Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta) and Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater), pilots in the United States Air Force, are assigned to a top secret exercise over Utah, flying a B-3 Stealth Bomber (a fictional iteration of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber) with two B83 nuclear bombs on board. After successfully evading Air Force radar, Deakins attacks Hale and ejects him out of the plane. Deakins then releases the bombs without detonating them and reports that Hale has gone rogue. He then ejects from the plane, leaving it to crash.
A USAF search and rescue team led by Chief Master Sergeant Sam Rhodes (Vondie Curtis-Hall) is sent to recover the warheads. They do not find the warheads and report a "Broken Arrow", a situation wherein nuclear weapons are missing. The next morning the search team later locates the warheads in a canyon but are ambushed by mercenaries. To prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, Rhodes tries to disable the warhead but is killed by the other survivor, Sgt. Kelly (Howie Long), who was actually the mercenaries' mole on the search team. Deakins arrives moments later and plots his next move with Pritchett (Bob Gunton), the mercenaries' financier. The mercenaries plan to blackmail the US government with the threat of detonating the warhead in a populated area.
Hale survives the ejection and is almost arrested by park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), who had been investigating the unusual events in the park. He convinces her to help him track down Deakins. Deakins' mercenaries commandeer the USAF search and rescue helicopter to kill Hale, noting that he ejected from the bomber last night, but Hale and Terry manage to bring it down by distracting and killing the pilot. The loss of the helicopter forces Deakins' men to transport the warheads with Hummer trucks.
Hale and Terry carjack the Hummer with the warheads, escaping to a nearby abandoned copper mine on her advice. There, Hale attempts to disable them by intentionally entering the arming code incorrectly. However, as Deakins had rigged the device, Hale's actions instead arm the warhead. Hale and Terry take the armed warhead down the shaft where the mine is deep enough to contain the nuclear blast. However before they can bring down the second warhead, Deakins' team arrives and secures it. After a gun battle deep in the mines, Deakins shortens the countdown of the armed warhead while leaving Hale and Terry trapped. A NEST team helicopter catches up to Deakins' team after they leave the mine, Deakins kills Pritchett after he becomes fed up with the latter's complaints. Hale and Terry escape from the mine via an underground river just before the bomb detonates. The bomb's EMP disables the NEST helicopter, allowing Deakins to escape. Terry and Hale track the mercenaries to a motorboat used for transporting the warhead down the river. While trying to steal the boat, Terry is forced to hide onboard while Deakins moves the warhead. Military forces rescue Hale.
Hale deduces that Deakins intends to use a train to transport the warhead. Stowing on the train, Terry tries to sabotage the warhead but is caught by Deakins and is forced to enter the arming code. Catching up to a train on a USAF helicopter with Colonel Wilkins (Delroy Lindo), Hale saves Terry before Deakins can throw her off the train. A gunfight ensues and the USAF helicopter crashes; Wilkins and most of Deakins' mercenaries are killed. Deakins has prepared a remote that can either disarm or detonate the warhead and prepares to depart the train on his own getaway helicopter, however Hale's sabotage of the helicopter's fuel pump causes it to explode, leaving Deakins and Kelly without the means to get clear of the nuclear blast. With his plan falling apart, Deakins decides to arm the warhead regardless with a short countdown timer. Not wanting to die, Kelly holds Deakins at gunpoint and orders him to disarm the weapon. Hale sneaks up on them during their bickering and kicks Kelly out of the boxcar to his death, then engages in a gun battle with Deakins.
Terry detaches the rear section of the train (with the bomb) from the front, but gets into a shootout with the engineer. The latter is shot and falls on the train brakes, causing the train to stop. The detached boxcars continue to coast at high speed. Meanwhile, Deakins has run out of ammo but still has the remote detonator, so he forces Hale to drop his gun and challenges him to a rematch of their boxing bout. Hale eventually overpowers Deakins, acquires the remote detonator, disarms the warhead, and leaps out of the train. As the detached boxcars slam into the halted front half, the warhead flies into Deakins, and the entire train derails and explodes, incinerating him.
Hale finds Terry and the damaged nuclear warhead. The two formally introduce themselves to each other amidst the wreckage.John Travolta as USAF Major Vick "Deak" Deakins
Christian Slater as USAF Captain Riley Hale
Samantha Mathis as US Park Ranger Terry Carmichael
Delroy Lindo as USAF Colonel Max Wilkins
Frank Whaley as Giles Prentice
Bob Gunton as Pritchett
Howie Long as USAF Master Sergeant Kelly
Casey Biggs as Novacek
Shaun Toub as Max
Vyto Ruginis as Johnson
Vondie Curtis-Hall as USAF Chief Master Sergeant Sam Rhodes
Kurtwood Smith as Secretary of Defense Baird
Carmen Argenziano as USAF Brigadier General Boone
Jack Thompson as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Daniel von Bargen as USAF General Creely
Raymond Cruz as USAF Lieutenant Colonel (uncredited)
The original music score was composed by Hans Zimmer, and features guitarist Duane Eddy. An expanded double-disc limited set of the music score was released by La-La Land Records in February 2011. Also credited for additional music are Zimmer-regulars Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell.
Principal photography began on April 26th, 1995. Filming took place in & around the mountain areas at Glen Canyon National Recreational Area in Kane County, Utah. The lake scene with Hale & Terry was filmed at Lake Powell. The location for the desert sequences were filmed at the Mojave Desert in Barstow, California, & at Coconino County, in Page, Arizona. The final climax scene between Deakins & his men on the train, including the action sequences & Deakins & Hale fighting in the train car was filmed on the privately-owned Central Montana Rail, Inc. (CM) at Fergus County between Lewistown, Montana & Denton, Montana. In July, a number of elaborate train cars were sent to the location in Lewiston, including several custom-built cars. Filming on the forty mile track took six weeks to capture all the stunts, helicopter actions, gun battles, high falls & special effects sequences on film. Production was completed on August 28th, 1995.
Broken Arrow was No. 1 at the North American box office on its opening weekend grossing $15.6 million. It stayed on top for a second week and ultimately had a domestic gross of $70,770,147 and an international gross of $79,500,000, for a total worldwide gross of $150,270,147.
Based on 30 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 53% of critics gave Broken Arrow a positive review (16 "Fresh"; 14 "Rotten"), with an average rating of 5.9 out of 10. Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 61, "generally favorable reviews" based on 21 reviews.
The review of this movie on Siskel & Ebert & the Movies represents the only time in history where Roger Ebert convinced Gene Siskel to change his mind about his final judgment of a film. Siskel initially gave the film a marginal "thumbs up" but changed it to a "thumbs down" after hearing Ebert's criticisms, and it was considered to be the worst movie of the year, calling it "cliched" and "over the top". Ebert summed up the film saying that it all "comes down to two guys fighting on a burning train for a channel-surfer".