While they may not be completely accurate - movies never are - the scenes in the list share a common quality of realism and, in some, attention to detail. But before I share the cinematic gems of aviation air support, let's look at a few that didn't make the list...
Tears of the Sun (2003)
The movie was as good as you'd expect with Bruce Willis as the action hero. While it proved why Navy Seals are the coolest operators on the planet well before they got Bin Laden, it climaxed with an over the top pyrotechnic display delivered by two naval aviators who ultimately get no credit for saving the good guys' bacon by frying the enemy's.
The Rock (1993)
The Rock was actually entertaining though completely far-fetched, so it almost seems unfair to pan it this way. I mean, what should I expect from a Nicolas Cage movie after all? The slick visuals of the low level F-18's don't even make up for this scene.
Iron Eagle (1986)
Iron Eagle holds a special place in my heart, right below Top Gun. Both were movies I grew up watching and influenced my interest in aviation. Looking back on them, however, for all it's cheesiness, Top Gun will still hold up for years to come. Iron Eagle, on the other hand...
Forrest Gump (1994)
This is one of my favorite movies so its only fitting that it has a scene with some decent aviation footage...or maybe that's why the movie is one of my favorites. Any way, the scene precedes one of the saddest moments of the film (spoiler alert: Bubba's death) and puts a visual effects exclamation point on Gump's tour in Vietnam.
There is nothing flashy, the scene doesn't try too hard. Three Phantoms roll in, one marking the target with WP rockets while the trailing F-4's douse the area with napalm. It is simple and tense and for it's time, impressive.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Personally, I hate this movie and I don't know why it always manages to end up on every top ten war movie list in history. But here we are and its made my list of top airstrike scenes in movie history. Ironic. It is the only scene on my list that does not show the aircraft releasing ordnance, but there are other factors that make up for it. It displays the coordination of ground ops with a forward air controller and the inbound fast movers - in this case, little F-5B's. For as cluttered and chaotic as the scenes preceding this one are, the airstrike is smooth and to the point. The radio chatter is not full of Hollywood-esque keywords and bravado. Finally, for a movie I hate, it resulted in one of the best lines in film history...
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
A great all around film and one of Harrison Ford's best. Being written by Tom Clancy it should be no surprise that the airstrike scene is depicted as realistically as possible. I appreciate that the F-18 carrying out the strike is as much of a character in the movie as the other actors. It doesn't just appear out of no where but instead the viewer can clearly follow its origins. It is loaded with a bomb and remains so until its release. There is none of that awkward Hollywood bungling where an aircraft is loaded in one scene, but in the next it is completely empty. It is one of the more technical movie airstrikes, involving a laser guided GBU-12, rather than a low and fast pass that yields a giant fiery explosion.
Flight of the Intruder (1991)
Speaking of low, fast passes, fiery explosions and Hollywood bravado, what's not to love about this movie? It features the A-6 in all of its utilitarian ugliness and stars Willem Dafoe, Danny Glover and Brad Johnson. Brad Johnson, folks. The same guy who brought you Nam Angels. But I digress. As a matter of fact, there are two scenes from this movie I've included here. The first is from the final attack downtown on SAM city where we get to see the good guys drop some Snakeyes on the bad guys.
The next scene delivers some intense aerial footage as Sandies swoop in to support our hero, Brad Johnson, as he attempts to save the day. This video does a nice job highlighting the realism.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
This movie ranks up there as one of my favorites of all time. Watching it as a kid I remember connecting with Christian Bale's character, Jim, and his enthusiasm for aircraft. The scene shows P-51D's attacking a Japanese air field. A great deal of effort must have gone into the scene, using a mix of both real and large scale model aircraft to create a sequence that is totally convincing.
We Were Soldiers (2002)
While not as good as the book, the movie stands up as one of the best war films and the "Broken Arrow" scene stands as one of the best airstrikes Hollywood has produced. The sequence includes cameos of many different USAF and USN/USMC aircraft such as the Intruder, F-100, F-4, A-1, and an incredible strafing run by an A-4.
BAT 21 (1988)
Danny Glover makes another appearance on the list, as does the Vietnam War. This strike is dull compared to the others above but like the Apocalypse Now scene, I like interaction between the FAC, the jets, and Gene Hackman's character. Plus I like that the F-5's are actually filmed with a bomb or two loaded. Though it's not "nape and snake" like the pilots say in the film, something is better than nothing.
Do you have any favorites that I missed? Do you totally disagree with my list? Let me know what you think!