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Movies that were supposed to launch franchises (but didn’t): Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Remo_Williams

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the action movie, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  When you subtitle a movie with something like “The Adventure Begins” you are sending a clear message to audiences of your intention to make sequels.  The idea was that Remo Williams would be the American equivalent of James Bond with a long-running film series to rival 007.  But if Remo Williams was comparable to any Bond, it was George Lazenby.  Because after only one movie, he was done.  The adventure ended as soon as it began

The movie was based on a series of paperback novels called The Destroyer.  The hero of the books was a Newark cop who was framed for a crime and sentenced to death.  But his sentence was never carried out.  Instead, his death was faked and he was recruited by a secret government organization called CURE.  Form there, he is trained to be an assassin by his mentor, Chiun.  The books got into some pretty “out-there” story lines that pitted the assassin against cyborgs, shape-shifters and vampires.

Remo Williams - Chiun

The first movie basically told the hero’s origin story.  Fred Ward, who was in his mid-forties at the time, played the unlikely action hero.  Joel Grey, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio and is of Jewish decent, played Ward’s mentor, Chiun.  Chiun was supposed to be an 80-year-old Korean, so Grey was required to undergo four hours of make-up a day in order to appear Asian.  Or they could have hired an actor of Asian decent, but I guess in the mid-eighties it was more practical to spend four hours a day making a white guy look like an elderly Korean.

Even Grey was skeptical.  He turned down the role repeatedly because he didn’t feel he was right for the part.  Not only was he the wrong age and race, Grey had no martial arts training whatsoever.  Even after being cast, Grey didn’t receive any training.  But he did agree to take the part after a private screen test with make-up artist Carl Fullerton.  Fullerton’s make-up work on Remo Williams earned him an Oscar nomination.

remo williams

Much of the movie was devoted to Williams’ training as a master assassin.  The character is being trained in the martial art of Sinanju.  Reportedly, several actors who auditioned for the lead role claimed to be proficient in the technique.  What these actors didn’t realize is that Sinanju was a fictional form of martial arts created by the authors of the Destroyer novels.

The movie was produced by Orion Pictures, a studio which was run by some of the same people responsible for launching the Bond franchise at United Artists.   They were reasonably confident that they could recreate the successful Bond formula with an American lead.  The idea was that they would release a Remo Williams adventure every other year.

To that end, they hired frequent Bond director, Guy Hamilton, and signed him to a two-picture deal.  They also hired Christopher Wood who wrote the Bond movie Moonraker to write the screenplay.  Although Hamilton claims he later rewrote much of Wood’s script including the addition of the climactic battle on the Statue of Liberty.

remo williams

Plans for sequels were short-lived.  Remo Williams opened to mixed reviews in October of 1985.  At the box office, it opened in fourth place behind the Stephen King adaptation, Silver Bullet.  The top spots were help by Commando and Jagged Edge.  Remo Williams was within $100,000 dollars of being beaten out by Back to the Future which had been in theaters for fifteen weeks by that point!  By the end of its run, Remo Williams had grossed less than $15 million dollars which was not enough for his adventures to continue.  At least, not on film.

Remo Williams TV pilot - 1988

Remo Williams TV pilot – 1988

Three years later, Remo Williams was adapted for television.  The pilot starred Jeffrey Meek as the hero and Roddy McDowall as Chiun.  The pilot was a direct follow-up to the movie and reused some of the footage from the movie in the opening credits.  But once again, the adventure ended prematurely as the pilot was not picked up to series.

In 2014, writer-director Shane Black announced that he was going to take a crack at adapting the Destroyer novels.  So perhaps more than three decades later, the adventures of Remo Williams really will continue.

More Movies that were supposed to…

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Posted on October 11, 2015, in Movies, movies that were supposed to... and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. When you do all these movies from thirty years ago, I feel like a broken record when i constantly talk about, “I first saw this on cable as a little kid…” 🙂

    Remo is one of the movies from that period that I enjoyed at the time when i was five, but now can’t sit through. Fred really needed a haircut. I do still get a kick out of some of the training scenes; Fred and Joel have decent chemistry in the movie.

    The one thing about this movie that interests me as an adult is the computer work done by the Brimley character. What the 80s got right and what it got wrong about the Internet always interests me. Remo as a movie is a bit on the fanciful side compared to other movies like WarGames.

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    • I know what you mean. I went to see only a handful of movies in 1985, but I saw a lot of them on cable as a kid. If you saw them once, you saw them a dozen or more times.

      I wouldn’t want to sit down and rewatch Remo Williams again today except maybe as a nostalgia trip.

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  2. So…why was this not a hit?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089901/board/flat/238945646?p=1

    Thu Feb 12 2015 06:10:58

    I don’t think a marketing campaign can really do it justice. It’s very real, defense contractors, malfunctioning equipment, the action scenes are are practical in that their aren’t gadgets involved and most of the big ones like Statue of Liberty scene and the final scene aren’t outlandish in terms of happening in real life. But it’s also parody and the tone is definitely comedic with Chiun and the art of Sinaju.

    Tue Mar 17 2015 00:11:48

    I posted a similar question a while back. I’m not sure why it didn’t hit, but it may have to do with the fact that it didn’t have Destroyer in the title. The books sold bazillions of copies, and had an automatic fan base. However, the combination of a bad title and tone that didn’t really match the books probably didn’t help. The books are WAY more violent, to the point of being cartoonish. It’s kind of like black comedy in places. The movie was much cleaner, during a time when much more violent films like Rambo and Commando were all the rage.

    Sat Apr 11 2015 17:45:55

    I think the problem was too much exposition and not enough “adventure” as the title promises. The Statue of Liberty sequence is great but the rest is a little flat compared to the competing action movies of the day.

    FWIW, I still love it.

    Mon Jun 8 2015 15:33:24

    It was 1985 with the new VHS world. They were releasing all kinds of movies good and bad. I remember this sitting at my local video rental place. This was never marketed at all, it was just released and then ended up like a lot of films. Sitting waiting to be rented. Cable was only a few years old at that time with no internet or word of mouth. Just such a different time for movies.

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    • Why it maybe failed

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089901/board/flat/36365004?p=1

      My belief is that the film was toned down by the producers to make the movie more accessible to a broad audience, which actually hurt the film. If you look at the other action films of that time, they were sort of violent and over-the-top. Think ‘Commando’, ‘Rambo’, ‘Terminator’.

      I read many of the books in the Destroyer series, and they are much darker in tone. Remo would have offed a lot more people had his character been more like the original.

      But, still a great film, too bad they didn’t continue the series. Thoughts?

      Mon Jul 31 2006 22:38:22

      It failed because of a number of reasons. 1)The film’s producer’s tried to distance their film from the source material, i.e. Murphy and Sapir’s book series. Their attitude was to degenerate the books and then claim that their movie was vastly superior to those awful books. 2)The cast for the most part was all wrong. As much as I like Fred Ward as an actor I felt that he didn’t quite match up to the way Remo should have been portrayed. Joel Gray did an admirable job as Chiun but poor Wilfred Brimley was totally miscast as Smith. Someone like William Daniels or Dabney Coleman would have been much better in the role. 3)The villain was laughable. In the books Remo and Chiun have to contend with a cadre of resourceful villains such as a renegade Master of Sinanju (Nuihc), an insane robot (Mr. Gordon’s), a mutant trained in the art of Sinanju (The Dutchman), and a computer determined to rid the world of humans (Friend). The villain in REMO was light weight to say the least. All of the reasons add up to why the film did so poorly at the box office. Lets hope that the producers of the new film do a better job.

