53 Of The Best Aviation Movies For Avgeeks

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Choosing the best aviation movies isn’t easy since tastes vary so much in what should make the list but here are 53 that should contain many you would enjoy.

Aviation enthusiasts and pilots have a lot to love when it comes to the movies. There are aviation movies that focus on historical events, some that showcase the best in aviation technology, and others that simply tell an interesting story.

But which ones are the best? Well, that’s up to you. Whether you’re a pilot or just aviation-obsessed, I hope you’ll enjoy this list.

  • How many of these have you seen?
  • What would be your Top 3 aviation films of all time?
  • Are there any missing that deserve to be on this list?

The best aviation movies range from those who tell the tale how an airline pilot resolves a seemingly impossible situation to the story of a young fighter pilot facing impossible odds, or the risks and daring of a test pilot pioneering new aircraft types. And, by the way, it’s not a given that the movie has to star Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or Denzel Washington.

Some foreign language films do justice to the figher pilots of other nations, though it’s rare to find a film that profiles a German fighter pilot for obvious reasons. Some films appeal to aviation enthusiasts while others do not due to a ridiculous plot that stretches the credulity of purists.

The best films in this genre may or may not include flight training, a plane crash, but they will all include some flying scenes. They rarely touch upon the aviation industry unless it’s in brief passing with reference to the airline type and its flaws. Most of the action involving civilian airliners will be about the airline pilot who gets food poisoning or about planes hijacked for all sorts of reasons.

Aviation Movies

This aviation movie list is presented in alphabetical order. If you can think of any that should be included then leave a comment or send me a message.

633 Squadron

633 Squadron is a 1964 British aviation film directed by Walter Grauman and produced by Joseph E. Levine and Sidney Bernstein. The film tells the story of a fictional Royal Air Force squadron during the Second World War that uses its skills to destroy Nazi targets. It is based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth.

The film stars Cliff Robertson, George Chakiris, Maria Perschy, and Harry Andrews. 633 Squadron was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Air America

Air America is a 1990 American aviation film directed by John Woo and starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. The film tells the story of two pilots who begin flying for a covert CIA operation in Laos during the Vietnam War. Air America was a critical and commercial success and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.

Airplane!

“Airplane!” is a 1980 American comedy film directed by Jim Abrahams and David Zucker and written by Jerry Zucker. It stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges. The film is a parody of the disaster film genre, particularly the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour!, about an airliner that suffers a mechanical failure and has to be flown by the crew to an airport.

The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $83 million in North America against a budget of $3.5 million. It was the first comedy to gross more than $100 million in the United States.

Always

“Always” is a 1989 American aviation film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Audrey Hepburn. The film tells the story of a firefighting pilot who dies what he loves and has to learn to let go of the woman he loves. Always was moderately successful at the box office, but received mixed reviews from critics.

This is my personal favorite. Who can forget the way Holly Hunter pronounces ‘tankers’, or some of Pete’s (Richard Dreyfuss) lines, “Whaddya need Pete?” “Glider practice.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NI_V7MWL63U

Amelia

“Amelia” is a 2009 aviation biographical film directed by Mira Nair and starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, and Cherry Jones. The film portrays Amelia Earhart’s (Swank) last flight before her disappearance in 1937. “Amelia” was produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures and was shot in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The aviation biographical film premiered on October 23, 2009 at the 28th Annual Toronto International Film Festival. It received a limited release in the United States on October 30, 2009, and went into wide release on November 6, 2009. The film received mixed reviews from critics; however, Hilary Swank’s performance was generally praised.

American Made

“American Made” is a 2017 aviation thriller film directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise. The film is based on the life story of pilot Barry Seal, who was recruited by the CIA to smuggle drugs into the United States during the 1980s.

The aviation sequences in “American Made” are highly realistic and accurate, and the film was praised by aviation experts for its accurate portrayal of life as a commercial airline pilot in the 1980s.

The Aviator

“The Aviator” is a 2004 drama about the life of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role and features some amazing aviation sequences, including a recreation of Hughes’ record-setting around-the-world flight.

The Aviator was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning five including Best Picture.

Battle of Britain

“Battle of Britain” is a 1969 aviation drama film directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Christopher Plummer. The film tells the story of the Battle of Britain, a decisive battle during World War II in which the Royal Air Force defended the United Kingdom against the Luftwaffe.

“Battle of Britain” was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Special Effects.

Blue Max

“Blue Max” is a 1966 aviation drama film set in World War I. The film stars George Peppard and James Mason and tells the story of a German fighter pilot who is determined to become a flying ace.

The aviation sequences in “Blue Max” are highly realistic and accurate, and the film was praised by aviation experts for its accurate portrayal of World War I aviation. “Blue Max” was nominated for two Academy Awards, and it remains a classic to this day.

