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Over the years, there have been some amazing movies that have been released about flying aviation, but which ones are the best?
Whether you are looking for a source of inspiration to become a pilot yourself or simply want to experience the exhilarating feeling of flying without ever getting up from your couch, films about aviation are an incredible way to spend an evening. However, there are so many movies for aviation enthusiasts to consider and you will find that some truly stand out.
The best movies for pilots and flying enthusiasts are The Aviator (Drama), Top Gun (Action/Thriller), Pearl Harbor (Action/Drama), Airplane! (Comedy), Sully (Drama), Snakes on a Plane (Action/Thriller), and Air Force One (Action/Thriller).
Since the Wright Brothers had their first flight over 100 years ago, planes have been revolutionary for society. We can travel with more convenience and efficiency than ever before - enabling us to get halfway around the world in just hours. Aviation has also changed the way that we approach fighting wars - with planes being a critical component of military strategy. Given how much connection we have with planes in our society, there have been some incredible stories about aviation. Many acclaimed filmmakers around the globe are fascinated by airplanes and the pilots who fly them, which is why we have seen so many classic movies about the thrill of flying. With that being said, the movie industry is very dynamic and each film about aviation is going to be quite different. Some will focus on the technical side of flying - while others may just be fun movies for entertainment. To help you pick the best option for your next movie night, we are going to take a closer look at the best films about airplanes and pilots.
After extensively researching aviation cinema, I was able to compile a list of the best movies for pilots and flying enthusiasts. My research has shown me that you should select a movie about aviation based on its film genre.
Movies for Pilots & Flying Enthusiasts
If you are in the mood for a great movie about airplanes, you have got a lot of options to consider. Over the years, directors in the film industry have made some amazing movies about aviation - with many becoming critically acclaimed. However, you will have a much better movie-watching experience if you pick something that is aligned with your tastes.
As you browse your options, try to decide whether you simply want some casual entertainment or if you are in the mood for a serious drama that focuses on the technical aspects of piloting a plane. There are a lot of great films about aviation but they can greatly vary across the board. By selecting a film about flying based on its genre, you can narrow down your options and pick something that you will truly enjoy. Let’s dive right into the best movies for pilots and flying enthusiasts.
The Aviator (Drama)
The Aviator is a classic for Hollywood cinema and it is one of the most iconic movies ever made about airplanes. This film was made by the legendary Hollywood director Martin Scorcese and it stars Leonardo Dicaprio in the lead role.
Leonardo Dicaprio plays the world-famous aviation tycoon, Howard Hughes who is considered to be one of the most influential and vital human figures of the 20th century. Hughes was a billionaire who was obsessed with airplanes and is credited for pushing the aviation industry, quite literally, to new heights.
The film follows Hugehes’ career and growth through life as a pilot and director of major motion pictures. As a billionaire, the main character always has the bankroll to fund his ambitious projects, which is why his big-budget films are highly-praised for their production value. This results in a lot of historic airplanes being used in The Aviator, which are often flown by Huges himself in the movie.
Martin Scorcese expertly shot and directed this aviation cinema classic. The movie takes you on an incredible journey through Huges’ career and displays his achievements in life, as well as his hardships. The film starts on the set of a movie directed by Hughes - another iconic film about aviation called ‘Hell’s Angels’. We are given an intimate glimpse of the complications of directing the film and how challenging it is to deal with the logistics of shooting a movie about planes in this era.
As The Aviator progresses, we watch the main character test out various legendary planes that are historic for the modern age - making this a great film for flying enthusiasts that want to see some of the most iconic planes ever flown. These are some of the planes used in The Aviator:
- Boeing Model 100
- Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
- Hughes XF-11
- Fokker D.VII
Aside from seeing amazing planes, The Aviator gives us a true behind-the-scenes idea of the legendary Howard Hughes. The iconic pilot sets flight records and is obsessive in his pursuit of perfection. He is directly involved in the design process of a lot of the planes that he pilots, which can often result in difficult work relations and personal conflicts.
