If you’re an aviation geek with a penchant for history (and you don’t mind curling up to watch a quality film), then take a look at this list of some of the top movies featuring warbird planes.
After the movie, book your Pearl Harbor Warbirds flight over Pearl Harbor, Oahu.
16 Best Warbird Movies
Battle of Britain (1969)
At a seminal moment in World War II, British Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (Laurence Olivier) must rally his outnumbered pilots against Hitler’s feared Luftwaffe. Besieged by German bombing runs, the Brits counter with an aggressive air campaign of their own. Within months, the Nazis find themselves on the run, thanks to Dowding’s tactical genius and the work of talented squadron leaders (Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer) as well as other brave patriots.
This film, as one of the best warbird movies, features many Spitfires and Hurricanes throughout. The movie used every available Spitfire, Hurricane, He111 and Bf109 it could get its hands on. Furthermore, many of the latter two models came from the Spanish Air Force. This is a must-watch for those interested in warbirds. The special-edition release provides an extra disc that shows how the movie was actually made. It’s fascinating material and definitely worth the watch.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
This drama, based on real historical events of the Pearl Harbor attack, follows American boyhood friends Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) as they enter World War II as pilots. Rafe is so eager to take part in the war that he departs to fight in Europe alongside England’s Royal Air Force. On the home front, his girlfriend, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), finds comfort in the arms of Danny. The three of them reunite in Hawaii just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
There are some premier aerial sequences in this film using Spitfires, P-40s, and B-25 Mitchells. There are also modified American aircraft representing the Japanese aircraft — which make this movie interesting from a warbird perspective. That’s what makes it one of the best warbird movies. (BONUS: Read about five little-known Pearl Harbor movie facts.)
Dark Blue World (2001)
Jan Sverak (“Kolya”) directs this uplifting film about a hallowed Czech fighter pilot who must train a much less experienced colleague. When the Nazis invade the country in 1939, the pilots must work fast. Eventually they flee to England, where they band together with other pilots and join the RAF, a decision which will haunt the men years later.
There is plenty of aviation content in this film, which is well-balanced with ground sequences. As one of the best warbird movies out there, this is a great film for both warbird buffs and those looking for a well-scripted storyline.
Tora Tora Tora! (1970)
This is a Japanese-American historical war film that dramatizes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It offers incredible air-to-air sequences as well as aircraft carrier operations. Although American aircraft were modified to play the part of Japanese aircraft, this is barely noticeable. Some special effects are outdated (particularly the use of model ships at sea), but the action around Pearl Harbor is amazing. A few stuntmen had close calls with runaway aircraft and explosions, which makes for some stunning footage.
Flight of the Intruder (1991)
U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Jake Grafton (Brad Johnson) and his bombardier buddy, Lt. Cmdr. Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe), are two soldiers embedded in the Vietnam War growing frustrated by the military’s constraints on their missions. Despite the best efforts by their commanding officer, Cmdr. Frank Camparelli (Danny Glover), to re-engage them, the disillusioned duo decides to take the war effort into their own hands with an explosive battle plan that could get them court-martialed.
Tuskeegee Airmen (1995)
This is the True Story of the U.S. Army’s “Fighting 99th” — the first squadron of African-American combat fighter pilots. Against all odds (the prejudice and humiliation, as well as the distrust and vengeful nature of senior white officers), this squadron learned how to survive at any price. With devastating precision, the pilots shot down more than 400 German aircraft without losing a single plane to enemy fire in more than 200 bomber escort missions. This is their remarkable and courageous story, 50 years later. It will shock and enrage you, and it provides a final tribute to the unsung heroes of World War II: The Tuskegee Airmen.
There is plenty to please aviation geeks in this film: Stearmans, T-6 Harvards/Texans, P-51s, B-17s and Bf109s. The diverse range of aircraft makes it one of the best warbird movies. There are also some excellent original air-to-air sequences and original wartime footage.
Fighter Squadron (1948)
Major Ed Hardin (Edmond O’Brien), a devil-may-care fighter pilot during World War II, earns a certain begrudging admiration from his superior, Colonel Brickley (John Rodney). Brickley respects him so much, in fact, that when he gets a promotion he recommends Hardin as his replacement. In a twist, Hardin turns over a new leaf as strict taskmaster, but ends up tested himself by Captain Stu Hamilton (Robert Stack), a friend who goes against the major’s rules and chooses to marry.
