There’s nothing better than curling up with a good movie and some hot chocolate on a cold winter night. There are dozens of options if you prefer an aviation themed film, and I have categorized some of the best films into different categories based on content. I personally always love a great vintage aviation film, but sometimes I’m more in the mood for a drama or documentary. Thankfully with so many options out there, it is easy to find a film that suits your tastes.
The Great Waldo Pepper
If you’re in the mood for biplanes, barnstorming, and aviation when it was far less regulated, you should seek out a vintage aviation film. My all-time favorite is The Great Waldo Pepper, which is currently streaming on Netflix if you have an account. This film is about a barnstormer-turned-movie star that flies in several "air circuses" during the era that more and more government regulation is occurring around aviation. He tries to make a living flying, but gets shut down several times due to breaking the new regulations. It is a great movie and worth seeing more than once!
Other examples: Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines, Amelia
If airliners and commercial aviation excites you the most, there are several great films about that too. Arguably one of the best aviation movies of the year, Sully follows the real-life story of the miracle of the Hudson. The forced water landing due to a bird strike was a historical moment that is beautifully retold with Tom Hanks playing Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. It gives insight into the way that the NTSB has to investigate airline accidents, and shows how years of flying helped Sully beat the odds and have a completely successful landing.
Other Examples: Flight
Perhaps one of the most popular genres of aviation movies, military aviation boasts several classics. Top Gun has been one of the most popular aviation movies of all time since its release in 1986. The catchy songs, action-packed flight scenes, and dramatic love story make for a great film. I’m sure that more than a few Air Force and Navy hopefuls were inspired by this movie. This film is also currently available on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to watch it if you haven’t yet!
Other Examples: Red Tails
This genre is a little sparser than others, but there are a few good films. It goes to show that people can find humor in anything. Full of enough aviation puns to last you a lifetime, the movie Airplane! is an automatic classic and must watch for anyone who likes aviation or silly jokes. This movie is also the definitive origin of the "Surely you can’t be serious!" "I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley." joke.
Other Example: Disney/Pixar Planes
Air Force One
Everyone loves a good thriller, and Air Force One starring Harrison Ford will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire movie. Ford plays the role of the president who is on Air Force One when Russian Terrorists hijack the plane. His family happens to be onboard as well, and they are quickly taken as hostages. I watched this for the first time inside of a camper at AirVenture in 2013, and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s always interesting to see how characters that are trapped in an airplane with virtually no escape handle difficult situations.
Other Examples: Snakes on a Plane, Red Eye
One Six Right
Aviation has some historical stories that are stranger and more interesting than any fiction Hollywood could think up. Documentaries about these actual events can teach you something new and lead to further investigation into other new things. I personally loved the film One Six Right. It should be required in school curriculum. The film shows how general aviation has such resounding effects on the world, as seen through the happenings at a local airport. This film was deemed so important by AOPA that they sent a complimentary copy of it to every member of congress who was a private pilot in the spring of 2005. That is saying something!
Other Example: Living in the Age of Airplanes
I hope that at least one of these films peaks your interest and inspires you to watch an aviation film this weekend! There is certainly plenty to choose from, and the classics will never get old. Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite aviation movie that I did not mention!