Because the birth of cinema coincided with the birth of flying, it’s no surprise that airplanes and aviators have been recurring themes throughout cinematic history. Some of the great aviation films narrate significant historical events, while others highlight the accomplishments of aviation pioneers. Others can always be counted on to make us chuckle.
Here are our recommendations for the best aviation movies ever filmed.
The Right Stuff is a captivating film that brings the audience into the world of NASA’s early space program in the 1960s. Based on Tom Wolfe’s book, the movie follows the lives of seven astronauts who are chosen to be the first Americans to travel to space. From their rigorous training to their intense competition with each other, the film captures the determination and bravery required for such an incredible feat.
The Right Stuff is not only a cinematic masterpiece that showcases the wonder of space travel, but also a tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who risked everything to explore the unknown.
2 – Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project (2014)
Bob Hoover, a World War II veteran, and distinguished test pilot, is widely regarded as having reinvented contemporary aerobatic flying. The documentary Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project explores the biography of the gregarious aviation hero from his initial flying lessons during the war to his jobs as a test pilot and airshow performer. The documentary includes interviews with a who’s who of notable fliers who pay respect to the guy who seemed to be able to perform the unthinkable in an airplane.
The film’s story is framed by Harrison Ford and Sean D. Tucker, as well as Hoover himself, and includes participation from aviation figures such as Burt and Dick Rutan, Carroll Shelby, Gene Cernan, Bud Day, Clay Lacy, and others, as well as archival footage of Neil Armstrong paying tribute to Hoover’s flying abilities. Hoover was really pleased with the film. The documentary films from Hoover’s personal collection, internet, and physical archives, and a range of additional sources.
3 – The High and the Mighty (1954)
In 1954, movie audiences thrilled to the high-flying suspense of “The High and the Mighty.” This classic adventure flick had it all: a star-studded cast, tense action sequences, and a nail-biting plot. The story follows a group of passengers on a commercial airliner, as they encounter an engine failure on a flight between Hawaii and San Francisco.
With the lives of the passengers and crew in jeopardy, tensions mount and secrets are revealed as they fight to survive. Featuring noteworthy performances from John Wayne, Claire Trevor, and Robert Stack, “The High and the Mighty” is a must-see for fans of classic Hollywood cinema.
The Dam Busters is a film that has stood the test of time, captivating audiences for decades with its thrilling storyline and gripping action sequences. Based on true events, the film tells the story of the Royal Air Force’s attempts to destroy German dams during WWII using a new “bouncing bomb” designed by a brilliant engineer named Barnes Wallis. The film has all the hallmarks of a classic war movie, with intense aerial battles and a sense of danger that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
But what really sets The Dam Busters apart is the compelling human drama at its heart, as the brave pilots risk everything to carry out their mission. With standout performances and stunning special effects that were ahead of their time, The Dam Busters remains an unforgettable cinematic experience to this day.
5 – One Six Right (2005)
One Six Right (2005) is a film that captures the essence of the love affair between pilots and flying. The movie is a tribute to the Van Nuys Airport in California, a historical aviation landmark that serves as the hub of general aviation in Los Angeles. One Six Right recounts the history and relevance of this airport from its inception in 1928 up to the present day.
The film seamlessly blends beautiful aerial footage, interviews with legendary aviators, and an inspiring soundtrack, immersing viewers in the world of aviation. One Six Right is a must-watch for aviation enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates the beauty of flight, as it perfectly captures the emotions and passion that come with soaring through the sky.
6 – Memphis Belle (1990)
Memphis Belle is a British-American military drama movie directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Monte Merrick that was released in 1990. Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, and Harry Connick Jr. feature in the picture (in his film debut). Memphis Belle is a fictionalization of director William Wyler’s 1944 documentary Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, which is about the 25th and final flight of an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, the Memphis Belle, based in England during WWII.
Since bombing sorties during WWII are dangerous, the American crew of the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle only had one mission left on their tour of duty. The premise of the film follows a bomber team from the United States Army Air Corps on their terrifying and historic last bombing operation over Bremen, Germany.
7 – Airplane! (1980)
Airplane! is a 1980s cult classic comedy that takes aviation-themed humor to new heights. The movie follows the story of a traumatized former air force pilot named Ted Striker, as he attempts to overcome his fear of flying to save his girlfriend and the passengers of a jumbo jet. While the plot may sound serious, the movie is anything but. The humor, both visual and verbal, is non-stop, and the jokes come at you faster than a speeding airplane.
If you haven’t seen it yet, buckle up and prepare for a wild ride filled with puns, parodies, and one-liners that will leave you in stitches. Airplane! is the ultimate comedy for those who want to laugh out loud and forget their worries.
8 – Air Force One (1997)
Air Force One (1997) is a thrilling action-packed movie that takes on a journey of suspense and drama. The movie follows the story of President James Marshall and his family on board the Air Force One when the aircraft is hijacked by terrorists. The plot is filled with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat, making for an exciting watch from start to finish.
Additionally, the movie features impressive performances from some of Hollywood’s biggest stars like Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close. From the heart-pumping action scenes to the intense emotions that are captured in this film, Air Force One (1997) offers a thrilling cinematic experience that is not to be missed. It’s a must-watch for any action or drama film enthusiasts.
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a film that brings to life one of the most infamous attacks in history. With stunning visuals and historically accurate depictions, this movie is a must-see for any history buff or lover of classic cinema. As we watch the events of December 7, 1941 unfold, we are transported back in time to witness the brutal surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the aftermath that followed. The attention to detail in the film is truly remarkable, and the performances of the cast are equally impressive.
