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
Written by Andrew W. Marlowe
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 21, 1997 (1997-07-21) (Century City)
  • July 25, 1997 (1997-07-25) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
Country United States
  • English
  • Russian
Budget $85 million[1]
Box office $315.2 million[1]

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 positive critical reviews, the film was one of the most popular action films of the 1990s.


Three weeks after American and Russian Special Forces capture General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the dictator of a rogue terrorist regime in Kazakhstan that possessed stolen Soviet nuclear weapons, threatening to start a new Cold War, President of the United States James Marshall and Russian President Petrov (Alan Woolf) attend a diplomatic dinner in Moscow, during which he praises the capture and insists the United States will no longer 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 members of the press corps have been invited aboard, including Russian terrorists and Radek loyalists disguised as journalists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman).

After takeoff, Secret Service agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley), who is secretly a mole, enables Korshunov and his men to acquire weapons and storm the plane, killing the other agents and many of the military personnel before taking everyone else hostage. Marshall is raced to an escape pod in the cargo hold while pursued by Korshunov's men but they are too late to capture him as the pod is ejected. Korshunov breaches the cockpit and prevents the plane from making an emergency landing at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and secures Grace and Alice separately from the other hostages. Several USAF F-15s escort Air Force One as Korshunov has it piloted towards Radek-loyal airspace.

Unknown to Korshunov, Marshall, a former USAF pilot and Medal of Honor recipient for valor during the Vietnam War, has remained hidden in the cargo hold instead of using the pod, and begins to observe the loyalists using his military training. Marshall manages to kill some of Korshunov's men and then uses a satellite phone to make contact with his Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close), letting his staff know he is alive. Korshunov, believing that only a Secret Service agent is in the cargo hold, contacts Bennett and demands Radek's release, threatening to kill a hostage every half hour. Marshall and military advisors devise a plan to trick Korshunov to take Air Force One to a lower altitude for a mid-air refueling, giving time for the hostages to parachute safely off the plane. As a KC-10 tanker docks with Air Force One, Marshall helps to kill another loyalist and escorts the hostages to the cargo hold, where most parachute away; Korshunov discovers the deception and forces Air Force One away, causing the fuel to ignite, destroying the tanker. Marshall, Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd (Paul Guilfoyle), Major Caldwell (William H. Macy), and Gibbs remain on board.

With the President and his family under his control, Korshunov forces Marshall to contact Russian President Petrov and arrange for Radek's release. While Korushunov and his men celebrate the news of Radek's release, Marshall breaks his bonds, kills Korshunov's last two henchmen, and finally kills Korshunov; Marshall lifts his order, and Radek is subsequently killed when he attempts to escape.

Marshall and Caldwell direct the plane back to friendly airspace, accompanied by the F-15s, only to be quickly tailed by a second batch of Radek loyalists piloting MiG-29s. Marshall is able to evade most of the missile launches, while one F-15 pilot sacrifices himself to intercept a missile; the resulting explosion damages the plane's tail, and they start to lose altitude. A standby USAF special operations MC-130 is called to help, sending pararescuemen on tether lines to help rescue the survivors. Marshall insists that his family and Shepherd be transferred first. When there is time for only one more transfer, Gibbs reveals himself as the mole, killing Caldwell and the pararescueman. Marshall and Gibbs fight for control of the transfer line, and Marshall manages to grab and detach it at the last minute. Air Force One crashes into the Caspian Sea, killing Gibbs. The MC-130 airmen reel Marshall in, who is safely reunited with his family. The MC-130 is renamed Air Force One as it flies safely away with the First Family aboard and the F-15s as escort.



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.[2]

For the exterior scenes, the producers rented a Boeing 747-146 aircraft, N703CK from Kalitta Air and repainted it to replicate the iconic Air Force One livery.[3] A 747–212B, rented from Kalitta Air, was the title subject of the 1997 film Air Force One, portraying the real 747–200-based VC-25 that transports the U.S. President.[4][5]

Scenes explaining Agent Gibbs' motivation for being 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. The scene was considered too long to tell, so it was cut from the film.[2]

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.[2]

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. Ramstein Air Base, Germany was portrayed by Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio.

