Air Force One (film)

Air Force One is a 1997 American political action thriller film directed and co-produced by Wolfgang Petersen and starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close, Wendy Crewson, Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, and Paul Guilfoyle. It was written by Andrew W. Marlowe. It is about a group of terrorists who hijack Air Force One and the president's attempt to rescue everyone on board by retaking his plane.

Air Force One
Air Force One (movie poster).jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Petersen
Written byAndrew W. Marlowe
Produced by
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byRichard Francis-Bruce
Music byJerry Goldsmith
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]
CountryUnited States
Budget$85 million[1]
Box office$315.2 million[1]

The film was a box office success and received mostly positive critical reviews.


American and Russian Special Forces capture General Ivan Radek, 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 attends a diplomatic dinner in Moscow in Russia, during which he praises the capture and insists the U.S will no longer negotiate with terrorists. Marshall and his entourage, including his wife Grace and daughter Alice, and several of his Cabinet and advisers, prepare to return to the U.S. on Air Force One. In addition, members of the press have been invited aboard, including Radek loyalists disguised as journalists led by Egor Korshunov.

After takeoff, Secret Service agent Gibbs, who is a mole, enables Korshunov and his men to obtain weapons and storm the plane, killing many of the other agents and military personnel before taking the civilians 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 F-15s escort Air Force One as Korshunov has it piloted towards Radek-loyal airspace.

Unknown to Korshunov, Marshall, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a 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 Vice President Kathryn Bennett, 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; the shockwave disrupts the escape process, and Korshunov is able to stop Marshall, Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd, Major Caldwell, 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 to declare the President incapable under the 25th amendment, so as to override Radek's release, but she refuses. While Korushunov and his men celebrate the news of Radek's release, Marshall breaks his bonds, and kills Korshunov and his remaining henchmen. Marshall then 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 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 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. Air Force One crashes into the Caspian Sea, killing Gibbs. The HC-130 airmen reel Marshall in safely. The HC-130 serves as "Air Force One" as they fly back to friendly space.



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 on the touring experience when the terrorists disguised as journalists survey the plane's layout and begin to take their seats. 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 Air Force One livery.[3][4][5]

Air Force One is shown as being equipped with a one-person escape pod for emergency use by the President of the United States. It was also done this way in at least three other films, Escape from New York, Bermuda Tentacles and Big Game. The actual Air Force One does not have an escape pod.[6][7]

Paul Attanasio was brought in as a script doctor to work on the film prior to shooting.[8] 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 and wanted revenge. He knew the terrorists from his CIA days and so they included him in their operation. The scene was considered too long to tell and so it was cut from the film. The director also felt that it was unnecessary to have in the film so it was removed as it was irrelevant to the plot. Petersen also said that in the original draft, Gibbs revealed himself as the mole early and joined the terrorists in hijacking the plane. The director felt it was more suspenseful to keep the audience guessing in the final cut and specifically pointed to the scene in which Marshall gives Gibbs a gun before escorting the hostages from the conference room to the parachutes in the cargo hold.[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] Oldman used his acting fee for the film to help finance his directorial debut, Nil by Mouth.

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 and also used for Godsmack's music video for Awake in 2000. Ramstein Air Base, Germany was portrayed by Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio. The diplomatic dinner scene was shot at the Ebell of Los Angeles while a second unit captured scenes in Red Square in Moscow. Scenes featuring Sheremetyevo International Airport, the departure airport of Air Force One in the film, were shot at Los Angeles International Airport.

F-15 Eagle aircraft from the 33rd Operations Group, 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida were used in the film.[9]


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, Air Force One has a "Certified Fresh" 78% rating, based on 59 reviews, with an average score of 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "This late-period Harrison Ford actioner is full of palpable, if not entirely seamless, thrills."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

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."[13] 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."[14]

In a mixed 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."[15] 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."[16]

President Bill Clinton saw the film twice while in office and gave it good reviews. He noted 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).[17] 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.[citation needed]

During his campaign for the Presidency of the United States in the 2016 presidential election, businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he admired Ford for his role in Air Force One because he "stood up for America". Ford responded by reasoning that "it was just a film" and doubted Trump's presidential bid would be successful.[18][19][20]

A Wall Street Journal poll in 2016 named Harrison Ford's James Marshall as the greatest fictional president.[21]

