Top 5 Movie Guide: Earth-Based Air Travel

For the latest edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, in honor of this weekend's 3D re-release of "Top Gun", we decided to take a look at some of our favorite Airplane Movies! Most all should be familiar with the title, but for those who aren't, this 1986 film, directed by Tony Scott, stars Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, and Kelly McGillis. The film centers around a hotshot ace pilot (Cruise) sent to the Top Gun Naval Flying School, where the best and brightest pilots in the Navy are trained. Attitudes and histories collide as each of the pilots try to prove themselves the best.

As you'll notice, the title above is slightly different than just "airplane movies", and that is because we wanted to open the category up as much as possible to include a good variety of films (though I think there's really only one title below that earned its spot due to us opening the list up to films outside of just airplanes). Either way, technically, we decided that any flying contraption - airplanes, airships, zeppelins, hot air balloons, wings, etc. - would qualify. The only restriction: the film and/or device had to be based here on earth; so no spaceships or rockets unless their focal was on earth and not in outer-space. Similarly to our restriction on space travel, we avoided science fiction in this list as well - looking at futuristic sci-fi movies you'll quickly find a great deal that contain flying vehicles for transport around the planet. We did not want to include these because it strayed far too much from our original source.

For the most part, look at these as simply Airplane Movies, but know that other forms of earth-bound air travel were also up for consideration.

So that being said, hit the jump to see which films made each of our lists!

Alex Schopp -

     1. Up in the Air (2009)
This was one of my favorite films from 2009, and featured a character that I connected a lot with. I recently re-watched this film, and envision this being a yearly revisit for me. The construction, themes and tones of this film are nearly ideal in what I'm always wanting in a movie.
     2. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Only part of this revolved around the air, but who doesn't love a good Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks/Leonardo DiCaprio team-up? This is a great character flick, and I love the time period in which this one takes place.
     3. Flight (2012)
Another great character piece (as you can see, this feature majorly trumps the air travel aspect; I'm just lucky there are planes in these movies). Washington gives a great and honest performance as an out-of-control alcoholic. I found this one of the best and most entertaining films of last year.
     4. Air Force One (1997)
Now we'll take a step back and have some fun with the category. This is just great 90's action entirely based on an airplane. While Harrison Ford is great as the President of the United States, this film is simply for entertainment. There's no deeper, complex story with this one, but if you're looking for some (semi)mindless fun, you can't go wrong here.
     5. Airplane! (1980)
While this film easily tops my Spoof Comedy list, this is a great example of just how far comedies typically fall with me when they aren't a requirement. This film is a classic and should elicit plenty of laughs, but I'll take a character drama over a comedy any day of the week.

Ben Foutch -

     1. Flight (2012)
A compelling character piece propelled by inspired performances. This return to form by Zemeckis represents a distinct notch on his filmography.
     2. Con Air (1997)
I have a soft spot for cheesy action movies.
     3. Airplane! (1980)
A comedy/spoof classic. If this doesn't make you laugh at least once, then you don't have a sense of humor.
     4. Passenger 57 (1992)
Another cheesy action movie. Sometimes that is how a Top 5 evolves.
     5. Up in the Air (2009)
Like my #1 pick, this is a good character piece that explores some of the more psychological aspects of air travel. The low watchability puts it at a lower ranking, but it is an emotionally gripping story that was blessed by a solid production.

Derek Clem -

     1. The Right Stuff (1983)
You're all thinking, this is a rocket/space movie, this doesn't count. Well, don't forget all of the the great Chuck Yeager portions of the movie. This film inspired me to read books on Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. It's very rare that I read for pleasure, so I have to give the movie props for that. I wish this had won Best Picture over "Terms of Endearment" at the Oscars - it would be a much better movie to call my birth year Best Picture winner.
     2.Con Air (1997)
A crazy concept that has high watchability.
     3. Fly Away Home (1996)
My sister being a big Anna Paquin fan turned this into a major rental. I have to say I enjoy it as well.
     4. Crash (1978)
Any fear I have when flying is a result of this movie. Yikes!
     5. Airplane! (1980)
This is pretty much the axiom of this category, so much so, that a part of me doesn't even want to add it to my list. But you know what, regardless of how cliche it may be, I have to. It's a classic with high watchability.

Nathan Hinds -
This is one of my favorite genres in terms of watchability. I would have a marathon of the top three movies on this list every weekend when I was younger. They are still some of my all-time favorites. I don't know what it is specifically, but the plane setting just works for me.

