The film "October Sky" was released in 1999. It tells the inspirational story of a young man in the coal country of West Virginia who seeks to overcome his economic circumstances and pursue a career in the aeronautics industry. The film attained some box office success and was well-received by a number of critics.
The film follows Homer Hickam and several of his friends as they struggle against the wishes of Hickam's father and the local populace to learn how to build rockets. Although they face a number of setbacks in their efforts, they are assisted by a teacher who believes in their abilities and thinks they may have a chance to win the National Science Fair (and college scholarships). Ultimately, they are successful and go on to have rewarding careers.
"October Sky" featured a number of popular actors, including Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer. This part was one of his first major movie roles. He would later star in high-profile pictures such as "Donnie Darko," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Brokeback Mountain." Chris Cooper, noted for his roles in "American Beauty," "The Bourne Identity" and "The Horse Whisperer," played Homer's father. Laura Dern, famous for her role as Doctor Ellie Sattler in the films "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic Park III," also starred in the film as Miss Riley, the encouraging teacher.
The film was based on the book "Rocket Boys," which was written by Homer Hickam. Lewis Colick wrote the screenplay. Joe Johnston directed the film; his other directing credits include "Jurassic Park III," "Hidalgo" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." Although the film is set in the state of West Virginia, much of the filming took place in various locations in Tennessee. The movie was released by Universal Pictures.
"October Sky" was a middling box office success, grossing $32 million overall in the United States. It was nominated for and won several awards, including a win for "Best Family Film" from the Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film was liked by most critics. Peter Travers of "Rolling Stone" noted the richness of the period detail, but said that the film was somewhat corny. Roger Ebert praised the portrayal of the father as a complex character rather than a stereotype, and went on to say that the film "has deep values."