hand-to-hand fight, breaking Abdul’s arm. As the terrorist leader prepares to shoot McCoy, he is killed when McCoy launches a rocket into his car.
With the hostages and rescue teams secured, the team seizes Flight 282 by secretly infiltrating the airfield through a cotton plantation. Using silenced weapons, Alexander and the Delta team kill the terrorist guards and save the crew. They board the 707 with all of the hostages, taking off to Israel just as McCoy storms the runway on his motorcycle; managing to board after destroying several terrorist jeeps. On board, the team tends to the wounded passengers and the dying Peterson. After having confirmed the hostages are safe and en route home, Peterson says his farewells to McCoy before succumbing to his wounds. In the main cabin the ex-hostages and Delta commandos join together in a rousing rendition of “America The Beautiful”, not knowing about Peterson’s death, except for Alexander, Bobby, McCoy, and O’Malley. In Israel, the Boeing 707 lands safely and the hostages are greeted by their families, while Delta Force disembarks with Peterson’s body in tow to their C-130. The team concludes their operation and departs for the United States amidst celebrations by the people.
- Delta Force:
- Chuck Norris as Major Scott McCoy, the co-leader of the Delta Force unit.
- Lee Marvin as Col.onelNick Alexander, The commander of the Delta Force unit.
- Robert Vaughn as General Woodbridge, US general, Army Chief of Staff.
- Steve James as Bobby, a member of the Delta Force unit and a friend of Scott.
- William Wallace as Pete Peterson, a member of the unit who dies near the end of the film.
- Jerry Weinstock as Doctor Jack, the military doctor of the unit.
- Shaike Ophir as Father Nicholas, a Greek-Orthodox hieromonk who provides intelligence to the Israelis.
- Liam Neeson as Delta Force member (uncredited extra).
- Mykelti Williamson as Delta Force member (uncredited extra).
- Lebanese Terrorists:
- Robert Forster as Abdul Rafai, the leader of the terrorist group.
- David Menahem as Mustafa, member of the terrorist group.
- Avi Loziah as Jaffer, another member of the terrorist group.
- Uri Gavriel as Jamil, commander of the military terrorist group.
- Adiv Gahshan as Salim, member of the military terrorist group.
- Crew and Passengers:
- Bo Svenson as Captain Roger Campbell.
- Hanna Schygulla as Flight purser Ingrid Harding.
- Martin Balsam as Ben Kaplan.
- Shelley Winters as Edie Kaplan.
- Joey Bishop as Harry Goldman.
- Lainie Kazan as Sylvia Goldman.
- George Kennedy as Father William O’Malley.
- Kim Delaney as Sister Mary.
- Chelli Goldenberg as Tina.
- Charles Floye as US Navy Diver Tom Hale.
- Howard Jackson as Ed.
- Jerry Lazarus as Robert Levine.
- Susan Strasberg as Debra Levine.
- Natalie Roth as Ellen Levine.
At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, Cannon announced they would make Delta Force with their two most popular stars, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. The budget was to be $12 million.
“We look at Chuck as having the potential of a Clint Eastwood,” said Menahem Golan. “His acting talent is getting better. He’s in the right style, and he’s very popular.”
In response to the TWA hijacking, Norris said the United States is becoming a “paper tiger” in the Middle East. “What we’re facing here is the fact that our passive approach to terrorism is going to instigate much more terrorism throughout the world,” he said, adding, “I would have sent the Delta Force immediately.” “I’ve been all over the world, and seeing the devastation that terrorism has done in Europe and the Middle East, I know eventually it’s going to come here,” added Norris. “It’s just a matter of time. They’re doing all this devastation in Europe now, and the next stepping stone is America and Canada. Being a free country, with the freedom of movement that we have, it’s an open door policy for terrorism. It’s like Khadafy said a few weeks ago. ‘If Reagan doesn’t back off, I’m going to release my killer squads in America.’ And there’s no doubt in my mind that he has them.”
Bronson ended up deciding not to appear in the film though he did make Death Wish IV for Cannon. He was replaced by Lee Marvin. Marvin said the film “shows the American audience a larger view of terrorism than they’re used to seeing on the small screen and the news. There you see a plane at the end of the runway. But what’s it like to be on a plane as the facilities deterioriate? It’s bad enough on a seven-hour flight – imagine what the bathrooms are like after three or four days.”
Norris’ fee was a reported $2 million.
“It is the first time that Chuck works with an ensemble of first-class actors,” said Golan.
Before the film came out Cannon signed a seven-picture contract with Norris.
Filming started in October 1985. The Delta Force was entirely shot in Israel. Pentagon scenes were shot at the GG Israel Studios facility near Jerusalem, owned by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The Athens, Beirut, Algiers, and Tel Aviv airport scenes were filmed at Ben Gurion International Airport and its military portion, Lod Air Force Base, although one Athens airport scene where an accomplice of the hijackers exits a taxi, was filmed at the eastern terminal of Ellinikon International Airport while the Athens airport concourse (interior) scenes were filmed in Ben Gurion’s main terminal, which at present, is terminal 1. Jaffa was used for scenes of the siege and hostage rescue in the Beirut countryside including midnight oceanic scenes. The film’s budget was $9 million.
The Lockheed C-130H Hercules in the film actually belonged to the Israeli Air Force, registered as 89–9106. It was lent to the Golan-Globus company for filming after it was given a false registration, 14X-FBB and US Air Force designs. Its lease arrangement was similar to Iron Eagle, wherein the United States Air Force refused to participate due to a long-standing policy about not cooperating on any film involving the theft of an aircraft, causing the filmmakers to turn to the Israeli Air Force for the necessary aerial sequences. The army vehicles for the military and terrorists came from the US Army and Israel Defense Forces.
The Boeing 707-139(B) with the registration N778PA, was operated by several airlines including Olympic Airways, Aer Lingus, Saudia, Turkish Airlines, Pan American World Airways, which operated it as Clipper Skylark from 1962 to 1976. Prior to filming in 1985, the aircraft had been operated by Israeli charter-operator MAOF Air and was retired from commercial service in December 1984. The aircraft was then leased to Golan-Globus Productions in late 1985 while in storage at Tel Aviv (just after the TWA-847 hijacking) and repainted with the fake airline name “American Transworld Airlines” while retaining the MAOF livery, but later changed to “American Travelways Airlines” to avoid confusion and legal action. Upon completion of the film, it was sold to Jet Avionic Systems Incorporated on 28 May 1985. Aerocar Aviation acquired it in January 1986 and sold it to Boeing Military Aircraft Company on 20 March 1986 to be used as a source of spares for the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker programme. The US Air Force acquired it later on and parted its vertical stabiliser and engines for the Boeing KC-135E Stratotanker. N778PA was destroyed by fire in a welding accident while in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1992. Portions of the airframe may still exist.
The 1985 Suzuki SP600 motorcycle used by Chuck Norris was designed by Suzuki specifically for the film. After modifying it and adding the weaponry, Suzuki America gave the bike to Golan-Globus production in Israel prior to filming.
Alan Silvestri’s electronic score gained a new life when ABC Sports used it to intro their Indianapolis 500 broadcasts from 1988-1998 and again in 2001. It was also used for the intro of the Brickyard 400 until ABC lost the race rights to NBC Sports in 2001. According to famous Indianapolis 500 anchor Paul Page, he does not want any ESPN/ABC anchor to use this music in intros for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 unless he narrates the intros himself. It is now used on the XM Satellite broadcasts of IndyCar racing events, of which Paul Page is the announcer.
The soundtrack album was initially released by Enigma Records, and later by Milan Records (minus “The Rescue”) on an album paired with Jerry Goldsmith’s King Solomon’s Mines; in 2008 Intrada Records issued a limited edition CD with the entire score. Quartet Records released a two-disc set in 2013 featuring the Intrada album programme on disc one and the Enigma album listing on disc two; all are now OOP.
Marvin did publicity for the film, which was rare for him. He said the movie was “a good flick” and admitted “but I guess I might be protecting myself, keeping the doors open” with Cannon. “There aren’t too many firm film offers these days that guarantee money up front.” Marvin was considering doing a sequel where Delta Force would rescue hostages after a terrorist skyjacking of a luxury liner.
The Delta Force opened in 1,720 theatres and debuted as #3 in the box office losing to The Colour Purple and Down and Out in Beverly Hills; it beat A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Youngblood. The Delta Force earned $5,959,505 on its opening weekend and had a total gross of $17,768,900 in the US. The film was released on DVD on 28 September 2000. The Delta Force has been released on Blu-ray in the US, and more recently in the UK by video label Arrow Films.
The film, although fiction, draws inspiration from two real-life events; the flight 847 hijacking and Operation Entebbe. Below are a key elements from both real-life and film.
- The hijacked TWA 847 took off from Athens on 14 June 1985; the film’s ATW likewise departed Athens, on 19 July 1985.
- The abbreviation of airline in the film, American Travelways Airlines, is ATW and is an anagram of Trans World Airlines.
- The film portrays the plane as a Boeing 707 while TWA used a Boeing 727 for flight 847.
- The airline’s route is Cairo-Athens-Rome.
- While TWA 847 has stopovers in Boston and Los Angeles and ending in San Diego, the film’s flight terminates in New York City.
- Two terrorists hijack the flight; the third is arrested in Athens in both real-life and film.
- In both real-life and film, the flight is managed by a German American flight purser.
- Both scenarios had the purser being forced by the hijackers to segregate Jewish passengers from the non-Jews by identifying them through collected passports.
- The film’s purser is partially based on Uli Derickson.
- A member of the US Navy is shot and dumped off the plane into the tarmac.
- The film depicts the setting as Algiers as opposed to Beirut in real-life.
- Additional henchmen board the plane along with the released hijacker.
- The hostage rescue scene was based on Operation Entebbe
- Cannon announced they would make a TV series, but this did not occur. However the film led to two sequels.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Menahem Golan.
- Producer(s): Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
- Writer(s): James Bruner and Menahem Golan.
- Music: Alan Silvestri.
- Cinematography: David Gurfinkel.
- Editor(s): Alain Jaukbowicz.
- Production: Golan-Globus Productions.
- Distributor(s): The Cannon Group.
- Release Date: 14 February 1986.
- Running Time: 125 minutes.
- Rating: R/18.
- Country: US and Israel.
- Language: English.