It is a moving tribute to all those who lost their lives in the attack and a reminder of the devastating consequences of war. Tora! Tora! Tora! is an epic historical drama that stands apart as a masterpiece in the genre.
10 – Apollo 13 (1995)
The 1995 American space docudrama film Apollo 13 was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise. The script by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert dramatizes the 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission and is an adaptation of astronaut Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s 1994 book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. The film features astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13, America’s fifth crewed mission to the Moon and the third to land.
In this horrific film-supported true narrative of NASA’s 13th Apollo mission, a lunar landing mission morphs into a desperate plot to safely return three men to Earth. When their spaceship breaks down, astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) rely on the engineers at Mission Control on Earth to understand the response. Apollo 13 had nine Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Sound and Best Cutting.
11 – The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
The Spirit of St. Louis is a film that tells the captivating tale of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1927, Lindbergh overcame countless challenges to take off from New York and land in Paris 33 hours later. The film does an excellent job of capturing the danger and excitement of this incredible achievement. James Stewart delivers an outstanding performance as Lindbergh, commanding the screen with his trademark sincerity and intelligence. Beyond the thrilling flight sequences, The Spirit of St. Louis also offers a nuanced portrayal of the man behind the legend.
Lindbergh’s struggles with fame and the media’s relentless scrutiny are poignant reminders of the human cost of achieving greatness. Whether you’re a history buff or a movie lover, The Spirit of St. Louis is a must-see film that transports you back to a time when anything seemed possible.
Twelve O’Clock High is a 1949 American war film about aircrews in the United States Army’s Eighth Air Force who flew daylight bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during the early days of American involvement in World War II, including a thinly disguised version of the Black Thursday attack on Schweinfurt. Sy Bartlett, Henry King (uncredited), and Beirne Lay Jr. adapted the picture from the 1948 novel 12 O’Clock High, also written by Bartlett and Lay. Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, and Dean Jagger star in the film, which was directed by King.
When a tough-as-nails general takes command of an American bomber force that has suffered significant casualties over the skies of the Third Reich, morale is at an all-time low. Twelve O’Clock High, a WWII classic notable for its use of genuine action footage and realistic representation of the psychological impact of the disastrous missions pilots and crew undertook during bombing raids, was based on a true tale and real individuals. The film was nominated for Best Picture and won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor and Best Sound.
13 – The Aviator (2004)
The Aviator, a movie released in 2004, tells the true story of the famous aviation pioneer, Howard Hughes. The film follows Hughes’ impressive life, from his successful business ventures in Hollywood to his ambitious endeavors in the aviation industry. As the story unfolds, audiences witness the struggles and triumphs of Hughes as he navigates his personal life and strives towards his ambitious goals.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the life of an eccentric and brilliant man, as well as a stunning portrayal of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s golden era. With an all-star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Beckinsale, The Aviator is a must-watch for fans of biographical dramas or for anyone with an interest in aviation history.
14 – 633 Squadron (1964)
633 Squadron is a riveting movie that takes you on a thrilling journey. Set in 1944, the plot revolves around a team of RAF Bomber Command pilots who take on a challenging mission to destroy a German airbase in Norway. The characters are well-developed, and the action sequences keep you at the edge of your seat. If you are a fan of war films or just looking for an exciting movie to watch, 633 Squadron should be on your must-watch list.
The movie also features an impressive score by renowned composer Ron Goodwin, which will keep your heart racing throughout. So sit back, buckle up, and get ready for a high-flying adventure.
The Flight Of The Phoenix (1965) is a riveting adventure film that showcases the harsh realities of being stranded in the desert with no hope for rescue. The plot revolves around a group of men who, after their airplane crashes in the Sahara desert, must come together to try and rebuild their aircraft from the wreckage in order to survive. This film is an excellent reminder of the resiliency of human nature and the power of determination to overcome even the most dire of circumstances.
Throughout the movie, the audience is drawn in by the tense atmosphere and the characters’ struggle to overcome their differences and work together to achieve a common goal. The Flight Of The Phoenix is a classic film that still captures the imagination and provides a thrilling viewing experience to this day.
16 – The Blue Max (1966)
The Blue Max (1966) is a film that truly brings World War I to life. From stunning aerial combat sequences to the emotional struggles of its main character, this film captivates audiences from beginning to end. The Blue Max follows the story of a young German soldier who will stop at nothing to earn the prestigious Blue Max medal.
Along the way, he must navigate the politics and hierarchy of the military, all while trying to win the heart of a beautiful woman. With incredible performances from its cast and breathtaking cinematography, The Blue Max is a must-see film for anyone looking for a thrilling and moving cinematic experience.
Capricorn One is a thrilling science fiction film that explores the lengths to which people will go to cover up an elaborate government conspiracy. The movie tells the story of a fake Mars landing that is staged by the U.S. government in order to gain public support for future missions. Things quickly go wrong, however, when the astronaut who is supposed to be on the spaceship refuses to participate in the deceit.
What follows is a gripping tale of deception, danger, and suspense as the astronauts race to reveal the truth before they are silenced forever. With an all-star cast and intense storytelling, Capricorn One is a must-see movie for any fan of science fiction or political thrillers.
The films in this list of best movies about flying are rated based on their box office success (awards & nominations), popularity, and cinematic quality (directing/writing). Who knows, maybe you’ll be encouraged to hold a movie night with a flying theme tonight.
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