Howard Huges suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is often reflected in the movie; his declining mental health is one of his biggest obstacles. This ultimately affects his quality of life and ends up sabotaging his relationships with the people that are closest to him. The Aviator is a masterpiece for the world of planes and it gives us a very raw perspective on the life of a legendary figure in the aviation industry.
Top Gun (Action/Thriller)
Top Gun is a classic for pilots and flying enthusiasts. This movie came out in the mid-80s and it was an instant sensation for Hollywood and movie lovers - Top Gun is a thrill ride through and through.
The movie follows the main character named Maverick who is played by Tom Cruise. Maverick is part of the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School, which is where the best pilots in the United States go to train. Maverick is one of the rising stars of the flight school and has built a reputation as an elite pilot in the program. The confident and cocky main character has a problem with authority and often undermines his superiors, which results in some conflicts throughout the story of the film.
Maverick is competing to be the best pilot at his flight school and has an arch-nemesis for making it to the top - Ice Man. This villainous character is played by Val Kilmer who has similar goals to Maverick but there can ultimately only be one best pilot in the division. Throughout the movie, we are shown some incredible scenes from the sky - with F-14 fighter jets being the main aviation focus of the film.
The F-14s are flown by expert pilots who perform aerial stunts that are simply jaw-dropping. Top Gun will put you on the edge of your seat, as the flying scenes alone are what make this aviation film one of the best movies ever made about planes. In addition, Top Gun also has its fair share of romance, which makes this a great movie for couples as well.
Top Gun has mixed reviews from critics overall, but this is not the case for a lot of pilots and flying enthusiasts. This action-packed film takes you on a journey through the exciting life of a fighter pilot like no other. Although some critics may say that Top Gun is decent at best, anyone who loves planes and aviation will give this 80s classic a 5-Star rating.
Pearl Harbor (Action/Drama)
For over 100 years, airplanes have been a fundamental part of military strategy - with WW2 being an iconic era for air battles and warfare. One of the key events of WW2 was the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched an airstrike on a United States naval airbase in Honolulu, Hawaii.
This surprise attack by the Japanese was a huge blow to the United States Navy and it resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,500 sailors, as well as the destruction of 20 ships and over 300 airplanes. This event was the tipping point for the U.S. and it led them to join the war alongside the allies. Director Michael Bay captured the horrific events of that day in his film Pearl Harbor.
This movie is iconic for pilots and flying enthusiasts as it captures both the tragedy of war as well as the thrill of flying a plane from an iconic era of aviation. Pearl Harbor features world-class actors like Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Kate Beckinsale in this exhilarating action/drama war movie. Although the focus of the movie is the military strike on Pearl Harbor, this film is also filled with romance and has a slow build-up to the bombing.
Pearl Harbor follows two childhood friends, Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker who end up joining the military together to fight in the war. The two friends split apart when Rafe McCawley is shipped out to Europe. A love affair ends up occuring between Danny Walker and Rafe McCawley’s girlfriend. The three main characters eventually all connect in Hawaii prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This is a classic war movie that is in many ways made for pilots and plane enthusiasts. The film features aircraft like the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, which is iconic for WW2 - giving the audience a historic look at famous planes from this time period. If you love war movies, romance, and airplanes, Pearl Harbor is going to be an excellent choice for your next movie night. However, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to watch this one all the way through, given that this WW2 movie is over 3 hours long.
The bulk of the aviation movies that have been made are either action or drama films, but if you want to change the mood up and get a few laughs in, there is no better movie than Airplane!. This 1980 slapstick comedy will make you laugh from start to finish and you can enjoy the fact that virtually all scenes in the film are shot in a Boeing-747.
Leslie Nielson takes the lead role in Airplane! and is a natural cast member for this comedy classic. Nielsen has a fear of flying and gets on board an airplane to try to reunite with a past lover. Once the plane takes off, the passengers onboard get food poisoned, which results in a whole mess of problems for the flight. Combine this dilemma with a drunk air traffic controller which is when the movie really starts to take off!
