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definition - October_Sky

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October Sky

October Sky

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joe Johnston
Produced by Charles Gordon
Larry J. Franco
Screenplay by Lewis Colick
Based on Rocket Boys by
Homer Hickam
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal
Chris Cooper
Laura Dern
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Fred Murphy
Editing by Robert Dalva
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • February 19, 1999 (1999-02-19) (United States)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25,000,000
Box office $34,675,800.50

October Sky is a 1999 American biographical film directed by Joe Johnston, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper and Laura Dern. It is based on the true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 to take up rocketry against his father's wishes, and who eventually became a NASA engineer. Most of the film was shot in rural East Tennessee, including location filming in: Morgan County, Tennessee, Roane County, Tennessee, Oliver Springs, Harriman, and Kingston, Tennessee.



October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys, the title of the book upon which the movie is based. It is also used in a period radio broadcast describing Sputnik as it crossed the "October sky." Homer Hickam stated that "Universal Studios marketing people got involved and they just had to change the title because, according to their research, women over thirty would never see a movie titled Rocket Boys",[1] so Universal Pictures changed the title to be more inviting to a wider audience. The book was later re-released with the name in order to capitalize on interest in the movie. Will Smith was featured in the interviewing of this movie in 2002 by Universal Studios.


The film is set in Coalwood, West Virginia in the year 1957. The coal mine is the town's largest employer and almost every man living in the town works in the mines. John Hickam (Chris Cooper), the mine superintendent, loves his job and hopes that his boys, Jim (Scott Miles) and Homer (Jake Gyllenhaal), will one day join him in his mine. When it appears that Jim will receive a football scholarship to attend college, this leaves Homer to fulfill his father's dream, although his mother, Elsie (Natalie Canerday), hopes for more for her son.

In October, news of the Soviet Union's rocket launch of Sputnik 1 reaches Coalwood. As the townspeople gather outside the night of the broadcast, they see the satellite orbit across the sky. Filled with awe and a belief that this may be his chance out of Coalwood, Homer sets out to build rockets of his own and enter the science fair. Initially, his family and later his classmates think he has gone crazy and is wasting his time, especially when he teams up with Quentin Wilson (Chris Owen), the school's math geek who also has an interest in rocket engineering. With the help of his friends, Roy Lee Cooke (William Lee Scott) and Sherman O'Dell (Chad Lindberg), and support from their science teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern), the four try out their new passion. While their first launches are failures, they begin experimenting with new fuels and rocket designs. After several successful launches, the local paper runs a story about them.

The next day, they are arrested — accused of having started a forest fire with a rocket that had gone astray. After Homer's father picks him up from the police station, Roy Lee is seen getting beat up by his stepfather, Vernon. Homer's father intervenes and rescues Roy Lee, warning the drunken man that, even though Roy Lee's father is dead, he will beat him up as he would have for attacking Roy Lee. In a rare display of emotion, he tells Roy Lee that Roy's father was one of the best men who ever worked for him.

The arrest, along with Homer's father's lack of support, crushes the boys' dreams.

After a mine disaster, Homer's father is injured rescuing "... a dozen men [who] would have died...", though one other miner does die (Elya Baskin). Homer drops out of high school and works the mine to provide for the family while his dad recovers.

Later, Homer is inspired to look at a rocket science book Miss Riley had given him, and learns how to calculate rockets' trajectories. This shows him that their lost rocket could not have caused the fire, as it was unable to travel that far. Homer and Quentin recover the rocket in a stream just about where they figure it should have landed. The boys present their findings to Miss Riley, the school principal, and the police. Chagrined, Principal Turner identifies the offending projectile as a flare from a nearby airfield.

Homer returns to school, and the boys return to rocket making, and win a school science fair. The school sends Homer to the national science fair in Indianapolis, Indiana. That night, John is almost shot by a man in a black car outside. John, with Homer and Jim in town, exits the house to see who fired. John shouts "Vernon!" realizing this was apparently revenge for the threats John gave Roy Lee's stepfather earlier. Homer and Jim express their concern about this to their father, but John passes it over, bitterly telling Homer to go "look for his suitcase" (Homer had been doing so prior to the shooting). Fed up, Homer confronts his father and a heated argument ensues. Homer storms out of the house, vowing to never return or look back.

Homer goes to and enters the fair. His display goes over very well, but when he leaves to go sightseeing, someone steals his de Laval nozzle, as well as his autographed picture of Wernher von Braun. Homer makes an urgent phone call home for help. His mother convinces Homer's father to end the ongoing strike so that Mr. Bolden can build a replica of the stolen nozzle. John bitterly refuses but gives in when Elsie, fed up with his lack of support for their son, threatens that she will have to leave him. With the help of the contributors back in his home town, Homer wins the top prize and is besieged with scholarship offers from colleges. He is also congratulated by his inspiration Dr. von Braun, but in the confusion does not learn the engineer's identity until after he is gone.

Homer returns to Coalwood as a hero, and visits Miss Riley, who is now ill with Hodgkin's disease. He shows her the medal he has won, and she responds touchingly. A launch of their largest rocket yet (called the Miss Riley) is the last scene of the film. (In the reality of which this scene is emblematic, the rocket boys' most successful rocket reached an impressive altitude of 30,000 feet (9,100 m) — higher than the summit of Mount Everest.) Homer's father finally shows up for a launch, and is given the honor of pushing the firing button. As the rocket streams upward, the film shows the view from the perspectives of many characters. As the group looks up to the rocket, John slowly puts his hand on Homer's shoulder and smiles. Homer is invited to take one last look at the coal mine with his father.

A series of vignettes (including footage of a Space Shuttle launch and home movie footage of the characters in the 1950s) tells the later lives of the real characters upon which the movie was based.


Actor/Actress Roles
Jake Gyllenhaal Homer Hickam
Chris Cooper John Hickam
Laura Dern Miss Freida J. Riley
Chris Owen Quentin Wilson
William Lee Scott Roy Lee Cooke
Chad Lindberg Sherman O'Dell
Natalie Canerday Elsie Hickam
Randy Stripling Leon Bolden
Chris Ellis John Turner
Elya Baskin Ike Bykovsky
O. Winston Link Railroad engineer
Andy Stahl Jack Palmer


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