      Wed Jun 13 2007 21:33:57

      I agree that the movie was toned down. It is PG-13 and might have been a lot better if it was R instead. Scenes between Ward and Grey were generally good to excellent, but most of the other characters were poorly written and underdeveloped. The potential sexual relationship between Remo and the Major never gets developed in any way, thus making the presence of a “love interest” type character superfluous. The villains were not very threatening either. It got stuck in the limbo between teen movie and adult movie. Lets face it, from the looks of it the movie was pretty low-budget and the FX were terrible.

      The idea that it failed because of some political reaction to its content is laughable. Whoever came up with that idea has too much time on their hands. It failed because it really isn’t a very good movie.

      Mon Jun 25 2007 07:45:36

      I agree with both of the above posters, even if they disagreed. Remo’s schizophrenic filmmakers were unsure of their target audience amid 1985’s sociopolitical spectrum, and villain Grove was a dull competitor to Bond nasties of the SPECTRE/Blofeld variety.

      More reasons to consider….

      A) MEDIOCRE MARKETING… Despite focusing Remo ads around the iconic Statue of Liberty sequence (emulating Hitchcock) there was no real communication to introduce audiences to who Remo was (or Chiun) and WHY they should be interested in these new heroes. Remo Williams didn’t offer audiences any of the usual gimmicks that had become James Bond cliches – but the producers hid from this fact in shy embarrassment, rather than boldly and proudly pointing out Remo’s fresh attributes in clever advertising that might have stuck uniquely in audience memory, enough to go “hey, let’s go see that.” Examples – gadgets, vehicles, damsels?… Remo clumsily destroyed his own training gym, drove a beat-up old truck off a mountain, and got chastised by a loudmouth NYC traffic cop. Somebody could easily create a new trailer for YouTube re-marketing Remo the way it could have been advertised.

      B) LACK OF APPEAL… As a crude-thug “leading man,” Fred Ward didn’t attract ladies as easily as the charming debonair Bond did, and Remo wound up as chaste as a monk. (The Dobermans probably got more tail than he did.) The producers didn’t want to risk an “R” rating from the Destroyer books, for fear of alienating potential box-office from the tamer PG 007 crowd. At the same time, they couldn’t figure out how to manage the “new” 1-year-old PG-13 rating. Its strictness scared away many parents, fearful of taking their kids to a risky adventure movie that was “almost R”… ironic that while PG-13 Remo was more brutal and profane than PG Bond, the Remo movie utilized ZERO sex appeal (unless you count a Pentagon officer caressing the knuckles of Kate Mulgrew in her buttoned uniform) which disappointed fans hoping for Remo to indulge a little lust temptation. Chiun’s bigoted Korean male chauvinist pig attributes could have been used in marketing to help explain why Remo is the way he was.

      C) ***BAD RELEASE… the studio released Remo in OCTOBER – WHY? That seems an odd time to launch a new secret agent franchise, much less try to capture a substantial audience for profitable success. Roger Moore’s final Bond was that summer’s “View to a Kill” released Memorial Day weekend at the end of May 1985 – right in time for the backyard BBQ holiday audience. I understand Remo’s producers wanting to avoid competing with bigger-profile 007. Springtime (March-April 1985) could have captured a partial school audience eager for summer escapism to begin – while also benefiting from audience anticipation of Moore’s final Bond not yet in theaters. Later, August 1985 could have netted summer vacationers craving one last adventure flick before school resumed, AND benefited from audience disappointment from View to a Kill. At any rate, OCTOBER 1985 seems a barren deathbed as lousy as January. Far fewer audience members were available to the box-office at that point, so Remo slipped quickly out of theaters unnoticed.