Bridge of Spies

“Bridge of Spies” is a 2015 aviation thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. The film tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer who is drafted into the Cold War to negotiate the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union.

“Bridge of Spies” was nominated for four Academy Awards, and it remains a classic.

The Bridge of Toko Ri

“The Bridges of Toko Ri” is a 1953 aviation drama film directed by Mark Robson and starring William Holden and Grace Kelly. The film tells the story of a U.S. Navy pilot who is shot down over North Korea and must be rescued by a team of Special Forces soldiers.

“The Bridges of Toko Ri” was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Visual Effects.

Captain Marvel

“Captain Marvel” is a 2019 aviation superhero film set in the 1990s. The film stars Brie Larson in the lead role and tells the story of Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who becomes a powerful superhero.

Catch 22

“Catch 22” is a 1970 aviation war film directed by Mike Nichols and based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. The film stars Alan Arkin in the lead role and tells the story of a United States Army Air Forces bombardier named Yossarian, who is trying to survive WW II.

“Catch 22” was nominated for five Academy Awards, and it remains a classic aviation war film to this day.

Catch Me If You Can

“Catch Me If You Can” is a 2002 aviation biographical film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a young man who successfully conned his way into becoming a pilot for several major airlines, as well as a doctor and legal prosecutor.

“Catch Me If You Can” was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Charley Varrick

“Charley Varrick” is a 1973 aviation thriller film directed by Don Siegel and starring Walter Matthau. The film tells the story of Charley Varrick, a small-time bank robber who turns to a life of crime after being robbed by the Mob.

“Charley Varrick” was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Cloud Dancer

“Cloud Dancer” is a 1980 aviation drama film directed by Barry Brown and starring David Carradine, Jennifer O’Neill and Joseph Bottoms. The film tells the story of Brad Randolph (Carradine), an aerobatics pilot facing challenges both in his professional and personal life.

Con Air

“Con Air” is a 1997 aviation thriller film directed by Simon West and starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich. The film tells the story of a group of convicts who take over a hijacked airliner and attempt to fly it to freedom.

“Con Air” was a commercial success and remains a popular aviation thriller.

Dark Blue World

“Dark Blue World” is a 2001 aviation war film directed by Jan Sverák and starring Czech actor Karel Roden. The film tells the story of a group of Czechoslovak pilots who are drafted into the Royal Air Force during WW II.

“Dark Blue World” was filmed on location in the United Kingdom and features accurate portrayals of RAF aircraft and aviation procedures. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Dam Busters

“The Dam Busters” is a 1955 aviation war film directed by Michael Anderson and starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave. The film tells the story of Operation Chastise, a mission carried out by the Royal Air Force to destroy dams in Nazi Germany using bouncing bombs.

The film was also a box office success, and it remains a classic aviation war film to this day.

The Dawn Patrol

“The Dawn Patrol” is a 1938 aviation drama film directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Errol Flynn and David Niven. The film tells the story of two pilots who are determined to shoot down as many enemy aircraft as possible.

This film was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Empire of the Sun

“Empire of the Sun” is a 1987 aviation drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Christian Bale. The film tells the story of Jim, a young boy who is separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1941.

“Empire of the Sun” was a commercial success and remains a popular aviation drama for its depiction of Jim’s love of aircraft, particularly the P-51 Mustang, the Cadillac of the Skies. The film’s dramatic climax is when a squadron of P-51s attack the Japanese airfield adjacent to the internment camp where Jim and his friends are being held.

“P-51! Cadillac of the Sky! Horsepower!

The First of the Few

“The First of the Few” is a 1942 aviation drama film directed by Leslie Howard and starring David Niven. The film tells the story of R. J. Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire fighter aircraft, and his efforts to develop the aircraft in the face of overwhelming odds.

“The First of the Few” was praised for its accurate portrayal of aviation and World War II-era Britain. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Flight

“Flight” is a 2012 film starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who must confront his personal demons while flying through a severe storm. The film is based on a true story and features some excellent aviation sequences.

Washington’s performance was nominated for an Academy Award and the film itself was nominated for two Oscars.

Flight of the Intruder

“Flight of the Intruder” is a 1991 aviation war film directed by John Milius and starring Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe. The film tells the story of a group of United States Navy aviators who launch a bombing raid on North Vietnam from an aircraft carrier.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

The original “The Flight of the Phoenix” film is a 1965 aviation drama film directed by Robert Aldrich and starring James Stewart and Peter Finch. The film tells the story of a group of survivors who rebuild a wrecked airplane after a crash landing in the middle of the desert and fly it to safety.

The film is based on the 1965 novel of the same name by aviation writer and former naval aviator Mark Robson. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and remains a popular film to this day.

Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

“The Flight of the Phoenix” was remade in 2004. The film was directed by John Moore and stars Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, and Tyrese Gibson. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards. I will leave it to you to decide whether or not this version is better than the original film.

