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WWII Films Which Showed How Pilots Were the Masters Of The Air

07 March 2024

WWII Films Which Showed How Pilots Were the Masters Of The Air

The TV series Masters of the Air finally comes to its gripping conclusion on 15th March, and what a flight it has proven to be.

With Spielberg and Hanks at the helm, I don't think there was any doubt about the series being a massive success. Before the series started, you only needed to look at their track record of capturing the rawness of war in World War II in their previous work to know that their latest piece of work would be a gripping ride.

However, we wanted to look back at other films and TV series that captured what it was like to be up in the skies during World War II and how they helped showcase the capabilities of pilots during such a pivotal time in our history.

The Dam Busters - 1955

A classic British war film, The Dam Busters, released in 1955 and directed by Michael Anderson, tells the true story of Operation Chastise, a daring mission during World War II to destroy German dams using innovative bouncing bombs.

Following the meticulous planning, training, and execution of the mission by Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd), viewers are taken right from the invention of the bouncing bomb by Dr Barnes Wallis (Michael Redgrave) through to the moment they finally drop the bouncing bomb into six dams, including Eder Dam.

"The Dam Busters" is renowned for its realistic portrayal of the raid, which includes a very sombre moment when the bombs drop, not of undulated excitement but a realisation of the number of lives that have been lost. A special mention must also go to its ground-breaking special effects, with it being extremely successful at the time of release.

Battle of Britain - 1969

Directed by Guy Hamilton, this cinematic masterpiece unfolds against the dramatic backdrop of World War II, showcasing the pivotal aerial conflict between the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the German Luftwaffe.

The film boasts an all-star ensemble cast, with performances from renowned actors such as Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Ian McShane.

Challenged with capturing one of the most pivotal battles during WWII, 'Battle of Britain' shows the intensity of the dogfights at various locations over Britain at a moment when Hitler's Luftwaffe was on a seemingly relentless mission to incapacitate Britain's air force.

If you start going into the details of this film, you learn that what made it so spectacular was the fact many of its scenes were shot with some of the last surviving Spitfires. The cinematography and music score heightened the scenes further to make it an unflinching piece of art that made you realise just how intense it would have been in real life.

Memphis Belle – 1990

Although a fictionalised account, Memphis Belle is based on the real-life experiences of the crew of B-17 Flying Fortress named 'Memphis Belle', one of the first U.S Army Air Forces bombers to complete 25 combat missions over Europe during World War II.

Throughout the course of the film, we are plunged into various aerial combat scenes as we follow the crew's harrowing journey, which quite carefully depicts what it would be like to be encased in one of the most famous bomber planes used during the war.

Although some critics said this film followed quite a few cliched tropes used in war movies, it must be said that the lengths the production crew went through in restoring an original B-17G Flying Fortress certainly helped create an authentic feel during it.

Pearl Harbour – 2001

As we move into the twenty-first century, the final two films on our list will likely be more easier to reflect on than the previous three.

With Michael Bay directing the film, Pearl Harbour set out to tell the story of the infamous attack on the Hawaiian base. Although the main plot centred around the love triangle between Rafe McCawlet (Ben Afflect), Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale), the action sequences and visual effects used during shooting the attack quickly drew the attention back onto the horrors of the day itself.

Although, in typical Hollywood fashion, quite a few historical inaccuracies crept into the film, this epic was received well because of its ambitious attempt to blend a romantic drama with a war epic.

Dunkirk – 2017

Although technically not a movie solely focused on pilots, Dunkirk had a very interesting subplot, which means we had to include it on the list.

Directed by one of the masters of film, Christopher Nolan, the overall narrative is extremely acute in exploring the complexities and bleakness of the human mind when staring defeat in the face. However, it is Tom Hardy's portrayal of an RAF pilot helping beat back the constant Luftwaffe salvos which became extremely gripping.

Despite most of the time just moving his eyes and head around in a cockpit, the intimate display of emotions and intensity captured some of the heroic behaviours a handful of RAF pilots performed in helping protect the stranded soldiers during another pivotal moment in World War II.

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