The main character now finds himself in a position where he is the only one capable of saving the airplane and everyone on board. However, he is traumatized by an incident that occurred during his piloting days in WW2, which hinders his confidence to take control of the situation.
A series of ridiculous and farfetched scenes occur from start to finish in Airplane!. This is not a movie to take seriously, as it is the epitome of slapstick entertainment.
Pilots and flight enthusiasts that are in the mood for something light and outrageously funny are going to get their kicks out of Airplane, as few comedies can match up to this aviation classic.
Sully is directed by legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood about US Airways Flight 1549, which was piloted by Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. The main character is played by one of the greatest actors of our time, Tom Hanks.
This movie is based on a true story and it covers an event that took place on January 15, 2009 when an Airbus A320-214 hit a flock of geese mid-flight. The incident resulted in the main character of the movie, ‘Sully’ needing to take immediate action to prevent a catastrophic crash.
Sully is a former fighter pilot who served in the United States Air Force, which gives him an edge in this situation. In an attempt to avoid any casualties, Sully lands the aircraft on the Hudson River in New York. To everyone’s amazement, Sully pulls off a stunt that shocked the world - landing the plane and saving the lives of all passengers on board the commercial aircraft.
This is a drama that captures the dangers of flying an aircraft and how unpredictable some incidents truly are. Although Sully is recognized as a hero for saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew members, the story takes a turn after the crash.
Snakes on a Plane (Action/Thriller)
If you are in the mood for pure entertainment, Snakes on a Plane is the perfect option for your next movie night. Just as the name suggests, you can expect there to be a plane and plenty of snakes on board. This is one of those movies that is so bad that it becomes good, which is why many flight enthusiasts consider this to be a cult classic for the world of aviation.
Snakes on a Plane does not get into the technical aspects of flying but you can expect to be on board a commercial airline for the majority of the film. The main character is an FBI agent played by the one and only, Samuel L. Jackson (Neville Flynn). The movie starts out in Hawaii with Flynn boarding a flight to Los Angeles to escort a witness for a trial.
However, a crime syndicate aims to sabotage the trial by taking out this key witness but not with a conventional approach by any means. Instead of relying on traditional tactics for taking out a witness, this crime organization decides to use snakes. As the flight gains altitude, Flynn, the witness, and all passengers on board the aircraft find themselves in a world of trouble as snakes begin to slither out of every corner of the plane.
Flynn is tasked with keeping this witness alive and no amount of snakes is going to stop him from fulfilling his duty to the law. This action-packed movie is thrilling, and in many ways, cringingly funny. A ridiculous plot like this cannot be taken too seriously (if at all). Instead, this is a cheesy and entertaining action movie to throw on when you simply want to enjoy a good ‘bad’ movie.
Air Force One (Action/Thriller)
Air Force One is a classic for a lot of flying enthusiasts out there. This patriotic movie is all about keeping the most important man in America alive - The President of the United States. However, instead of the Secret Service in charge of their normal duties, it’s The President himself who has got to take matters into his own hands.
The man tasked with carrying out this critical role is none other than Harrison Ford. The President flies to Moscow to make a speech about freedom and American ideologies during which he states that the United States will never negotiate with terrorists. However, Ford’s speech does not sit too well with a pro-communist terrorist group in Russia.
The terrorist organization secretly boards The President’s Airforce One aircraft and plots to take over the plane. The hijackers take the crew and The President by surprise when they come out with armed weapons. Although everyone on board Airforce One is overwhelmed by the situation, The President stays composed and manages to pull off a daring escape.
The leader of the terrorist group, played by Gary Oldman, instructs his hijackers to locate The President. Even though Ford is significantly outnumbered, he stays hidden from the terrorists on board and takes them out one at a time. As the movie progresses we watch The President go on a heroic journey filled with action as he takes back his plane from the terrorists. Air Force One does not cover technical piloting but it is an exhilarating movie set on board the famous Airforce One aircraft - giving pilots and flight enthusiasts a taste of being in the sky - while at the same time enjoying an action classic.