24 of the Best Aviation Movies of All Time
1 January 2021 | Updated on November 21, 2023
Ah, the magic of the silver screen and the thrill of soaring through the skies! Aviation movies have always held a special place in the hearts of movie buffs and aviation enthusiasts alike.
From the early days of Hollywood to the present, aviation has captivated audiences with its breathtaking spectacle and daring adventures. These films not only showcase the marvels of flight but also celebrate the courage, skill, and sheer determination of pilots and aviation pioneers.
Whether you’re a pilot or aviation enthusiast, there are some amazing films with airplanes, from older sometimes forgotten classics to new blockbuster releases.
The 24 Best Movies About Aviation and Airplanes
Now get your popcorn ready let’s jump right into our list. Lights, camera, action!
1. Top Gun (1986)
While waiting for the new Top Gun to be released, why not rewatch the original film (for the 101st time)?
Prepare to feel the need for speed! Top Gun takes you on an exhilarating ride with Tom Cruise as a hotshot fighter pilot aiming to be the best of the best. This high-octane film showcases intense aerial combat sequences, a killer soundtrack, and enough macho swagger to make Maverick a household name.
The film is about an elite group of naval aviators or ‘Top Guns’ at a US Navy Fighter Weapons School. Cruise plays the role of ‘Maverick,’ and Kelly McGill is playing Charlotte, who is assigned to instruct him. Will he be able to overcome his recklessness and live up to his potential? Watch and find out!
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
2. Pearl Harbor (2001)
This epic war film stars Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Vought, and Alec Baldwin, to name just some of the actors involved in this blockbuster.
Experience the events leading up to and following the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor through the eyes of fictional characters and real-life heroes. This epic war drama intertwines romance, action, and historical events, showcasing the bravery of pilots and the devastating impact of war on both personal lives and global history.
Did you know: The two Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, flown in the movie (by Danny and Rafe), are authentic World War II planes, and were on loan from the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho. (Source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 6.2/10
3. Air Force One (1997)
This American action drama stars Harrison Ford as US President James Marshall and Gary Old man as Russian terrorist Ivan Korshunov.
Air Force One with 129 passengers on board and holds them hostage in an attempt to start a Third World War between America and Russia.
This movie will keep your heart racing from start to finish.
Fun fact: Initially director Wolfgang Petersen was denied access to the real-life Air Force One. A telephone call from Harrison Ford to the White House soon changed that. (Source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
4. Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
Starring the ever-stunning Oscar-winner, Dennis Quaid, this movie tells the story of a group of survivors stuck in the desert with little chance of survival after their airplane crashes on takeoff.
They must work together to build another aircraft before exhaustion and heatstroke take over.
Did you know: The model used for the crash sequence cost $250,000 and was so perfectly built it actually flew further than the crew and testing had predicted. In fact it flew so far it hit the camera filming it and broke the cameraman’s leg. (Source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 6.1/10
5. Amelia (2009)
This American drama film has come highly recommended by fans of aviation movies and fans of famous aviator Amelia Earhart herself.
Amelia Earhart, a Kansas girl, discovers the thrill of aviation at age 23, and within 12 years has progressed to winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for being the first woman to pilot a plane solo across the Atlantic Ocean. At age 39, she sets out on an attempt to circumnavigate the globe, an adventure that catapults her into aviation myth.
The film premiered at the 2009 Venice Film Festival and starred Hilary Swank as the young Amelia Earhart faces sexism in a male-dominated flying field.
IMDb Rating: 5.8/10
6. The Aviator (2004)
Leonardo DiCaprio dons the goggles and takes flight in this biographical drama about Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviation pioneer and film mogul. The Aviator offers a fascinating glimpse into Hughes’ life, from his early aviation exploits to his struggles with mental health, all wrapped up in dazzling period detail.
The Aviator won four out of its eleven Oscar nominations at the 77th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Alan Alda, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Cate Blanchett, who plays Katherine Hepburn.
The film is believed to have been inspired by the 1995 book ‘Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel’ written by Charles Higham, containing many references to Hughes’ crash landing in Lake Mead.
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
7. The High and the Mighty (1954)
On a flight from Hawaii to California, the engine dies on the plane Dan Roman (John Wayne) is flying. As he prepares for a crash landing, the passengers reassess their lives. The template for disaster movies with an Oscar-winning score and a cast list that reads like a who’s who of 1950s film.
