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, 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 U.S. president's attempt to rescue everyone onboard by retaking his plane.

Air Force One
Air Force One (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Petersen
Produced by
Written byAndrew W. Marlowe
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byRichard 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]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Russian
Budget$85 million[1]
Box office$315.2 million[1]

A box office success with generally positive critical reviews, it was one of the most popular action films of the 1990s.


A combined U.S.-Russian special forces operation captures General Ivan Radek, the dictator of Kazakhstan. Three weeks later, U.S. President James Marshall attends a diplomatic dinner in Moscow, 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 12-year-old 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 led by Egor Korshunov, who board the plane disguised as journalists.

A few hours after takeoff, Secret Service agent Gibbs, who is a mole, enables Korshunov and his accomplices 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 and seemingly escapes as the pod is ejected. The pilots, Colonel Axelrod and Lieutenant Colonel Ingraham, attempt an emergency landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, but Korshunov and his right-hand man, a trained pilot named Andrei Kolchak, breach the cockpit and kill the pilots, diverting the plane towards Kazakhstan. Several F-15s escort Air Force One as it is piloted towards Radek-loyal airspace.

Unknown to the hijackers, 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. Using his military training, he begins to observe the Radek loyalists. Marshall manages to kill some of Korshunov's accomplices and then uses a satellite phone to make contact with his Vice President Kathryn Bennett at the White House in Washington, D.C.. Korshunov, believing that a Secret Service Agent is stowed away in the cargo hold, secures Grace and Alice separately from the other hostages, and executes National Security Advisor Jack Doherty and Deputy Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell, contacting Bennett and demanding Radek's release. Marshall dumps some of the plane's fuel reserve in an attempt to force a landing. Korshunov demands a mid-air refueling, while Marshall manages to capture one of Korshunov's accomplices and forcing him to not only deceive his comrades, but forcing him to gain access into the conference room where the hostages are being held as well. As Korshunov's accomplice is being apprehended, Marshall, along with his military advisers, devise a plan to trick Korshunov to take Air Force One to a lower altitude for the refueling, giving time for the hostages to parachute safely off the plane. As a KC-10 tanker docks with Air Force One, Marshall and the advisors escort the hostages to the cargo hold, where most parachute away. However, Korshunov discovers the deception and forces Air Force One away, causing the fuel to ignite, destroying the tanker.

Capturing Marshall, Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd, Major Caldwell, and Gibbs, Korshunov assaults and forces Marshall to contact Russian President Petrov and arrange for Radek's release from prison. 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 Korshunov and his accomplices celebrate the news of Radek's release, Marshall breaks free, and kills Korshunov's remaining accomplices including Kolchak. Korshunov tries to kill Marshall, but Shepherd instead takes the bullet, leaving him critically injured. Korshunov drags Grace down to the cargo hold, and to the plane's parachute ramp. Marshall gives Korshunov a chase and Grace briefly distracts Korshunov, before Marshall strangles Korshunov with a parachute strap and throws him off the plane. Marshall races back to lift his order, and Radek is subsequently killed attempting to flee custody.

Marshall, with Major Caldwell's help, directs the plane back towards friendly airspace, only to be quickly tailed by a second batch of Radek loyalists piloting MiG-29s. The F-15s counterattack the MiGs, but Air Force One sustains heavy damage; one MiG ruptures Air Force One's fuel tanks, causing the plane to lose fuel, and when one F-15 pilot sacrifices himself to intercept a missile, shrapnel from the resulting explosion damages Air Force One's tail controls, rendering landing impossible. A standby USAF Rescue MC-130 is called to help, sending para-jumpers 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 who helped Korshunov and his accomplices hijack Air Force One and guns down the para-jumper and Major Caldwell. Marshall (who is enraged at Gibbs' betrayal) and Gibbs fight for control of the transfer line, and Marshall manages to grab and detach it at the last second. Air Force One crashes into the Caspian Sea, killing Gibbs. The MC-130 airmen reel Marshall in safely, where he walks into his family's waiting arms. Everyone in the White House Situation Room celebrate as confirmation of Marshall's rescue is given, and Bennett tears up the presidential incapacity order. The MC-130 is subsequently dubbed with the call sign of Air Force One as it flies safely away.


