Scott Spangler, the blogger behind Jetwhine, has written a great post listing some of his favorite aviation movies but we thought it would be a good idea to expand on what he wrote by mentioning some of the best aviation films of all time by genre.
Military Aviation Movies
Military aviation has been a movie topic since the silent film era with Wings, a film about World War I aces, actually being the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture. Moreover, there have been a couple of movies about the Red Baron (1971 and 2008) and even a movie called the Revenge of the Red Baron where the famous ace returns in a toy plane to kill the ace that shot him down.
World War II inspired a wave of classic aviation movies like Flying Tigers, Tora Tora Tora, The Bridges at Toko Ri, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Above and Beyond but British aviation history buffs should check out The Battle of Britain which dates from the late 1960s and was filmed in Spain because they were still using some of the same types of aircraft involved in the battle.
After World War II, Strategic Air Command was probably one of the first Cold War aviation movie but it was Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb became a cult classic while Toward the Unknown is about the dawn of supersonic flight.
And of course one has to mention Top Gun but perhaps a far more interesting movie is Steal the Sky which is based on the true story of an Iraqi pilot who defected to Israel in 1966 – taking a MiG-21 fighter jet with him.
Aviation Disaster Films
Hollywood loves disaster movies and Alive would be a classic aviation disaster film about the 1972 crash of the Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes while The Flight of the Phoenix was a fictional 1965 film (that got remade in 2004) about a crash in the Libyan desert. However, No Highway In The Sky is unique because it was a 1951 British disaster film that seemed to foretell the later de Havilland Comet tragedies.
A forgotten commercial aviation movie with a disaster related plot would be the The High and the Mighty which is based upon a 1953 novel by Ernest K. Gann about a real-life trip that he flew as a commercial airline pilot for American Airlines from Honolulu, Hawaii to Portland, Oregon. In the movie, the aircraft suffered engine failure – forcing the crew to choose between a ditching or trying to reach their final destination.
I also know that I have seen some movies (perhaps made for TV though) about the aircraft hijackings that occurred in the 1970 or 1980s but I cannot think of the actual film titles.
Aviation Adventure or Romance
The Great Waldo Pepper about post World War I barnstormers has some of the best aerial sequences you could ever hope for in a film about aviation but High Road to China also includes some great aerial shots as well. And contrary to the film’s name though, it was actually filmed in Yugoslavia. For romance and aviation, Always is a romantic drama directed by Steven Spielberg that’s actually a remake of a 1943 film.
Airplane! and Airplane II: The Sequel are absolute classic comedies but a forgotten aviation comedy with a British theme would be Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Dating from 1965, the movie is about a British nobleman who hosts an international “flying machine” race from Dover to Paris in the hopes of stealing a few aviation ideas in order to claim the skies for Britannia while his daughter Patricia, who is betrothed to a pilot in the British army, is tempted away by a flight enthusiast named Orvil who enters the contest.
General Aviation Movies
Scott could not think of any good general aviation movies and neither can I but he did mention The Other Side of the Mountain. However, I don’t actually recall anything related to general aviation in it but I could be mistaken.
With the above aviation movies in mind, are there any that we may have left out? If so, feel free to tell us about them along with what your favorite aviation films are.
How could you leave out the movie Airforce. Made during WWII about the B-17 MaryAnn
Matt Falcus says
I loved The Aviator. Whilst it’s more about the man, Howard Hughes, it has plenty of great scenes from the many aspects of aviation in his life – early air races and films, his folly, the Spruce Goose, and lots of flying scenes. It also has a lot about his time running TWA, buying Lockheed Constellations, and the airline’s battle with Pan Am.
Matthew Stibbe says
Yes, that’s got some very nice aviation footage in it.
For me, Dark Blue World is much-overlooked film about flying. In this case, WWII Polish and Czech pilots in the RAF. The air-to-air stuff is mostly B-Roll from the Battle of Britain (another great flying film) but it’s still very poignant.
And who can forget Snakes on a Plane – the most realistic aviation movie ever made.
Nora Hague says
How about “The Right Stuff”? Perhaps more space than aviation, but how high can one fly? Likewise “Apollo 13”
Matthew Stibbe says
Yes- completely and totally. The Right Stuff is one of my all time favourite movies and Apollo 13 is fantastic. Good suggestions!
Anson Chappell says
One Six Right, a beautiful look at local airports in America.
Matthew Stibbe says
Absolutely love it – what a beautiful film! Thanks.