Hooper is a 1978 action-comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, based loosely on the experiences of director Hal Needham, a one-time stuntman in his own right. It serves as a tribute to stuntmen and stuntwomen in what was at one time an underrecognized profession.
Veteran stuntman Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds), known in Hollywood as "The Greatest Stuntman Alive," is currently working as Adam West's stunt double on the fictitious action film The Spy Who Laughed at Danger. Hooper's on-set antics and wisecracks are a trial for egotistical director Roger Deal (Robert Klein), and even more so for Deal's bossy assistant Tony (Alfie Wise), who gets Hooper in trouble with the Humane Society over a stunt involving a dog. Added to which the years of self-abuse on and off the set are fast catching up with Hooper, with the numerous stunts (referred to in the film as "gags"), and an addiction to painkillers, beginning to take their toll on his body.
Sonny lives with his girlfriend Gwen Doyle (Sally Field), whose father Jocko (Brian Keith) is a retired stuntman himself. After coming home from work one evening, Hooper is goaded by a friend into performing at a weekend charity show, where he first meets Delmore "Ski" Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent), a young newcomer who makes his entrance in spectacular style, much to Hooper's chagrin.
Sonny and Ski become friends that night after a barroom brawl with a pack of rowdy out-of-towners (one of them played by football great Terry Bradshaw). Later everybody goes to an after-hours party at Hooper's place where he shows his stunt reel (including footage from Reynolds' 1972 film Deliverance), and Sonny invites Ski to begin working with him on the film.
Unknowingly, the two begin an escalating but friendly rivalry with the stunts becoming more and more spectacular, and dangerous. After a freefall from a record 224 feet, Sonny becomes more aware of his own mortality, and surreptitiously consults with his doctor about his condition. The doctor tells Sonny that one more bad jolt in his neck could render him a quadriplegic.
The pompous Roger decides to re-write the film script, adding even more stunts to the film, not the least of which is a climactic earthquake at the film's end, complete with explosions, fires and numerous crashes. Sonny and Ski would need to race through the carnage to a nearby gorge with the bridge exploding before they can cross it. Roger initially suggests the duo rappel down one side of the gorge and up the other to safety, but Ski comes up with another idea: fly a rocket car over the gorge. Roger immediately takes a shine to the idea, ignoring the warnings of the producer and the chief engineer that Sonny and Ski might not survive.
That evening, Sonny meets up with Gwen at the hospital; Gwen tells Sonny that Jocko had a stroke, but Jocko, bedridden with a broken knee from a fall, refuses to believe it. Seeing the elder stuntman laid out jolts Sonny's thinking, and he confides in Gwen that he will quit the stunt business after filming wraps.
Sonny and Gwen return home to find Sonny's pal and assistant Cully (James Best) waiting for them. Slightly drunk, Cully reveals he has been fired due to budget cuts; Sonny and Ski were to split a $100,000 bonus for the final stunt. Cully then reveals to Gwen the rocket car stunt and the visit to the doctor, neither of which Gwen was aware.
Sonny later tells a disgruntled Roger that he's backing out of the complicated rocket car stunt, but Max Berns, the producer of the film and a close friend to Hooper, and despite defending Sonny's decision to Roger, later persuades Sonny to return and do the gag; no one else is available, or willing, to do it. As Hooper leaves for the studio Gwen, in a futile last-ditch attempt to change Sonny's mind, tells him she won't be there when he comes back.
Sonny and Ski perform the massive stunt perfectly and, as expected, land hard at the other end of the gorge overshooting the landing area. Ski emerges okay, but the impact is more of a shock to Sonny's system. Gwen tearfully pushes her way through the gathering crowd as the chief engineer frantically pries open the passenger door to get Sonny out. Gwen is terrified that the jolt is finally one too many, but Sonny slowly comes out of his temporary unconsciousness and takes Gwen in his arms as the crowd cheers wildly.
Max promptly fires Tony, and for the hell of it Sonny (after breaking the fourth wall) punches Roger in the face, then walks off with Gwen, Ski, Cully and a crutch-bound Jocko by his side.