  • Harrison Ford as U.S. President James Marshall: Popular president and a family man who loves his wife Grace and daughter Alice. Marshall is also a decorated Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient who speaks reasonably fluent Russian. Feigning escape during Air Force One's hijacking, he attempts to retake the aircraft, to rescue everybody.
  • Gary Oldman as Egor Korshunov: A ruthless Kazakh Radek loyalist who leads the hijacking of Air Force One. Korshunov believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union had ruined his country.
  • Glenn Close as U.S. Vice President Kathryn Bennett: The Vice President of the United States who commands the situation in the White House Situation Room, alongside Secretary of Defense Walter Dean and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Northwood. Though all the tension, Bennett remains calm and collected, refusing to make risky or poor decisions.
  • Wendy Crewson as U.S. First Lady Grace Marshall
  • Paul Guilfoyle as White House Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd
  • William H. Macy as Major Norman Caldwell, USAF, military aide to the President
  • Liesel Matthews as First Daughter Alice Marshall, Alice complains about her father not taking her to see the refugee camp.
  • Dean Stockwell as U.S. Defense Secretary Walter Dean
  • Elya Baskin as Andrei Kolchak, Korshunov's best friend, pilot and right-hand man
  • Andrew Divoff as Boris Bazylev, Korshunov's muscle hijacker
  • David Vadim as Igor Nevsky, Korshunov's muscle hijacker
  • Levani as Sergei Lenski, Korshunov's muscle hijacker
  • Ilia Volok as Vladimir Krasin, Korshunov's muscle hijacker and close friend, as they both fought the Afghans together.
  • Xander Berkeley as U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Gibbs, in charge of Presidential Protective Division. A mole who secretly helps the terrorists take over Air Force One. The hijackers never reveal to anyone about Gibbs being their mole, to the point where they also hold him hostage along with everyone else.
  • Alan Woolf as Russian President Petrov
  • Tom Everett as U.S. National Security Advisor Jack Doherty: Korshunov executes Doherty. The first hostage to die when the terrorists demand Radek's release.
  • Jürgen Prochnow as General Alexander Radek, The dictator of a rogue terrorist regime in Kazakhstan that had taken possession of former stolen Soviet nuclear weapons, threatening to start a new Cold War, Radek's regime is responsible for the killing of 200,000 people. Captured by a joint Russian-American military ops team, Radek is imprisoned in Russia, awaiting trial for his crimes against humanity. The terrorists who take over Air Force One, demand for Radek to be released, threatening to kill a hostage every half hour.
  • Donna Bullock as Deputy Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell: Korshunov, believing that a Secret Service Agent is in the cargo hold, executes her.
  • Michael Ray Miller as Colonel Axelrod, USAF, pilot of Air Force One: Axelrod bravely attempts to make an emergency landing after the hijacking begins. He orders the flight crew, "No matter what happens, we land this aircraft, is that understood?"
  • Carl Weintraub as Lieutenant Colonel Ingraham, USAF, co-pilot of Air Force One: Ingraham courageously attempts to help Axelrod emergency land the plane after the hijacking begins.
  • Spencer Garrett as White House Aide Thomas Lee
  • Bill Smitrovich as General Northwood
  • Glenn Morshower as U.S. Secret Service Agent Walters
  • David Gianopoulos as U.S. Secret Service Agent Johnson
  • Dan Shor as Notre Dame Aide
  • Philip Baker Hall as U.S. Attorney General Andrew Ward
  • Richard Doyle as Colonel Bob Jackson, USAF, Air Force One Backup Pilot
  • Willard Pugh as White House Communications Officer
  • Don R. McManus as Lt. Colonel Jack Carlton, F-15 "Halo Flight" Leader
  • J.A. Preston as USAF Major General Greeley: Having been President Marshall's commanding officer during the Vietnam War, he is the first to anticipate that Marshall is battling the hijackers.