     1. Con Air (1997)
This movie will pretty much be at the top of any category it qualifies for on my lists. It's easily one of my favorite action movies ever. The cast is loaded with great actors and great humor; and Nic Cage's lawyer that couldn't get him off on self-defense is my pick for the worst lawyer in the history of film.
     2. Air Force One (1997)
This film topped my Movie Presidents list a while back. There isn't a single thing not to love about this movie. You get the great plane hijacking element, Harrison Ford as a bad-ass President, and Gary Oldman rocking the villain role.
     3. Executive Decision (1996)
This has one of the most unexpected deaths that I can remember. That was such a bold move for the filmmakers to kill off Steven Seagal 20 minutes into the movie. What's even better about it is that I'm not a Steven Seagal fan for the most part anyway, so I got more screen time with other actors that I like more.
     4. Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
This is the only movie on my list where the majority of the film isn't spent in a plane. Still, the entire movie is about guys building a new plane out of one that crashed, so that was good enough for me. Another rock solid cast, and it's a really easy watch.
     5. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
It's just good, cheesy fun. You can tell all the actors in the film were having a lot of fun with a completely ridiculous premise. I am definitely a dog lover but the part where the guy chucks the chihuahua to the big snake was so damn funny. Plus, this movie has such a great end credits song. This is one of the few songs that I would always make sure to catch back when I was working at and cleaning theaters.

Tracy Allison -
Inadvertently, three out of the five movies that I chose are historically based and scale some of the history of aeronautics. And two of the five movies that I chose star Leonardo DiCaprio. I think what makes the films about older airplane history more intriguing and heroic is the skepticism that the protagonist is met with on the way. Personally, airplanes aren't high on my list of interests, but these movies got me excited to know a little more about the subject and I did some research after watching them.

     1. The Aviator (2004)
This picture appeals to me personally on many levels. The old Hollywood aspect is a deft and interesting counterpart to the young tycoon’s obsession with creating world record breaking aircrafts. The protagonist, Howard Hughes, led a very different kind of life, concerning the movies he made, the aircraft he commissioned, and his descent into madness, and I found myself very fascinated with Hughes in general. There are some pretty amazing flight sequences in this movie. It was nice to mix a character study of a real man with an action filled piece of aeronautic history!
     2. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
This is another film based in truth. Although it’s more of a lighthearted cat-and-mouse drama, the section concerning Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and his foray into being an imposter copilot is interesting enough to garner a spot on my list. The childlike look of fright and enthusiasm on DiCaprio’s face when he lifts off for the first time made me remember how truly amazing the technology of flight is, often taken for granted now.
     3. The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
This movie is a classic and Jimmy Stewart took on the role of Charles Lindbergh and his amazing true story of the very first transatlantic flight in a plane built specifically for the occasion. This plane was the Spirit of St. Louis. I’ll admit that as that last piece was fitted onto the aircraft, a lump formed in my throat. Some of the flying scenes are quite beautiful. If you aren't used to classic movies, generally the pacing is a different – it’s more like a play. But, the action definitely keeps you interested and even a little nervous. Historically, I knew what was going to happen, but that didn't stop me from being on the edge of my seat for the exciting scenes. Stewart didn't have a love interest in this movie in the conventional sense, the plane and the journey filled up that particular role. I learned about this flight in school and saw this plane in Washington D.C. a few years ago, but watching this movie actually brought it to life for me.
     4. Red Eye (2005)
This particular movie has stuck in my mind since I saw it in high school. I’m not a fan of the horror genre in general, but a well-crafted thriller is right up my alley. Place a frightening situation in an enclosed space in the sky and you've got an even bigger problem. The fact that most of this movie takes place in an airport or in an airplane surrounded by other people lends a sense of urgency to the tone. The storyline may be unlikely, but with a strong cast (led by the heroine played by Rachel McAdams) and building tension, I found myself enjoying this film. It’s a nice watch when you’re in the mood for something a little more edgy. Plus, I was impressed with the protagonist and I hope if I'm ever held hostage in the sky, that I can be half as ingenious as she!
     5. Airplane! (1980)
I remember the first time I saw this movie; I had never seen anything like it or heard comedy quite like this before. Many comedies grow stale and out of date after years pass, but this spoof continues to be a cult favorite. "There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?"

There we have it, folks! Another great week with plenty of great variety above! This is the second list now from our newest contributor and already you can see just how much she's adding to the post - outside of the great commentary she has for each title, three of her five selections were not featured on any other list.

Overall, 16 different titles were featured above. Each writer selected a different film as their top pick, and only six films received multiple selections. No film appeared on all five lists, but "Airplane!" did the best of any title above, hitting on all but one. Interestingly, it was one of the least popular liked films above, sitting in the #5 slot on three of the four lists. Still, this is one of the greatest comedies ever made, and while it might feel an expected pick, it's still a pick that deserves its recognition.

One film grabbed three picks, "Con Air", while "Air Force One", "Up in the Air", "Flight", and "Catch Me If You Can" were the only other films to appear in multiple variety, each with two picks. There's quite the variety here, detailing a few different genres. Both "Con Air" and "Air Force One" are your action thrillers, simply made for a good time. "Up in the Air" and "Flight" are more internal character dramas that simply offer great scripts and great dramatic performances. "Catch Me If You Can" falls more into the second group for sure, though the fact that this one is based on a true story really adds a lot to the film. All great choices though worthy of a watch or two.

As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this genre has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!