      D) SMALL SCREEN… Despite Remo’s producers hiring former 007 filmmakers (the writer & director had previously made 70’s Roger Moore flicks) they spent only a fraction of a Bond budget, and worse yet ignored the WIDESCREEN 2.35 aspect ratio of Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy by filming REMO WILLIAMS in “small screen” 1.85 – barely wider than a TV set. This lack of ambitious spectacle further diminished Remo’s impact with low-brow blue-collar cheese factor. Although photographer Andrew Laszlo filmed Remo’s locations beautifully, they would have looked even more impressive widescreen.

      ultimately Remo was discovered by audiences at home, thanks mostly to HBO which aired it incessantly. For several years I remember overhearing dozens of people in video stores pointing out Remo to their friends asking if they’d seen it yet – always enthusiastic, like it was a surprising gem they were eager to share. Likewise kids at school were fond of quoting Chiun.

      The producers still didn’t appreciate what they were sitting on, because after Reagan left office, they made a Remo TV series pilot 20 times more ass-backwards cheap than the movie.

      Tue Jul 17 2007 09:47:26

      It failed because there wasn’t enough action. Pure and simple. Had he been taking people out like Rambo or something the film would’ve done gangbusters. Instead they relied on stunts instead of actual fights and assassinations (Which is what Chuin is and Remo is supposed to be)

      That and no sex appeal killed the film for audiences.

      Mon Jan 28 2008 09:31:49

      Not much to argue with. The title was tepid. “The Destroyer” would have been a much grabbier title.

      The advertising sucked, and the villain was a pansy.

      Don’t you dare talk down about the books, though. They’re satirical, funny, and over the top insanely violent. Warren Murphy just took the franchise back and is writing them again, instead of having them ghost written. A shame Dick Sapir is dead.

      It tanked enough that it won’t get remade. With the right marketing, a Destroyer movie could easily succeed today. There’s a slim possibility of that, but I’m not holding out.

      Wed Apr 2 2008 22:11:04

      I read about 20 of the Destroyer series before seeing the film when it was first released.

      I enjoyed most of the books until they started to lose their way at about the time the black female secretary joined them, which was probably an attempt by the authors to satirize blaxploitation.

      I found the book series hilariously funny because it was an unlikely buddy comedy based around two ultra-violent anti-heroes who spent most of their time bickering like an old married couple in a sitcom. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series quite like the Destroyer it since.

      The film captured the relationship between Chuin and Remo really well, which is a credit to both the writers, Grey and Ward. Brimley did a good job as the reliable agent Smith, who attempts to calmly control the insane duo of Chuin and Remo.

      Unfortunately, the film had a crap plot and villain. It would have been better if the story used some kind of satire of a super-villain, as was often used in successfully in the books. They could easily have used a mob boss or evil dictator.

      I think the writers and producers forgot that the success of the book series was that it was a dark comedy first, and an action series second.

      Tue May 13 2008 08:25:09

      Yeah, the problem was the villains. They weren’t all that terrible. They had connection and control of the military complex, but alone they were just golf club leisure-suited executives out of their league. I mean, who couldn’t kill Grove? And the only real threatening villain to Remo, physically, was dispatched almost as easily, and he was really done in by his own ego. I don’t mind the post-Watergate cynicism, and this movie is a guilty pleasure for me, but I do admit the flaws. Too toned-down, leave more claws in the story next time.

      Fri Oct 17 2008 11:57:42

      I am a BIG fan of the books and have been for probably 25 years. I thought the movie sucked! They totally changed the plot from the first book. CURE is supposed to be headquartered in a private hospital not a bank, Remo’s name did not come from the bottom of a bed pan, the choice for The actors was not the best in my opinion, and the plot was hokey. In addition, the movie totally missed the humor and social commentary in the books which is really the selling point. Here would have been my pick for a main cast:

      Remo: Paul Newman
      Chuin: Pat Morita
      Smith: I admit Wilfred Brimley was a good cast for this.

      If you have not done so already, read the books. They are much much better.

      Thu Oct 30 2008 14:45:27

      Remo was not old enough to be played by Paul Newman. Isn’t he like, in his 70’s?

      The cast was alright, the plot and overall tone were just wrong. In 1985 you just could not have a movie with the politically incorrect characters and over-the-top violence. In one book, for example, Remo goes to assassinate a team of corrupt firemen. He basically stuffs one of them into a fire hose. I wish I were kidding.

      Plus, someone already mentioned the villain was lame, Remo did not have a love interest, and there were no real fight scenes. Still, I have a copy of it just because I loved the books, and some of the elements were spot-on, like the bickering between Remo and Chiun, Smith’s no-nonsense style, and Remo’s sarcastic attitude.

      Fri Dec 9 2011 22:51:17

      Interesting topic. Agree with most of you. Villains were lame and it never seemed like Remo had a focus. Ask yourself at any Remo scene in the movie what he is trying to accomplish overall? Thinking about it, does he ever mention a clear motivation? They book-ended the villain scenes with Remo training and making jokes to Chun. There was no connection between him and the military crooks. Hence, no tension. Too many scenes with him and Chun in the apartment also. I love the statue of liberty scene though and grew up on the movie so I am a fan. I think a lot of this falls on Guy Hamilton. He’s the captain and the movie simply played out dull as an action movie.

      Like

  3. I still have a hard time believing that’s Joel Grey underneath all that make-up. Talk about a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Seriously though this film should’ve just hired an Asian actor & “Short Circuit” just, well, went in a different direction as well with the Ben character. i know it was the 1980’s, but c’mon, what about Mako? He was awesome.
    Anyway, I really do like this film though.

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  4. Ha, we just talked a bit about this movie during our podcast on Tremors. I loved this film when it came out and watched it several times, though it doesn’t hold up much now. And really racist by today’s standards. Great post.

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    • Tremors is another fun one from Ward. I’ll have to check out that podcast!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like Ward and wish he’d found better roles or vice versa. Good actor.

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        • Definitely. He was a bit old to be playing an action hero and he knew it. I read some interviews with him from when Remo Williams was released and he wasn’t 100% comfortable with the idea of being the blue collar James Bond. He is more of a character actor than an action hero.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting. Yes, he was miscast for sure, as was Grey playing a Korean. I remember seeing him in The Naked Gun 33 1/3 and feeling almost a little sad. He has such an expressive face and great presence. I wish Hollywood would stop thinking they need to make an alternative James Bond.

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        • Well, if you don’t own the rights to the real deal, a James Bond substitute is a pretty appealing prospect. It’s kind of the holy grail. The only attempt that even came close was Jason Bourne.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I heard it was how cruise got into Mission Impossible. Agreed about Bourne. The first few were pretty good. I’m not much of a fan of most of the bond films actually, only liking a few. Had no fun with the last two and the newest looks to be off-track as well. Guess we’re heading away from Fred Ward now. Ha.

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        • Yeah, thread drift is common round these parts. I’m cool with it. Thread drift has inspired more than a few articles here.

          MI would be another Bond substitute. It’s always struck me as funny that a TV series about a team came to focus so heavily on just one character who wasn’t even on the TV show. I guess that happens when you cast the world’s biggest movie star. Especially if you want a Bond-like franchise of your own.

          I liked Skyfall. I thought it was a good movie. But it didn’t feel very Bond. I am very pumped for Spectre though.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Cruise is great in most of the MI films (M:I 3 is my personal fave) even though it pretty much abandoned the spy and intrigue stuff after the first one and straight up copied the Bond formula. Entertaining though and the guy puts his heart into it.

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        • That’s for sure.

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        • I found Skyfall kinda disappointing and the new trailers for SPECTRE don’t have me excited, which make me frustrated.

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        • Spectre looks like a continuation of Skyfall. So if you didn’t like the last one, I wouldn’t expect the next one to appeal to you much. Sounds like Craig is ready to be done with the series. Maybe it’s time for another reinvention of the Bond movies after this one.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, yeah, his latest remarks have been revealing, though I think it was more about the grueling film schedule than the story and experience. I actually like him as Bond and Casino Royale is one of my all time fave Bond films. But, it would be good to see a new direction for the series. There is certainly interest.

