Top 10 Best and Worst Aviation Movies | HistoryNet

Top 10 Best and Worst Aviation Movies

By Walter J. Boyne
1/8/2010 • Arts and Culture, Aviation History, Aviation History On The Web

‘While it will offend many, my first choice for worst aviation film ever is Top Gun, starring the man who needed the biggest pillow available to reach the controls, Tom Cruise’

In a very happy coincidence, the airplane and the motion picture came into their own at roughly the same time. The significance of the December 17, 1903, Wright brothers flight is paralleled in film history by the advent of two famous cinematic productions, A Trip to the Moon in 1902 and The Great Train Robbery in 1903. If you’re willing to stretch your definitions a bit, A Trip to the Moon might even be construed as an aviation film, though it definitely would not make most people’s 10 best—or 10 worst—lists.

Picking such a list is entirely subjective, of course, not only as a matter of taste but as a matter of background, your age when you first saw a film, your ability to suspend disbelief and your willingness not to be too picky about technical details. I’ve had the excellent help of some experts in the field in putting together my own list, including author Barrett Tillman (BT); editor, publisher and distinguished film critic David Hogan (DH); and inimitable Jeopardy player, writer and industry champion Jeff Rhodes (JR). All the choices listed here are my own, but I’ll also include my collaborators’ insightful comments, attributed by means of their initials.

On the whole, most of us might confess to being too picky. We’re upset when warplane markings are not correct for the period, and we get downright angry when those blasted three Douglas SBDs are portrayed once again as Japanese dive bombers. Perhaps not surprisingly, we are not so picky with films about other subjects. Most of us can watch a film about medical procedures or courtroom protocol and never see the glaring inaccuracies that leap to the eyes of doctors or lawyers.

For this article, I have set some ground rules for myself in evaluating both the selections and the rationale for selection of the 10 best and 10 worst aviation films ever made. They are:

1. Taking into consideration when the film was made.
2. Not being too stuffy about minor technical errors.
3. Not letting a saccharine story line get you down, even if June Allyson cries more than she usually does.
4. Attempting to evaluate the film as a story rather than as merely a medium to show aircraft.
5. Going with my gut feeling (probably the most important).
6. Making sure it deals with World War I (just kidding, maybe).

You’ll note there’s no mention of the current blessing or blight, depending upon your point of view, of using computer-generated imagery (CGI). We have to admit that it has come a long way, even if the artists involved ignore such things as turn rates, acceleration, speeds and so on. There is no question that the 9-G turns at street level in Pearl Harbor were hard to swallow. And while we may not be happy with the torturous story line of Flyboys (and could they have picked a more insulting title?), you must admit that seeing Gothas in flight is remarkable even as CGI. And so were the images of the Zeppelin, especially the sequential explosion of its gas bags. So for the purposes of this article, let us forgive them their CGI errors, and bless them for what they offer in images that are otherwise totally unavailable.

Top 10 Best

1. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)

This good-humored romp has it all, with wonderful replicas of both successful and unsuccessful early flying machines, beautiful scenery and a great cast that includes Terry Thomas, Sarah Miles and Irina Demick as Brigitte, Ingrid, Marlene, Françoise, Yvette and Betty. Each of Demick’s characters is gorgeous, dutifully surprised and wonderfully willing. Even though the replica aircraft had more reliable power plants and were better built than the originals, they were still challenging to fly, and they nicely convey just how magnificent flying truly was in the first decade of flight.

2. Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Written in part by Beirne Lay Jr., this epic reflects both his love of the U.S. Army Air Forces and his firsthand knowledge of the real events upon which the film is based. Gregory Peck, always a reliable performer, is at his best in this film, which takes advantage of still available B-17s and extensive combat footage to make the flight scenes very realistic.

Twelve O’Clock High is of course about leadership and command more than it is about airplanes, and as such it could serve today as both a military and a corporate training vehicle. Mercifully, the screenwriters did not feel the need to interject the usual mandatory love interest, and the film benefits greatly from this. DH rightly says, “The only other one that comes close (and indeed it comes pretty close) is Command Decision (with Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon, Charles Bickford, Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy, John Hodiak and Cameron Mitchell—wow!).

3. Wings (1927)

Wings was awarded the first-ever Best Picture Oscar in 1929, a salute to its director William Wellman, a former member of the Lafayette Flying Corps. Wellman had flown in France with the same Tommy Hitchcock who one war later saw the potential of the Merlin engine to power the P-51 Mustang. Wellman also served briefly after the war with the U.S. Army Air Corps. He got a job in Hollywood as a messenger, and quickly worked his way up to director.

Wellman’s reputation and contacts were enough to persuade the Air Corps to furnish a virtual armada of more than 220 aircraft for the picture. These include Thomas Morse MB-3A Scouts, Curtiss P-1 Hawks, Martin MB-2s and de Havilland D.H.4s. A few World War I aircraft, including a Spad VII, a Fokker D.VII and an S.E.5a, also make appearances.

In contrast to Twelve O’Clock High, the film features a typically goofy love story of the time, a triangle between Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen and the inimitable Clara Bow. Interestingly enough, Wellman, writer F.J. Saunders, Arlen and Rogers were all pilots. I’m told that Bow had other interests. DH comments that “The love triangle is well played: It’s tongue in cheek and a little bit understated, and you just can’t beat Clara Bow. In real life she was a very frightened, unhappy woman, but she remains a luminous screen presence, and a good actress, too.” BT notes that in one scene Rogers is clearly shown flying a Thomas Morse. Wow! It was very unusual for a star’s life to be risked in such a manner.

4. Hell’s Angels (1930)

Good acting isn’t everything, not if you can marshal the number of genuine WWI aircraft Howard Hughes used to produce this extravaganza. He also went to great lengths to make contemporary aircraft look enough like the real thing when flown in formation or lined up for takeoff, even making over a Curtiss Jenny to resemble an Avro 504. Only a relatively small percentage of this film deals with aviation, but that little bit is remarkable. The studio work done with the Zeppelin is amazing, better than many of today’s special effects. The monumental dogfight scenes were incorporated in dozens of other films and are still stolen today for use in documentaries. So despite its many faults (terrible acting, bad story line, not enough flying scenes), Hell’s Angels is an inevitable choice for the top 10. (As an aside, the best part of the recent film The Aviator was the segment devoted to Hughes’ making Hell’s Angels.)

DH says that the dogfight and Zeppelin scenes are great—“Plus you get the immortal Jean Harlow (in two-strip Technicolor, no less). She hadn’t yet learned how to act (she mostly strikes poses), but her flesh impact is overpowering.”

5. Strategic Air Command (1955)

The aerial shots of the Convair B-36 and Boeing B-47 in Strategic Air Command are perhaps the most beautiful ever filmed. They expertly convey the majesty of flight as summoned by those two remarkable aircraft. Jimmy Stewart is especially good in the scenes where he is purportedly flying the aircraft. His realistic manner—with no drastic movements of the control yoke, no dead-ahead stare, no wandering gaze—tells you he is an experienced pilot. He sits and scans the instruments, making small incremental corrections—showing he knows exactly what he is doing.

The story and screenplay by Beirne Lay is adequate except that it provides an opportunity for the always teary-eyed June Allyson to give her usual irritating impression of a wife who doesn’t get it about her husband’s love of flying. My ranking of Strategic Air Command among the top 10 rests primarily on its aerial photography and only secondarily on its story about the dedication of the members of SAC.

6. The Blue Max (1966)

What, another WWI movie? Well yes, I grew up on these, and can tell you that nothing was more welcome than the arrival of The Blue Max, the first (to my knowledge) WWI aviation film made in color. We owe a lot to Jack Hunter, author of the novel on which the film is based, who died this past year.

The replicas built for the film are adequate—let’s face it, seeing any Pfalz in flight is worthwhile. The cinematography is superb. George Peppard plays his usual stone-faced self, but there is Ursula Andress to compensate.

The story line has an interesting twist—the aristocrats versus the plebes in a German fighter squadron. As we know, many German fighter pilots were not commissioned, so it must have been Peppard’s personality that brought down Willi von Klugerman’s (Jeremy Kemp’s) disdain. DH is, as usual, more charitable than I, pointing out that Peppard “was always good at projecting haughtiness (see him as the all-but-in-name Howard Hughes, building his aviation empire, in The Carpetbaggers).”

7. Battle of Britain (1969)

The massive effort to gather the requisite number of Hurricanes, Messerschmitts, Spitfires and Heinkels was well worthwhile, and the special effects are not bad for the time. All aficionados know that the Messer­schmitts and Heinkels were ex–Spanish air force, powered by Merlin engines, but it doesn’t bother anyone. The cast of characters is spectacular, and the producers had the good taste and good sense to cast Laurence Olivier as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. Susannah York is thrown in as a good-looking, worthwhile addition. The plot line is derived from an excellent book of the time, The Narrow Margin.

The ground scenes were filmed at Duxford, contributing to the general realism of the effort. They actually burned down a WWII hangar for the film—that’s getting a little too realistic. BT adds, “When I was at Duxford in 1991, there was a plaque on the site of the former hangar, saying that it had regrettably been blown up during the filming of a motion picture!”

8. The Dam Busters (1955) and 633 Squadron (1964)

These two films are lumped together because they represent a time when good, clean, patriotic airplane films were made in the UK, using real airplanes and decent special effects. The number of Lancasters and Mosquitos available to the producers was limited, but in the case of The Dam Busters, some good wartime film footage was edited in. I’m sure anyone who knew “bouncing bomb” inventor Barnes Wallis in real life must have laughed a little at Michael Redgraves’ avuncular portrayal of him, but Richard Todd was perfect for the Guy Gibson role. In 633 Squadron, Cliff Roberston did his usual fine job, no doubt enjoying the chance to be around the Mosquito.

BT notes that “At least one or two serial numbers are correct on the Lancs. When did Hollywood ever do that?” (Answer: Never ever.) DH adds a comment I wish I’d been smart enough to make: “The Dam Busters is solid on just about every level, but what most impresses me about it is its determination to show and explain rather complex physics—and make it thrilling.” And re 633 Squadron, BT laments: “They BURNED A MOSSIE! Apparently an airworthy one, at that.”

9. The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

“Where do they get these men?” is, I believe, the question asked by Fredric March at the end of the film, and in a way this really defines the movie’s message. (DH agrees, commenting: “The conclusion of The Bridges at Toko-Ri shocked audiences in 1954, and not simply because a big movie star ends up dead. What’s devastating is the sacrifice made by non­career fliers who rise to the occasion and do great things when called.”) Operating jets off WWII-era carriers was tricky business at best, and doing it under the conditions prevailing in Korea made it even more difficult. While the movie doesn’t portray the accident rate as anything like it was at the time, it does convey the ever-present danger and the courage it took to make the really tough missions. William Holden does his angry man routine, but Mickey Rooney more than makes up for it with his portrayal of the helicopter pilot.

10. The High and the Mighty (1954)

Another airplane film directed by William Wellman, with the great Ernest Gann authoring not only the book on which it is based but also the screenplay. The result is an aviation disaster film that represents the best of the genre. It has solid, if dated, acting by a good cast, and a believable ending that even Sully Sullenberger would approve of. BT comments: “I used to date a 737 driver. She said all the FOs loved the film because the copilot slugs the pilot and gets away with it.” DH notes that “The High and the Mighty finally made it to DVD in the last year or so, to great excitement in the movie buff community.”

And in a worthy coda to our top-10 list, BT points to the “Best aero flick not mentioned here: Task Force (1949) with Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, a Dauntless, a Wildcat and some surprisingly good detail.” Barrett is as usual correct, and it also really bothers me to have left out such excellent candidates as Dive Bomber, I Wanted Wings, Dawn Patrol and so many others.