Flyboys

“Flyboys” is a 2006 aviation drama film directed by Tony Bill and starring James Franco. The film tells the true story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of American pilots who fought in World War I as members of the French Air Force.

“Flyboys” was nominated for one Academy Award.

Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project

“Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project” is a 2014 aviation documentary film about the life of aviation pioneer Bob Hoover. The film was directed by Kim Furst and features interviews with aviation legends such as Chuck Yeager and Harrison Ford.

The film tells the story of Hoover’s remarkable aviation career, which includes stints as a fighter pilot in the Second World War, a test pilot, and a daredevil air racer. “Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The Great Waldo Pepper

“The Great Waldo Pepper” is a 1975 film set in the 1920s about a former First World War fighter pilot, Waldo Pepper, who becomes a barnstorming stunt pilot. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by aviation writer and former naval aviator Mark Robson.

The film was directed by George Roy Hill and stars Robert Redford as Waldo Pepper.

The aerial sequences were shot by aviation cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who later won an Academy Award for “The Right Stuff”.

Hell’s Angels

“Hell’s Angels” is a 1930 film set in the First World War era about two brothers who join the Royal Flying Corps to fight in the war. The movie was directed by Howard Hughes and stars Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow.

The High And The Mighty

“The High and the Mighty” is a 1954 aviation film based on the 1952 novel of the same name by aviation writer Ernest K. Gann.

The film was directed by William A. Wellman and stars John Wayne, Robert Stack, and Janet Leigh.

Hot Shots

“Hot Shots!” is a 1991 aviation comedy film directed by Jim Abrahams and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The film stars Charlie Sheen, Val Kilmer, and Jon Cryer and tells the story of a squadron of fighter pilots who must stop an evil dictator from taking over the world.

The film was a box office success and spawned a sequel, “Hot Shots! Part Deux”.

Independence Day

“Independence Day” is a 1996 American science fiction film directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin. The film stars Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Vivica A. Fox tells the story of a group of humans who must fight off an alien invasion.

The film was a box office success and has spawned two sequels, “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Independence Day: War of the Worlds”.

So why is it included in this list? Because of the parts played by Randy Quaid and Will Smith, two pilots who fight back against the invasion.

Iron Eagle

“Iron Eagle” is a 1986 aviation action film directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Lou Gossett, Jr., Jason Gedrick, and Nigel Havers. The film tells the story of a United States Air Force pilot who must help his father, an aerial ace who has been captured by the Soviets, escape from a prison in Russia.

The aerial sequences in the film were shot by aviation cinematographer Wally Pfister, who later won an Academy Award for his work on “Batman Begins”.

Memphis Belle

“Memphis Belle” is a 1990 aviation film based on the 1944 documentary of the same name about the crew of the B-17 bomber “Memphis Belle”.

The film was directed by Michael Caton-Jones and stars Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, and Harry Connick Jr.

“Memphis Belle” received mixed reviews from critics, but it is considered to be a fairly accurate portrayal of World War II aviation.

B-17 Flying Fortress “Lucky Lady“. Took part in the filming of “Memphis Belle”

Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771

“Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771” is a 1993 aviation TV movie. The film was directed by Roger Young and stars Robert Loggia, Scott Bakula, and Rebecca Rigg.

The film tells the true story of a a commercial airline coming to the rescue of a ferry pilot flying a cropduster over the South Pacific.

Midway

“Midway” is a 2019 aviation film based on the 1976 historical novel of the same name by Walter W. Moore. The film tells the story of the Battle of Midway, a decisive naval battle fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

The film was directed by Roland Emmerich and stars Woody Harrelson, Ed Skrein, and Mandy Moore.

Mosquito Squadron

“Mosquito Squadron” is a 1969 aviation film set in World War II about a group of Royal Air Force pilots who must stop a German Luftwaffe squadron from bombing London.

The film was directed by Boris Sagal and stars David McCallum, Lee Grant, and Barry Sullivan.

“Mosquito Squadron” was not a critical success, but it is considered to be a fairly accurate portrayal of World War II aviation.

One Six Right

“One Six Right” is a 2005 aviation documentary film about the aviation history of the Santa Monica Airport. The film was directed by James Hansen and produced by aviation writer and former naval aviator Richard Bach.

Pearl Harbor

“Pearl Harbor” is a 1991 historical drama film directed by Michael Bay and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The film stars Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale and tells the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

This film was met with mixed reviews from critics, but it was a box office success and is now considered a classic aviation film.

Reach For The Sky

“Reach For The Sky” is a 1956 aviation biographical war film based on the 1953 autobiography of the same name by Douglas Bader. The film stars Kenneth More and tells the story of Douglas Bader, a Royal Air Force pilot who lost his legs in a flying accident in 1931 and was later captured by the Germans during World War II.

