Top Ten Fictional Film Pilots

I love airplane movies, especially fighter plane movies. There’s just something about dodging enemy planes at high speed five feet from the ground that screams “awesome!” But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed from years of watching movies, it’s that the best fictional pilots aren’t always in films that you could classify as plane movies. Sometimes they’re not even the main characters. Even if they’re only in a few scenes, even if aircraft aren’t the primary focus of the film, these pilot characters have mad skillz and they deserve to be recognized. So what follows is a list of the top ten most awesome, most skilled, most interesting movie pilots of all time.

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#10. BALOO

Played by: Ed Gilbert (voice)
Appears in: Talespin (1990-1994)
Flies a: Conwing L-16 Sea Duck

“If it’s got wings, I can fly it. Sometimes even if it doesn’t.”

Talespin’s not so much a film as it is a TV show, and a cartoon one for kids at that, but I just couldn’t help putting Baloo on the list. He’s kind, funny, inventive, and an amazing pilot. He can take the Sea Duck off with only about 100ft of water in front of him, flip, roll, and throw pineapples through the props with such precision that they land on the faces of the fighter pilots who are after him, even though the Sea Duck is so old its autopilot is a crowbar. He’s not real, and neither is his plane, but who cares? No one else on this list is real either!


Jude Law as Joe Sullivan in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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#9. JOE “SKY CAPTAIN” SULLIVAN

Played by: Jude Law
Appears in: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Flies a: retrofitted Curtis P-40 Warhawk

“Can we, just for once, die without all this bickering?”

Joe Sullivan is half comic book hero, half WWII era ace. When I say he flies a “retrofitted” Warhawk, I mean retrofitted into a Batmobile. His plane is part aircraft, part submarine, and full of little tricks and gadgets like grappling hooks. Of course, with a machine like that, you need the best pilot in the world to handle it. That’s Joe. He can fly at street level in New York City, through construction sites, and around 90 degree corners, all while arguing with his ex-girlfriend. If you need someone to dogfight undersea robo-monsters or flapping robot thieves, call on Sky Captain and his army for hire.


Amy Smart as Tracy Faucet in Rat Race

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#8. TRACY FAUCET

Played by: Amy Smart
Appears in: Rat Race (2001)
Flies a: Eurocopter AS 350 A-Star

“I’ll ram this helicopter right down your throat!”

Tracy is an ordinary commercial helicopter pilot. She has skills – after all, she’s been flying since she was fifteen, but when she catches her boyfriend cheating, her insane anger turns her into a world-class stunt pilot. She collapses an above ground pool, bombs through city streets, and runs a truck off the highway, all at an altitude of less than a few feet – low enough to register on police speed radar. Her Navy pilot daddy would be proud.


Arnold Schwarzenegger as Harry Tasker in True Lies

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#7. HARRY TASKER

Played by: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Appears in: True Lies (1994)
Flies a: McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier

“If I break it, they can take it out of my pay.”

Harry Tasker is a spy by trade. He hasn’t flown in ten years, but when his daughter is kidnapped he doesn’t hesitate to steal several million dollars worth of plane to rescue her. Harriers are the most notoriously difficult planes to fly in the world, which is why it’s flat out amazing that he doesn’t end up destroying half of L.A. while dogfighting a Harrier, shooting up terrorists, and plucking damsels in distress from cranes. He even manages to fight a bad guy hand to hand while he’s doing all that. Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.


Tom Cruise as Pete Mitchell in Top Gun

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#6. PETE “MAVERICK” MITCHELL

Played by: Tom Cruise
Appears in: Top Gun (1986)
Flies a: Gumman F-14 Tomcat

“I have a need, a need for speed.”

Pete Mitchell isn’t exactly what you’d call a reliable guy, though you can depend on him to cause trouble. That’s where he gets his callsign: Maverick. He does inverted dives with enemy fighters just to give them the finger, pulls surprise low-altitude flybys on airport towers, and performs risky tricks that are definitely not in the rule book. He’d have been kicked out of the Navy long ago if he wasn’t so damn good. He’s not a team player (at least not naturally), but his stint at Top Gun school proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back

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#5. HAN SOLO

Played by: Harrison Ford
Appears in: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983)
Flies the: Millennium Falcon, a modified YT-1300 light freighter

“Never tell me the odds.”

