The Air Affair
Aviation Motion Pictures
This is a list of films that have aviation as a major theme
or component of the story. The list originally started as
a discussion thread in the rec.aviation.misc newsgroup.
I have added some plot summaries, and additional titles from
The Internet Movie Database.
Warning: The IMDB is one of those sites
that will suck up hour after hour of your time if you're
If you have any films to add to this list, or would like
to contribute in brief plot summaries,
email to email@example.com.
- Hell's Angels
1930, directed by Howard Hughes
- Devil Dogs of the Air 1935, James Cagney
- Flight From Glory 1937
- Captains of the Clouds 1942, James Cagney
- One of Our Aircraft Is Missing British, 1942
- A Guy Named Joe 1943, Spencer Tracy
- Air Force 1943, John Garfield
- Thirty Seconds over Tokyo,
1944, Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum
- Johnny Comes Flying Home 1946
- Twelve O'Clock High 1949, Gregory Peck
- Task Force 1949, Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan
- Flying Leathernecks
1951, John Wayne
- Breaking the Sound Barrier
- The Bridges at Toko-Ri
1954, William Holden, Grace Kelly
- Strategic Air Command 1955, Jimmy Stewart
- Bombers B-52
1957, Karl Malden, Natalie Wood, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
- The Hunters
1958, Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner
- Fail-Safe, 1964 Henry Fonda
A technical glitch sends U.S. bombers to drop nuclear bombs on
Moscow, and the President must decide what to do if they cannot
- The Blue Max, 1966,
1966, George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress
- The Battle of Britain
1968, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer
- Tora! Tora! Tora!
1970, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall
Chronicle of the Japanese attack Perl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
This film received an Acadamy Award for its special effects.
- Aces High
1977, Malcom McDowell, Christopher Plummer
- Firefox 1982, Clint Eastwood
Adaptation of the Craig Thomas novel. An ex-Vietnam pilot
is smuggled into Russia to steal an advanced jet fighter that is
controlled by telepathy.
- Blue Thunder 1983, Roy Schieder
A Los Angeles police helicopter pilot discovers his new high-tech
superchopper is part of a government conspiracy.
- Top Gun
1986, Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer
Story? We don't need no stinking story. The planes are the stars
of this film.
- Iron Eagle, 1986, Louis Gossett, Jr.
Most unlikely tale of a teenager who teams up with an Air Force
colonel to fly a pair of jet fighters to a fictional Middle Eastern
country to rescue the boy's father.
1988, Gene Hackman, Danny Glover
A U.S. weapons expert is down behind Vietnam enemy lines, with an
observation pilot as his only contact. He must make his way to
safety using a most unsual code. A lot of amazing flying by the
Cessna Skymaster observation plane.
- Air America
1990, Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr.
The escapades of two eccentric pilots in the CIA's secret
Vietnam air force.
- Flight of the Intruder,
1990, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Brad Johnson
Disillusioned Navy Intruder pilot flies an unauthorized mission to
bomb a heavily-defended North Vietnamese city.
1990, Nicolas Cage, Tommy Lee Jones
U.S. military helicopter pilots are sent into South America to
root out drug dealers.
- Memphis Belle
1990, Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz
The story of a WWII B-17 bomber and her crew, famous for completing 25
bombing missions over Europe. By most accounts, the film bears little
resemblance to the real final mission.
- Interceptor 1992
Incredibly bad tale of terrorists who hijack an in-flight military
transport aircraft carrying two F-117 Stealth fighters as cargo.
- The Spirit of St. Louis Jimmy Stewart
- The Tarnished Angels 1958, Rock Hudson,
Robert Stack. A 1930s New Orleans newsman covers a stunt pilot,
his wife and mechanic. From the Faulkner novel Pylon.
- The Great Waldo Pepper
1975, Robert Redford, Bo Svenson
- Cloud Dancer 1980, David Carradine
- The Right Stuff
1983, Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid
Adaptation of the Tom Wolfe novel about legendary test pilot
Chuck Yaeger, the early manned space program and the Mercury
- High Road to China
1983, Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong
A spoiled rich girl in danger of losing her inheritance hires a vagabond
pilot to fly her across 1920's(?) Asia and China in search of her
- The Aviator
1985, Christopher Reeve, Rosanna Arquette
1989, Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
A daredevil firebomber is killed in a firey crash, and must return as
a spirit to tutor his sucessor, who falls for his old girl. A remake
of the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe.
- The Rocketeer
1991, Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton
An aspiring 1930's airshow performer stumbles across a secret
government-developed jet pack, and must keep it out of Nazi hands.
- Drop Zone
1994, Gary Busey, Wesley Snipes
- Terminal Velocity
1994, Charlie Sheen, Natassja Kinski
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Bomb British, 1964, Peter Sellers,
George C. Scott, Slim Pickens. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
A crazy Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper, sends his aircraft to bomb
the USSR because he believes the Soviets are trying to steal "precious
bodily fluids." The Soviet ambassador informs the U.S. President that
if any nuclear weapons reach their targets, the Soviet doomsday
device will be triggered, which will destroy the U.S. Can the President
stop Ripper and his bombers?
Although this film appears to be a parody of Fail-Safe,
the two films were actually made simultaneously.
- Catch-22 1970, Alan Arkin
Black comedy from the Joseph Heller novel.
- 1941 1979, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd
1980, Robert Hays, Leslie Nielson, Lloyd Bridges
Slapstick spoof of airplane disaster movies. Basic premise is based
loosely on the (serious) novel Runway 08: a washed-up fighter
pilot must land an airliner after the flight crew is disabled by
food poisoning. But the actual story is only secondary to the nonstop
stream of sight gags, celebrity cameos, and bad puns.
- Hot Shots! 1991, Charlie Sheen, Lloyd Bridges
Parody of Top Gun, in the style of Airplane!
- The High and the Mighty
1954, John Wayne, Robert Stack
- Airport 1970, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin
The film that started it all. Compared to some if its successors, the
story is a simple one: a madman (the term "terrorist" hadn't been
invented yet) sets off a bomb in an airliner lavoratory, and the
crew must try to get the aircraft on the ground safely. A snowstorm
and another airliner mired in the snow on the runway complicate matters.
- Skyjacked 1972, Charlton Heston, Claude Akins
A combination Cold War and disaster thriller. A crazed hijacker forces
an airliner to fly a polar route to the Soviet Union. How
will the Soviets react?
- Airport '75 1975, Charlton Heston
A small plane hits an in-flight airliner squarely in the cockpit, taking
out the entire flight crew. Rescuers must thread a pilot through the
gaping hole to land the plane and save the day.
- The Hindenburg
1975, George C. Scott, Ann Bancroft
Fictional version of the famous dirgible's ill-fated voyage.
- Airport '77 1977, Eddie Albert
A specially-reinforced 747 airliner is hijacked, crashes, and sinks
intact in the Carribean. The Navy must rescue the passengers before
the plane floods.
- Airport '79 1979, George Kennedy
Thankfully the last of the Airport movies. An unscrupulous defense
contractor needs several tries to take down the latest super-airliner,
which is carrying a reporter with damaging information.
- Die Hard II 1990, Bruce Willis
Terrorists seize control of air traffic control functions of a major
airport, and implausibly hold all the airborne aircraft hostage. Supercop
John McLean must defeat the terrorists so the planes, one of which
carries his wife, can land safely.
- Passenger 57 1992, Wesley Snipes