Air Force One (film)

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Air Force One
Air Force One (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Produced by Armyan Bernstein
Thomas Bliss
Gail Katz
Jonathan Shestack
Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Andrew W. Marlowe
Starring Harrison Ford
Gary Oldman
Glenn Close
Dean Stockwell
Xander Berkeley
William H. Macy
Paul Guilfoyle
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
(United States)
Buena Vista International
Release dates
  • July 25, 1997 (1997-07-25)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $85 million
Box office $315.1 million

Air Force One is a 1997 American political action thriller film written by Andrew W. Marlowe and directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen. It is about a group of Russian terrorists that hijack Air Force One. The film stars Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, as well as Glenn Close, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, and Paul Guilfoyle. A box office success with generally supportive critical reviews, the film was one of the most popular action films of the 1990s, and sitting U.S. President Bill Clinton praised it.


A joint operation between American and Russian Special Forces leads to the capture of General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the dictator of a rogue terrorist regime in Kazakhstan that had possession of stolen Soviet nuclear weapons. Three weeks later, President of the United States James Marshall (Harrison Ford) is invited to Moscow for a diplomatic dinner, during which he praises the capture and insists the United States will never negotiate with terrorists. Marshall and his entourage, including his wife Grace (Wendy Crewson) and daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews), and several of his Cabinet and advisers, prepare to return to the United States on Air Force One. In addition, a number of press corps have been invited aboard.

After takeoff, U.S. Secret Service agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley), acting as a mole, enables a group of six Russian Radek loyalists, posed as a press corps, to obtain Secret Service weapons and take over the plane, killing many of the other agents and other government personnel while taking the civilians hostage. Marshall is raced to an escape pod in the cargo hold while pursued by the loyalists' leader, Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). Korshunov arrives too late as the pod is ejected, and he returns to the main deck to secure Grace and Alice separate from the other hostages. Unknown to the terrorists, Marshall, a Medal of Honor recipient, remained hidden in the cargo hold instead of using the pod, and begins to observe the loyalists using his military training.

Korshunov contacts Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) with his demand to arrange the release of Radek or he will kill a hostage every half-hour. Marshall uses a fax machine with which he contacts Bennett. With help of military advisers, they devise a plan to release the hostages by forcing Air Force One to a lower mid-air refueling altitude by having Marshall dump the plane's fuel; from there, the hostages can parachute safely off the plane. As Korshunov and his pilot dock with the KC-10 tanker, Marshall subdues the other loyalists, frees the hostages, and helps escort them to the cargo hold. Korshunov realizes the deception, and in his haste to disconnect from the tanker, causes the fuel to ignite, destroying the tanker, whilst the Air Force One plane is lucky to escape the inferno. Korshunov arrives as the last of the hostages are freed. He prevents Marshall, Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd (Paul Guilfoyle), Major Caldwell (William H. Macy), and Gibbs from escaping.

With the President and his family under his control, Korshunov forces Marshall to contact Russian President Petrov and arrange for Radek's release. Bennett is urged by Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell) to declare the President incapable under the 25th amendment so as to override Radek's release, but she refuses. As the news of Radek's release reaches Air Force One, Korshunov and his men celebrate, giving Marshall the opportunity to break his bonds, kill Korshunov's men, and throw Korshunov off the plane when he tries to escape himself. Marshall races back to rescind his order, and Radek is subsequently killed when he is leaving the prison complex.

Marshall and Major Caldwell direct the plane back to friendly airspace accompanied by U.S. F-15s, but they are quickly tailed by some MiG-29s piloted by other Radek loyalists that try to shoot down the plane. Marshall is able to evade most of the missile launches, while one F-15 pilot sacrifices himself to intercept a missile; the resulting explosion tears apart the plane's tail, and they quickly start to lose altitude and fuel. A standby USAF Rescue HC-130 is called to help, sending parajumpers on tether lines to help rescue the survivors. Marshall insists that his family and the other staff be transferred first. They are told there is time for only one more transfer, at which point Gibbs reveals himself as the mole, killing Caldwell and the parajumper. Marshall and Gibbs fight for control of the transfer line, and Marshall manages to grab and detach it at the last minute, but not before punching Gibbs. Gibbs is then killed as Air Force One crashes into the Caspian Sea. The HC-130 airmen reel Marshall in, where he reunites with his family. With the President safe, the HC-130 changes its call sign to "Air Force One" as they fly back to friendly space. Back at the White House, the Vice-President and others celebrate once they are informed that the President is safe.



A large part of the crew took a tour of the real Air Force One before filming. They based some of the film's scenes, where the terrorists disguised as journalists survey the plane's layout and begin to take their seats, on the touring experience. The character of Deputy Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell was based largely on their real life tour guide, and the crew felt uncomfortable having to film the character's execution by the terrorists.[1]

Scenes explaining why Agent Gibbs was the mole were cut from the final script. According to director Wolfgang Petersen, Gibbs was a former CIA agent who lost a lot after the end of the Cold War and thus became angry with the American government.[1] The hijackers never reveal to anyone Gibbs' true identity, to the point where they also tie him up along with President Marshall, Major Caldwell, and Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd.