Top 10 Worst

1. Top Gun (1986)

While it will offend many, my first choice for worst aviation film ever is Top Gun, starring the man who needed the biggest pillow available to reach the controls, Tom Cruise. I know that many are enamored of this film, and some fighter pilots even suggest that it is a true representation of the cocky fighter pilot spirit, but to me it was an embarrassing waste of time and money. The airplanes are gorgeous, but they are slavered over with the hot spittle of guys who think they are really cute in flying gear, especially when they have neato names. I cannot imagine that anyone of their ilk would be tolerated in any military unit. (I’m now donning my flak jacket to protect myself from the flying insults.) The irony of it is that Hot Shots, the spoof of Top Gun, is a far better film. I rest my case on the fact that an avowed fan of Top Gun, a naval aviator who should know better, is also a fan of the Iron Eagle series.

2. Firefox (1982)

Please don’t tell Clint Eastwood I said this, but it is easily the worst picture he ever made, and it also deals incidentally with aircraft. The plot is familiar—the retired expert recalled to do the one-in-a-million job that only he can do—and the imaginary airplane is not bad. But otherwise it is dull, predictable and without any redeeming actual aerial action.

3. Jet Pilot (1957)

Howard Hughes and John Wayne were undoubtedly both ashamed of this mishmash of ideas, made over eight years with different airplanes. The end result was an agonizing, predictable bore. There are some pluses, including shots of a variety of aircraft such as the Northrop F-89, Republic F-84 and others. Reportedly Chuck Yeager did some of the aerobatic flying, which is also a plus. But beautiful Janet Leigh was somehow not convincing as a cold but nonetheless seductive Communist pilot/spy.

4. Stealth (2005)

This film gained a great deal of buzz when photos of a “mystery Navy stealth fighter” were released on the Internet. The mock-up was really quite good and took many people in. The movie itself, however, is amazingly empty of anything but clichés.

5. Midway (1976)

Midway is distinguished by having more changes to an airplane in the course of one sortie than any other picture. It is condemned by the completely phony love story that was stapled to it. Coming after 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora!, it was a real disappointment. Hal Holbrook plays the role of code-breaker Commander Joseph Rochefort with such a broad Mark Twain accent that you expect the carriers to be stern-wheelers.

6. Memphis Belle (1990)

Probably the worst thing about this movie is the fact that William Wyler’s wartime documentary about the famous Flying Fortress was so good. While the movie hews generally to the original, The Memphis Belle, the actors’ looks and demeanor seem completely foreign to the time. Oddly enough, it has been well reviewed, but any comparison of the original and this film sends this one to the bottom of the barrel.

7. Snakes on a Plane (2006)

This one hardly needs explanation—utterly ghastly in all respects. One can only imagine the amount of cocaine consumed in its creation.

8. Lafayette Escadrille (1958)

William Wellman betrayed his heritage with this turkey of a film, which—by his own admission—was totally unworthy of him. And pairing Tab Hunter with a pretend fighter plane is miscasting of the first order. Even if it’s about WWI aviation, it’s still terrible.

9. Iron Eagle (1986) and its three sequels

There are some nice airplanes in these films, quite a variety in fact, but the plot lines are so insulting that they make you dislike the people involved with the airplanes. A terrible waste of film, fuel and, if there had been any, talent.

10. Pearl Harbor (2001)

Despite the fact that there are airplanes in this movie, it is probably the worst aviation film ever made, with a startlingly wrong portrayal of the great Jimmy Doolittle by the loathsome Alec Baldwin being the most unforgivable of many errors. They spent so much money and had such a great opportunity to do something well. Instead they delivered this mishmash of bad performances, bad ideas and bad computer effects that condemn the film to the worst 10 of any list.

JR comments that the “All-time worst aviation movie and possibly the worst movie ever made award has to go to Inter­ceptor—ridiculous plot, even more ridiculous ending. You had a little bit of everything—terrorists sliding down the inside of a refueling boom, fully politically correct crew on a C-5, a C-5 opening the front visor in flight, folding-wing F-117s that dogfight and launch air-to-air missiles. Watching this movie was like watching a train wreck; you couldn’t keep from NOT watching for fear of missing what was coming next.” I’ve had the good fortune not to see the film, so I couldn’t include it on the list, despite its obvious lack of merit.

So there you have it—one man’s opinion, for what it’s worth, on the 10 best and 10 worst aviation films ever. I’m sure there are many different opinions out there, so post your list below or click here to go to the discussion page.

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185 Responses to Top 10 Best and Worst Aviation Movies

  1. Darnell says:

    I enjoyed Mr.Boyne’s Article,”The 10 best and 10 worst Avaition Movies” in the March2010 Issue,but I don’t understand why the film”Spirit of St.Louis”;Billy Wilder’s 1957 film, starring Jimmy Stewart,isn’t even mentioned. In Johnny Carson’s 1980’s interview,Stewart’s campain to get the role, although he was over 40,was discussed briefly. Not only was his performance good, what about the 3 replicas built for the film. We have a great example of a pilot making a film about a pilot. The replias were built pretty accurate as far as I know. One is in the Greenfield Village and Henrey Ford Museum. I don’t recall the others. I own and watch the movie every year in May…..

    • jean says:

      In the 2nd half of the 50’s there was a movie with Richard Todd, he was the leader of a Britsh Air Squadron. Van Johnson a Yankee came and joined them, he was gr8 in this.
      Can anyone tell me the name of the movie.
      He was disliked by the others, but saved Todd when he led him back to the field, Todd was blinded by being hit?

      • Lyle F. Padilla says:

        It appears that you have at least three different movies confused. According to the IMDb, Van Johnson and Richard Todd never acted together. (My apologies for posting this twice, as for some reason my first reply ended up at the bottom instead of in direct reply to Post 1.1.)

        The only film in which Richard Todd played an RAF pilot was THE DAM BUSTERS (referenced in the original article above for this webpage). There were no American characters involved in this based-on-real-life movie.

        Shortly afterward, Todd played a Royal Army commando officer involved in a love triangle with Dana Wynter (playing the daughter of a Brigadier) and Robert Taylor (playing a US Army Ranger officer) in D-DAY THE SIXTH OF JUNE.

        The only movie made in this era in which Van Johnson played a military pilot was in MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY in which he plays a Korean War Navy fighter pilot. No Brit characters in this also based-on-real-life movie. In this movie, his wingman (played by Dewey Martin, whom I don’t think resembles Richard Todd) gets blinded on a strike mission, and Van Johnson guides him back to their carrier for a safe landing.

  2. bob getts says:

    To; Walter Boyne, I agree that Top Gun is not a great aviation film, I feel I should say that in Robert K. Wilcox,s book Scream of Eagles,he notes that the call signs/ nicknames ofsome of the real navy pilots who started the ACM movementwhere in fact , Goose ,Iceman and Mavrick. Bob Getts

  3. john giles says:

    I would have thought “the Great Waldo Pepper” should be in the top 10.

    • Harley W. says:

      I agree that “The Great Waldo Pepper” should be in the top 10. And regardless of some inaccuracies of aircraft I am surprised that “Aces High” didn’t get a mention. When I was 3/4 way through with the book in 78′ the movie came to a theatre and I was glad to see it was one of the few movies that was loyal to the book – Aerial combat and the fatigue, fear and trauma from combat, witnessing death and losing those close to you.

  4. Paul Turk says:

    agree w/comment suggesting “Waldo” get serious consideraion for the list.

    Also wonder where “Tora Tora Tora” falls, given the rather meticulous recreation of the attack from both sides, and he significant airframe mods to make period warbirds (AT-6, BT-13, etc.) look remarkably like Zeros and Vals .. Still seen as popular attractions at airshows and in other films. Also, clips from the film are used routinely in many other products revisitinng Pear Harbor — including the well-described turkey of the same name. How many times have you seen the burning PBY; the P-40 prop walking across the ramp and the Navy personnel carrier tossed on its side?

  5. Russ Walker says:

    I agree with Boyne that “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” is a really great aviation film.
    However, in his “tip of the hat” some were overlooked. James Arness is a Pilot. James Brolin is a Pilot.
    All though I am not certain about it, I understand that Paul Newman was an SBD gunner in WW II.

    • RON LEWIS says:

      Paul Newman was a radio operator/rear turret gunner on the TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bomber (Torpedo Bomber, Grumman [F] or General Motors [M], not the SBD Dauntless Scout Dive-Bomber Douglas [D].

  6. VC Slim says:

    “The Right Stuff” probably could’ve bumped one of the selected best films. Though there is limited aviation shown in “The Longest Day” it has memorable performances by both men and machines.

  7. Bill Lester says:

    I’m rather surprised that “Men of the Fighting Lady” wasn’t included in the Best list. At least as good as “…Toko-ri,” it didn’t have nearly as much sappy stuff as the Bill Holden/Grace Kelly film. And while I agree Mickey Rooney was great in “…Toko-ri,” the rest of the supporting cast was much stronger in “Men of the Fighting Lady.”

  8. Mark says:

    I would have liked to have seen “Flight of the Phoenix” listed as one of the top 10 greatest. An aircraft down and damaged and then resurrected as a completely different plane. Focus on human endurance and survival. James Stewart as pilot.

  9. Joe Doc says:

    How about:

    “Fate is the Hunter” Rod Taylor and Glenn Ford, etc.
    A airline film with WWII and Cold War scenes, authored
    by Gann.

    Also many minor British and Canadian films, seldom seen as was that recent Polish film about Poles in the RAF.


    • IPW says:

      I saw ‘Fate is the Hunter’ when I was newly qualified as a military pilot and, over the years, saw many of the film’s events virtually mirrored by real life.

      A disturbing insight into risk in aviation. A film far ahead of its time and, to me and many colleages who saw it, an outstanding production.

      More than worth a place in the top 5.


  10. Miguel Agreda says:

    I think That “Battle of britain” presents the add interest that a lot of planes involved, were real ones, procedents from the Museums and fron some airforces, as the Spanish Airforce Buchon (C4k) frame of Me 109 G with rolls royce engine,…and he-111, that ha sbeen made by CAS with the original H-1 airfeame and the ever presents rolls -royce engines, some of the Spitfire and (Hurricane, too, I think) came from RAF museums, british and american enthusiast (Confederate air force), and I´ve read that the nimber of planes involved make this “phanton air-force” take a place before a lot of others national airforces of the day !!!.

    I love too, “Mephis belle”. and “The Red Baron”, “The Star of Africa” (a propaganda film on J. Marseille), and a Czech film named (in Spanish Un cielo azul oscuro ” – A dark blue, Sky-´

    Modern Combat: Top-Gun.
    Thanks to all of you


  11. Bill T. says:

    I’m a little surprised that “Final Countdown” wasn’t even mentioned. The dogfights between Zeroes and F-14s were at least interesting, if not terribly plausible…….. ;-)

  12. Al Schrader says:

    No “Tora! Tora! Tora!” ? Come on.
    And worst is not close. How in God’s name did you miss ” I Bombed Pearl Harbor” ? NOTHING repeat NOTHING comes close to this crap masterpiece! Wires showing on the wings….Revelle on the ships hull….Get with it. If you’re going to do an all-time, you cannot miss the super stinkers.

  13. ChrisM106 says:

    I was not surprised to see “Midway” on the worst list, but not including “Tora, Tora, Tora” in the Top 10? Clearly an oversight.

    Mixed feelings on “Top Gun”. Totally misrepresented what the school was about, unbelievable tactical developments, etc, but the planes were real, the cinematogfraphy great (if unrealistic) and it was just plain fun, if not total BS.