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 in which 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 iconic 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]

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. 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 an approval rating of 76%, based on 55 reviews, with an average score of 6.99/10. 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][21]

A Wall Street Journal poll in 2016 named Harrison Ford's James Marshall as the greatest fictional president.[22]

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.[23] It grossed a total of $315,156,409 worldwide in the box office.[24] It was the year's fifth highest-grossing film worldwide.[25]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[26] 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 and DVD on February 10, 1998,[28] and on Blu-ray on June 2, 2009.[29] A 4K UHD Blu-ray followed on November 6, 2018.[30]


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.[31][32] After the harrowing experience, Goldsmith vowed never again to take on such a last-minute task.[33] Newman used some of his material from the rejected score in Toy Story 3.[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.[33][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 track was played in the background at the New York Hilton Midtown[35] prior to Trump's victory speech, following Hillary Clinton's concession.[36] 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.[37]


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. In the third year of his presidency in the novel, 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.[38]


  1. ^ a b c "Air Force One (1997)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Wolfgang Petersen audio commentary
  3. ^ Larson, George C. (September 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". Air & Space. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  4. ^ Larson, Gary (November 1, 1997). "The Making of Air Force One". AVWeb. Aviation Publishing Group. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 25, 1997). "Just a Little Turbulence, Mr. President". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 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. Retrieved 2016-11-12.
  7. ^ Russell Berman (2015-01-31). "Air Force One-Point-Three – After a quarter-century of service, the aging presidential airplanes are being replaced by a pair of state-of-the-art Boeing 747-8s". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-11-12.
  8. ^ "Paul Attanasio Bio". iMDB.
  9. ^ "Local crew called on to defend 'Air Force One' (film)". Northwest Florida Daily News. GateHouse Media. July 13, 1997. p. 1B.
  10. ^ "Air Force One". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  11. ^ "Air Force One reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  12. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  13. ^ Travers, Peter. "Air Force One". Rolling Stone. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  14. ^ McCarthy, Todd (July 27, 1997). "Air Force One". Variety.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Air Force One". Chicago Sun-Times. July 25, 1997. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  16. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam (September 11, 1997). "Get me out of here – Air Force One – Review – The Independent". London. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  17. ^ "The Dark Side of Gary Oldman. "Air Force One (1997)"". Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  18. ^ McAfee, Melonyce (December 11, 2015). "Harrison Ford has a fan in Trump". CNN.
  19. ^ Dawn, Randee (December 11, 2015). "Harrison Ford reminds Donald Trump that 'Air Force One' was only a movie".
  20. ^ Pleasance, Chris (14 December 2015). "'Air Force One is just a movie, Donald – it's not like this in real life': Harrison Ford brings Trump down to earth after tycoon said he loved the tough-guy President from classic film". Daily Mail.
  21. ^ Healy, Patrick (December 2, 2015). "Voters, Worried About Terrorism, Look for Leaders at Home on Silver Screen". New York Times.
  22. ^ "44 Fake Presidents From Worst to Best". WSJ. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  23. ^ "G.I. Jane' Proves Its Mettle in Second Week at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. September 2, 1997. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  24. ^ "Air Force One — Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information — The Numbers". The Numbers. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  25. ^ "Air Force One (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  26. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  28. ^ "Air Force One DVD Release Date February 10, 1998". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  29. ^ Air Force One Blu-ray, retrieved 2018-11-23
  30. ^ Air Force One 4K Blu-ray, retrieved 2018-11-23
  31. ^ Broxton, Jonathan. "Air Force One (rejected score) (review)". Movie Music U.K. Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  32. ^ "Air Force One (rejected score)". Soundtrack Express. Archived from the original on 2002-08-11. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  33. ^ a b Clemmensen, Christian (July 28, 1997). "Air Force One". Filmtracks Publications. Retrieved August 21, 2009.
  34. ^ Southall, James (2010). "Newman: Toy Story 3". Movie Wave. Archived from the original on 23 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
  35. ^ Sullivan, Sean (November 2, 2016). "Trump to spend election night at Hilton Midtown hotel in Manhattan". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  36. ^ Mullin, Gemma (November 9, 2016). "Victorious Donald Trump walks out to Air Force One movie soundtrack as he's elected US president". Daily Mirror. MGN. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  37. ^ Cassidy, Kevin (July 25, 2016). "Donald Trump Asked to Stop Using 'Air Force One' Music for Campaign (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
  38. ^ "Air Force One review". Goodreads. Retrieved November 18, 2015.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit