The Right Stuff

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"


A 1983 adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book, about the attempt to break the sound barrier and the subsequent Space Race. Briefly considered to be a campaign promo for John Glenn's presidential aspirations in 1984, but it actually didn't help much. It received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won four.

This was a breakout role for many now-established actors: Scott Glenn (unless you count Urban Cowboy), Dennis Quaid (unless you count Breaking Away), Fred Ward (unless you count Escape from Alcatraz), and Ed Harris (unless you count Knightriders). Additionally, Sam Shepard has never worked too hard to advance his acting career, but if he can be said to have a breakout role, this is it: he was nominated for an Oscar.

Although the movie is centered around the men and their fast, expensive, and dangerous toys, the women in the movie receive a great deal of character development, from Pancho and Nurse Murch to all of the astronaut's wives.

The movie was named to the National Film Registry in 2013.

Interesting trivia: the actor named Glenn played Shepard, and the actor named Shepard played Yeager. Glenn was played by ... the actor named Harris.

Not to be confused with the Anime online store The Right Stuf, which has one "F". Or the song by New Kids on the Block.

Tropes used in The Right Stuff include:
  • The Bartender: The real-life Pancho Barnes is worth a movie all by herself, and all she got was a made-for-TV piece of junk starring, of all people, Valerie Bertinelli.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Nurse Murch.
  • Berserk Button: John Glenn is incredibly mild-mannered . . . unless you pick on his wife.
  • Bigger Is Better: The Atlas rocket.
  • Bug Buzz: The sound of locusts are played in the background of scenes that involve the Permanent Press Corps.
  • California Doubling: Averted. Location managers are not likely to find a place more desolate than Edwards AFB.
    • The road to Edwards AFB?
      • Tell me about it.
    • Although the "Australia" in the film looked a lot like some of the more desolate places on the base...
  • Catch Phrase: "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"; "Hey Ridley, got any Beeman's?"; "No bucks, no Buck Rogers"; "Fucking-A Bubba"; "My name José Jiménez"; "One hundred percent;" etc.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The conversation the Mercury 7 have with the scientists about having a window, manual controls and explosive bolts. Later on all three become an important part of at least one flight.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used to good effect in the cabinet room.
  • Combat by Champion
  • Cool Plane: Oodles.
  • Danger Deadpan: The original. The real Yeager makes a cameo as well (see Real Person Cameo below).
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Only in this movie could they do this to the dueling tunes of "From the Halls of Montezuma" and "Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder".
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up."
  • Do Not Call Me Paul:

Life Magazine publisher Henry Luce: Now, I want them all to meet my people who will write their true stories, Naturally these stories will appear in Life magazine under their own bylines: For example, "by Betty Grissom", or "by Virgil I. Grissom", or...
Gus Grissom: Gus!
Luce: What was that?
Grissom: Gus. Nobody calls me by... that other name.
Luce: Gus? An astronaut named "Gus?" What's your middle name?
Grissom: Ivan.
Luce: Ivan... ahem... well. Maybe Gus isn't so bad. Might be something there.... All right, all right. You can be Gus.

  • Eagle Land: Unapologetically.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom. Not only was his first name personally embarrassing, but his middle name would have been a propaganda embarrassment. This IS the Cold War Space Race, after all.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The beginning narration, which poetically describes the sound barrier as a "demon that lives in the air."
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: "I bet you're gonna hang our picture on your wall."
  • The Film of the Book
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Almost simultaneously, the astronauts when Glenn's mission is threatened, and the wives when Vice-President Johnson wants to interview Annie Glenn.
  • Funetik Aksent: "A pot?" "A spaceman?" "A jimp?"
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Ed Harris plays this to the hilt as John Glenn. Even when he wants to curse, he can't bring himself to do it.

John Glenn: Let's ffff....
Gus Grissom: Fuckin' A, bubba.
John Glenn: That's right! Exactly!


White House Staffer #1: This footage was assembled from sources operating under cover at great risk.
White House Staffer #2: Very great.
White House Staffer #1: We're fortunate this material didn't perish... with a couple of men.


"Is that a man?"
"You're damn right it is..."

  • Potty Emergency: "Gordo, I have to urinate."
    • Followed by a montage of fire hoses, coffee pouring, water coolers, etc., after which Shepard declares, through painfully clenched teeth, "Request permission to relieve bladder."
  • Power Walk: The Trope Codifier.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: A less-than-500-page book turns into a 3+ hour movie, but it's still actually an Adaptation Distillation. Two of the six Mercury flights (Carpenter's and Schirra's) aren't shown at all, and we only see the end of Grissom's and the beginning of Cooper's. Plus, the book goes into great detail about the dangers of Navy flight ops, and that only gets 30 seconds in the film. Etc, etc...
  • Real Person Cameo: "You fellas want some whiskey?"
  • Red Scare: "Pretty soon they'll be dropping bombs on us like rocks from a highway overpass!"
  • Reentry Scare: Justified, in that this actually happened on John Glenn's flight.
  • Semper Fi: John Glenn, "Mr. Clean the Marine".
  • Shown Their Work: Wolfe was meticulous about getting the details right in his book, so the movie makers had an easy job of it. There's bits of Artistic License here and there, but that's all.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The sound barrier, literally shrouded in clouds, which turns out to be not so big a deal.
  • Speech Impediment: Annie Glenn's, which turns out to be central to the plot. She very successfully completed therapy for it in 1973.
  • Stanley Steamer Spaceship: Glenn's, during orbit.
  • Survival Mantra: John Glenn is shown humming "Battle Hymn of the Republic" during his (potentially fatal) re-entry, something the real Glenn did not do.
  • You Fail History Forever: "The Romans ruled the world because they could build roads" is arguable, leaning towards false. But "the British ruled the world because they had ships" and "we won the war because we had planes" is downright absurd (however, that line was lifted nearly verbatim from LBJ's own words).