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

aviation movies

Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit down and watch a long list of entertaining movies starring the best 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 that will definitely help with your English skills, and they just might teach you a thing or two about aviation and airplane history.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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!

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