With Leap Day upon us, we’ve decided to jump at the chance to ponder famous leaps in popular culture.
After all, the day only comes around once every four years (thanks to the need to keep our standard Gregorian calendar aligned with Earth’s revolutions around the sun), and we welcome any excuse to hop aboard the pop culture bandwagon.
When Clevelanders Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman during the late 1930s, he couldn’t fly just yet (that would come with the radio show), but he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Marvel’s Green Goliath, the Hulk, can’t fly at all, but he can leap several miles and has even been shown to jump all the way up into the atmosphere.
Originally called Jumpman, Nintendo’s Mario has been leaping over barrels and other obstacles since 1981’s Donkey Kong later learning to jump on top of enemies to destroy them. Long before Van Halen recorded its only No. 1 single, Jump, in 1984, VH frontman David Lee Roth had already patented his iconic leap off of the drum riser.
21 Jump Street (1987-1991), the popular TV series starring Johnny Depp, lasted five seasons and later made the jump to the silver screen. In 1992, Steve Martin, years before he made the leap from funnyman to full-time musician, played a faux faith healer in Leap of Faith, where he bilked gullible believers out of their hard-earned cash.
Here are more famous pop-culture leaps to look over as you enjoy Leap Day.
Neal Armstrong walks on the moon
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” This immortal line is, of course, what Neil Armstrong, spacecraft commander for Apollo 11, said on July 21, 1969, when he became the first human being to step foot on the moon.
Lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong shortly thereafter, and they spent the next two-and-a-half hours exploring the moon’s surface, collecting samples and taking photographs.
Meanwhile, command module pilot Michael Collins stayed in orbit, making him far less famous than Armstrong and Aldrin.
D.B. Cooper makes a cash grab
On Nov. 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, a mysterious man calling himself Dan Cooper (the media mistakenly referred to him as D.B. Cooper) boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 305 at Portland International Airport. Instead of simply salivating over the next day’s prospective turkey dinner, he hijacked the plane, which landed in Seattle. There, Cooper demanded $200,000 in cash, four parachutes and food for the crew.
After all the passengers exited the hijacked plane, Cooper and company took off for the not-so-friendly skies.
While in flight north of Portland, Cooper jumped out of the plane, with his cash in tow, and the rest is history, legend, speculation and pop culture presentation, such as the 1981 film The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.
To this day, no one knows Cooper’s real identity or if he survived the jump. A parachute used by the hijacker went on display in 2013 at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.
George H.W. Bush sky-dives at 90
No one can celebrate a senior citizen birthday like George H.W. Bush, our 41st president. Instead of having an early dinner at Furr’s Fresh Buffet or playing some shuffleboard, Bush likes to jump out of airplanes.
Not only did he mark his 75th, 80th and 85th years on this planet by sky diving, he jumped out of a helicopter when he turned 90, even though Parkinson’s disease had robbed him of the use of his legs.
Bush made the geriatric jump from approximately 6,000 feet while harnessed to Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, a retired member of the U.S. Army’s parachute team.
Jumps on TV
Fonzie jumps the shark
You’ve probably heard the phrase “jumping the shark” many times, referring to a television series in decline that uses an outlandish gimmick to try to keep viewers interested.
The phrase was derived from the fifth-season premiere of Happy Days (“Hollywood: Part 3,” Sept. 20, 1977), in which Fonzie, wearing swim trunks and his patented leather jacket while on water skis, jumps over a shark.
Despite (or because of) this goofy stunt, the show stayed on the air six more seasons.
The General Lee hurdles a police car
When The Dukes of Hazzard premiered on CBS Jan. 26, 1979, the intro immediately captivated viewers, from the catchy Waylon Jennings theme song to Catherine Bach in her short “Daisy Duke” shorts to the General Lee going airborne not once, but twice — the second time over Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane’s police car.
Long before the General Lee courted controversy with its Confederate flag paint job, it was the coolest ride this side of the Batmobile.