“Reach For The Sky” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.

Red Tails

“Red Tails” is a 2012 aviation drama based on the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II. The film was directed by Anthony Hemingway and stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, and Bryan Cranston.

“Red Tails” was nominated for two Academy Awards and won one for Best Sound Editing.

The Right Stuff

“The Right Stuff” is a 1983 film based on the book of the same name by Tom Wolfe. The film tells the story of the early days of America’s space program and features some incredible aviation sequences. It’s a realistic depiction of the era in which the USA went from breaking the sound barrier and going into space.

The film was directed by Philip Kaufman and stars Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, and Dennis Quaid.

“The Right Stuff” won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Top Tip: Read the book and watch the film.

The Rocketeer

“The Rocketeer” is a 1991 film based on the comic book of the same name. The film tells the story of Cliff Secord, a pilot who discovers a jetpack that allows him to become a superhero called The Rocketeer.

The film was directed by Joe Johnston and stars Bill Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, and Timothy Dalton.

“The Rocketeer” was met with mixed reviews from critics, but it was a box office success and is now considered a fun film.

The Spirit of St. Louis

“The Spirit of St. Louis” is a 1957 film based on the true story of Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight in 1927.

The film was directed by Billy Wilder and stars James Stewart as Charles Lindbergh.

“The Spirit of St. Louis” was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Strategic Air Command

“Strategic Air Command” is a 1955 film starring James Stewart as a retired United States Air Force pilot who is recalled to active duty during the Korean War. The film was directed by Anthony Mann and features some excellent aviation sequences.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Stewart’s performance.

Sully

“Sully” is a 2016 drama based on the true story of airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his miraculous emergency landing on the Hudson River. The film stars Tom Hanks in the lead role and features some excellent aviation sequences.

Sully was nominated for two Academy Awards, winning one for Best Sound Editing.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” is a 1944 film based on the true story of the Doolittle Raid, a daring bombing raid on Japan launched by the United States Army Air Forces in 1942.

The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and stars Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson.

“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

“Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” is a 1965 British comedy film about a group of men who compete in a flying race from London to Paris. The film was directed by Ken Annakin and stars James Garner, Steve McQueen, and Jean-Pierre Cassel.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay

Top Gun

“Top Gun” is a 1986 aviation action film about a group of Navy pilots who compete to be the best in their class. The film was directed by Tony Scott and stars Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, and Anthony Edwards.

“Top Gun” was a huge box office success and has become one of the most iconic aviation films of all time.

Top Gun Maverick

“Top Gun Maverick” is a sequel to the classic film “Top Gun” and is scheduled for release in 2022. The film will be directed by Joseph Kosinski and stars Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Miles Teller. The plot of the film is still under wraps, but it is rumored to follow the story of a new generation of Navy fighter pilots.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” is a 1970 film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, and Toshio Masuda and stars Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, and Jason Robards.

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Twelve O’Clock High

“Twelve O’Clock High” is a 1949 film set in the early days of World War II about the bombing missions of the Eighth Air Force. The film was directed by Henry King and stars Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, and Hugh Marlowe.

The aviation sequences in “Twelve O’Clock High” are some of the most realistic and accurate ever filmed, and the film was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Wings

“Wings” is a 1927 aviation drama film set during World War I about the American army pilot Jack Powell and his love interest, Sylvia Lewis. The film was directed by William A. Wellman and stars Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen.

“Wings” was the first aviation film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Best Aviation Movies – Current Top Ten Best Sellers

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Take Off, The Beginning of Flight
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Bestseller No. 3
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Naval Aviation: Carriers & Aircraft
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The Red Baron
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Midway
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Bestseller No. 10
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What is an aviation movie?

Aviation movies are a popular genre, and it’s not hard to see why. They combine the thrill of action with the suspense of a race against time. Plus, there’s just something about watching planes take off and land that gets the heart racing. From classics like Top Gun to more recent hits like Flight, here are a few of the best aviation movies out there.

For fans of history, there’s The Battle of Britain, which chronicles the importance of the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. Or for those who prefer their pilots a little more gung-ho, there’s always Top Gun. Starring Tom Cruise as a hotshot fighter pilot, it’s an adrenaline-pumping ride from start to finish.

And for those who like their movies with a side of politics, there’s Air Force One. This thriller follows the President as he tries to escape a group of terrorists who have hijacked his plane.

An aviation movie can be defined as a film that captures some of the essences of aviation and its culture. This could include movies about historical aircraft, biographies of famous pilots, or dramas set in the aviation world.

Some of the best aviation movies are highly realistic and accurate in their depiction of aviation, while others simply provide a good dose of entertainment. Like watching a good James Bond film you sometimes have to suspend disbelief to enjoy some of these films. They are not all known for their historical detail.

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