Great Flying Movies
(For when it's too yucky outside to fly)


Here is my list of movies that I've seen that are of interest to those into airplanes, rockets, and the like. (For this section, I'll skip the things that don't really show real vehicles, like Star Wars.)

Must-See Movies

  • Airplane!
    OK, I just couldn't resist this one. The true classic slapstick film to end all slapstick films. Who will ever forget Barbara Billingsley's jive talking scene? The sequel wasn't quite as good, but still well worth seeing.
  • The Rocketeer
    Lots of 1930's aircraft (Gee Bees, Jennys, and a Zeppelin) are presented convincingly, on top of a somewhat fantastical but well-executed and enjoyable plot that captures all the fun of old comic book heroes. A good, fun movie you can watch with the family, yet it's not so hokey we didn't watch it a gazillion times in my dorm back in my college days.
  • Apollo 13
    Possibly the most realistic space movie ever made, and even better because it's a true story. Superb acting, direction, and effects... they filmed the space scenes about NASA's "Vomit Comet" to get real weightlessness... and a stunning testimonial to the high-pressure teamwork that returned three stranded astronauts safely home.
  • Strategic Air Command
    This 50's cold-war drama about SAC stars Jimmy Stewart and is one of my all-time favorites because it shows a LOT of B-36 Bomber footage in the air, on the ground, and inside the planes. The latter half also includes B-47s. It is especially interesting that Jimmy Stewart was an Air Force brigadier general in real life and an accomplished pilot, and actually flew many of the flying scenes himself.
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
    A really fun movie about a pre-WW1 international air race. Several authentic replicas of pre-WW1 aircraft were built and flown just for this film.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen
    A powerful true story about the first black USAAF air crews, sent into flight training during WW2 against the wishes of many as an "experiment" to provide desperately-needed fighter escort pilots for Allied bombers attacking Germany. The 332nd Fighter Group, called the "Red Tails" after their distinctive aircraft markings, never lost a single bomber they were escorting to enemy action - a record unmatched by any other escort wing.
  • The Memphis Belle
    A true story, although it's been given the Disney treatment. A dramatized version about the first Allied B-17 crew to complete their 25-mission tour of duty and get to return home. Lots of B-17s and some good in-flight scenes, including a very well-done crash sequence (was it real?? I know how they did it... but I'm not telling! :)
  • Dr. Strangelove (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)
    One of Stanley Kubrick's earliest films, this is definitely one of my all-time favorites. Strange and a tad twisted, this movie was perhaps the pinnacle representation of cold-war nuclear paranoia. Not a whole lot of detailed B-52 scenes, but still a great movie.
  • The Right Stuff
    While this took great liberties with the facts of the early space program for the sake of Hollywood melodrama, it's still a must-see for anyone interested in 50's/early 60's aircraft or rockets. Particularly memorable is the sequence of rocket explosions.
  • The Great Waldo Pepper
    Robert Redford stars as a cocky barnstormer of the 1920s. Lots of biplanes and an entertaining movie on plot alone for those who don't go bananas over planes, but there's definitely a lot of WW1-era plane action: wingwalking, dogfighting, parts falling off, etc.
  • Pancho Barnes
    Valerie Bertinelli stars in this true story of the legendary aviatrix Pancho Barnes. This story covers her life from her childhood up through her days making movies and even past the days when Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover stopped by her flying ranch during the X-1 program.

Then see these...

  • Top Gun
    Sure it's full of Hollywood silliness (fighter pilots taking off their oxygen masks except during combat?? Sheesh!) but the fact is that it still shows a lot of cool F-14 and A-4 footage. This is a good date movie.
  • The Spirit of St. Louis
    Jimmy Stewart stars as Charles Lindbergh. Good movie.
  • The Battle of Britain
    My friend Dave Platt actually helped build many of the models which were used in this movie... in fact, there was a lot more model flying than real flying (although I'd have never known it had Dave not said so.) A very good movie about one of the most important events of the 20th century.
  • Midway
    Lots of file footage, some reused several times. Basically a decent history lesson about the battle of Midway, wrapped within a couple of sub-plots. Lots of drama, as befits a movie about one of the greatest strategic gambles of WW2. You ought to see this one a time or two... which isn't hard to do as the Turner networks seem to show it about once a week.
  • Flight of the Phoenix
    Yet another fine Jimmy Stewart film. A transport plane crashes in a desert sandstorm, and the only way out is to build a new airplane from the pieces left undamaged in the crash. Fortunately, an airplane designer is onboard.
  • Slipstream
    This was a pretty hokey 80's action movie, kinda-sorta like a futuristic spaghetti western in the air, but it did feature a lot of interesting and unusual airplanes, including the Edgley Optica ducted-fan observation plane.
  • Flight of the Eagle
    A Swedish film about a failed attempt to fly a balloon to the North Pole in the early part of this century, starring Max von Sydow. Not a bad movie actually. A true story.
  • Trinity And Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie
    Not a whole lot of airplanes, but you get to see lots of nuclear explosions in this documentary. The only real downside is that they cut many clips short, it would have been quite interesting to see some of the scenes go longer than they did.
  • Air America
    Mel Gibson plays a pilot for Air America in Vietnam, the CIA's officially-nonexistent airline used to run all sorts of questionable and shady missions. Lots of action, some interesting airplanes, and some good crashes.
  • BAT 21
    Based on a true story, this movie about the rescue of a downed pilot in Vietnam has a lot of O-2 footage and portrays one of the many roles of Forward Air Controllers.
  • Fly Away Home
    A Disney movie that is actually based on a true story. A young girl (in reality, it was an older guy) raises a flock of geese and imprints them on herself, then leads the formation in an ultralight to teach them their migration route. If you ever get a chance to see the videos of the original guy and the geese flying tight formation with him, it's incredible. This movie isn't too bad either, albeit Disney-ized.
  • Always
    A love story somewhat along the lines of "Ghost" but some good scenes of firebombers in action.
  • Wind
    Lots of sailboats of course, but also gliders, model planes, ultralights, homebuilts, weird airplanes, and other neat aeronautical stuff.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!
    OK, I haven't seen this one yet. I'm so ashamed, I think I'll go commit hara-kiri. I do know it did have a lot of restored and replica Japanese fighters in it.

Flying flicks that sucked

  • Iron Eagles 1-43
    The Air Force equivalent of Top Gun, except they all were cheesy to start with and got more so as the series has progressed. Don't go out of your way for any of these. They did have a few scenes that weren't too bad, but all in all, you'd have to go to Wisconsin to find this amount of cheese.
  • Moonraker
    I love James Bond flicks in general, but this one was pretty damn bad. Laughably bad. Groaningly bad. Unlike such memorable flying scenes from other movies (like the BD-5J flying through the hangar, the missile-equipped gyrocopter, the helicopter flying through the warehouse or even the midair fight on the C-130s cargo ramp), this movie was not exciting, just a lame excuse for wasting acetate. Especially the Space Shuttle scenes, where you'd think they could have at least used better models. Perhaps it's just from knowing a bit about the real thing, but I really think they should never have made this one.

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Hits since Sept. 16, 1998