Tom Cruise jumps on Oprah’s couch
A little over a decade ago, Tom Cruise appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show amid a standing, screaming ovation from the mostly female audience. Winfrey told the giddy fans to “stand down” and “calm yourselves,” but it was Cruise who started acting crazy.
While declaring his love for his then-new girlfriend, actress Katie Holmes, Cruise pumped his fist, laughed maniacally and jumped up on the couch — he was clearly high on Holmes.
Unfortunately, the high wore off. The couple wed in 2006 but divorced in 2012, reportedly due in part to Holmes’ concerns over Cruise’s involvement with the Church of Scientology.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leap while on the lam
One of the most beloved Westerns in the history of cinema, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) has many great scenes. One of the best is when Butch and Sundance, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, respectively, are on the run from the law and reach a dead-end cliff overlooking rushing rapids far below.
Weighing their options for escape, they spew a string of memorable lines, including Butch saying, “Would you make a jump like that if you didn’t have to?” To which Sundance replies, “I have to, and I’m not gonna.” Needless to say, they take the plunge.
James Bond bungee jumps off a dam
Purists may point to Sean Connery as their James Bond of choice, and modernists may prefer Daniel Craig, but we’ve got a soft spot for Pierce Brosnan, who made his dashing 007 debut in GoldenEye (1995).
The film gets off to a breathtaking start with Bond bungee jumping off the Contra Dam in Ticino, Switzerland, where today film fans and thrill-seekers can pay to replicate the famous dive themselves. Just beware that the long leap will probably leave you a little shaken and stirred. (A stuntman doubled for Brosnan for the bungee jump, but we love him anyway.)
Thelma and Louise dive into the Grand Canyon
Thelma & Louise hit theaters a quarter of a century ago, but we’ll insert a SPOILER WARNING HERE anyway.
At the end of the female empowerment film, the runaway rebels, played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, drive over a cliff (in a now-iconic 1966 Thunderbird convertible) and into the Grand Canyon.
The fatal (but not fatalistic) finale sparked controversy and much debate, but it’s hard to imagine the movie ending any other way.
Jesse Owens breaks the Olympic record for long jump
One of the greatest athletes of all time, Jesse Owens was the first American in Olympic track and field history to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad.
He achieved this feat in 1936 when he broke the Olympic record for the long jump by somehow getting his body to fly 26 feet 5 1/4 inches through the air. Remarking on the accomplishment, Owens, who is the subject of the new film Race, once said, “For a time, at least, I was the most famous person in the entire world.”
Dwight Clark makes ‘The Catch’
Every Dallas Cowboys fan over the age of 40 remembers “The Catch,” one of the darkest moments in the history of the fabled franchise.
With less than a minute left in the 1982 NFC Championship Game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, running for his life, heaved a desperation throw into the end zone to Dwight Clark, who leaped through the air and caught the ball with his outstretched fingertips, tying the game.
After the ensuing extra point, the 49ers held on to win 28-27, crushing the spirits of Cowboys worshippers everywhere.
Spud Webb soars to victory
Listed at a mere 5 feet 7 inches, Spud Webb of the Atlanta Hawks was a foot shorter than the average NBA player when he won the league’s Slam Dunk Contest 30 years ago at Reunion Arena in Dallas.
Each time he soared toward the basket, slamming the ball in dramatic, trick-up fashion, he wowed everyone in the building, including his final opponent, teammate Dominique Wilkins.
Of course, no basketball player in history was more famous for “flying” than Michael “Air” Jordan.
When certain Green Bay Packers players score a touchdown at their beloved Lambeau Field, they sometimes jump into the end-zone stands to celebrate with fans, risking overly friendly grabs and getting spattered with ketchup.
In recent years, the NFL has cracked down on in-game celebrations (such as dunking over goal posts), but the Lambeau Leap, which was first performed in 1993 by LeRoy Butler, is still allowed.
Full-time freelancer Brett Weiss is the author of “Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films.”