This movie offers plenty of P-47 planes for avid aviation fans to enjoy.
A man is trying desperately to be certified insane during World War II, so that he can stop flying missions. It is the tale of a small group of flyers in the Mediterranean in 1944. There are winners and losers, opportunists and survivors. Separately and together, they are nervous, frightened, often profane and sometimes pathetic. Almost all are also a bit crazy. Catch-22 is an anti-war satire of epic proportions. The film offers several great sequences of B-25 Mitchells taking off, landing as well as flying in formation.
Wings of War (1969)
When the Germans are allowed to recapture an island in the Mediterranean during WWII, a squad of U.S. soldiers is left behind to destroy an important radio base. But this is just the start of problems for the U.S. troops, civilians and Germans. This film contains several hours covering warbirds of every type from various countries, from an L3 Piper to the B-29.
Bridges At Toko-Ri (1954)
The Bridges at Toko-Ri is an American war film about the Korean War. It stars William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Mickey Rooney, and Robert Strauss. It covers the Korean conflict and is complete with aircraft carrier action, Banshees as well as Panthers.
Memphis Belle (1990)
In 1943, the crew of a B-17 based in the U.K. prepares for its 25th and last bombing mission over Germany before returning home to the United States. Memphis Belle shows what daylight B-17 crews had to go through every mission. This film — one of the best warbird movies — is a tribute to those thousands of aircrew that didn’t return home.
This is another Hollywood movie about WWI flyers. It encompasses a British-American war drama film set during World War I, starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, David Ellison, Abdul Salis, Philip Winchester, and Tyler Labine.
Hell’s Angels (1930)
As WWI breaks out in Europe, Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon), two brothers studying at Oxford University, enlist in the Royal Flying Corps to fight for queen and country, while their college friend Karl is drafted in Germany. A love triangle involving Monte, Roy, and Roy’s girlfriend, Helen (Jean Harlow), the brothers’ disparate personalities, and Monte’s cowardice in the face of war soon threaten to compromise a top-secret bombing mission over German territory. This is a great film for aviation lovers.
Midway is an American color war film covering the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway sounded its furious thunder in June 1942, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Midway interweaves the dramatic personal stories of the men who fought the courageous battle that was to be the Pacific turning point for the United States. The all-star cast and breathtaking war footage convey this battle with powerful reality and epic sweep.
Unfortunately, there are some major issues throughout the film. First, the “actual footage of the battle” shows F4U Corsairs — which were not in the Battle of Midway. Footage from this movie was also snagged from “Tora Tora Tora!” and it shows. (There are hills in the background while depicting action on Midway, which are the same hangars as at Wheeler Field, Oahu, getting blown up.) The model ships used for some battle scenes are extremely archaic, too.
The Fight for the Sky (1945)
If you enjoy documentaries, then this movie offers a black-and-white film experience about the 8th USAAF in Europe. It is a short propaganda film commissioned by the U.S. government to highlight the victories of the Allied air forces over Europe prior to the Normandy invasion. As one of the best warbird movies to watch, this offers a unique documentary experience for aviation lovers.
Fighting Lady (1944)
This is a great color film about Aircraft Carrier operations in the Pacific, including color gun camera footage. This military documentary presents life aboard an American aircraft carrier — later revealed to be the USS Yorktown — operating in the Pacific theater during WWII. It incorporates the innovative use of gun-mounted cameras as an added bonus for history enthusiasts. The production shows both the daily routines of those on the massive ship and the intensity of aerial and naval conflict in battles with Japanese forces entrenched on various small Pacific islands.
What other best warbird movies would you add to this list? Let us know, and book your flight with Pearl Harbor Warbirds after you’ve gotten your Hollywood fix!
Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers the best Hawai‘i flight adventure tours available. Immerse yourself in the details of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Soar above the important sites that played a part in the “Day of Infamy.” Relive history as you retrace the steps of the Army and Navy airmen in the days following the bombing. Furthermore, you can fly on some of the same routes the Japanese attackers used into the airfields at Wheeler, Kāne‘ohe and Bellows. Hawaii offers many air tours, but only one warbird airplane flight. Located in Honolulu, Pearl Harbor Warbirds provides a personal historical experience, which makes it one of the best O‘ahu attractions.
Experience an immersive two-hour adventure that allows you to relive history as a Naval Aviator and fly Pearl Harbor like it was on December 10th, 1941. Learn more about the Admiral’s Warbird Adventure.