23 of the Best Aviation Movies of All Times
6.4k views | By Senne Vandenputte | Last updated on October 17, 2022
A lot of things can happen on an airplane. You might fall in love, catch a criminal or even get into an all-out war with snakes!
In the past year, many people have found themselves at home more often than they would have wished for.
A good time to catch up on those aviation classics, right?
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 airplane movies in this list will appeal to both airplane enthusiasts who love watching documentaries and movies about planes, as well as casual viewers who enjoy thrilling action sequences in any setting. The best thing about these aviation movies is that there’s something for everyone!
The 23 Best Aviation Movies About Airplanes
Now get your popcorn ready let’s jump right into our list!
1. Top Gun (1986)
While waiting for the new Top Gun to be released, why not rewatch the original film (for the 101st time)?
This film made a star of new young actor Tom Cruise and featured many jet aircraft and spectacular flying sequences.
The memorable theme song by Kenny Loggins still evokes images of fast jets and speed, as do the powerful pictures from the opening credits.
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.
Despite being accused by critics everywhere for its overuse of special effects and a somewhat dissatisfying ending, the storyline alone is enough to keep you gripped from the beginning until the end.
The film follows two best friends through their childhood to adulthood as they train to become pilots in World War II.
Their lives are then irrevocably changed when the Japanese air force attacks Pearl Harbor, and one of them becomes involved in a love triangle with two nurses on the home front.
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)
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.
This movie tells the life story of aviation pioneer and movie mogul Howard Hughes from childhood to adulthood through his eccentricity with airplanes.
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.
This fictional version follows a laconic Texas rancher, an eager Nebraska kid, a Black boxer already in France, and a New York swell, as they arrive green for training, get their baptism by fire when German planes ambush them on their first mission, and graduate to heroics. Rawlings, the Texan, falls in love with a young woman he meets at a brothel.
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.
The film endeavored to be an accurate account of the Battle of Britain when in the summer and autumn of 1940 the British RAF inflicted a strategic defeat on the Luftwaffe and so ensured the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion – Adolf Hitler’s plan to invade Britain.
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)
The 1980 film Airplane! follows the story of Ted Striker (Robert Hays) as the traumatized former fighter pilot with a fear of flying.
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.
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
16. The right stuff (1983)
The Right Stuff by Philip Kaufman is a 1983 film about the US-operated space program’s early days and the search for Air Force test pilots who would be “the right stuff” to join the ranks of NASA’s first astronauts.
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.”
This film was based on Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, which in turn draws from the experiences and personalities of many people involved in America’s early space program: Chuck Yeager, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, and John Glenn, as well as many others.
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)
This film stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot who saves everyone on his passenger flight, even though he’s drunk.
While on a flight from Orlando to Atlanta something goes wrong and the plane starts to fly erratically.
With little choice, Whip crashes the plane and saves almost all on board. When he wakes up in the hospital, his friend from the airline union introduces him to a lawyer who tells him there’s a chance he could face criminal charges because his blood test reveals that he was intoxicated with alcohol and cocaine. He denies being impaired, so while an investigation is underway, he is told to keep his act together. However, letting go of his addiction is not as easy as it seems…
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. 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)
Con Air is a 1997 film that follows Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage), who ran into a few drunken regulars at the bar where his wife works. Cameron accidentally kills one of the drunks and is sent to a federal penitentiary.
After 7 years, he becomes eligible for parole and can now go home to his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, Cameron has to share a prison airplane with some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, who take control of the plane and are now planning to escape the country. Cameron has to find a way to stop them while playing along.
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)
Sully is a 2016 American biographical drama-thriller film about the “Miracle on the Hudson” incident involving US Airways Flight 1549.
The film is dedicated to the crew of Flight 1549, which includes Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart).
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)
The new Top Gun Maverick was set to hit theaters on June 26th, 2020. Unfortunately, due to circumstances we are all aware of, the film’s release has been postponed multiple times. It is now set to be released on May 27th, 2022.
The film 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.
I don’t know about you, but we cannot wait to go see it!
That’s it! You should have plenty of inspiration now for your next film to watch!
Are there any great movies we have missed? Let us know here so we can include them.