Not Just Top Gun: 10 Most Overlooked Air Combat Films, Ranked
We all know "Top Gun" is the reigning champ of air combat films, but let's not let Maverick and Goose hog the limelight: there are other sky-high films that deserve their moment in the sun.
Here are some of the most underrated air combat films you probably haven't seen yet.
1. "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975)
The film takes us back to the golden age of aviation in the 1920s. Waldo Pepper, played by Robert Redford, is a WWI pilot who missed out on the glory. Now he's pulling aerial stunts at county fairs. Ah, but life ain't a joyride, my friends. He meets Ernst Kessler, a German ace he once tried to shoot down. Together they create the most dangerous stunt ever: flying through a barn.
2. "Flight of the Intruder" (1991)
It's Vietnam War, and Navy pilot Jake Grafton had it up to here with the bureaucracy of the military. After his bombardier gets killed, Jake teams up with a hotshot pilot, Virgil Cole. What's their plan? They want to launch an unauthorized attack on a well-protected Hanoi facility.
It's a high-risk mission and you can bet your boots they run into all kinds of trouble, including coming under fire and barely making it back.
3. "The Tuskegee Airmen" (1995)
A bunch of young African-American men training to become pilots in the Army Air Force during WWII. And no, it ain't a cakewalk. From racial discrimination to lower expectations, they face it all. Still, they're sent to North Africa and Italy, where they cover bombers and tangle with German fighters.
The dogfights are insane, but these guys don't crack. They earn their stripes, get respect, and even a nickname: the Red Tails.
4. "Memphis Belle" (1990)
This one's about a B-17 bomber during WWII tasked with completing its 25th mission so its crew can go home. Their last run is to bomb a factory in Bremen, Germany. They face German fighters and deadly anti-aircraft fire. Engines catch fire, the crew gets injured, and they nearly crash-land.
5. "Sky Fighters" (2005)
Two French Air Force pilots, Captains Antoine Marchelli and Sébastien Vallois, get booted for disobeying orders. But life has other plans. They get reinstated for a confidential mission after a Mirage 2000 is stolen by an unknown pilot.
Cue the aerial chases and edge-of-your-seat combat. These guys are zipping around at Mach 2 speeds, intercepting enemy aircraft, and trying to save Paris from an airborne terrorist attack.
6. "Dark Blue World" (2001)
Franta and Karel, two Czech pilots, escape Nazi-occupied territory and join the Royal Air Force. It's not just the Messerschmitts they're fighting, but also the language barrier and cultural differences. The duo forms a love triangle with a British woman. In the air, they engage in heart-pounding dogfights and daring rescues.
7. "A Midnight Clear" (1992)
Set during WWII, it follows a group of young American soldiers stationed in the Ardennes Forest. They encounter a German squad that wants to surrender, but there's a catch: they want it to look like they went down fighting. A U.S. reconnaissance plane misunderstands the situation and attacks, turning the scenario into a messy and emotional firefight.
8. "Red Sky" (2014)
The movie follows two elite pilots, Butch Masters and Tom Craig, who are implicated in a crime they didn't commit. Stripped of their ranks, they're on a mission to clear their names. How? By stopping a rogue military operation in the Middle East, of course! The aerial combat scenes are like high-octane video games.
Think F-16s dodging surface-to-air missiles and dogfighting over desert landscapes.
9. "The Final Countdown" (1980)
The USS Nimitz, a modern aircraft carrier, is transported back in time to December 6, 1941 – the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The crew, led by Captain Matthew Yelland, has to decide whether to intervene and alter history. As they grapple with this moral dilemma, they engage in aerial battles against vintage Japanese Zeroes.
10. "Behind Enemy Lines" (2001)
Owen Wilson – yes, the funny guy – in a serious role. He plays Chris Burnett, a Navy flight officer shot down over Bosnia. His pilot is killed, and he's got Serb troops hot on his heels. While dodging enemy forces, he uncovers a war crime and decides he's gotta do something about it.
The aerial sequences here are insane, especially the initial takedown scene where his F/A-18 gets hit by a missile.