  14. Mike Hellyer says:

    Aren’t there 11 films in the “Best” list? Two #8s should mean no #9.

    I wish there was a place on the Best list for “Spirit of St. Louis” (previously mentioned), the story of Lindbergh’s remarkable first solo flight across the Atlantic — I mean, he flew just above the water line and with no front view, and accomplished something no one had done before, and the movie quality is very good. Also, my personal fave is missing: the entertaining classic,”Dawn Patrol.”

    And, I agree that “Pearl Harbor” had its problems, but the opening with the Japanese planes flying low across Hawaii on their approach to Pearl Harbor, I thought was chilling and very well done.

  15. Kathy Crouch says:

    I acutally like the ones in the worst list better than the originals but I am so not a fan of old black and white war movies or any of them. I am strictly a modern movie but much prefer the sci fi ones. I loved Close Encounters, the first Star Trek movie loved the original and all the sequels, along with the subsequent TV versions of it. Star Wars the first three are all I remember the others have only seen on TV not the same. I will admit I was born in 1952 so maybe there is a generational, male – female point of seeing the movies lol. My husband does love the old ones at least he will sit and watch them but not me. I’m hunting for something else to watch.

  16. Don Hines says:

    I have to strongly agree with the assessment of casting Alec Baldwin as Jimmy Doolittle. Having also been cast as William Barrett Travis in Thirteen Days To Glory I have to wonder just what Hollywood’s idea of a real hero is. It sure as heck isn’t the likes of Alec Baldwin. I was almost as offended by casting him as these two real heroes as I was at the casting of Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee. But I digress. The butcher’s job that they did on the Doolittle Raid in Pearl Harbor was unforgiveable. First of all they were all volunteers and it is ridiculous to even pretend that the two brave pilots that managed to get off the ground in their P-40s and shoot down some Japanese planes were involved in that raid, much less ordered to be. That notion totally detracts from the real fact that all 80 of those guys in that raid volunteered. None backed out when given the opportunity. And the firefight and hand-to-hand combat between the downed crew and the Japanese soldiers is as lousy an example of re-writing History as I have ever witnessed. Shame on the makers of that dog and cudos for including it in the worst, but believe me it should edge Top Gun out for the absolute worst.

  17. Dick Red says:

    Command Decision, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, and Flying Tigers, are three I would have listed.

  18. Dick Red says:

    One more thought – Would anyone recommend the short flim clip of the Flight of the Spruce Goose?

  19. peter sides says:

    just to prove the modern generation can outdo the old guys – ignoring Pearl Harbour (please everyone ignore pearl horbour)
    the latest WW1 offerings, Flyboys and Red Baron – truelly raise the bar on CRAP FILMs.
    If you ever get a chance to to watch them – don,t they are a truelly wased couple of hours of ones life.
    And if you know anything about the subject – they are painful.

    • Brian says:

      I agree that Flyboys was terrible, but didn’t think the Red Baron was too bad. Also check out ‘Von Richthofen and Brown’, another decent movie not mentioned in this discussion.

  20. Lance says:

    An all-time worst list that doesn’t have Flyboys in the top five isn’t a valid list.

    Decent group of actors and somebody ruined what could have been a great story. The plot was unbelievable and the actions scenes were some of the worst fx I’ve seen since The Toxic Avenger.

  21. Lance says:

    Forgot to add that I loved Malcolm McDowell’s Aces High. Not for the action sequences but for the drama and pressure aspects pilots in WWI obviously felt.

  22. Steve says:

    The B-17 flying sequences in The War Lover are certainly some of the best and should have been mentioned.

  23. roger Klingbeil says:

    My opinions somewhat match, reasons differ from experience.
    Nice to see the new are ‘abit more accurate,editors are still showing wrong aircraft. Is a hoot..
    Not so for what I want to tell grand kids about.
    Should I just call it entertainment?

  24. Henry Hoffmann says:

    I don’t see “Chain Lightning” on the worst aviation movie list. This turkey starred Humphry Bogart. as a jet pilot, whose plane engine flamed out. However he makes a dead-stick landing. As far as i’m concerned, the best review of this film was the four-word statement in a UCLA student paper: “Somebody pull the chain.” What a waste of outstanding talent.

  25. Mitch Kornfeld says:

    I know it’s hard to whittle down a list to just ten but what about “The Spirit of St. Louis”? I have always enjoyed it lo these fifty years, and every time it comes on late at night I end up watching it to the end.

  26. Steve Pody says:

    Agree with “Fate Is The Hunter” as essential to understanding the spirit of the historical “God is my co-pilot” phase of flying (up to the 1950’s) when instruments and support systems were still rudimentary (relative to today), and people needed guts, a wing and a prayer – and good luck. Better than June Alyson is Glynis Johns in “No Highway In The Sky” with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. How many of us oldsters first learned about metal fatigue and points of no return from that movie and the interesting fantasy aircraft, the Reindeer? Don’t forget that nice Ju 52 in “Where Eagles Dare”…

  27. Larry W. says:

    Strategic Air Command should be on your WORST list !! I went to it with high hopes, but It was poor acting, a nothing plot, and I thought at the time just a propaganda film for the Strategic Air Command–and still think so. And yes Tora Tora Tora was enough of an “aviation” movie to have been high on your Best list–it was great–and factional as was Midway but for the silly love story.

  28. roger klingbeil says:

    Thanks for this, reminds me to go find what I never got to see or knew about.

  29. Bill Thomson says:

    I have to mention the movie “the Hunters” with Robert Mitchum. Lots of great F86 shots plus some F84 bad guys. Hokey story line especially the later half but the flying is fine. Pity they did not follow Salter’s book more but guess that was a tad more depressing in the end. A Top Ten list, good or bad, is always fun as there are lots of movies that could have been included…gets you thinking..lots of fans out there.

    • krb says:

      The Hunters tops my list as one of the all the all time greats…

    • Lyle F. Padilla says:

      I always thought that if they wanted to follow Salter’s book more closely but not have a depressing ending, they could just end it with Cleve returning after killing Casey Jones, and his wingman getting killed crashing in the overrun after running out of fuel, and Cleve giving his dead wingman the credit for the kill just to spite Pell. They could just leave out the part where Cleve dies in a later mission at the end.

  30. Ted Deacon says:

    Tsk Tsk! How could you have possibly overlooked for the Best Ten my all time favorite WWI air combat movie, “The Dawn Patrol”, starring those heroic men of steel Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and David Niven? I still watch it for the umpteenth time whenever it comes back on TV, even when it’s scheduled to show again at 2:30 a.m.

  31. AFP says:

    Re: Jimmy Stewart in Strategic Air Command

    There’s a good reason that Jimmy Stewart would seem at home in an Air Force bomber’s cockpit. He served in the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve as a bomber piilot for 27 years, from WWII to the Vietnam War, retiring as a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve.

  32. Eric Couch says:

    I watched “Battle of Britain” on TV the other day. Problem is, the tv guide I-D’d it as the similarly named “the Battle of Britain”, filmed in 1943. It took a while before I figured it out, I couldn’t beleive they were destroying actual flight-worthy aircraft at the height of WWII.

  33. Robert Mackenzie says:

    Some other great aviation movies not mentioned: Fighter Squadron with Robert Stack, Winged Victory with Edmund O’Brien and The McConnell Story with Alan Ladd.
    In an interview Paul Newman described his WWII role as “a back-man on a torpedo bomber”. Charles Bronson was a gunner on a B 29 and Jack Palance got his sinister face from injuries suffered in a B 24 crash.
    I believe George Peppard was also a pilot and did some of his own flying in the Blue Max (though not the under-the-bridge scenes). The scenes where he loops the doomed “mono-plane” have lighting and shadows that would be impossible to fake.

  34. Mike Mullikin says:

    I agree with many-“Tora, Tora, Tora” should be on anyone’s “best” list. When speaking of awful, how could you overlook “Flyboys?”

  35. Ron G says:

    Interesting article and basically I agree with the ratings of these movies. There was one off the list, however, that had some really good F14 Tomcat flying scenes, and carrier scenes, called The Final Countdown, with Kirk Douglas.

  36. Robert says:

    Can anyone name the Robert Mitchum movie about Koran War jet action…I think also “A Gathering of Eagles” should be on one of the list.
    By the by, the comment about Tom Cruise needing a pillow…I have never met a fighter pilot over average height (5’8″) most were two or three inches below.

    • renee carrier says:

      “One Minute to Zero.” My father was Air Force technical advisor for this film. S. Paul Latiolais. I was looking for this film on this list. Thanks!

      • Lyle F. Padilla says:

        Korean War jet action with Robert Mitchum can only mean THE HUNTERS (1958). ONE MINUTE TO ZERO was also Korean War and also starred Mitchum and Richard Egan, but they played Army infantry officers rather than fighter jocks.

    • Chronic says:

      I’m 5’10”. It’s is true that you’ve never met me. But all the fighter pilots I work with are taller than Tom Cruise, a few are so tall they have to slouch to meet the ejection seat requirements.

    • Cowcharge says:

      My dad flew Hellcats at 6′. He said he could barely fit in a Spitfire.

  37. Adam Bahm says:

    Best All-time Aviation Movie??? That’s easy — The Rocketeer! It had it all…real flying replicas from the Golden Age of Air Racing, an autogyro, a dirigible, cool cars, big band music, good looking babes, a guy with a jet-pack and plenty of good old hollywood hokum to keep you entertained.

    The Gee Bee Model Z, used in the Rocketeer, can be seen at Kermit Weeks’ place in Florida. I believe Weeks also has Delmar Benjamin’s R-1.

    The Great Waldo Pepper comes in second in my book.

  38. Karel Polanský says:

    I do n’t understand why such a fine movie like “High Aces” was not involved into Top 10 Best aviation movies ever produced. I suppose it’ is better than “Blue Max”.

  39. Karel Polanský says:

    I’m sorry that I missed in the “Top Best” the movie that I suppose is one of the best about WWI. This is “High Aces” with the excellent performance of Mc Dowel.

  40. Lee J says:

    Movies that I like that were omitted: Flight of The Intruder, Bat 21, Air America, Flyboys, The Great Santini, Blackhawk Down.

  41. Robert Scott says:

    For my money, the all-time worst aviation film is “God is My Co-Pilot,” based on the book by my namesake Robert Scott. The book is excellent, but the movie was made in a hurry and intended to be a propaganda device. Really awful scenes of dogfights between Zero’s and P-40s (which the Americans avoided as a rule,) and enemy pilots conversing with each other over their radios using corny, absurd phrases like “Now you die, Yankee dog!” Good grief.
    Am I the only person on the planet that enjoyed “Flyboys?” I loved the digital aerial scenes and the spectacular camera work enough to tolerate some of the more silly stuff. I did my homework. There was a black guy in the real group and there were a couple of pet lions on the scene as well.

  42. Phil Wotring says:

    I thought the War Lover was good. I know the plot line was weak and it was more of a love story but I would put in my top ten for the B-17 fottage. My favorite line from movie was “the trouble with you Bolin is that you don’t know how to relax” (in context anyway). Top Gun was silly and “feel good” but I’ve know some fighter pilots were just like Maverick. Not all movies are meant to be documentaries. I also liked Memphis Belle. It intrigued me the youth and leadership expectations of the young Caption. What a position to be put in at that young age.

  43. John says:

    just glad this is your opinion and nothing more

  44. Bill Sander says:

    What impressed me most about Wings (no. 3) was the holding back of showing the actual flying aircraft. There was a lot of buildup with shadows and actors looking up, including the fatal crash of then bit-player Gary Cooper.
    When the heroes finally lift off from the airfield it feels like you too are lifted into the air.

  45. Pete Nofel says:

    The worst aviation film ever was “Starfighters.”

    As much as I love the F-104, I had to put a gun to my head to get through this piece of “stuff,”

  46. says:

    I would like to know what you think of Dark Blue World.
    It is one of my favourites together with Dam Busters and Battle of Britain. Don’t know why many like Blue Max though. Found the ground scenes when they fly over trenches and shelled houses so staged.
    Agree on Top Gun. You couldn’t find any cornier than that. Apart from Pearl Harbor. But thank God we got Tora, Tora, Tora.

  47. Andrew Rossano says:

    Midway is just flat out an irritating retelling of a truely amazing war story. For me the actual battle of Midway is equal to Waterloo and Gettysburg. With so much history to recount why waste time with the love story? And where did the Navy suddenly get all those Corsairs in1942? I also can’t bear the script of the movie Dive Bomber, but the fact that it was being filmed just as the Navy was changing its airplanes’ colors is facinating. In one scene, as Paul Mantz is stunting his trusty Tavelair over the field, you can see on the ground by the hangers a number of PBYs in the process of being repainted; some with yellow wings, others with non-spectral blue/green. Some of the Devastators in the movie still have the colorful 1930s markings, and others have been painted in the international neutrality warm gray. The opening frames during the introduction show Devastators from the Yorktown, flying in echelon, probably in the spring of 1941. All but two of those planes would be destroyed less than a year and a half later at Midway and the survivors would be badly mauled. The aircraft carrier in the film is the actual Enterprize. A great movie for historians; just turn down the volume and get ready to hit the pause and zoom buttons. This film is packed with stuff that the loud, stupid dialog detracts from. (Schneider test, indeed!)

    The Great Waldo Pepper ranks very high with me. It accurately recounts much of the inaccurate mythology of WW I aviation and post war barnstorming. It reminds me of when I first became interested in aviation and started reading everything I could find about the old bi-planes and pilots (I am very sentimental about Ernst Udet). The little boy, Scooter, could easily have been me. I’v spent a lifetime since then, sorting out the facts from fiction. I wish I could find a DVD copy, I’m worried about my VHS tape getting old.

    What about documentaries? Do documentaries count in your critique? The ones about the P-47s in Italy and The Memphis Belle really get me going. The first time I saw those “Jugs” coming at me in P-47 I went out and bought a bigger TV set. And listen to the “Belle’s” engines speed up after she drops her bombs and heads for home. Most compelling. Way better than most fictionalized warstories.

    • Don says:

      If you like seeing P-47’s in action, check out my film “The Thundering 8th”.

      Terrific blog

  48. No NIMBYs says:

    I will tell you about two of the WORST AVIATOR-HATER POLITICIANS running for office in California.

    There have been hundreds of airports that have been closed in this country due to self centered NIMBY politicians. Unless, there are consequences for their actions, their assaults on aviation will continue. Pilots and aviation professionals must fight back at the ballot box and make airport killing hazardous to political careers.

    In California, there are not one, but TWO aviator-hater NIMBYs running for statewide office. First, would be Senator Barbara Boxer who started her 34 year political career as a Marin County Supervisor leading the fight to kill civilian aviation re-use at the former Hamilton Air Force Base. Today, the runways have been turned into Boxer Swamp and have received over $220 million in federal and state taxdollars to make this happen.

    Next, would be Mimi Walters who is running for California State Treasurer. She was the CHAIR of a 10 city NIMBY coalition in South Orange County that killed aviation re-use at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The “Great Park” which replaced the airport was promised to be tax-free. It is not. In fact, Barbara Boxer has given federal earmarks to the so called “Great Park” and has put in requests for another earmark for Fiscal Year 2011.

    I urge California voters to vote for anyone but Boxer and Walters and make examples out of them being defeated. For more extensive detail about them, please see

  49. Carlos says:

    Some overlooked movies:

    Fighter Command (1948) : a real sleeper with P-47 (yes,real P-47s) and P-51s as the Bf-109s.
    The Hunters: great F-86 action with F-84F s masquerading as Migs
    The Sea Shall Not Have them: Great British ASR movie
    Catch 22: best B-25 takeoff scene
    Dawn Patrol-Classic WWI film

    • Lyle F. Padilla says:

      You mean FIGHTER SQUADRON rather than FIGHTER COMMAND. My problem with it is that everything that the P-47s did in that movie was done in real life by P-51s: the first fighter-escorted daylight raid to Berlin, a wingman landing in a meadow in German territory to pick up his downed leader (that happened at least twice, both with P-51s!). Making this movie with P-51s playing Bf-109s is the equivalent of making TO HELL AND BACK with Neville Brand (a decorated World War II hero in his own right but an older, larger and homelier man) playing Audie Murphy, and then making Audie Murphy play a German!

  50. h11ywood says:

    In the comments I’ve read so far, I can’t believe no one has called this guy on his BS. Every one of his picks are from the golden age of film. Your first clue to his obvious prejudices came in “Rationale” number 1 “Taking into consideration when the movie was made” and 6 “Making sure it deals with World War I (just kidding, maybe).” Do you get the impression that he is nostalgic and biased yet?

    Picking “…Magnificent Men…” as the best aviation movie of all time is either a joke or insanity. That movie wasnt even original when it came out. Everyone was making race movies and this one didnt even stand out among them. Now if you picked it based solely on the aircraft then MAYBE it deserves mention for variety. It was decent as an aviation film, no where near the best.

    He suggest in “rationale number 3” that he would overlook mushy story lines then he knocks Top Gun for being too cocky. Apparently he doesn’t know much about fighter pilots. “The difference between god and a fighter pilot is, god knows he’s not a fighter pilot.” I have dozens of quotes from pilots of every era to prove cocky is not an exception, it’s the rule.

    Dark Blue World is in my opinion one of the best Aviation movies ever made. Along with “The Aviator.” My only beef with Pearl Harbor is there was not enough action in the air aside from the same old recreation of the attack that we’ve seen too many times and the abundance of mush.

    Memphis Belle was a decent all around film as well. Another film made in Europe deserves a bit of credit is “The Red Baron.” All of these films had good stories, plots, and dialog in spite of any mush included for commercial reasons, and so as a whole deserve credit.

    I havent seen all of the films on this list, but from what I’ve seen, not a single one of these films is deserving of an Oscar by todays standards for acting or screenplay. And most are barely original even during their own era.

    Fly Boys was far more entertaining to watch than any classic aviation film I’ve ever watched. Both for story and action and I didn’t even like it that much! How could you even compare flying scenes from the 20s to CGI that puts you in places that even today can’t be filmed any other way.

    So what is the real criteria here? Rationale number 4 suggest that story is the most important to this guy. Well, all of the films I and others suggested have great stories. They may not have been well written or acted movies, but the stories (the plots) are great.

    Obviously the criteria doesnt stand firmly at aerial action, involvement, or realism, or Top Gun would surely be there and many of those classics wouldn’t. Unless you are judging by their commercial success relative to their respective eras. Then only maybe.

    Everything about Top Gun screamed airplanes, adventure, and piloting. Yes it was “Hollywood’ish” but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be the worst aviation movie of all time based on ANY criteria. In fact, a movie that instantly raised Naval and Air Force enlistment rates 300% shouldn’t even be close to the “worst” list. It had a GREAT story and is the epitome of an aviation film. Oh and it’s NOT my favorite!

    I take exception to this assumption that classic movies are better than todays. Even within the VERY BEST of them, the acting was often absurd, the action was often weak and ridiculously fake and the only reason I have to watch them now is because I’m also a bit nostalgic. What I am not is, biased!

  51. Robert says:

    633 squadron ranked #8 doesn’t get a single comment? And Thirty Seconds over Tokyo deserves to be watched in every history class in the USA.
    Enjoyed the “History of Flight” in IMAX a few years ago also..

  52. Ned says:

    No Porco Rosso??

  53. Richard S. Donnelly says:

    What happened to “The Spirit of St. Louis” with Jimmy Stewart?
    What happened to “The Aviator” with Leonardo DeCaprio?

    Both aviation movies about aviators.

  54. Peter Henderson, USAF ret. says:

    I am visiting your website, reading this article, and seeing these comments for the first time (Dec 2010). Walter Boyne is probably the world’s greatest authority on aviation history (IMHO) – the contributions he has made are too numerous to mention. His listing, as stated at the beginning, was from his personal taste and it doesn’t make sense to critique that, as so many of your writers decided to do. The article was informative and enlightening as so much of Mr. Boyne’s material is. I have to comment on “12 O”Clock High” (which none of the readers mentioned). Mr. Boyne probably knows that this film was in fact used as a leadership training film by the USAF’s Squadron Officer School for a long time (from the 50’s well into the 70’s) until the students couldn’t take B&W movies and old prop bombers any longer. I was one of the instructors fortunate to have the assignment of keeping the reading material associated with the film updated, and providing teaching commentary for the students. My favorite part of the movie was Gregory Peck’s assignment of screw-ups to the Leper Colony crew of screw-ups, and his commentary that went with it (paraphrased): The Leper Colony gets every navigator who can’t find his way to the men’s room, and every bombardier who can’t hit his plate with his fork. The point was to force the leader of that crew to take responsibility for training and leadership. Did it really happen that way? Doubtful, but that was a classic scene and one that has been repeated in crew briefings not just a few times since. But the movie did accurately portray the daylight bombing dilemma faced by the under-manned and under-planed early WW2 B-17 units working out of Britain, and unfortunately, the horrible price paid by the men who flew those sorties time after time, in the face of pretty bad odds. Thanks to Mr. Boyne for recognizing the true grit of that great film.

  55. Robert Guttman says:

    I’m surprised nobody even considered “The Flight of the Phoenix” (the original, not the CGI remake) and “The Spirit of Saint Louis” for inclusion amongst the ten best airplane movies. Apparently the only airplane movies deemed worthy of consideration were those involved with MILITARY flying.

    The original F of the P included an excellent cast and was very well done, no mean feat considering the highly technical aspect of much of the story (the rebuilding of the wreck of a crashed airplane). As for S of St. L, that has to deserve mention for the outstanding job Billy Wilder did of keeping a movie interesting that took place almost entirely inside the cockpit of a small, single-seat airplane – surely no mean feat of film making!

  56. John says:

    worst – snakes on a plane

  57. brad says:

    What about Memphis belle (1990) with john lithgow and Matthew modine that movie is AMAZING! Tora tora tora is great too…

  58. Larry Fritz says:

    Hasn’t any one here seen the third Jimmy Stewart movie ? Before
    Strategic Air Command and Flight Of The Phoenix there was one with
    Marlene Dietrich ! ! ( as a movie actress ),,,Glynis Johns (from The Battle Of Britton ), as an air line stewardess ,,and Jack Hawkins (The Bridge ) as a batman ( flunky). The best part was when the whole tail of this real ugly plane gets in the act . It gives new meaning to the word psychic as it was made shortly before the Commet / deHavilland crashes.

  59. Larry Fritz says:

    I left the title out,,,it is ” No Highway In The Sky” ( 1951 ),,sorry

  60. Satan says:

    How is starting with knocking Tom Cruise’s height the foundation for a rational stance? This list is just a basis for promoting older and weathered movies which, while probably are more historically accurate, are boring to all but people primarily interested in history.

  61. Kyle says:

    So pretty much you hate anything new and you like a bunch of old crappy acted movies. This was a waste of a review for someone looking to waste your time on movies made in and age of just horrible, unrealistic acting and even worse quality of footage. I know for it’s time is must have been really good, I understand your qualms with Top Gun but at the same time it is a movie and a story, take it for what you will it did much better then any of the movies on your “BEST” list, and thats because it was interesting…

  62. dave says:

    Basically, what you are saying is: “If the movie was made after 1970, it is terrible.” Your list made for some wonderful comic relief. I am a little stunned after reading that you are actually serious. You obviously know nothing about anything and have wasted 10 minutes of my time. Having said that, I am surfing your page at 1am so, maybe I am a loser too, haha.

  63. Dave lyons says:

    Sorry, but I must disagree with this list.

    According to the top 10 all the good movies were made prior to 1970 an nothing good has been made since then. I love all things aviation and am actually a pilot. That said, I’m 45 and younger than most of the movies in the top 10 list.

    I have no interest in most of the top 10 movies. This is 2011 and I can’t even stomach the thought of watching black and white, silent movies, on my plasma with 5.1 surround sound. The only exception is Hells Angels because I like Howard Hughes.

    I don’t think Memphis Belle belongs in the worst 10, I enjoyed that movie. I think the Aviator belongs in the top 10 as well.

    Top Gun? Yes it’s cheesy, but it’s classically cheesy like everything else from the 80’s. What aviation buff hasn’t watched it and enjoyed it? As cheesy as this movie was, I’m not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed it and will watch again on some rainy day or when I stay home sick.

    IMHO, this list is completely wrong for anyone my age or even younger than my father. Maybe this list should be the 10 most historic aviation movies.

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents.

    David Lyons

  64. Johnnie Roper says:

    I was a small boy, (Just four years and one month old.) when the Battle of Britain officially began on July 10th. 1940. I can remember standing with my Dad in our back garden, and watching the vapor trails in the sky overhead. I never saw a German plane shot down. They were so high in the sky, they just looked like specks. When the wind veered, one could occsionally hear the, “Ripping Calico,” sound of the machineguns. One machine gun may sound like, “:rat-at-at,” but not eight of them all at once!
    At a fund raising event, in the suburb of Ealing, where I lived with my parents and elder sister, some R.A.F. Personnel had a ME 109 Emil on display. A Flight Sergeant lifted me into the cockpit of this plane. All I can remember was that the panel was lots of holes with what looked like pipes sticking out. I now realise of course, that all the instrumens had been removed so that the Boffins could check them out! Even when I stood up in the seat of the 109, I still could not see a thing!
    The Battle of Britain only lasted for 113 days! (Officially!) During that time those UNBELIEVABLE young men faced exhaustion, fear, and almost unbelievable odds, to pull Britains Chestnuts out of the fire. They were truly heroes, but none would have considered themselves so at the time. Names have gone down in History, Sailor Malan, The Dundas Brothers, Ginger Lacey, Air Vice Marshal Park, Sir Hugh Dowding, and the remarkable airplanes, The Hawker Hurricane, and the immortal Supermarine Spitfire! The Hurricane shoot down more enemy aircraft than the Spitfire, but wasnot quite as fast. Both could turn inside an ME 109, but the Hurricane was a more stable gun platform, and the fact that its four machineguns in each wing were grouped much closer together, made the delivery of the fire more devastating to the enemy plane. I have written accounts of Polish Pilots who squirted a ME 109 with less than a one second burst, and were delighted to see the canopy fly off, together with chunks of the engine cowling, then see the aircraft enveloped in flame, and fall onto the Thames Estury, in several burning pieces by the time it hit the water!
    As a WW II Airplane enthusiast, I ws disappointed to see the “Wrong,” shape of the ME 109’s depiceted in that movie! The Rolls Royce Merlin gave the thing a completely different, “LOOK!” Douglas Bader was supposed to have expressed disgust when he saw the Spanish Messerschmitts assembled at Duxford for the making of the movie. “This is all wrong,” he is supposed to have said, “We should have shot the Bastards down before they had a chance to land!” Bader could be incredibly rude sometimes! At a post war gathering of both R.A.F, and Ex-Luftwaffe pilots in Germany somewhere, he is supposed to have looked at the crowd of German Pilots in amazement, then said, “My God! I didn’t think we left this many of the Bastards alive?”
    I watch any and all WW II movies that deal with flying! I do not have a TV that works, and as I live on Social Security and food stamps, I cannot afford to get the type of TV supplier, that would enable me to watch the History and Military channels. I also need something to be fitted into my computer so that I can take advantage of the many movies that are available on-line! That too costs money! I am grateful for forums like this, where I can see the views of other aviation fans, and get a chance to make my own feelings known as well. I live in Phoenix,Arizona now, and fly W II combat with a Microsoft game. My Boyhood Dream of flyiing a Spitfire & Huricane, and shooting down Messerschmitts has finaly come true……….About sixty years on!
    I am now 75 years young, and my Dad was a WW I veteran, who lost a leg at the Battle of the Somme on July 1st. 1916! He was forty years old when I was born in June, 1936. So I have tales to tell of both world wars! I would like to pass them onto anyone who would like to record them for Posterity! So if anyone is TRULY interested in either my Father’s story, or mine, I would love to tell the tale before it is too late, and I solve the final mystery that life has to offer! Best wishes to all those who fly…In real planes or in Cyberspace!
    Sincerely, Johnnie Roper.

    • Ben Defensor says:

      Hi Johnnie:

      I was born during WWII, and flew privately and then in the USAF, including a year in Vietnam. Your story sounds very interesting to an (aviation) history buff like me.

      If you would be interested in putting your story on audio tape, let me know by return email. I’ll be glad to try and help.


  65. Flying Mike says:

    Add: Flying Tigers, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, Test Pilot, and Great Santini (with three cameo nominations – chopper scene in Apocalypse Now, the last scene in Casablanca where the engine sound is piercingly dramatic and perfectly timed, and the final battle scene in Saving Private Ryan where the fighters are filmed magnificently)

    I agree with Dick that 30 Seconds over Tokyo (although it loses steam after they literally hit the Chinese coast) belongs on the list, along with Flying Tigers (the pattern for many fighter pilot movies).

    The actors in Test Pilot, especially Tracy’s characters pull off the script, and Robert Duvall, the finest actor ever, make Great Santini so real and special.

    I cannot wait to see RED TAILS, the Lucas film about the Tuskegee Airmen – an hour of battle scenes and an hour of dramatic story coming out in January.

  66. shawn S says:

    I disagree with the whole list i think you got your best and wost mixed up

  67. Bart says:

    You can say what you want, but i think it’s plain stupid to put topgun on the worst aviation movies ever. Top gun did what it was intented for, to get new pilots for the navy.
    I really loved the movie, and i’ve probably seen it 20 times. Perfect
    soundtrack too. How could you ever dislike this movie ??

  68. Cyrus says:

    Suprised nobody has mentioned Bat 21 with Danny Glover and Gene Hackman.

  69. MP says:

    Red Tails – January 20, 2012 release WILL BE TOP TEN!!!

  70. krb says:

    Pretty hard to pick top ten in either category…made a few comments on other posts…Some personal favorites include ‘The Hunters’…’Spirit of St. Louis’…’12 O’clock High’…’Battle of Britain’…’Midway…in spite of the love story connections’…’Bridges at Toko Ri…Mickey Roonies best acting roll in my opinion’…and believe it not ‘Pearl Harbor’ Thought it was a believable story placed into context of world changing events…’The Right Stuff’…’30 Seconds over Tokyo’…’Blue Max…great WWI flying story…hated the love story connections.

  71. emy says:

    The Tuskegee Airmen 1995, not ?…

  72. WW2 Enthusiast says:

    Battle of Midway is an epic film, capturing the turning point of the great World War. To discredit the movie by complaining about the aircraft changes is quite unrealistic on your part. The quantity and quality of flying Zeros, Kates, and Vals leaves it impossible to show real ones in the film. One must look past small things and enjoy the movie for what it is.

  73. Erwann says:

    How about the very recent French movie called : Les Chevalliers du ciel
    the plot is simple but the flying scenes are amazing!

  74. ankit says:

    Agree with the other ratings but, I think pearl Harbor was a fantastic

  75. Chuck says:

    I to found this list very interesting. My friends and I call lists like this arguing lists. What I do not understand is the love affair people have with 12 o’clock high. I do like some black and white movies but I just do not get the appeal of this movie but then I do not get the warm fuzzy feeling many people do over Citizen Kane either.

  76. Graham Strong says:

    Although not the top of anyone’s list, one of my campy favourites is “The Great Waldo Pepper”.

    • Harley W. says:

      When I came across a DVD copy of “The Great Waldo Pepper” in a pawn shop I snapped it up. It has some great flying in it. A bonus was when I found out that the late Art Scholl (died doing filming of an inverted flat spin for movie “Top Gun”) did a lot of the aerial sequences. I saw him perform at Payne Field Airshow in Everett in July 85′ and he was a great performer and great showman.

  77. Daniel Roy says:

    I’ve got a movie that top the list for the worst ww2 aviation in film. Sci-Fi channel’s 2007 Reign of the Gargoyles. All the B-17Gs were CGI and the plot involved a B-17 called The Grey Ghost taking on a bunch of Nazi Gargoyles. Plus any B-17 enthusiast would have a ball pointing out all the historical and technical inaccuracies involved with the B-17’s interior. And is that a modern Jeep I see driving around the airfield? But hey, it is the Sci-Fi channel. Not too much I can complain about.
    I thought 1990’s Memphis Belle and 2004’s Flight of the Phoenix were good films, for the plane if nothing else. Man I’ve got to go to Blockbuster and rent the 1965 version of Flight of the Phoenix. Can’t believe I haven’t seen it yet.

  78. John says:

    First off, coming from an instrument rated pilot, training for his commercial, I can say that top gun was my favorite movie of all time, and many of my other friends who are also pilots were inspired by top gun at a young age to attract them to aviation. Many of today’s real life pilots, both military and civilian love top gun. It inspired some of the smartest people in the world to devote their lives to aviation 25 years ago and continues to do so today.

  79. MikeG-WestLA says:

    All the complainers here are revealing their ignorance regarding
    the distinguished career of Walter J. Boyne.

    The level of hateful commentary and arrogant attitudes reveals
    a great deal about your lack of intelligence and cinematic ignorance.

    His list accurately reflects what he feels about the films he has seen.

    It should be respected as one man’s opinion, and suggestions for
    missed titles or disputed ratings should be stimulus for thoughtful
    commentary instead of rabid flaming and insults.

    The broader goal of this kind of list is to spread awareness and
    understand of what films are out there to be seen, and which titles
    are meaningful to various individuals, and for what reasons.

    It should be kept in mind that older films more accurately reflect
    the values of an earlier time, and though they may not feel realistic enough to younger viewers, the feelings they work to convey are still valid to people who lived that history.

  80. Elvis says:

    To list Top Gun as the number 1 worst movie requires you to reevaluate your opinion and obvious bias.Top Gun was in a class by itself. I was spell bound when I first watch this movie back in the day. It was only days ago that I watched again after 20 years and it is still a very impressive movie. Like all movies the plots are basically the same just the scences are different. These days good movies are a rarity hence the reason why Stan lee comic heroes (Iron man, Spiderman, Thor etc) are now a breath of fresh air in movie making.

  81. John Seward says:

    I find it amusing that so many people react as if this list is the final and concrete arbiter of ‘aviation’ based movies, when in fact it is NOT. It’s one man’s opinion. Walter Boyne knows far more about aviation and aviation history than most of us could ever hope to know. I value his commentary, and his opinions highly. Do I agree/disagree with his choices? Sure, but for different reasons. I have sentimental favorites, and that drives some of MY choices. Most of the time I look for 1.) Authenticity, and 2) Historical context. Those who love “Pearl Harbor” don’t know how reviled that movie is with aviation or military history buffs or actual Pearl Harbor veterans. STUDY the attack on Pearl Harbor, and you’ll come away with different feelings. Bruckhiemer/Bay deserve a tar and feathering for that abomination. Likewise the producers of “Midway” for their hamfisted editing. But hey——–Surroundsound, y’know. Who cares what’s historically accurate when we can rock the theater with explosions.
    Anyhow, it’s quite disingenuous to attack Col. Boyne for his opinion, as some here have done.

  82. GoosesGhost says:

    TOP GUN is a beautiful movie. The footage is simply breathtaking and it does help that the F14 is a beautiful aircraft.
    You have action, drama, airplanes, bikes, aircraft carriers, volleyball, chiseled abs, tacky love story… What’s not to love?

    HotShots better than TOPGUN? Apples and oranges as far as I’m concerned.

    TOPGUN is plain and simply an *action* movie featuring aircrafts everything else is pretty much just an excuse to put those birds in the sky and it’s the only movie to have done so so beautifully since and ever.

    I don’t even remember how I got in this blog in the first place but now, for some reason, I feel the need for speed.
    Guess what I’m going to watch this afternoon LOL

  83. GoosesGhost says:

    Well, giving a better look at your criterion for rating the movies I can see how TOPGUN got its place (point #4 lol)

    Still… BEST MOVIE EVA (if all you want is to watch the better action sequences ever put to film regarding modern fighter aircraft).

  84. dave says:

    Battle of Britain is fantastic, I love it. Wonderful authentic feel to it, unbelievable cast and it’s Britain honoring it’s beloved and deserving heroes. Where’s Aviator though? Scorsese and several well done scenes with a great variety of historically significant planes and a great score for each. It’s one of my favorites of any type of film. I also enjoyed The Red Baron.

  85. ShortPilot says:

    “While it will offend many, my first choice for worst aviation film ever is Top Gun, starring the man who needed the biggest pillow available to reach the controls, Tom Cruise”

    Funny how you make fun of characteristic which helps tolerate blackouts caused by G force… if you only knew any better….

  86. John T says:

    Imax film “To Fly!”

  87. Harold Callahan says:

    Only the great Clint Eastwood could find himself in 2 of your worst 10 aviation films of all time…

  88. Harley W. says:

    At least reviewing this has reminded me of other aviation movies that I have seen, but been so long ago I’d forgotten some of them; and has reminded me that there are some I would still like to see, such as the “Star Of Africa” about Hans Marsielle. My father got his Naval Aviator wings at the end of WW2 but didn’t see combat. His love of aircraft was passed on to me, So thanks for all the info and comments.

  89. Rex B says:

    Geez, I feel the need to give mention to “Empire of the Sun.”

    Also, it might have been a made for tv movie some time ago, but the escape from Stalag Luft 3 by a “home built” glider off the roof of the old castle was amazing and a riveting tribute to the gift of flight. Wish I could remember the exact title, sorry.

    • Rex B says:

      Turns out the movie I had seen was a fictionalized version of the “Colditz Cock”- a glider that was almost completed but never flown from Colditz Castle by some British POWs. The 1971 film “The Birdmen” has the glider escape from the castle. But in real life, the camp was liberated before they got around to flying it. A glider was recreated and flown in a documentary and videos of that flight are easy to find.

  90. Seth Marshall says:

    With respect to Mr. Boyne, I have to disagree with putting Memphis Belle on the worst list. Sure, it has no resemblance to the actual story. While that would normally bother me, the movie did a good job at representing the kind of life that bomber crews experienced- plus, the plot really wasn’t too bad. I would say if a movie about a historical event isn’t go for complete accuracy, it should at least capture the essence of life at that time (while not sacrificing the plot). Also, I have to say leaving out The Right Stuff is saddening- I would easily consider that the greatest aviation film made. Again, not completely historically accurate, but still had several correct plot points, it did a magnificent job capturing the mystique of test flying- an all around great movie. As one last point, having seen Red Tails, I would like to nominate that as the worst aviation film ever made- I never thought I’d see a movie that rivaled Pearl Harbor in sheer terribleness, but Red Tails is a truly appalling movie that is unbelievably phony- better dialogue could have been written by a four-year old.

  91. Seth Marshall says:

    I forgot one more film that should be mentioned- 30 Seconds Over Tokyo should make the “Best” list.

  92. DIventox says:

    The top 10 are old movies, the worst 10 are recent movies…

  93. Paul says:

    Did anyone mention The Hunters (1958)? With Robert Mitchum, May Britt, Robert Wagner, and vintage 1950s fighters.

  94. Sam Orjoux says:

    Just sat through 120 minutes of “interceptor” for you. It is BS! The “F117” is a lame static display, and the C-5 is nowhere near authentic. BSBSBSBS

  95. Mravac Kid says:

    Considering that Memphis Belle is the best aircraft movie of the last 30 or so years, it’s nigh on an outrage to see it listed on the 10 worst list… I don’t know if they portrayed the real crew exactly, as I haven’t seen the documentary, but the acting, the scenes, the story… it all fit very nicely in a great telling of a bomber crew’s mission over Berlin. You are free to not consider it as a 10 best option, there are some true masterpieces that deserve the place before it, but 10 worst? Not even remotely close.

  96. Mravac Kid says:

    Oh, and I have a suggestion for the best list… or at least every aircraft afficionado’s “to watch” list.
    Even though it’s completely computer-made (using, in fact, the game “Il-2 Sturmovik” as the medium), “Faith Hope and Charity” is a fantastic little movie about the three Gladiators that defended Malta in the early months of WWII. And it’s available for free online…

  97. CLV says:

    What about Flyboys? I’m not sure how historically acurate the flying and planes were in the film, but the storyline was very entertaining.

  98. Rob Miller says:

    Flyboys SHOULD have been great . What a wasted effort . Very sad because it had such potential and is certainly worth watching for a lot of reasons but is not a good picture unfortunately . Same goes for Red Baron .The dog fights are great anyway. Any who …where the @#$% is the REAL list ? Not in order but here are the greats …

    High Road to China , The Blue Max , Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines , The Spirit of St. Louis , 30 Seconds over Tokyo , The Great Waldo Pepper , The Battle of Britian , The Right Stuff , Air America ,

    Not in the list but they deserve respectful mention … Amelia and The Aviator .

    Top Gun is not a movie that I personally like but it is far from the worst aviation movie and doesn’t deserve to be the worst at all . After listening to Bob Hoover , Chuck Yeager and Tex Hill speak at Oshkosh we all sat back and watched Top Gun and everyone dug it .

    One fella mentioned \ Flying Tigers \ LOL Funny , as a Flying Tigers fanatic I watched that movie over and over as a kid and you should have heard R.T. Smith and Paul Greene rip that movie apart . It is a horrible movie for sure . God is my co-pilot ain’t as bad and is worth watching …once … but all the tigers I met were waiting for the sequal … They called it \ Christ is my Crew Chief \ LOL I thought that was pretty good from them :)

    There are lot of other movies with great moments of flight but are not aviation movies . Like the flying scenes in \Out of Africa \ and \Apocalypse Now\. Awesome .

  99. Rob Miller says:

    Awh ! I forgot \ Dawn Patrol \ ! If they had used the N28 exclusively it would be in the top 5 . Great movie !

  100. matt says:

    TOP GUN does not belong to worst films , and who cares about your pillow issue, the film supposed to be a disaster which became a hit and it is a hit! well done yes you offended many.

  101. Alan G. says:

    I just realized that the father of all flying movies THE COURTMARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL isn’t mentioned.

  102. Mr M says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. Here’s the TOP of my list (because I can’t be bothered choosing 10)

    Best Aviation Movies (For Me)
    1. Red Tails
    2. ConAir
    3. Top Gun
    4. Passenger 57
    5. Iron Eagle (First Installment)
    6. Stewardess School

    5 Worst Aviation Movies (For Me)
    1. Snakes on a Plane (First 10 Minutes)
    2. Snakes on a Plane (Second 10 Minutes)
    3. Snakes on a Plane (Third 10 Minutes)
    4. Snakes on a Plane (Fourth 10 Minutes)
    5. Snakes on a Plane (Fifth 10 Minutes)

  103. Greg Myers says:

    Toward The Unknown , nothing but USAF aircraft at their finest, I was there.

  104. William Ferrell says:

    This is horrible. This list took four of my favorite movies and threw them under the bus! I started going down the list and realized if I wanted to watch a good aviator movie I should look on te top 10 worst list instead of te best. That worked pretty good for me so in te end this guy was helpful!

  105. hamza says:

    your review is exceptional…you just made a mistake in headings…ur worst movies r good n good r worst………….

  106. Wololo says:

    I am a little bit shocked of this list. I do understand that this is more of a personal opinion than an objective list.

    But some comments are just not true… Where is the “variety of aircraft” wich would be shown in Iron Eagle? F-16 and Mirage, end of list. The following parts if the Iron Eagle series are not very good, although the last part with the ww2 fighters is quite funny.

    I also dont get why Stealth should be empty of anything but clichés…

    Many movies on your Top list are very old, I am a bit younger and dont know some of them. But completely missing is Sky Fighters, french movie about 2 Mirage Pilots. This is truly one of the best Aviation movies I have seen.

    Also I wonder why the top list is full of very old movies, while the worst list is filled with the newer ones.

    All in all I cant agree with this list in any way!!! You Sir, should be ashamed of this!

  107. miguel says:

    nice one. my students loved it

  108. LarryR says:

    John… Your opinion would gain more credibility if you used ‘Caps’ and punctuation!

    Woe are we.

  109. Caradog Jones says:

    Are you able to help me locate a film?
    In the mid 1970’s I started watch in a film on British television of a British fighter aircraft taxiing across the dessert being pursued by a German tank. I was unable to see the end due work commitments and have been searching ever since.
    Kind regards,Caradog.

    • Lyle F. Padilla says:


      I believe the movie you describe is DEATH RACE, which starred Roy Thinnes, Doug McClure, Lloyd Bridges and Eric Braeden. It’s been so long since I saw it that I can’t help you on how it ends.

      Having been both a US Air Force fighter weapons systems officer and a US Army Armor/Cavalry officer, I can tell you that the plot had to be really convoluted for a World War II tank to be able to keep up with a taxiing fighter plane.

    • Harley says:

      I believe the reply to you was correct about the name of the movie. I saw it years ago too. It was a damaged P-40, that could do only periodic short hops to get out of range of the tank. The tank commander was possessed with catching the allied pilot. I think there was another soldier/pilot with him that died during the pursuit by the tank. The tank crew didn’t agree with their tank captain’s fixation on hunting and killing the pilot. The P-40 could no longer run (fuel/coolant gone) and the tank caught him. Then the tank commander drew his Luger and was going to execute the pilot. But the tank crew shot their commander because 1) they didn’t like their commander, and 2) didn’t believe the pilot should be executed. This is what I recall. It was a good movie, always good to see WW2 aircraft in movies. Hope this helps.

  110. Allen says:

    Hard to find…but Toward the Unknown with Bill Holden gives great scenes from early Edwards and great early fighters and x-planes.

  111. MM says:

    Dr. strange love anyone? Not only was Stanley Kubrick forced to carry that disclaimer that his movie was too accurate to be officially sanctioned by the Air Force, and though I willingly admit the flying (models) is/are terrible, the movie is too close for comfort regarding the behavior and character of real Airmen (sadly). Only in books is the truest airmen character captured, vis. Catch-22, Flying through Midnight. Be them all fiction they capture more truth. But if its just aviation porn you love hard to beat ww1.

  112. Rt says:

    Yo dawg don’t forget the awesome movie “Red Tails”. It needs to be on the 10 best at least.

    • Lyle F. Padilla says:

      All right, you opened the floodgate for RED TAILS, which to me belongs at rock bottom with PEARL HARBOR.

      Let’s suppose that in *42*, the movie about Jackie Robinson’s first seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, they used special effects so that whenever Robinson made a non-homerun hit, the ball zigzagged 90 degrees in midair all by itself several times to get around and past the fielders.

      Then let’s suppose someone you know, say a recent immigrant from a country where baseball isn’t popular, who had never seen a real baseball game either live or on TV, started raving, “This movie is high octane action! It’s awesome! I don’t think anyone has done a baseball movie as good as this!” Would you politely nod in agreement and say nothing, or would you snicker (or even ROTFLYAO), and then set him/her straight about why the the special effects were so ridiculous?

      I’m a former US Air Force F-4 Phantom Weapons Systems Officer (backseater). Most Americans have seen a baseball game, but very few people around the entire world have ever seen a real dogfight, let alone been in one. I’m just setting the viewers of this movie straight about what’s wrong with the aerial combat scenes.

      You know this movie is crap when you start with a supposed fighter squadron commander who doesn’t know the difference between a SQUAD (thirteen infantrymen ranging in rank from buck private to staff sergeant) and a SQUADRON [48 fighter pilots ranging in rank from flight officer (a warrant officer rank specific to World War II) to lieutenant colonel (the highest authorized rank for a squadron commander)].

      To paraphrase General George S. Patton, George Lucas doesn’t know anything more about real aerial warfare than he does about f***ing! (And George C. Scott may have said “fornicating” in the movie PATTON, but the real Patton used the real F-word!)

      Lucas was absolutely the worst person in the movie industry to do this movie. This movie is only the latest of many giant steps down the primrose path which Lucas started the world’s movie-viewing public with the first STAR WARS movie in 1977; I distinctly remember the documentary on the making of that movie, in which Lucas patted himself on the back for patterning his battle scenes after what he claimed to be the most realistic dogfight scenes ever filmed, and at the same time in the documentary intercutting his scenes with those from A YANK IN THE RAF which were absolutely THE phoniest looking flying scenes ever filmed! And he hasn’t bothered to learn jack about aerial warfare in the last 35 years; he’s just conned most of the whole world into thinking his cartoonish creations are reality when they’re the farthest thing from it.

      The technical fallacies are far too numerous to list. Lucas doesn’t know the first thing about physics or aerodynamics, let alone the complexities of basic fighter maneuvering required to put bullets into another airplane and to prevent another airplane from doing that to one’s own. He just makes his CGI airplanes do anything he wants them to do to fit his fantasies and fiction.

      Lucas is welcome to create his own sci-fi universe where he makes the rules. But for an “historical” movie like this claims to be, Chuck Jones could have made cartoon Mustangs imitating the Road Runner and cartoon Messerschmitts imitating Wile E. Coyote and his Acme gadgets, and they wouldn’t have been any more technically inaccurate.

      Someone on the Internet Movie Database discussion board for Red Tails, where I’ve posted most of this rant in bits and pieces, asked me about a specific maneuver shown in the movie where a Tuskegee Airman, flying a P-51 Mustang, pulls back on the stick in a loop, kicks the rudder over and immediately turns in a circle no larger than the length of the aircraft and comes guns-on to the trailing German Bf-109 fighter. My response was:

      1. No airplane ever yet built can pull the g-force required to turn in its own length as depicted, without disintegrating, starting with the wings falling off.

      2. A Mustang might bleed off its airpeed in a climb as depicted, enough to do a hammerhead stall and flip over nose down, probably not nearly as quickly as shown, but I emphasize that the maneuver is called a hammerhead stall, which means that as the aircraft points nose down, it is almost at zero airspeed and the pilot does not have control of the aircraft and can’t possibly maneuver the nose to aim his guns.

      3. Only a completely untrained rookie would continue straight and level and not pull up after the Mustang as the Bf-109 pilot did, and not begin evasive action once the Mustang went behind his 3-9 line. While the quality of fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe steadily declined as many of their aces and experts were killed off in the the great Mustang air superiority campaign of 1944, I’m not sure the Germans were that desperate as to send up someone that untrained at that point in the war.

      I just included that as a single example of the essentially omnipresent technical fallacies, and because it was shown in all the trailers and most TV ads. Again, George Lucas is too ignorant, and possibly too stupid, to understand the complexities involved in even a simple maneuver as a break turn or a loop, and is obviously too lazy and egotistical to have tried to learn anything about it over the last 35 years.

      Someone else defended Lucas on the IMDB board by claiming, “A ‘real’ dogfight wouldn’t transfer to the big screen. I thought the combat scenes in [Star Wars and Return of the Jedi] were awesome; who cares if they don’t pass the Stephen Hawkings [sic] test!”

      Granted, few people in the world have ever seen, let alone been in a real dogfight, but to say that it won’t “transfer to the big screen” is a further demonstration of gullibility and ignorance. There have been movies, most of them using real airplanes, that have been pretty realistic, but I’ve been ranting for years that nobody in Hollywood has any clue what a real dogfight looks like. The last movie for decades that accurately showed what aerial combat looks like was THE BLUE MAX back in 1966, and the drought of over forty years was somewhat broken only by FLYBOYS in 2007, although that film was not without flaws.

      But, I hear you ask, weren’t THE BLUE MAX and FLYBOYS about biplanes and triplanes in World War I? That’s exactly my point! These FX “wizards” in today’s movie industry don’t realize that fighter planes in every war still loop and turn and barrel roll in a graceful aerial ballet like they did in THE BLUE MAX, and one of the saddest ironies is that, cinematographically, they’re missing the beauty of it! A P-40 Kittyhawk fighting a Zero over Pearl Harbor looks pretty much the same as a Sopwith Camel fighting a Fokker Triplane over the trenches of WWI. So does a P-51 Mustang fighting an Me-109 over Berlin, an F-86 Sabrejet fighting a MiG-15 over Korea, an F-4 Phantom fighting a MiG-21 over Hanoi, and an F-15 Eagle fighting a MiG-29 over Baghdad. I distinctly remember the moment plunging into my first big furball during a Cope Thunder exercise (the Pacific Air Forces equivalent of Red Flag) and thinking, “Damn! This is just like The Blue Max except that everyone’s more spread out!”

      I guess you had to be there.

      As I said on the IMDb board, anyone who thinks I’m committing heresy by attacking the great George Lucas, just answer two questions for me: How many real life fighter pilots do you know? And if you do know any, have you ever asked them what they think of this movie, or any with CGI dogfights for that matter?

      But that’s just about the technical fallacies and impossibilities. There are also issues of historical accuracy and the lack thereof. One of the biggest issues I have with both Red Tails and an an earlier made-for-HBO movie, the 1995 TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, is that neither movie was capable of making the 332nd Fighter Group look good without taking cheap, lying shots at the other US Army Air Force fighter groups who fought in Europe in World War II.

      General Jimmy Doolittle had no direct command of the bomber escorts based in Italy which included the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd fighter Group. He was only relatively briefly in the Mediterranean Theater, as Commanding General of the 12th Air Force which was primarily tasked with providing tactical air support to the ground forces, before being placed in command of the 8th Air Force, based in Britain and comprised of heavy bombers and their fighter escorts and covering Northern Europe.

      But Doolittle’s leadership of the 8th Air Force did undoubtedly influence the doctrine of the 15th Air Force, their counterparts in the Mediterranean Theater to which the 332nd belonged. And it once again demonstrates George Lucas’s total ignorance of aerial warfare in World War II, if not his blatant disregard for the truth.

      Fighters assigned to escort bombers did not fly in and among the bomber formations, and they certainly didn’t stay there when enemy fighters attacked. Escorting fighters flew above and to the sides of the bomber formations, weaving in zigzag patterns to maintain their airspeed while staying even with the much slower bombers. To “stay with the bombers” meant disengaging from the enemy fighters and returning to the flanks of the bomber formation after successfully driving off the enemy if not shooting them down within sight of the bomber formations, rather than pursuing the enemy back to their home bases. It was somewhat of an issue in 1943 when the 8th Air Force was under General Ira Eaker and the P-51 Mustang had not yet been deployed to the front lines. The older shorter-ranged P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters did not have the capability to stay with the bombers all the way to targets deep in Germany, and the bombers suffered horrendous losses to German fighters past the range limits of the P-38s and P-47s.

      Jimmy Doolittle’s succession of Eaker as Commanding General of the 8th Air Force coincided with the arrival of the P-51 Mustang in late 1943 and early 1944. Doolittle’s doctrine was not “using the bombers as bait” as some claim. As more 8th Air Force fighter groups replaced their P-47s and P-38s with P-51s, tasks were rotated among the fighter groups between bomber escort and fighter sweep, the latter meaning that the fighters flew out ahead of the bomber route to intercept the German interceptors before they got within sight of the bombers, and/or destroy them on the ground on their own airfields.

      Total abandonment of the bombers was never condoned. The 8th Air Force was primarily a bomber force, and by the Fall of 1943 the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were endangered species. Jimmy Doolittle was no dummy; his doctrine of employing fighters in both bomber escort and fighter sweeps reduced the bomber losses to 20-25% of what they had been before the arrival of the P-51. The Italian-based 15th Air Force quickly followed suit with that doctrine. The promise in RED TAILS fictionally given by Colonel Bullard (actually a thinly disguised version of the real-life Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.) to reduce bomber losses by 70-80% was in real life fulfilled by all American fighter pilots in the European Theater. They not only reduced the bomber losses to a fourth of what they had been, but effectively eliminated the German Luftwaffe over their own home turf wherever they found them, and not just near the bomber formations.

      (By the time of the Vietnam War, when the B-52 Stratofortress assumed the role filled by the B-17 and B-24, and the F-4 Phantom assumed the role filled by the P-51, fighter protection of bombers was done exclusively through fighter sweeps, and the doctrine of close bomber escort was gone; still, not a single B-52 was lost to an enemy fighter in Vietnam.)

      Near the end of TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, when the 15th Air Force bomber crews are briefed on their mission to Berlin and are told that they are to be escorted by the 51st Fighter Group, one bomber pilot asks that they be escorted by the 332nd instead. As I pointed out on the TUSKEGEE AIRMEN IMDb board, that was a smart thing to ask for: even with the P-51 Mustang being the longest-ranged fighter in the world at the time, if the 51st Fighter Group had been tasked for a mission to Berlin, they would have run out of gas somewhere over northern Afghanistan because they were based in Kunming, China at the time. In similar fashion, Red Tails insinuates throughout the length of the movie that the 332nd was the only fighter group that stayed with the bombers and that the other fighter groups violated operational orders and standing doctrine by abandoning the bombers in pursuit of German fighters for their own personal glory.

      The Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd had a more than honorable combat record and a story to be proud of, a story which could be told without trying to make other US Army Air Force fighter units look bad by telling falsehoods about them. The Tuskegee Airmen deserve better than that.

  113. James B says:

    He entire list lost all credibility the moment he included Snakes on a Plane on a list of Aviation movies, furthermore his comments on Pearl Harbour shows he knows nothing about what constitutes good CGI

  114. JD says:

    Agreed…I can’t take this list seriously.

  115. John D. Howard says:

    As a former C-141 pilot and civillian pilot I think the movie Island in the Sky is at least a honorable mention. The most beatufial flying of C-47s.

  116. Mr says:

    I’m trying to track down a film I heard of once: it apparently has several dozen characters in it. The film shows the long chain of events leading to a crash. I think it was made in the 1960s. Does it ring a bell?

    • Lyle F. Padilla says:

      Sounds like FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964) starring Glenn Ford and Rod Taylor to me. Based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann, and mentioned in several comments above. Ford is an airline executive investigating the crash of an airliner piloted by Taylor, an old war buddy of his, in which a flight attendant (Suzanne Pleshette) is the sole survivor.