Han Solo is a smuggler, and a damn good one. He’s dodged more than his fair share of Imperial ships, most of which had him outgunned and outnumbered. His ancient freighter isn’t exactly cooperative on many of these occasions, especially the hyperdrive. As a result Han’s become the galaxy’s foremost expert on evasive maneuvers, navigating asteroid belts, squeezing into tight hiding places, and inventing underhanded new tricks, and he’s done it all without having the Force.


Martin Henderson as Reed Cassidy in Flyboys

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#4. REED CASSIDY

Played by: Martin Henderson
Appears in: Flyboys (2006)
Flies a: Nieuport 17

“Guys like you just won’t quit, so I gotta stick around, knock some Huns off your tail, and give you a chance.”

With more than 20 kills, Reed Cassidy is Lafayette Squadron’s top ace. I almost disqualified him because he’s inspired by a real pilot named Raoul Lufbery, but the similarities between them don’t extend beyond having a lion for a pet. Reed’s what young pilots become after the war smacks the idealism out of them. He’s broken, jaded, and all his friends are dead. But he still goes up, often alone, hunting. His past is a mystery but he can flip behind enemies that are on his tail, rip their wings off with his landing gear, and bring his smoking plane back home.


Sharlto Copely as James Murdock in The A-Team


#3. JAMES “HOWLING MAD” MURDOCK

Played by: Sharlto Copely
Appears in: The A-Team (2010)
Flies a: Bell UH-1 Iroquois, Lockheed C-130 Hercules, and a tank

“Hang on, everybody. I wanna try something I saw in a cartoon once.”

All the best pilots have a little bit of crazy in them, but James Murdock is batsh** insane. His nickname, “Howling Mad,” is appropriate considering that he rolls helicopters, dodges missiles with the engine off, steals transport planes, and flies parachute tanks. But because of his mad skillz, everyone always lives to fly another day. Even if they never want to get in a plane with him ever again.


Katee Sackhoff as Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica

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#2. KARA “STARBUCK” THRACE

Played by: Katee Sackhoff
Appears in: Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)
Flies a: Colonial Viper Mk II

“Out of the box is where I live.”

Kara Thrace is a fighter pilot driven by anger. That’s understandable – her entire home system was just wiped out. Kara’s a brilliant pilot and a strategist as well, which is what you need when you’re one ship on the run from millions of murderous robots. Kara’s not exactly adept when it comes to relationships, but if you need someone to watch your back, there’s no one better. She’ll go to great lengths (ship crashing, gauntlet running lengths) to protect her friends.


Alan Tudyk as Hoban Washbourne in Serenity

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#1. HOBAN “WASH” WASHBOURNE

Played by: Alan Tudyk
Appears in: Firefly (2002), Serenity (2005)
Flies a: Firefly class transport named Serenity

“I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar.”

Wash is exactly the type of pilot you’d want to hire if you were the captain of a tiny, junky starship that was often in trouble. He’s calm, cool, and collected behind the controls, even if there are Alliance ships all over the sky, pieces falling off the hull, and cannibals in pursuit. He can pull off crazy stunts like the Barn Swallow or the Crazy Ivan to save your ass but doesn’t take chances on just for kicks. He obeys orders, he’s mentally stable, and his flippancy often helps to defuse tensions among the crew. And he wears Hawaiian shirts in the cockpit. In short, Wash is the ideal pilot.

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5 Responses to Top Ten Fictional Film Pilots

Sandy Lacey
Commented:  21 August 2010 at 08:30()

Hans Solo is #1 in my books, followed closely by Maverick. Top Gun is in my top 5 all-time great movies.

Sally Letz
Commented:  22 August 2010 at 10:18()

Trudy!!

  • Pingback: Top Ten Plane Movies You've Never Seen |()

  • chris
    Commented:  24 October 2011 at 21:24()

    what about Wedge Antilles??

    Katrina Nicholson
    Commented:  25 October 2011 at 10:22()

    I love Wedge. He was on my short list but ultimately lost out to Han Solo. Wedge’s 2nd death star run was pretty awesome, but Han’s asteroid belt escape trumps it, I think.

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