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        • For sure. Craig was injured on his first Bond film. I’m sure there’s nothing fun about it. He’s older than me and I can feel it in my knees when I walk up lot of stairs. So, I’m sure he’s getting too old for this sh!t. I can’t blame him for wanting to move on. Although maybe don’t tell the press. Or at least not so expressively.

          I’m a fan of the franchise, so I’ll always be interested in seeing where they go next.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I’m older than him and totally understand his frustration. But you’re right. There’s a time and place, as a few misplaced words can really set the wrong tone. I like the memories of the older films mostly because I used to watch them with my dad, but I do like several of them, oddly enough the less popular ones. I really enjoyed Timothy Dalton and his contributions, and I liked Moore’s Spy Who Loved Me and of course, most of Connery’s. Bronson wasn’t so great, though GoldenEye was fun.I’ll surely be in the theatre for Spectre with high hopes.

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        • I’m planning some 007 material for early Nov to coincide with the release of Spectre, so I’ll save that conversation for later. But I’m mostly in agreement with your take on the best Bonds. I do think The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the more popular ones though. It’s cheesy but I know I love it. It has one of the best precredits sequences in the series’ history. GoldenEye is also pretty great. It set such high expectations which the Brosnan films then chipped away at with each successive movie. Die Another Day is just awful.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oh very cool. Those should be some good posts. I really enjoy your take on film. This has been a great conversation and I hope to continue once you get those posts up!

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        • I’m always down for a little Bond talk. You can definitely expect some Worst to First rankings. I want to revisit the question of who is the best Bond in light of Craig’s latest outing. A few readers have been pushing for Craig as a better Bond than Connery. If Spectre is on the same level as Skyfall, Craig will have one of the best track records percentage wise. Connery actually made a lot of lackluster Bonds.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oh I would def put Craig up against Connery. Connery lost his mojo well into his run be he has a huge reputation and nostalgia holds him in his regard. I like the rawness Craig brought in Royale and the fewer gadgets, though I realize that is not what a lot of people wanted, hence the popularity of Skyfall and such.Either way, I’m up for some Worst to First rankings. Should be fun!

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        • Just checking in here–as lebeau already knows, I’m another one always up for some Bond discussion and looking forward to November. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • Love to talk movies! Bond or otherwise! Start up a conversation.

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    • Thanks for mentioning your Tremors podcast–I will try to check it out later today when I have a little time. I’ve seen the first three and they’re all fun; Fred Ward is good in the first two and I liked seeing him get the girl at the end of Tremors 2. The real movie-stealer from those films, however, is of course Michael Gross as Burt Gummer–slightly nuts, but always heavily armed and very handy to have around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We had a sneak preview of Tremors before it opened. No one was expecting anything. It looked pretty damn dumb, but it was free so the college crowd showed up. Everyone loved it. Gross and Reba McEntire absolutely stole the show.

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      • You said that right. Gross is the real thread through all of them. They get more cheesy as they goes. Haven’t seen 4 or 5 yet.

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  5. Bond habilities as a super spy are – to some extent – believable. Remo Williams tries to convince us that learning sinanju makes you Superman in just a few days, dodging bullets, walking on water and all. Gosh, why don´t the villains learn it too? I´m sure there´s a sinanju academy right around the corner.

    That´s this movie biggest flaw. Thre isn´t really a hero, rather a machine programmed to do tricks.

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  6. Every time Remo Williams is on TV my dad watches it.

    I’ve never seen it in its entirety. One thing that’s instantly recognizable is the music. Like The Delta Force theme, it’s that instantly recognizable 80s movie music.

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    • It’s unmistakably 80’s all right. They don’t make ’em like Remo Williams any more.

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    • Yep, it’s hard to miss the theme for “The Delta Force”, even if you only view the flick for 20 minutes. As 1980’s films go in general, they are usually be spotted by the dance-y, hyperactive, or dreamy sounding opening credits.

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