      Taylor was suspected of drinking, but in the end they replicate the flight with Pleshette on board in which she remembers placing a cup of coffee in a cupholder, and it turns out that the coffee spilled into the instrument console, creating a short circuit that triggers a false Engine Fire Warning that caused them to think they had to belly the plane in on a beach where it crashed into an old pier.

  117. Lyle F. Padilla says:

    Sounds like FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964) starring Glenn Ford and Rod Taylor to me. Based on a novel by Ernest K. Gann, and mentioned in several comments above. Ford is an airline executive investigating the crash of an airliner piloted by Taylor, an old war buddy of his, in which a flight attendant (Suzanne Pleshette) is the sole survivor.


    Taylor was suspected of drinking, but in the end they replicate the flight with Pleshette on board in which she remembers placing a cup of coffee in a cupholder, and it turns out that the coffee spilled into the instrument console, creating a short circuit that triggers a false Engine Fire Warning that caused them to think they had to belly the plane in on a beach where it crashed into an old pier.

  118. Wot says:

    Is this a joke?

  119. Larry De Meo says:

    Excuse me, but ANY Allied pilot worthy of the title would choose a P-40 over the A6M Type O (\Zeke\), and wouldn’t be caught dead in a \Zero!\ Well…yes, he would–as soon as he got it off the deck and it got hit with anything bigger than a .22cal!

    And, just to take an opportunity to correct a couple of long-held Hollywood cliches, the AVG (or, \Flying Tigers\):

    a. Never flew a combat mission BEFORE the Pearl Harbor attack, and

    b. Never met a Zero in combat!

  120. Ken says:

    No one ever mentions \Super Carrier\ but my kids loved watching it when they were young. The plot is poor but who cares! What about \The Sound barrier\….I liked that when I was a kid!

  121. Bob Corridan says:

    Seriously, are you kidding me…you don’t even mention the Spirit of St. Louis as on of the best, factual, aviation films of all time and then you do list the High and The Mighty when the movie doesn’t even compare to factual portrayal of the book. The High and The Might had very very little about aviation and more about the melodrama of the characters….if I was PIC on that aircraft I would have dumped the flight engineer half way across the Pacific not based on the fact he was an incompetent boob but based on the fact of his faltering love life. At least the Spirit of St. Louis remained true to the story even though Jimmy Stewart was a little old to portray Charles Lindbergh.

  122. TD says:

    As mentioned by a couple of others, Aces High is a good film. It shares with Dawn Patrol a grittiness about the stress of WW1 (and perhaps any war) flying and its effect on the fliers.

  123. michaeljones says:

    I just want to appreciate the effort in putting this article together. It was great. These movies can now be streamed online so anyone who wants to watch these movies can easily do now.

  124. Elvis says:

    Awesome listing. Although I think they could have cut out half the movie, I have to say I actually liked \Flyboys\. I saw it on video a week after one of the guys I ride with was in a bad crash. Bad as in punctured lung and stuff. And you know what, one of the other guys I ride with gave me that \guys crash all the time\ speech, more or less, but I didn’t know it at the time. So when I saw the movie… yeh despite it’s many many deficiencies I had to like it. Also the action sequences in the air are awesome, even if a lot of it was CGI crap. Agree on \Battle of Britain\… belongs on the good list. Makes me miss the Sussex Airshow here, we used to see WWII planes up close and fast every summer.

    Also, although not really historic, like WWII or The Great War, what about movies like \behind enemy lines\ or \flight of the intruder\?

    Still a great list, and informative comments.

  125. Lyle F. Padilla says:

    It appears that you have at least three different movies confused. According to the IMDb, Van Johnson and Richard Todd never acted together.

    The only film in which Richard Todd played an RAF pilot was THE DAM BUSTERS (referenced in the original article above for this webpage). There were no American characters involved in this based-on-real-life movie.

    Shortly afterward, Todd played a Royal Army commando officer involved in a love triangle with Dana Wynter (playing the daughter of a Brigadier) and Robert Taylor (playing a US Army Ranger officer) in D-DAY THE SIXTH OF JUNE.

    The only movie made in this era in which Van Johnson played a military pilot was in MEN OF THE FIGHTING LADY in which he plays a Korean War Navy fighter pilot. No Brit characters in this also based-on-real-life movie. In this movie, his wingman (played by Dewey Martin, whom I don’t think resembles Richard Todd) gets blinded on a strike mission, and Van Johnson guides him back to their carrier for a safe landing.

  126. Laura Silvero says:

    Looking for an old (made for TV?) movie about an airplane who is shadowed by terrorist planes who steal their transponder codes and appear to be passenger planes and the President has to decide whether to shoot down… from the 1970-80s. might have Darren McGavin in it- not sure
    Driving me nuts

  127. Mike says:

    Suprised nobody has mentioned The Arrow with Dan Aykroyd.
    The Arrow is a four-hour miniseries produced for CBC Television in 1996, starring Dan Aykroyd as Crawford Gordon, experienced wartime production leader during World War II and president of A. V. Roe Canada during its attempt to produce the Avro Arrow supersonic jet interceptor.

  128. RDF says:

    I was glad to see Strategic Air Command rated among the best. Gorgeous aerial photography. I grew up on a B-36 base long before my own USAF piloting career. My dad was a B-36 Bomb/Nav. The movie is remarkably accurate, including the wife’s concerns, which occasionally get panned by people who weren’t there. The screen play was written by a bomber pilot who had witnessed it all.

  129. allan birmantas says:

    I liked \I bombed Pearl Harbor\…they didn’t have digital special effects then.

  130. Dave Z. says:

    I won’t say that Top Gun was the best aviation movie ever made but… I was a 22 year old E5 in the Navy, on that flight line, when it was filmed. Yes, fighter pilots do act like that. You’ve obviously never been in the military or at least in an aviation unit since you refer to them as heir ilk. All the pilots (make and female alike) throughout the Navy are proud of what they do and their skills. I should know as I retired a Chief Petty Officer, Naval Aircrewman/Rescue Swimmer with 3600 flight hours after 23 years of service.

    • Harley Wylie says:

      Well, I don’t mind at all the “right wing politics” commentary. Comments from pilots are appropriate in a discussion of movies – about pilots. Thanks.

  131. Harley Wylie says:

    Agree, the Extra Features on the Battle of Britain dvd is very interesting, and was actually a documentary within a movie! Haven’t seen the movie Star of Africa but will look for it. I’ve really enjoyed reading the autobiographies of the WW2 fighter pilots and Hans Marseille’s story is definitely interesting.

  132. allan birmantas says:

    I agree with almost everything you wrote except…could you leave your Right Wing politics out of a discussion about movies?

  133. allan birmantas says:

    I kinda liked \I bombed Pearl Harbor\, but it was a bit hokey.

  134. None of your Business says:

    “I rest my case on the fact that an avowed fan of Top Gun, a naval aviator who should know better, is also a fan of the Iron Eagle series.”

    So you “rest your case” on the opinion of an expert who disagrees with you (as if that makes your case stronger)? Doesn’t make much sense…

  135. Bharti Gupta says:

    I like pearl harbor the most

  136. Matt says:

    Hmmm, I was hoping to find “The Spirit Of St. Louis” here, apart from being one of my favorite James Stewart films, it’s also one of the best avation movies ever IMO …

    • Mike Browne says:

      Agreed. I knew the pilot who flew the photo plane for aerial sequences, the late Paul Mantz, an aviation legend himself. He also flew the photo bird for Strategic Air Command. He was killed in 1965 flying the hybrid monstrosity in the original Flight Of The Phoenix.

  137. Captain Steven says:

    Yeah….not sure I agree……..

  138. Top Gun and Memphis Belle are two of the best!

    • Das Boot says:

      Top Gun the best? lol, top gun is 70% sex and bullshit and 20% israeli propeganda theme and 10% actual aviation.

      • Mike Browne says:

        Top Gun is a terrible movie with unbelievable characters and an annoying music score, Propaganda for skateboard kids who want to fly. I liked Memphis Belle, based on an actual airplane, only in real life the pilot’s wife left him when he returned home for a war bonds tour, yet Twelve O’Clock High is superior to Memphis Belle in every respect.

      • Dave says:

        She wasn’t his wife. She was his girlfriend and she did jilt him for someone else….

      • muzzleloader says:

        Speaking as one who has a naval aviation background I think that Top Gun SUCKED. So bad on so many levels.👎😭👎

  139. Wz says:

    Some of the reviewer’s comments are viable, but ranking “Memphis Belle” as one of the worst, is odd at best. Where are the truly historic films, like “Captains of the Clouds” or “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, and the epics, like “The Right Stuff” and “Aviator”? I would consider this list as very flawed.

  140. Arizona Jim says:

    Dr Strangelove and Fail-Safe belong in the discussion.

  141. Colonel K says:

    I agree with your picks. Memphis Belle suffered from two failings. The director kluged together in a single mission real incidents that actually occurred in separate raids over the course of the air war in Europe, thus leaving the uninitiated with the impression that every mission was this harrowing. But what I really hated about the film was the crew’s behavior. They did not function as a professional team, and that is total Hollywood BS. A crew like that would not have lasted 25 missions, and I’m paraphrasing a late friend of mine who was a B24 gunner on the big Ploesti raid. One film I think deserves honorable mention is the 1953 British movie “Appointment in London”, starring Dirk Bogart. Both the script and musical score were written by legendary RAF bomber pilot Jon Wooldridge (108 missions). It has an authenticity that is hard to beat.

    • Dave says:

      I would be willing to bet that many of the crews would describe their missions as harrowing, particularly when the 8th started flying daylight missions. The attrition rate was horrendous. Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror but once a crew crossed the French coast, they were open to attack at any time. And joining up over England was not cake walk either. We lost many crews before they joined their formations…..

      • Colonel K says:

        War matures a man quickly. I spent 30 years in the Air Force and never found any airmen perform their duties as poorly and unprofessionally as this movie portrayed them. I don’t think the director was trying so much to portray them as immature kids; I think he was looking for plot devices that, in the end, rang hollow. I’ve also watched the documentary “Memphis Belle”, and consider it a superior film. I grew up surrounded by WWII and Korean combat vets, so I defer to their judgement. One was a Sherman tank commander from Omaha Beach to the drive into Germany. He considered “Saving Private Ryan” to have a very realistic look. Another was a member of the Black Devils (First Special Service Force) and he did not like the way the movie “The Devil’s Brigade” portrayed the American troops as brawlers, outcasts, and rejects from the stockades, when in fact they were all volunteers and among the cream of the Army. Most producers and directors just can’t seem to resist tinkering with the truth, but occasionally a gem escapes a Hollywood rewrite. And yes, training missions and forming up big wings was dangerous. So were ground operations. One of the B-17 group histories I read indicated that about a dozen men were killed before any planes ever took to the skies over England. By the standards of today, those young men were routinely running risks that would get you court-martialed now. But as they used to say, “there’s a war on, you know”.

  142. Marguerite Zelle says:

    Making a joke about Tom Cruise’s height is rather silly. Most pilots are not tall men – they need to fit into the cockpits.

  143. wez says:

    Hmm watched all of the top ones, and none of them were as good as Top Gun for me, they were rather slow and boring, Top Gun made me want to pump my fist to the sky, now that’s a movie!

  144. Thomas Cleaver says:

    You betray how liitle IQ you possess.

  145. Harsh Sharma says:

    woow tanks

  146. Dave says:

    Surprised Memphis Belle wasn’t on your “Best” list. Command Decision and The War Lover should have been there also……

  147. Steven Earle says:

    Good list both ways imo. My personal #1 Wings but that’s just me.

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