There are two things we’re all looking for in a good fighter plane movie: fighter planes, and non-stop action. Some films that claim to be fighter plane movies contain plenty of the latter but surprisingly few of the former. I’m not naming any names here, but *cough* Firefox *cough*. If you’ve only got two hours of spare time, you’ve got one shot at choosing the right movie. The following five films are the best of the best of the genre. They should be the first films you reach for on the DVD rack.
#5. Into the Sun
A fighter pilot on active duty overseas has to put up with an annoying movie star following him everywhere – even into combat – as research for his new film role.
Released: 1992 by Trimark Pictures
Starring: Michael Pare, Anthony Michael Hall
Featured Planes: F-16 Fighting Falcons
Few people have ever heard of (or can find a copy of) Into the Sun, which is a shame, because it’s one of the cleverest, funniest films in the genre. It’s not a spoof, like Hot Shots, but it manages to poke fun at the stereotypes while still hitting all the story points we need in a fighter plane film.
A World War I fighter pilot stationed with the famous Lafayette squadron in France struggles to fend off the Germans and protect the French woman he’s falling in love with.
Released: 2006 by 20th Century Fox
Starring: James Franco, Jean Reno
Featured Planes: Nieuport 17s
This is a must-see for anyone who thinks biplanes are boring. The greater danger these pilots faced because of the fragility of their equipment makes the dogfight sequences in Flyboys some of the most tense and harrowing in the genre.
#3. Battle of Britain
In the summer of 1940, a small group of British pilots fight desperately to keep the Nazi Luftwaffe from bombing their country into submission and opening the way for a land invasion.
Released: 1969 by MGM/United Artists
Starring: Michael Caine, Lawrence Olivier
Featured Planes: Spitfires, Hurricanes, Heinkel 111s, ME-109s, etc.
There is only one word for the aerial sequences in Battle of Britain: amazing. With so many planes in the air, it looks like a nest of angry hornets, and the best part is that they’re all real. There was no CGI in 1969. The story is a bit confusing for people who don’t know their history, but the massive dogfights more than make up for it.
#2. Top Gun
A cocky young fighter pilot gets his chance to go up against the best pilots in the Navy when he’s chosen for the fighter weapons school nicknamed “Top Gun.”
Released: 1986 by Paramount Pictures
Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmet
Featured Planes: F-14 Tomcats, A-4 Skyhawks, Mig-28s (actually F-5 Tiger IIs)
Top Gun is the seminal film of the genre. It spawned numerous popular quotes (“I have a need, a need for speed!”) and ignited a resurgence of interest in the fighter plane genre. It’s very 80s, especially in the soundtrack, but hardly a minute goes by where we’re not treated to heartstopping aerial action. Always a solid pick.
A fighter pilot is forced to go head to head with his own wingman: a futuristic, artificially intelligent fighter plane that has gone rogue.
Released: 2005 by Columbia Pictures
Starring: Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel
Featured Planes: futuristic fighters
There’s a sizeable element of science fiction in Stealth, which only serves to make it all the more awesome. All the impossible feats you ever daydreamed of pulling in a fighter are here and the sprawling story even manages to be unpredictable. Stealth is underrated, and comes highly recommended… by me.