Ever since the Wright brothers ascended just a few feet off the ground, humankind has been fascinated with the thought of air travel. Since then, we’ve seen giant leaps forward in the industry; planes that carry hundreds of people over thousands of miles over oceans and lakes. One must never underestimate the persistence of people. We’re stubborn and we won’t give up, no matter the danger or number of doubters and naysayers.
Some of us just won’t take no for answer. As a result, we’ve gone to space, created programs to land on other planets in the near future and built vessels never dreamed of outside of fiction. Who’s to say what we’ll do next!
In the meantime, there are plenty of films that celebrate the incredible miracle of flight and the technological innovations of aviation. Here are the top five best aviation movies of all time.
1. The Right Stuff (1983)
Phillip Kaufman’s adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s best selling book tracks the history of the space program, from Chuck Yeager’s legendary record of breaking the sound barrier to the launch of the Mercury-Atlas 9 in 1963. Though he never lived to see it, tragically gunned down by a coward in a book depository, President John F. Kennedy promised that by the end of the sixties, we would land on the moon. His dream was realized 50 years ago, when Apollo 11 hit the surface.
We’ve yet to go back, and though Donald Trump’s absurd “Space Force” promises we will, the historic moment will never be recaptured. The film painstakingly details everything that lead to that day. Though a commercial failure upon release, it debuted to widespread critical acclaim and has since seen positive re-evaluation.
2. The Aviator (2004)
Like The Right Stuff, Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Howard Hughes is equally detail-obsessed. Fitting, as Hughes was well-known to have a crippling case of OCD that late in life lead to self-imposed isolation, preserving his own urine in jars and being stuck mid-sentence on pronouncing a word correctly.
Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better as the crazed mogul. And the scenes in the air are absolutely glorious – particularly when Hughes insists on flying death-defying stunts to film his first movie to ensure the dogfight battle is as realistic as possible.
3. Non-Stop (2014)
In terms of dumb fun, you can’t get any better than the pairing of Liam Neeson and Juame Collett-Serra. The two have worked together numerous times, always delivering solid, popcorn-filled entertainment. Together, they created one of the best aviation movies of the decade in Non-Stop.
In Non-Stop, Neeson is a retired, alcoholic air marshall who begins to receive mysterious texts from an unknown passenger who threatens to blow up the plane if Neeson doesn’t orchestrate a payoff. Tension ratchets up in this real-time thriller as Neeson starts to be framed for setting up the whole crime while he tries to find out which passenger is responsible. It’s goofy, it’s over-the-top, but Neeson grounds it in his own hard-boiled way.
4. Red Eye (2005)
The very fact that you’re trapped in a tube thousands of feet in the air for a long period of time can be nerve-wracking enough, imagine how bad it’d be if your seatmate ropes you into an assasination plan? That’s the premise of Wes Craven’s fast-paced thriller. Part of what makes Red Eye work so well is that, for the first 20 minutes, if you knew nothing about the film going in, Craven sets it up like a romantic comedy.
Hotel manager Lisa (Rachel McAdams) has a meet-cute an an airport lobby with the eccentric Jacktson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). It’s only after they’re in the air that he reveals she must change the room of a visiting head of Homeland Security so that his men can pull off their kill, lest he murder her father.
It’s thrilling to watch McAdams attempt to get out of making the phone call, and even more exciting once the plane lands and she scrambles to both save her father and the department head.
5. Airplane! (1979)
The 70s saw the popularity of the disaster film. Irwin Allen productions like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and The Posiedon Adventure ruled the box office. Their impact even sent shockwaves well into the 80s, oddly influencing the plot of Jaws 3D. It was only a matter of time before someone came along and spoofed them.
Thankfully, the Zucker Brothers created what some consider to be a cinematic masterpiece. Without going too much into spoilers, this is known as one of the best aviation movies, simply for so many of its countless comedic lines: “Surely, you can’t be serious!” and “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”