Directed by John Woo, the 1996 action thriller “Broken Arrow” features John Travolta and Christian Slater. While the initial premise of missing nukes sets the stage for a thrilling action-adventure, “Broken Arrow” ultimately falls short in its execution. The narrative primarily focuses on a repetitive cat-and-mouse chase, which diminishes the tension built by the high-stakes scenario. Despite the lack of plot complexity, John Travolta’s undeniable charisma manages to salvage some entertainment value. Let’s delve deeper into the plot and explore the fate of these missing weapons.

Spoilers Ahead

Broken Arrow (1996) Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis:

The film starts with Vic and Riley enjoying a session of boxing where Vic is showing moves to Riley and wants him to come at him with all he has. Vic wins the tie and they are called for a briefing. Vic and Riley are asked to fly a stealth bomber flight with two B83 nuclear bombs in it as the radar has caught some disturbance. They are required to do surveillance throughout the area. Vic and Riley slip into the bomber. Immediately upon activating stealth mode, they vanish from the radar.

Right at this moment, Vic suddenly attacks Riley and starts releasing the bombs without activating them. Riley tries to stop him, but Vic shoots at him and later presses the eject button of his seat. Before leaving the flight, Vic calls the station and leaves a cryptic message that Riley has lost it, and he ejects himself from the flight after releasing the nuclear bombs. The flight later collides against a canyon and the US officials send a search and rescue team for Vic and Riley.

Why does Vic Steal the Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, a ranger officer named Terry was patrolling the area. She sees Hale’s parachute the following morning and arrests Hale. Hale tries to explain the situation when a USAF team is sent to rescue them. The team finds out that the nuclear bombs have been released, and soon, their priority changes to securing the location of the bombs. They finally find the location of the bombs, but Pritchett’s men ambush the soldiers.

Pritchett is the financier behind Vic and his men, who have promised him to deliver these nuclear bombs. Pritchett is adamant about Vic’s plan going nowhere, but soon he realizes that Vic has planned everything. Among the USAF soldiers, he has put one of his men who secured the nuclear bombs for Vic. Vic has planned it all because he wishes to sell these nuclear bombs again to the US government in exchange for millions of dollars.

However, the only obstacle that remains in Vic’s path is Riley, as he has somehow survived the night, which was not in Vic’s plan. Meanwhile, Terry tries to contact her station through radio when Riley hears a helicopter closing in. Riley removes Terry from the car as the helicopter shoots at them. After running away from the continuous rain of bullets for a while, Riley, with Terry’s help, shoots the pilot of the helicopter as it crashes against a canyon. The blast catches Vic’s eye from afar. Now, he focuses on moving the nukes to the car.

What does Riley Plan to Secure the Nukes?

Broken Arrow (1996)
A still from “Broken Arrow” (1996)

Riley sees the cars with the nukes and plans to intervene so that he can give the US officials enough time to secure the bombs. He asks Terry to go back and find help but she decides to help Riley instead as they manage to get inside the car that is carrying the two nukes. Vic chases Riley’s car, but after a while, Riley escapes them by setting Vic’s car on fire. Terry brings Riley to a copper mine to hide these nukes. But Riley finds a new lock in the door, which makes him think that this mine has recently been used.

Riley then plans to make the nuclear bombs useless by putting in the wrong codes, as this will automatically disarm the bomb. It is only later when Vic calls, Riley realizes that he has planned everything thoroughly and he has used uncoded circuit boards so that if anyone tries to tamper with the codes, the bomb activates itself. Riley knows that he has fallen into the trap that Vic sets but he improvises on that very spot. He tells Vic that if this bomb goes off, he will make sure that the other bomb remains inside the ground forever.

Can Riley and Terry Escape a Doomed Mine?

Later, Riley and Terry bring the two bombs inside the mine, which is almost 2000 feet deep. They place the activated bomb in a secure place and by this time, Vic has arrived with his men. Vic discovers the bomb but decides to blast it anyway to make sure Riley can never be an obstacle. Riley and Terry, on the other hand, fight with Vic’s men to make sure the bombs do not leave the place. One of Vic’s men then throws a grenade, which eventually closes the escape route for Riley and Terry. Vic leaves the place with one nuke and destroys the lift so that Riley can never leave the mine.

How do Riley and Terry Escape the Mine?

Terry finds a map and realizes that an underground river flows around the mine. She discovers a tunnel leading to the river, and along with Riley, they escape the mine. In the meantime, the US military has sent federal forces to stop Vic from escaping with the nuke. Right at that moment, the other nuke goes off, and the electromagnetic field created by it destroys the helicopter of the federal force.

Meanwhile, Terry and Riley find Vic and his men planning to escape through a boat, so they try to steal the boat. But, before Riley can start the engine, Vic comes and he jumps into the water. Terry fails to do so as she travels with them. Later, Riley finally meets with officials to plan to stop Vic from doing any harm. Meanwhile, one of the representatives from the White House, Giles Prentice has already come up with the idea that this whole thing was perhaps planned by Riley as per Vic’s cryptic message before.

Broken Arrow (1996)
Another still from “Broken Arrow” (1996)

Later, the officials intercepted some radio contacts and found out that it was not Riley but Vic who was after the nuclear bombs. They have already received a demand of 250 million dollars from Vic for the nuclear bombs, just as Giles had predicted. Riley remembers that since Vic has planned everything, he will be moving the nuke to Denver. Riley leaves in a helicopter to intercept Vic and secure the nuke. Moreover, his other objective is to make sure Terry remains unharmed by all means.

Broken Arrow (1996) Movie Ending Explained:

Is Riley Able to Secure the Remaining Nuclear Bomb?

By this time, Riley knows that Vic will be using a train to reach Denver so he prepares himself to confront him in the process. Meanwhile, Terry sneaks onto the train and tries to sabotage the nuke, but Vic catches her, and knowing what is at stake, he arms it. Riley enters the train and saves Terry before Vic can kill her. A gunfight breaks out, resulting in the helicopter crashing, killing most of the mercenaries and leaving only Vic, Kelly (Vic’s right-hand man who betrayed the military to secure the nukes), Riley, and Terry on board.

Vic has a remote control to either disarm or detonate the nuke and plans to escape on another helicopter. Riley sabotages that plan by dumping all the helicopter’s fuel, causing it to explode, leaving Vic stranded with the ticking bomb. As his plan fails, Vic shortens the countdown timer out of spite. Kelly demands Vic to disarm the bomb at gunpoint. During their argument, Riley sneaks up and kicks Kelly out of the train to die, then engages in a gunfight with Vic.

Terry detaches the section of the train with the bomb but gets into a shootout with the engineer. The engineer is killed and falls on the train brakes, causing the detached boxcars to catch up. Vic still has the remote detonator, so he forces Riley to drop his gun and challenges him to a fight. Riley eventually overpowers Vic, takes the remote detonator, disarms the nuke, and jumps off the train. Terry also jumps off before the detached boxcars collide.

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The hurtling nuke flies into a stack of oil barrels, causing the train to derail and the barrels to explode, killing Vic. Later, Riley comes to the spot to find the nuke if it is still intact and he is happy to see that the nuke remains alright after the terrible blast. At least one nuke is safe, and another is destroyed inside the mine as Terry comes close to Riley, introducing herself for the first time, and Riley does the same to offer his gratitude toward her.


Broken Arrow (1996) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Cast of Broken Arrow (1996) Movie: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, Howie Long
Broken Arrow (1996) Movie Genre: Action | Runtime: 1h 48m
Where to watch Broken Arrow

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