Gary Oldman did not stay in character between the scenes. The director later said he called the filming experience 'Air Force Fun' because of how comic and genial Oldman would be off-screen. He also said that Oldman would suddenly return to the menacing film persona like a shot.[1]

General Radek's palace, seen in the film's opening, was portrayed by two locations in Cleveland, Ohio: the exterior was Severance Hall, and the interior was the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. The Russian prison where Radek was incarcerated was the Ohio State Reformatory, previously seen in The Shawshank Redemption.

F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 33d Operations Group were used in the movie.[2]


Air Force One received generally positive reviews from critics, with an overall "fresh" rating of 79% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[3] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film 3.5/4 stars, describing it as "superior escapism", and concluding, "Air Force One doesn't insult the audience. It is crafted by a film-maker who takes pride in the thrills and sly fun he packs into every frame. Welcome to something rare in a summer of crass commercialism: a class act."[4] Todd McCarthy of Variety described the film as "a preposterously pulpy but quite entertaining suspense meller" that is "spiked by some spectacularly staged and genuinely tense action sequences." He lauded the film's antagonist: "[Gary] Oldman, in his second malevolent lead of the summer, after The Fifth Element, registers strongly as a veteran of the Afghan campaign pushed to desperate lengths to newly ennoble his country."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, writing, "The movie is well-served by the quality of the performances...Air Force One is a fairly competent recycling of familiar ingredients, given an additional interest because of Harrison Ford's personal appeal."[6] Conversely, Adam Mars-Jones of The Independent called it "so preposterous that it begins to seem like a science-fiction artifact...the product of a parallel-universe 1990s which somehow by-passed the decades since the 1950s."[7]

The film was a major box office success, earning $172,650,002 (54.9%) domestically and $142,200,000 (45.1%) in other countries.[8] It grossed a total of $315,156,409 worldwide in the box office.[9] It was the year's fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.[10]

President Bill Clinton saw the film twice while in office and gave it good reviews. He noted, however, that certain elements of the film's version of Air Force One, such as the escape pod and the rear parachute ramp, did not reflect features of the actual Air Force One.[11] In the audio commentary, Wolfgang Petersen mused that although the real plane did not have those features at the time of the filming, they would probably be added by future governments.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards; one for Best Film Editing, the other for Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Rick Kline, Doug Hemphill and Keith A. Wester).[12]


Air Force One: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Jerry Goldsmith
Released July 29, 1997
Genre Film score
Length 34:37
Label Varèse Sarabande
Jerry Goldsmith chronology
Fierce Creatures
Air Force One
L.A. Confidential

Randy Newman was initially hired to write the film score; however, Petersen considered his composition to be almost a parody and commissioned Jerry Goldsmith to write and record a more sombre and patriotic score in just twelve days, with assistance from Joel McNeely.[13][14] After the harrowing experience, Goldsmith vowed never again to take on such a last-minute task.[15]

Newman used some of his material from the rejected score in Toy Story 3.[16]

Varèse Sarabande released a soundtrack album featuring Goldsmith's music (McNeely receives a credit on the back cover for "Additional Music in the Motion Picture", but none of his work is on the CD, although his cues include the material heard when Air Force One is under attack).

All music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

No. Title Length
1. "The Parachutes"   5:14
2. "The Motorcade"   2:40
3. "Empty Rooms"   3:02
4. "The Hijacking"   7:30
5. "No Security"   2:59
6. "Free Flight"   4:41
7. "Escape from Air Force One"   5:25
8. "Welcome Aboard, Sir"   2:06
Total length:


A novelization of the film was published in June 1997 by author Max Allan Collins. Though the book has the same central plot and outcomes as the film, its main storyline significantly differs from the film.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wolfgang Petersen audio commentary.
  2. ^ "Local crew called on to defend 'Air Force One|(film),'" Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, 13 July 1997, p. 1B.
  3. ^ "Air Force One Movie Reviews, Pictures — Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  4. ^ Travers, Peter. "Air Force One". Rolling Stone. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Todd. Air Force One. Variety. July 26, 1997. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Air Force One". Chicago Sun-Times. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  7. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam (September 11, 1997). "Get me out of here - Air Force One - Review - The Independent". London. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  8. ^ "G.I. Jane' Proves Its Mettle in Second Week at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. September 2, 1997. Retrieved 2010-12-27. 
  9. ^ "Air Force One — Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information — The Numbers". The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "The Dark Side of Gary Oldman. "Air Force One (1997)"". Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  12. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  13. ^ Southall, James. "Jonathan Broxton, Air Force One (rejected score) (review) from Movie Music U.K., 1998". Retrieved August 21, 2009. [dead link]
  14. ^ ""Air Force One (rejected score)" (review) from Soundtrack Express, 1998". Soundtrack Express. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Christian Clemmensen, "Air Force One (review) from Film Tracks, 1997". Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Newman: Toy Story 3". 2010. Archived from the original on 23 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  17. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]