Box officeEdit

One of the most popular action films of the 1990s, Air Force One earned $172,650,002 (54.9%) domestically and $142,200,000 (45.1%) in other countries.[22] It grossed a total of $315,156,409 worldwide in the box office.[23] It was the year's fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.[1]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[24] Best Sound Doug Hemphill Nominated
Rick Kline Nominated
Paul Massey Nominated
Keith A. Wester Nominated
Best Film Editing Richard Francis-Bruce Nominated
ACE Eddie Best Edited Feature Film Nominated
ASCAP Award Top Box Office Films Joel McNeely Won
Bambi Award Direction Wolfgang Petersen Won
Actor Harrison Ford Won
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Actor – Action/Adventure Nominated
Favorite Supporting Actor – Action/Adventure Gary Oldman Nominated
Favorite Supporting Actress – Action/Adventure Glenn Close Won
Bogey Award Won
Broadcast Music, Inc. BMI Film Music Award Jerry Goldsmith Won
Japan Academy Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Joel McNeely Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Fight Harrison Ford Nominated
Gary Oldman Nominated
Best Villain Nominated
Satellite Award Best Editing Richard Francis-Bruce Nominated

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

Home mediaEdit

Air Force One was released on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD on February 10, 1998,[26][27] and on Blu-ray on June 2, 2009.[28] A 4K UHD Blu-ray followed on November 6, 2018.[29]

The US LaserDisc release of the film is notorious among LaserDisc collectors as being extremely prone to "Laser rot", a form of optical disc degradation, due to repeat production issues at the Sony DADC facility where the discs were produced.[30][31]


Air Force One: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJuly 29, 1997
GenreFilm score
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Jerry Goldsmith chronology
Fierce Creatures
Air Force One: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
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 somber and patriotic score in just twelve days, with assistance from Joel McNeely.[32][33] After the experience, Goldsmith vowed to never again take on such a last-minute task.[34]

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.[34][original research?] On September 27, 2019, a 2-CD release featuring the full score was released.[35]

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 track was played in the background at the New York Hilton Midtown[36] prior to Trump's victory speech, following Hillary Clinton's concession.[37] The track was used repeatedly at campaign events with the Trump plane as background, leading the film's producer to ask him to stop using it.[38]


A novelization of the film was published in June 1997 by author Max Allan Collins. Although the book has the same central plot and outcomes as the film, its main storyline has additional scenes and lines not in the film. The book develops characters more than the film. Marshall is described as possessing a smile that is described in the novel as "the most valuable weapon in his public relations arsenal" (p. 11). He promotes an interventionist line on foreign policy and a strong stance against terrorism (met with political opposition from opposition Speaker of the House, Franklin Danforth, in the novel). He is described as a first-term President, up for re-election later on in the year that the film is set in. Marshall's home state is Iowa. A two-term former governor of Iowa in the novel, he first campaigns in the film for the US House.

He graduated from University of Iowa in the early 1970s in the novel and may also have attended the University of Notre Dame. His senior Staff and Cabinet include Vice President Kathryn Bennett (former congresswoman and trial attorney from New Jersey), Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd (an old friend from U of I), National Security Advisor Jack Doherty, Secretary of Defense Walter Dean, Deputy NSA Director Thomas Lee, Deputy Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Northwood, Air Force General Greeley (who Marshall served under in Vietnam). His Party is Republican in the novel.

Marshall is described in the novel as "a moderate-Republican version of Bill Clinton, minus the womanizing reputation, and without a hint of personal or professional scandal" (p. 99–100). Korushunov's family is expanded upon, and it is revealed that Korushunov is not his real name. Unlike the movie, Gibbs's identity as the traitor is not revealed until the end of the book. It also hints at his motivation: "What he did remember, as he sipped his coffee, was that he knew these men, had worked with these men, and it was a damn shame they had to die so that he could be wealthy." Korushunov later tells Marshall he "paid" him off. It also presents a slightly alternative ending: in the novel, Air Force One crashes in the Russian countryside, but in the film, it crashes into the Caspian Sea.[39]


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  2. ^ a b c Wolfgang Petersen audio commentary
  3. ^ Larson, George C. (September 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". Air & Space. Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  4. ^ Larson, Gary (November 1, 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". AVWeb. Aviation Publishing Group. Archived from the original on December 18, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 25, 1997). "Just a Little Turbulence, Mr. President". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 10, 2010. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
  6. ^ J.F.O. McAllister (1997-07-28). "Air Force One: On the Real Thing, No Pods and No Parachutes". TIME & CNN. Archived from the original on 2002-01-29. Retrieved 2016-11-12.
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  13. ^ Travers, Peter. "Air Force One Archived 2017-10-17 at the Wayback Machine". Rolling Stone. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit