Aviation Movies

Aviation Films: Can Watching Movies Help You Learn to Fly?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit down and watch a long list of entertaining movies starring your favorite actors, and, as a bonus, you would learn how to fly?

Well, we can’t say that will happen, but if you’re a flight student who is learning English, you just might want to check out this list of aviation movies. Although the movies were not made to teach you how to fly, they can definitely help you improve your English listening and comprehension skills, especially if you watch the film in English with English subtitles. (That way, you can hear a word and see it on the screen, which can be a great help in building your English comprehension.) And, best of all, the movies listed here are all focused on a topic you are already interested in… FLYING! (In fact, even if you’re not learning English, who doesn’t want to watch movies about airplanes?)

So, instead of watching a movie in your first language, switch to watching movies filmed in English, and be sure to set your device to show subtitles. Here is a list of aviation movies from action and animation to comedy and drama to sci-fi and horror! Watching films will definitely help with your English skills, and you just might learn a thing or two about aviation and airplane history.

Flying Films

633 Squadron (1964) Tense drama about an RAF (Royal Air Force) squadron sent on a mission to destroy a Nazi rocket rule factory.

A

Aces High (1976) Rookie pilots in Britain’s Royal Flying Corps saw a greater number of casualties during World War I, putting an incredible strain on surviving family members.

The Aeronauts (2019) Set in the 1860s, a hot air balloon pilot and scientist find themselves struggling to survive a series of adventures.

Air America (1990) Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. star in this Vietnam-era story about a young pilot’s involvement with a corrupt C.I.A. airlift organization in Laos.

Air Force (1943) This story of an Air Force bomber crew in Manila takes place during World War II and stars John Garfield.

Air Force One (1997) A tense drama starring Harrison Ford as hijackers take command of Air Force One while the U.S. President and his family are onboard.

Airplane! (1980) Absurd comedy about a person who is afraid of flying but must land a commercial jet after the pilots become sick.

Airplane Mode (2019) A comedy about a teen’s fear of flying on his long flight to Australia.

Air Strike (2018) Set during WWII and starring Bruce Willis, this is an action movie with lots of flying.

Altitude (2010) A horror-thriller involving a mysterious malfunction in the cockpit and a rookie pilot.

Amelia (2009) A biopic about American aviatrix Amelia Earhart who disappeared in 1937 during her flight around the world.

American Made (2017) Starring Tom Cruise, this is the true story of an American pilot who ran drugs for the CIA, later known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Angels One Five (1952) An action-drama about a squadron of Royal Air Force pilots during the Battle of Britain.

The Aviator (2004) Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Howard Hughes in this biopic of the famed director and aviator.

B

Bat *21 (1988) A frantic rescue mission for an American pilot shot down in Vietnam.

Battle of Britain (1969) The British Royal Air Force faces Germany’s Luftwaffe as they try to defend their homeland and the English Channel in 1940.

Beast of Burden (2018) A thriller that takes place onboard a Cessna cargo flight.

Behind Enemy Lines (2001) A suspenseful action film about a rescue mission for a Navy navigator shot down behind enemy lines.

The Big Lift (1950) The 1948 Berlin Airlift is the setting for the experiences of two U.S. Air Force sergeants.

The Blue Max (1966) A young German air force pilot in 1918 tries to win the medal for 20 kills.

Bombers B-52 (1957) Set on actual air bases, the U.S. Air Force supported the filming of this drama, which features real Air Force planes.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) This tense drama is set during the Korean War and involves a Navy pilot whose mission is to bomb important bridges.

Bridge of Spies (2015) Starring Tom Hanks and Alan Alda, this movie focuses on captured American Francis Gary Powers, pilot of a U2 spy plane.

C

Captains of the Clouds (1942) Four older friends are inspired by Churchill’s Dunkirk speech and endeavor to enlist as pilots in the Royal Air Force despite their ages.

Catch-22 (1970) Based on Joseph Heller’s novel of the same name, this black comedy follows a World War II pilot who has seen enough action and tries to be sent home.

Classic Airplane Travel Films (2017) This film is a compilation of short aviation films from the 1950s and ’60s that document all aspects of the growing aviation industry.

Command Decision (1948) Clark Gable leads an all-star cast in this drama about the decision-making process to bomb German jet fighter factories and the high casualty rate expected.

D

The Dam Busters (1955) A World War II story about strategic bombing by the British to take out Germany’s dams.

Dark Blue World (2001) Two Czech pilots go to England to fly for the RAF during the Battle of Britain.

A Dark Reflection (2015) A thriller about a journalist looking into the history of aviation.

The Dawn Patrol (1938) An adventure-drama depicting the lives of flying aces during World War I.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) Peter Sellers leads an all-star cast in this story of an insane general on the path to nuclear holocaust.

Dunkirk (2017) The Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 included deadly flying missions as Germans attacked the surrounded Allies.

F

The Final Countdown (1980) Science fiction time-travel thriller about a modern aircraft carrier arriving in Pearl Harbor just hours before the Japanese attack.

Flight (2012) Starring Denzel Washington, this is a movie about a crashed passenger aircraft.

Flight 7500 (2014) A story about the supernatural on a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

Flight from Hell (2014) A horror thriller involving the supernatural on a flight in the Pacific.

Flight of Fury (2007) Steven Seagal stars in this action thriller about a stolen stealth bomber.

Flight of the Intruder (1991) Danny Glover stars in this story about a U.S. Navy A-6 Intruder bomber pilot planning to make an unauthorized strike on Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965) When a plane crashes over the Mongolian desert, the survivors must work together to build a new plane in this adventure film starring James Stewart.

Flight of the Phoenix (2004) Remake of the 1965 film starring John Moore follows the same story of a plane crashes over the Mongolian desert where survivors work together to build a new plane.

Flightplan (2005) A thriller starring Jodie Foster that takes place on a flight from Berlin to the U.S.

Flight Word War II (2015) A science fiction thriller of a modern flight that passes through a thunderstorm and arrives in WW II in 1940.

Flyboys (2006) This historic drama tells the story of young American men who joined France’s air force before American entered World War II.

Flying Tigers (1942) This famed American fighter group known for daredevil flying is jeopardized by one reckless pilot.

Fortress (2012) Action and drama aboard a B-17 bomber in North Africa.

G

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) A biplane pilot takes up stunt flying and barnstorming after missing out on World War II action.

The Guardian (2006) Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher star in this action drama within the U.S. Coast Guard.

Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020) Inspired by the true story of the first female Indian Air Force officer to fly in a combat zone.

H

Hawaizaada (2015) Based on the true story of an Indian scientist who built India’s first unmanned aircraft.

Hell’s Angels (1930) Two brothers leave Oxford to join the Royal Flying Corps amid personal drama.

The High and the Mighty (1954) A tense drama written by famed aviator Ernest K. Gann starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor as commercial pilots who experience an emergency over the Pacific Ocean.

I

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) Futuristic thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum focusing on space defense.

Iron Eagle (1986) A young pilot must take matters into his own hands when his Air Force veteran father is shot down behind enemy lines.

Island in the Sky (1953) Suspenseful rescue film about a C-47 transport plane stranded in frigid Labrador.

J

Jet Pilot (1957) John Wayne stars as an Air Force Colonel assigned to escort a defecting Soviet pilot.

L

Lancaster Skies (2019) A spitfire ace pilot faces his past to lead a bomber crew over Berlin in 1944.

The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club (2009) A documentary about a Pasadena woman who was a top stunt pilot who later operated a fly-in resort, this film includes an appearance by Buzz Aldrin.

M

Memphis Belle (1990) Based on the true World War II account of a B-17 crew’s last bombing mission over Germany.

Midway (1976) An all-star cast reenacts the Battle of Midway, a turning point of the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

Mosquito Squadron (1969) A World War II squadron leader in the Royal Air Force is assigned on a secret bombing mission to take out a Nazi rocket testing facility.

N

Non-Stop (2014) Liam Neeson and Julieann Moore star in this thriller aboard a transatlantic flight.

O

One Six Right (2005) This fascinating documentary focuses on the Van Nuys Airport in Southern California and voices strong support for General Aviation.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) Cary Grant and Jean Arthur star in this classic tale of mail pilots and their adventures.

P

Pearl Harbor (2001) Based on the infamous events of December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, this drama stars Ben Affleck.

Planes (2013). Animated fun featuring a crop-duster that’s afraid of flying in a round-the-world aerial competition.

Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014) Animated adventure-comedy about a plane that becomes a firefighter.

R

Reach for the Sky (1956) A biopic of RAF Captain Douglas Bader who flew a British fighter plane in World War II despite losing both legs.

The Red Baron (2008) A German film with English subtitles loosely based on the World War I flying aces nicknamed the Red Baron.

Red Tails (2012) A group of trained Tuskegee Airmen that have been grounded for most of World War II are finally called up to fly missions.

Red Sky (2014) A Top Gun pilot who has fallen from grace attempts to recover a WMD.

Rescue Dawn (2006) Based on a true story during the Vietnam War about a U.S. fighter pilot who is shot down over Laos.

The Right Stuff (1983) The original Mercury 7 crew were Navy, Marine, and Air Force pilots who became astronauts and living legends.

S

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law star in this action mystery about giant flying robots.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) The title is self-explanatory in this action film starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Soul Plane (2004) Snoop Dogg and Tom Arnold lead a colorful cast in this airplane comedy.

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) James Stewart stars as Charles Lindbergh as he plans, finances, and executes the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Stealth (2005) Sci-fi thriller involving three pilots who work to contain artificial intelligence from world domination.

Strategic Air Command (1955) The U.S. Air Force calls a former pilot played by James Stewart back into duty during the Cold War.

Sully (2016) Starring Tom Hanks, this is the true story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who landed his commercial flight on the Hudson River when birds knocked out both engines.

T

Test Pilot (1938) Clark Gable starts in this early aviation film about the trials and challenges of a test pilot.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) This action-drama is set after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Spencer Tracy stars as a pilot who volunteers for a secret mission to bomb Tokyo.

Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines (1965) This comedy is set in 1910 when the aviation craze began. An international air race is brought to life by a top cast.

Tiger Cruise (2004) A Disney film in which a naval carrier with civilians onboard is ordered into service during the World Trade Center attacks.

Top Gun (1986) Tom Cruise stars as a daring pilot in the U.S. Navy’s elite fighter weapons school.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) Based on the true story of the Japanese air attack on U.S. troops in Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) True story of African American pilots overcoming racism to become a legendary team of fighter pilots in World War II.

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) Gregory Peck stars as an Air Force general who whips his bomber unit into shape.

U

Up in the Air (2009) George Clooney stars in this film from the frequent flyer’s perspective.

W

The War Lover (1962) Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner star in this post-World War II drama about a combat pilot.

The Wind Rises (2013) An animated film about the life of the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during WW II.

Wings (1927) The first aviation film ever made, this is a story about World War I pilots.

Y

A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) Tyrone Powers stars as a successful pilot who ferries bombers to England before joining the Royal Air Force.

And, last but not least, we can recommend a movie that is not really about aviation, but it is the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who impersonated a Pan Am commercial pilot. Watch Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and see if you can spot a major aviation blooper. Here’s a hint: The blooper occurs near the end of the film.

So, whether you’re watching aviation films to improve your English comprehension or watching them because you simply love airplanes, we hope you enjoy a few of these films!

Did we miss any? Post a comment below and tell us your favorite flying film!

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