IMDb Rating: 6.8/10
8. The Blue Max (1966)
The tactics of a German fighter pilot offend his aristocratic comrades but win him his country’s most honored medal, the Blue Max. The General finds him useful as a hero even though his wife also finds him useful as a love object. In the end the General arranges for him to test-fly an untried fighter.
This film has a stellar cast, including George Peppard as ambitious German infantry officer Bruno Stachel; James Mason as aristocratic World War I flying ace Ernst Kessler; Ursula Andress as waitress-turned-model Marie Helena Sch623.
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
9. The Dawn Patrol (1938)
In 1915 France, Major Brand commands the 39th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. The young airmen go up in bullet-riddled “crates” and the casualty rate is appalling, but Brand can’t make the “brass hats” at headquarters see reason. Insubordinate air ace Captain Courtney is another thorn in Brand’s side…but finds the smile wiped from his face when he rises to command the squadron himself. Everyone keeps a stiff upper lip.
The oldest aviation movie on this list, but definitely worth watching if you love classic movies!
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
10. Flyboys (2006)
Before the United States enters World War I, some American youths volunteer for the French military. Subsequently, they become the first U.S. fighter pilots and form a squadron known as the Lafayette Escadrille, whose exploits and heroism become the stuff of legend.
Step back in time and join a group of young American men who volunteer as fighter pilots in World War I. Flyboys combines thrilling dogfights, romance, and a dash of history to tell an inspiring tale of valor and friendship. Strap on your goggles and get ready to soar into the Great War skies!
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
11. Battle of Britain (1969)
This classic movie features some fantastic flying scenes by real Spitfire aircraft amidst dramatic aerial battles over London.
Relive the intense aerial battles that raged over the skies of Britain during World War II. Battle of Britain brings to life the heroic efforts of Royal Air Force pilots as they defend their homeland against German Luftwaffe attacks. With thrilling dogfights and an all-star cast, this film is a must-watch for aviation and history enthusiasts alike.
The film is memorable for its breathtaking aerial scenes. It was on a scale greater than that ever seen on film before, and this resulted in the production costing a fortune.
IMDb Rating: 7.0/10
12. Midway (2019)
The 2019 film Midway centers on the Battle of Midway, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
Based on the actual events of this incredible exploit, the film follows the strategists and soldiers who used their instincts, fortitude, and valor to overcome the obstacles.
IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
13. Air Force One (1997)
The film’s high-energy action sequences and witty dialogue is a perfect balance to its steamy romance.
Harrison Ford plays the president of the United States, who terrorists have targeted for capture or death after they successfully seize control over Air Force One during a flight.
As always, we get to see our favorite actor act out an unforgettable performance as he takes down bad guys one by one with skillful precision!
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
14. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
A man who impersonates an airline pilot, a bank robber, and a fraudster is all in Frank Abagnale Jr.’s life.
This underrated Steven Spielberg film stars Leo Dicaprio as the real-life FBI agent Carl Hanratty attempts to capture him for crimes committed using Pan Am Airlines tickets. He never actually took flight training.
A true story about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor. An FBI agent makes it his mission to put him behind bars. But Frank not only eludes capture, he revels in the pursuit.
Fun fact: The real-life Frank Abagnale, Jr. was actually in the movie as the French officer that arrests Frank on Christmas Eve, 1967. (Source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
15. Airplane! (1980)
Airplane! is a zany comedy that parodies the disaster film genre, focusing on the chaos that ensues when the crew and passengers of a troubled flight fall ill. Packed with absurd humor, quotable one-liners, and over-the-top gags, this movie will have you rolling in the aisles… of your living room.
Things go wrong after meal service when it’s discovered that one dish is sickening passengers and pilots. Striker has no other choice than face his fears and take control of the aircraft, with the help of a gruff air traffic controller and his former commander.
Prepare for a hilarious takeoff!
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
16. The right stuff (1983)
Based on the true story of America’s early space program, The Right Stuff captures the bravery and determination of the first astronauts. From Chuck Yeager’s daring supersonic flights to the Mercury Seven’s nerve-wracking space missions, this film immerses you in the exhilarating world of early space exploration.
The opening quote, spoken by John Glenn (played by Ed Harris), used to describe what it takes to become an astronaut: “I want guys that are willing to give their lives in pursuit of this whatever it might be.”