F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 33d Operations Group, 33d Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida were used in the movie.[6]


One of the most popular action films of the 1990s, Air Force One received generally positive reviews from critics, with an overall "fresh" rating of 78% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[7] 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."[8] 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."[9]

In a lukewarm review, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and found it flawed and cliché-ridden yet "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."[10] Adam Mars-Jones of The Independent was more critical, calling 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."[11]

The film was a major box office success, earning $172,650,002 (54.9%) domestically and $142,200,000 (45.1%) in other countries.[12] It grossed a total of $315,156,409 worldwide in the box office.[13] It was the year's fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.[14]

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 (though since many Air Force One features are highly classified and "need-to-know", these features cannot be completely ruled out).[15] 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.

In December 2015, then presidential candidate Donald Trump revealed his admiration for "Harrison Ford on the plane ... He stood up for America." When Ford was told during a TV interview of Trump's compliment, he turned to the camera and said "Donald, it was a movie."[16][17]

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).[18]

A Wall Street Journal poll in 2016 named Harrison Ford's James Marshall as the greatest fictional president.[19]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


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.[21][22] After the harrowing experience, Goldsmith vowed never again to take on such a last-minute task.[23]

Newman used some of his material from the rejected score in Toy Story 3.[24]

The music label 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.[25][original research?]

The first track of the soundtrack, "The Parachutes", was used by Donald Trump during his campaign for President of the United States in 2016. The song was played in the background at Trump Tower in New York City prior to Trump's victory speech, following Hillary Clinton's concession.[26]


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 has additional scenes and lines than the film. The book develops characters more than the film and unlike the movie, Gibbs's identity as the traitor is not revealed until the end of the book. It also presents a slightly alternate ending; Air Force One crashes in the Russian countryside, whereas in the film, Air Force One crashes into the Caspian Sea.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Air Force One (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 26, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c Wolfgang Petersen audio commentary.
  3. ^ Larson, George C. (September 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  4. ^ Larson, Gary (1 November 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". Air & Space/Smithsonian. Retrieved 11 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (25 July 1997). "Just a Little Turbulence, Mr. President". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 January 2010. 
  6. ^ "Local crew called on to defend 'Air Force One|(film),'" Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, 13 July 1997, p. 1B.
  7. ^ "Air Force One Movie Reviews, Pictures — Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  8. ^ Travers, Peter. "Air Force One". Rolling Stone. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  9. ^ McCarthy, Todd. Air Force One. Variety. July 26, 1997. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Air Force One". Chicago Sun-Times. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  11. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam (September 11, 1997). "Get me out of here - Air Force One - Review - The Independent". London. Retrieved October 5, 2010. 
  12. ^ "G.I. Jane' Proves Its Mettle in Second Week at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. September 2, 1997. Retrieved 2010-12-27. 
  13. ^ "Air Force One — Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information — The Numbers". The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Air Force One (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-11-18. 
  15. ^ "The Dark Side of Gary Oldman. "Air Force One (1997)"". Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2016-09-28. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  19. ^ "44 Fake Presidents From Worst to Best". WSJ. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  20. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016. 
  21. ^ Southall, James. "Jonathan Broxton, Air Force One (rejected score) (review) from Movie Music U.K., 1998". Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  22. ^ ""Air Force One (rejected score)" (review) from Soundtrack Express, 1998". Soundtrack Express. Archived from the original on 2002-08-11. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Christian Clemmensen, "Air Force One (review) from Film Tracks, 1997". Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  24. ^ "Newman: Toy Story 3". 2010. Archived from the original on 23 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  25. ^ "Air Force One (film score)". Filmtracks. Archived from the original on 2013-12-31. 
  26. ^ Mullin, Gemma (November 9, 2016). "Victorious Donald Trump walks out to Air Force One movie soundtrack as he's elected US president". Daily Mirror. Retrieved January 20, 2017. 
  27. ^ "Air Force One review". Good Reads. Retrieved 2015-11-18. 

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