The 10 Best Warplane Films, According to Real Aviation Buffs (No Top Gun, Thank You)

Categories: Movies

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Featuring a proto-beatnik jet pilot.
With the possible exceptions of horses and ships, no other non-speaking entity has starred in so many motion pictures as the airplane. And we love airplanes. We love them so much we've probably seen every last airplane movie worth watching, and even more that weren't.

Of course, true aviation geeks watch these pictures with the hyperaware eye of a buff. Yelling "Gotcha!" every time a "Soviet MiG" is in fact a common old American F-84F Thunderjet with sinister red stars slapped on the wings (As in the Howard Hughes/John Wayne Cold War laugher Jet Pilot).

We were ruminating on our favorite films about airplanes and the lives (and, naturally, loves) of those who fly them. Hollywood rarely ever gets it right enough for the buffs, but sometimes they get pretty close. Here are ten.

Our criteria leaned toward the exciting use of airplanes. As for cinema art, well, some of these films are bloody awful. So note that Dr. Strangelove is not on the list. Great as it is, it stars people, not the airplanes. Top Gun also gets passed over. Every time we want to get a good glimpse of F-14 Tomcats, Tom Cruise's head gets in the way. When we want to hear the roar of the engines, he opens his mouth. Top Gun will never get on our list, thank you.

10. Flyboys (2006)
Director Tony Bill's valentine to WW I flying pictures, and to Wings in particular. Just the duel between the Nieuports and the Zeppelin is worth the ticket price. Flyboys revels in great period detail, and is a corny-in-a-good-way film about courage and chivalry. The movie follows several young men who go off to join the Lafayette Escadrille before the US entry into WW I. Such is the detail that the filmmakers had several replica WW I aircraft built, including a Fokker Dr. I Triplane.

The film even has an African lion whose character is named Whiskey, as did the real American flyers (along with another cub named "Soda"). And yes, at the beginning of WW I there really was a vague but courtly understanding among airmen, who were utilized primarily as observers, not fighters. Then, as Chuck Yeager put it, "Somebody put a gun on an airplane and ruined it for everybody."

The critics who were so cruel upon Flyboys' release clearly didn't know a Nieuport XVII from a Sopwith Camel.

9. Flight of the Intruder (1991)
John Milius's typically two-fisted (read: crypto-fascist) film is about two Naval aviators (Willem Dafoe and Brad Johnson) who decide to take the Vietnam War into their own hands and bomb downtown Hanoi with their A-6 Intruder. The Navy cooperated so closely that the production was allowed to actually rent the carrier USS Independence and her aircraft at a bargain $1 million a day. The result is a little Milius agitprop and a lot of great flying scenes with a host of different aircraft. It was an obvious choice as one of the first films to have a game tie-in with the production.

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10 comments
Dsb48
Dsb48

Looking for copies of the documentaries Reaching for the Skies, narrated by Robert Vaughn, 180s..... dsb48@cornell.edu

Wezel6
Wezel6

Absolutely add the Battle of Britain as equal to or just below 12 OClock High. Blue Max, and perhaps Hell's Angels need to be added. It is a shame there are not more modern WW1 movies outside of "Flyboys" and the recent limited release "Red Baron". Still waiting on WW1 aviation aficionado Peter Jackson to make the definitive WW1 air war film.

Ralph002
Ralph002

Memphis Bell?  Where's that one?

illegal1
illegal1

What about "Independunce day" and Pearl Harbor"? Just kidding. I now have to check these movies out.

Maggie_Mae
Maggie_Mae

12 O'Clock High is definitely a classic.  

Strategic Air Command has fine flight scenes but the story is a bit wooden; even Jimmy Stewart couldn't make up for the malignant perkiness of June Alyson.  Hey, the LeMay character was named "General Hawks"!  In earliest childhood, I saw & heard the B-36 and remember the sound (6 turbo-props & 4 jet engines) more than the sight. How big were they? Here, they parked a B-29 on the left to give a sense of scale: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F...

Kurt Tank
Kurt Tank

What about the Battle of Britain and the Blue Max?

Mark
Mark

Great stuff!

illegal1
illegal1

what about the "Enola Gay" or the one about the " Tuskegee" Airmen?

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