The 10 Best Warplane Films, According to Real Aviation Buffs (No Top Gun, Thank You)

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5. The Right Stuff (1983) Thank god this was a good payday for Tom Wolfe, because director and screenwriter Philip Kauffman made a mockery of his book. The only reason The Right Stuff appears here is the flying footage, for as much as we disdain the dialogue, we have to grudgingly concede that most of this film is dazzling to the eye. Add a lump-in-the-throat music score by Bill Conti (who won the Oscar for it) and...well, if only it weren't for that dog's breakfast of a script. And a fantastic cast of Everybody Big in the Eighties doesn't help much.

The true story was exciting enough. Kauffman didn't have to add his transparently dumb metaphysical twists to it. No professional flyers on earth ever talked this way and even casual aviation and space flight buffs tear the film to shreds for its historical inaccuracies. We don't usually ask Hollywood for historical documents, but when you make the claim, as this film does, you'd better stick to at least a few facts. For example, few people ever really believed that Gus Grissom actually blew that hatch and lost his capsule himself. Otherwise, he wouldn't have stayed around to die on Apollo I.

After all that bile, though, we still have to say The Right Stuff is worth watching over and over. Just not with the volume up too far.

4. Strategic Air Command (1955) Jimmy Stewart's jingoistic love letter to SAC. Stewart, a veteran combat pilot and Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve, produced and starred in this one himself. Stewart is a professional baseball player (for the St. Louis Cardinals) who is called back into the Air Force after WW II, this time to hold off the Rooskies with his nuclear-armed B-36.

The latter was a veritable mountain of an airplane that probably plays better on the screen than it ever would have in a real shooting war. Later, however, Stewart is given his own B-47 to horse around the sky, and the film enters the Jet Age.

It helps knowing that Stewart was qualified to fly these aircraft and was allegedly quite proficient in them. He even flew a combat mission in Vietnam (in a B-52, some say as his little bit of payback for the death of his son over there).

The picture is also memorable for its fairly accurate peek at the lives of SAC families in the early nuclear age. The B-36s and elegant B-47s get their only major turn on the silver screen. The ur-faithful wife is played by, surprise, June Allyson.

3. Wings (1927)
The first and still one of the greatest. With a cast that includes Buddy Rogers and Clara Bow, not to mention a bunch of authentic WW I Fokker D.VIIs, SPADs and an Albatros or two (to name a few). It is a spectacular piece of filmmaking, with air-to-air footage that is breathtaking even by modern standards. This late-silent film won the first Oscar for Best Picture.

The rub here is that it is silent and runs a bit over two hours, a real test on 21st Century eyes and attention spans. We don't see a lot of people running out to find this one. Nevertheless, the film was believed lost for decades until a print was found in a vault in the '70s. Unlike the Huns in this movie, film lovers really dodged a bullet.

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Mel Sharkskin