Best Warplane Movies

Sadly you can not spend all day and night in the sky flying an airplane. Some days you got to just grab a drink and some popcorn and curl up on the couch with your co-pilot; here is a list of the best movies featuring warbirds, bombers, dogfights, and aircraft carriers from World War II to the modern day.

Battle of Britain (1969)

Set in 1940, Battle of Britain focuses on the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) defence of the English Channel from the German Nazi Luftwaffe, as a prelude to a possible Axis invasion of the UK.

The film opens with the RAF and French air forces’ retreat from mainland Europe and then changes between the perspectives of the RAF and German commands throughout the movie. The movie is a little slow compared to modern war epics, but it is an excellent movie. There is a large focus on the RAF tracking the Luftwaffe’s positions and there is a lot of action packed dogfights and air bombing scenes. If you like spitfires then you will love this movie.

Featured Airplanes:

There was a very large number of aircraft during the making of Battle of Britain. So large that this movie production was technically the world’s thirty-fifth largest air force at the time.

There were three airworthy Hawker Hurricanes used in the filming of Battle of Britain. There was a non airworthy Hurricane used, plus non flying replicas fitted the motorcycle engines for taxiing. All the different Hurricane variants were make to look like the Hurricane Mkl variant the used by the French and Britain at the time.

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc LF363 was used in the filming of Battle of Britain
and is currently still flown by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

The movie producers located 109 Spitfires across the UK, however, only 12 flyable Spitfires were used for filming. Plus some scale replicas where use as static and taxiing airplanes. Scale models were used from filming dogfights and scenes where Spitfires were destroyed.

Spitfire from the Battle of Britain movie

The German World War II bomber Heinkel He 111 was filmed using Spanish CASA 2.111. Ironically the Casa 2.111s used for filming was equipped Rolls-Royce engines.

Heinkels flying to bomb London in the Battle of Britain movie

Junkers Ju 87 D Stuka

German the Junker Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers are featured in a early surprise bombing of an English radio listing post. It seem likely that a some kind of radio controlled model must have been used for filming the scene.

The German Messerschmitt Bf 109s were filmed using Seventeen airworthy Hispano Aviación HA-1112s one of which was a two-seater training HA-1112-M4L variant. Non flying aircrafts were used for taxiing and static displays.

A line of Bf 109s in the Battle of Britain movie

Battle of Britain Theatrical Trailer

Midway (1976)

Set 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Midway is a historic retelling retelling of the Japanese and US Navy battle over the small American Pacific Island of Midway. The Japanese Empire aimed to lure American aircraft carriers into a trap and then occupy Midway. However, American Navy information officers cracked the encryption of a significant portion of Japanese messages, and the American’s set counter ambush with three aircraft carriers.

The 1976 movie does a good job of depicting the fog of war faced by America and Japanese Admirals. If you are interested in a more academic look at the strategic choices watch the following YouTube video:

Featured Airplanes

The movie producers only had access to three wartime airplanes so the vast majority of the aerial dogfights, and naval battles were historical footage and scenes other movies such as Away All Boats (1956), Battle of Britain (1969), and Tora Tora Tora (1970).

Midway Theatrical Trailer

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor is a romantic love triangle story with Pearl Harbor as a backdrop. Between the love triangle and sinking ships, the movie feels like a Titanic (1997) Oscar bait rip off that missed the mark. The $208 million budget was clearly spent on explosions and actor salaries. Staring Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Dan Aykroyd, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alec Baldwin, and many more. The 3 hour run time, feels needlessly long. There is surprisingly and a whole hour and new plot line after the Pearl Harbor bombing, that seems to be included to ensure that the Americans don’t like losers.

The actual Peal Harbor attack scene is fantastic. Michael Bay is known for big explosions and he does not let down. Sadly the action scenes are not enough to save this movie, that managed to enrage American and Japanese war veterans, plus historians. But you will get to some great footage of World War 2 warbirds and bombers.

Featured Airplanes:

A Stearman biplane is used as a crop duster in some past childhood scenes.

Spitfires and Hawker Sea Hurricanes are visible when a lead American pilot fights with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (historically only several known American pilots risked their US citizenships and claimed to be Canadian to fight in the Battle of Britain)

Battle of Britain scene in the Pearl Harbor film

Unsurprisingly, there are many Japanese planes and many different scenes. Mitsubishi A6M5-52 Zeros, and A6M3-22 Zeros.

Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero from the Pearl Harbor movie
Mitsubishi A6M3-22 Zero flying over Pearl Harbor

The Japanese Nakajima B5N “Kate” were actually modified North American AT-6D/SNJ-5 and a Harvard MK IV reused from the movie Tora Tora Tora.

Nakajima B5N with torpedoes from the Pearl Harbor movie

The Warhark Air Museum loaned the two authentic World War II P-40 Warhawks.

P-40 in the Pearl Harbor movie

B-25 Bombers are featured widely in the last hour of the movie for the Doolittle bombing raid.

B-25 taking off from an aircraft carrier in the Pearl Harbor movie

Pearl Harbor Theatrical Trailer

Top Gun (1986)

Staring a young Tom Cruise, Top Gun was one of the most popular movies of the 80’s and is still a favorite among film buffs and aviation nerds. Pete Mitchell, “Maverick”, is a daredevil American Navy-pilot. He is accepted into an elite fighter pilot school where he competes to be the best of the best, while haunted by his father’s checkered military past.

Featured Airplanes:

The F-14 Tomcat is widely featured in Top Gun. The F-14 Tomcat is a two-seat, twin-engine jet fighter used by the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1992, and is the plane flown by Maverick and his co-pilot “Goose” in Top Gun. Although, Tom Cruise is a trained pilot, the US military did not allow Tom to personally fly the F14 in the movie.

A U.S. F-14 flying over burning Kuwaiti oil wells set alight by retreating Iraqi troops during Operation Desert Storm, August 1, 1991. Credit Britannica

The Mig28 is a fictional Soviet Union jet fighter in Top Gun. An American F5 was repainted and give name Mig28 (Migs normally have odd numbers)

Top Gun Theatrical Trailer

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

Tora Tora Tora is an Oscar winning dramatic retelling of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The story is told from both the Japanese and American perspective. The movie to filmed in 1970 so the plot pacing is a little slow when compared to modern movies. However, the movie is often praised for historical accuracy. The practical special effects during the battle of Pearl Harbor are excellent (won an Academy Award for best special effects) and hold up well to more current movies. Many replica battleships and war planes were destroyed because this filmed long before post production computer-generated imagery. Tora Tora Tora is often regarded as one of the best World War 2 movies and come recommend by both me and my grade 9 history teacher.

Airplanes Featured:

Harvard T-6 Texans from the Royal Canadian Air Force were used at Japanese A6M Zero Fighters; photo credit Dr Miller

If most of the ships seen through the movie are models, take-offs were done from the USS Yorktown (CV-10) acting as one of the following Japanese carrier : Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, Shokaku, Soryu and Zuikaku.

Kates from the movie Tora Tora Tora

Tora! Tora! Tora! Theatrical Trailer

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