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
Gail Katz
Jonathan Shestack
Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Andrew W. Marlowe
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (US)
Buena Vista Pictures (International)
Release date
  • 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.


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. Three weeks after the mission, U.S. President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) attends a diplomatic dinner in Moscow, during which he praises the capture, but reveals a government mistake that cost millions of lives 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, murders fellow agents and unlocks the plane's on-board armory for Korshunov, using a smoke grenade to signal them. The terrorists storm the plane, killing many of the other agents and military personnel before taking the others 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. Instead, Korshunov storms 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. Six F-15s (dubbed "Halo" flight) from Ramstein escort Air Force One as Korshunov has it piloted towards Radek-loyal airspace. Korshunov contacts the White House and speaks to Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) and demands Radek's release, threatening to kill a hostage every half hour. His first kill is Marshall's National Security Advisor, Jack Doherty (Tom Everett).

Unknown to Korshunov, Marshall, a Vietnam War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, 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 staff, letting them know he is alive. While trying to contact the White House, Marshall is caught by one of Korshunov's men who begins to escort him to the cockpit. Marshall tells his captor that his plane has special defense mechanisms, including automatically dodging any detected missile lock-on, knowing that Bennett is still listening on the satellite phone. She realizes that Marshall was ordering the escorting jets to fire at the plane, whereupon the jets fire one missile. Sure enough, the plane darts upwards suddenly, and the plane's countermeasures cause explosion that shakes the plane, allowing Marshall to kill his captor. Korshunov believes that only a rogue Secret Service agent is in the cargo hold and has his men search for him until he learns, through a White House press conference, that the President is still missing.

Marshall attempts to dump the plane's fuel to force the plane to land before reaching Kazakhstan, but Korshunov discovers this, halts the process and demands Bennet to send more fuel to them. Marshall sneaks up the main level and captures one of Korshunov's men, who leads him to the hostages. When he gets to them, they devise a plan: while Marshall's landing plan failed, they can use it to trick Korshunov to take Air Force One to a lower altitude during the mid-air refueling; from there, the hostages can parachute safely off the plane. As a KC-10 tanker docks with Air Force One, Marshall brings the hostages to the cargo hold, where most parachute away. Marshall insists on staying to rescue his family, so Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd (Paul Guilfoyle), Major Caldwell (William H. Macy) and Gibbs stay to protect him. The plan goes wrong when Korshunov is alerted to the deception by the plane's computer and forces Air Force One away, causing the fuel to ignite, destroying the tanker; the shock wave pushes a few hostages and the captured terrorist out of the plane without parachutes, and Korshunov is able to stop Marshall and the remaining hostages from escaping.

As the plane crosses the Kazakh border, and with the President and his family under his control, Korshunov forces Marshall to contact Russian President Petrov and arrange for Radek's release. After ordering the jets to back off from the plane to save the First Family, Bennett is urged by Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell) to declare the President incapable under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, so as to override Radek's release, but she refuses. While Korshunov and his men celebrate the news of Radek's release, Marshall breaks his bonds and kills Korshunov's last two henchmen. Before Korshunov can escape himself, Marshall fatally throttles him with a parachute strap, furiously tells him to "Get off my plane!" and flings him out. Marshall races back to lift his order, and Radek is subsequently killed when he attempts to escape.

Marshall and Caldwell direct the plane back to friendly airspace, only to be quickly tailed by a second batch of Radek loyalists piloting six MiG-29s, who surprise Marshall and Caldwell of their proximity with a missile lock warning and subsequent engagement. The F-15s are ordered back into Kazakhstan on afterburner, and are green-lit to fire. Marshall is able to evade most of the missile launches; although one turbine is damaged by a MiG's cannon fire. The F-15s destroy two MiG-29s in BVR combat with AIM-120s, and merge for a close engagement. One F-15 pilot (Halo 2) sacrifices himself to intercept a missile when the plane runs out of countermeasures, but the resulting explosion damages Air Force One's tail, rendering landing impossible, and it starts to lose fuel and altitude. An F-15 downs one more MiG-29 (presumably the one who killed Halo 2), and the remaining MiGs retreat.

A standby U.S. Air Force Rescue HC-130 is called to help, sending parajumpers on tether lines to help rescue the survivors. Marshall insists that his family and the injured Shepherd be transferred first. When there is time for only one more transfer, Gibbs reveals himself as the mole, killing the parajumper and Caldwell. 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 finally runs out of fuel and crashes into the Caspian Sea, breaking apart on impact and killing Gibbs. The HC-130 airmen reel Marshall in, who is safely reunited with his family. The HC-130 is subsequently renamed "Air Force One" as it flies back to friendly airspace, accompanied by the F-15s.



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]

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. [2]

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.[3]


A box office success with generally supportive critical reviews, the film was 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.[4] 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."[5] 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."[6]

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."[7] 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."[8]

The film was a major box office success, earning $172,650,002 (54.9%) domestically and $142,200,000 (45.1%) in other countries.[9] It grossed a total of $315,156,409 worldwide in the box office.[10] It was the year's fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.[11]

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).[12] 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).[13]

A Wall Street Journal poll in 2016 named Harrison Ford's James Marshall as the greatest fictional president.[14]

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.[16][17] After the harrowing experience, Goldsmith vowed never again to take on such a last-minute task.[18]

Newman used some of his material from the rejected score in Toy Story 3.[19]

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.[20][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.[21]


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.[22]

See also[edit]


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

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