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.


An American and Russian joint military operation results with Special Forces leading the capture of General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the dictator of a rogue terrorist regime in Kazakhstan that had taken possession of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Three weeks later, a diplomatic dinner is held in Moscow to celebrate the capture of the Kazakh dictator, at which President of the United States James Marshall (Harrison Ford) expresses his remorse that action had not been taken sooner to prevent the suffering caused by Radek, whose regime took the lives of 200,000 people. He also vows that his administration will take a firmer stance against despotism and that they will never negotiate with terrorists.

President Marshall, along with his wife Grace (Wendy Crewson), daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews), and several of his Cabinet and advisors, board Air Force One to return to the United States. U.S. Secret Service agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley), acting as a mole for a group of six Russian Radek loyalists led by the ruthless Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), sneaks them onto the plane disguised as news reporters. Once in flight, Gibbs kills several Secret Service agents guarding the plane's armory, allowing Korshunov and his men to seize control of the plane. When the attackers start a massive shootout, the pilots attempt to land the plane at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. However, the terrorists breach the cockpit, shoot the pilots, and take control, diverting the plane towards Kazakhstan. Secret Service agents take Marshall to an escape pod in the cargo hold, while the rest of the passengers are taken hostage in the conference room by the hijackers. Believing the President has escaped, the hijackers separate his wife and daughter from the rest of the hostages, planning to use them as leverage.

Korshunov establishes contact with Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) at the White House Situation Room, threatening to shoot a hostage every half hour until Radek is released. Meanwhile, USAF Pararescuemen locate the escape pod but find it empty. Unbeknownst to the hijackers, President Marshall, a former USAF ARRS helicopter pilot, Vietnam War veteran, and Medal of Honor recipient, stayed aboard the plane to rescue the hostages. He kills two of Korshunov's men and contacts the White House via satellite phone, imploring Bennett not to negotiate with the terrorists. The hijackers request mid-air refueling after Marshall forces a fuel dump and secures the hostages. Marshall sends a fax to the White House, instructing the KC-10 tanker to force the plane to descend to 15,000 ft so the hostages can parachute to safety without suffocating due to low oxygen. However, the terrorists discover the escape attempt and the ensuing confrontation causes an explosive decompression. In the ensuing chaos, the fueling probe ignites and the tanker is destroyed. Marshall and the remaining advisors are captured.

With Marshall and his family held hostage, Korshunov tortures Marshall and explains his actions, saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union had ruined his country. Marshall is forced to contact Russian President Petrov to authorize Radek's release. Korshunov and his men celebrate as the event is broadcast over the plane's speakers, and Marshall escapes. While Marshall shoots down the remaining terrorists, Korshunov takes Grace to the plane's parachute ramp, but is interrupted by Marshall. Korshunov loses his weapon, and his neck is snapped by a cargo net strap when Marshall deploys Korshunov's parachute (speaking the famous line "Get off my plane!" before doing so). Marshall then halts Radek's release, and Radek is fatally shot attempting to flee custody.

Marshall directs Air Force One towards friendly airspace, unaware that MiG-29s dispatched by an airbase commander loyal to Radek follow them. Escorting U.S. F-15s counterattack and drive off the planes, but Air Force One's rudder and elevators are damaged, rendering the plane unable to land. To make matters worse, Air Force One's fuel tank is punctured and is critically low on fuel. A standby USAF Rescue HC-130 is called in to conduct a daring airborne rescue over the Caspian Sea, sending parajumpers over a zip-line to retrieve the survivors. After Marshall's family and the injured Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd (Paul Guilfoyle) are evacuated, Marshall, Gibbs, and Major Caldwell (William H. Macy) remain on the plane, with time for only one to be rescued. Marshall refuses to leave anyone behind, and Caldwell urges him to save himself. Gibbs, revealing that it was he who aided Ivan and the terrorists in hijacking Air Force One, shoots and kills both the parajumper and Caldwell, and attempts to save himself on the last remaining zip-line. Marshall overpowers him and attaches himself to the line – before the hook attaching it to the plane breaks off – and the plane runs out of fuel and crashes into the sea, breaking into multiple pieces and taking Gibbs with it.

The HC-130 crew reel in the President, thus making the HC-130 temporarily Air Force One.



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).

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]