Flash Gordon (1980) breakdown

American football player Flash Gordon and travel agent Dale Arden are captured by Ming the Merciless, who decides to marry Dale. Flash escapes, gets captured again numerous times, makes friends, and crashes the wedding.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.

Act 1

Ming attacks Earth. Flash and Dale board a small airplane. 5

Flash and Dale’s plane suffer turbulence from Ming’s attack. 10

Flash and Dale crash. Zarkov gets them to help launch his rocket to stop Ming from destroying Earth (introducing the conflict). 15

Zarkov, Flash, and Dale are captured by Ming. 20

Ming holds an audience for tribute featuring Aura, Vultan, Barin, and others. 25

The heroes meet Ming. He tries to take Dale (introducing a second conflict). Flash fights the guards but loses. 30

Act 2

Flash’s execution is prepared. Flash and Dale confess their attraction. 35

Flash is “executed” but later revived, thanks to Aura. 40

Zarkov is brainwashed into being an agent of Ming. Flash and Aura fly to Arboria. 45

Dale is readied for Ming but tricks a servant into trading places. 50

Flash and Aura reach Arboria. Zarkov is sent to recapture Dale. Klytus is given carte blanche. 55

Midpoint Crisis

(There’s a lot going on in a few minutes, and it all serves to feel like a crisis, but Flash being betrayed and captured by Barin is probably the main plot point.)

Flash meets Barin and is taken captive. Zarkov, who was faking, escapes with Dale. Aura is captured and tortured by Klytus. 60

Barin decides to use Flash. Aura is promised to Klytus. Dale and Zarkov are captured by hawkmen. 65

Flash fakes the Arborian rite of passage. Barin saves him from quicksand but they are captured by hawkmen. 70

Barin and Flash are brought to Vultan. Barin demands trial by combat against Flash. Zarkov tells Dale the Earth will be destroyed in 14 hours (introducing a ticking clock). 75

Flash fights but saves Barin; they ally and kill Klytus when he arrives. Vultan flees before Ming arrives. 80

Ming captures the heroes and offers Flash rulership of a ruined Earth while he marries Dale (reinforcing the dual conflict)….

Act 3

Flash escapes and allies with Vultan. 85

Dale is readied to marry Ming. Flash acts as a decoy. War Rocket Ajax is dispatched. 90

The hawkmen attack Ajax. Ming prepares to kill Zarkov and Barin and marry Dale. 95

Aura escapes and frees Barin and Zarkov. Flash crashes Ajax into the palace. 100

Barin and Zarkov stop the weapons. Flash crashes the wedding and impales Ming (resolving the secondary conflict). Earth is saved (resolving the central conflict). 105

Barin heralds a new era. 110


Ming laughs and retrieves his ring.

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