Enthusiasm for the project was so high that many NASA employees and contractors worked with the production team for almost nothing.
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
17. Flight (2012)
Denzel Washington takes the captain’s seat in this intense drama about an airline pilot who successfully crash-lands a malfunctioning plane. As investigations unfold, the film delves into the personal struggles of the protagonist, highlighting themes of addiction, redemption, and the consequences of one’s actions.
Did you know: The accident in the film was inspired by a real-life disaster, the crash of Alaska Airlines 261 on January 31, 2000. Some dialogue in the film closely resembles the CVR transcript. Just like in the film, the pilots of Alaska 261 rolled the airplane to an inverted position to try to stabilize the flight, resulting in a fatal dive. (source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
18. Con Air (1997)
Buckle up for a wild ride with Con Air, a high-octane action flick set aboard a hijacked prisoner transport plane. Starring Nicolas Cage, this adrenaline-fueled film delivers explosive thrills and memorable one-liners as a group of dangerous convicts take control of the aircraft, leaving a lone U.S. Marshal to save the day.
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
19. American Made (2017)
The movie American Made follows the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a commercial airline pilot working for TWA before being recruited by the CIA in 1978. His work in South America eventually caught the eye of the Medellín Cartel, associated with Pablo Escobar, who needed a man with his skill set. Barry became a drug trafficker, gun smuggler and money launderer. Soon acquiring the title, ‘The gringo that always delivers’.
Some interesting facts: the film is actually based on a real story, which makes the story even more incredible! Also, as Tom Cruise is a pilot himself, he did all the flying in the movie himself.
The movie can be enjoyed by anyone interested in crime, drama, or just wanting to watch a thriller. It’s unpredictable and suspenseful without being too intense.
IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
20. Sully (2016)
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully tells the gripping story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who skillfully executed an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks delivers a powerful performance, showcasing the calm and collected demeanor that saved the lives of all onboard.
On Thursday, January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when pilot Chesley”Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all one hundred fifty-five aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.
Fun fact: Ferry Captain Vincent Lombardi, who was the Captain of the first ferry to reach the aeroplane, played himself in this film. (source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 7.4/10
21. One six right (2005)
Although not technically a real movie, this 2005 documentary beautifully illustrates the romance of flight, hence its full name “One Six Right: The Romance of Flying”.
It shows the general aviation industry as seen through the unsung hero of aviation – the local airport (more specifically Van Nuys Airport). Featuring aerial photography and an original score, the film dispels common misconceptions and opposes criticism of General Aviation airports. Through the love story of one airport, past to present, the film shares the timeless romance of flying with all ages.
We highly recommend watching this stunning documentary. If you hadn’t already fallen in love with flying and aviation, you will after watching this film.
IMDb Rating: 8.3/10
22. Hot Shots! (1991)
Hot Shots! was a successful comedy that parodies many of the previous war films that Hollywood released. In addition, the film also copied Top Gun, which became immensely popular in 1986.
Topper Harley, a top gun fighter pilot, is recalled to serve on the SS Essess. Topper’s mission is to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear plants. Unfortunately, Topper is psychologically imbalanced and is sure to crack under pressure.
Fun fact: The aircraft carrier on which the movie takes place is actually a wooden deck built on the edge of a cliff at a deserted Marineland facility. The film was shot at an angle that made the deck look like a ship at sea. (Source: IMDb)
IMDb Rating: 6.8/10
23. Top Gun Maverick (2022)
Top Gun Maverick is a direct sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, the film that helped establish Cruise as an official Hollywood star. It’s set 34 years later, with Cruise reprising his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now a flight instructor at the Topgun, the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar.
There, he’s teaching the son of his late partner, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who’s following in his father’s footsteps. There are plenty of callbacks to the original film in the trailer as well – Cruise on a motorcycle, playing volleyball, and of course, flying fighter jets.
IMDb Rating: 8.3/10
24. Red Tails (2012)
Get ready for some aerial heroics with Red Tails! Inspired by the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, this action-packed film showcases the bravery and skill of African-American pilots during World War II. Watch as they shatter racial barriers while fighting in the skies against the enemy.
IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
That’s it! Whether you’re a die-hard aviation enthusiast or simply in the mood for a thrilling adventure, these films are sure to make your spirits soar.
Happy viewing, and may the skies always be friendly and the movies always be entertaining!
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