5 Phenomenal Movie Helicopter Scenes

movie_theatre - Phenom 5As goofy as this probably sounds, I love a good helicopter scene. I know it’s weird but I’ve been amazed at some of the great moments in movies that involve helicopters. In fact, you can sometimes find fantastic helicopter scenes in movies that aren’t necessarily that good. In light of that I’ve decided we would have some fun in this week’s Phenomenal 5. I’ve picked out 5 outstanding helicopter movie scenes that range from iconic to absolutely insane. Now considering how often helicopters have made their ways into movies it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 helicopter scenes are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”

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“Live Free or Die Hard”

I doubt anyone will ever call 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard” the best film of the “Die Hard” series. But while it didn’t live up to the previous three movies, it was a fun flick and considerably better than the more recent franchise killer. Perhaps the coolest scene in the movie involves an incredible helicopter sequence. On their way to FBI headquarters, John McClane and his witness are ambushed by an attack helicopter in downtown New York. They are eventually flushed out of a tunnel but McClane always leaves his mark. He not only escapes the tunnel but he launches his car into the hovering chopper. BOOM! Insanely over the top but also insanely awesome.

#4 – “RAMBO III”

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“Rambo III”

It’s pretty safe to say that John Rambo loves helicopters. There are three or four great Rambo chopper scenes that could easily make this list. But I went with a wild and intense sequence from “Rambo III”. In this installment of the testosterone-driven Stallone franchise Rambo tackles the Soviet occupied Afghanistan. While at a village with some Afghan freedom fighters, two Russian attack choppers attack. Armed with rockets and machine guns, the choppers decimate the village and the people there. Rambo dodges explosions and bullets until he reaches a mounted machine gun on top of a hill. In typical Rambo fashion he swings the turret and starts firing on an approaching chopper. It blows to bits sending the other chopper packing. 80s cheese no doubt but I love it.

#3 – “THE DARK KNIGHT”

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“The Dark Knight”

For me, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie ever made. A key ingredient to its tremendous success was the performance of Heath ledger as the Joker. The Joker’s advantage came from always being a step ahead of the Gotham Police. That was never more evident than in a scene where a police convoy is transporting Harvey Dent. Anticipating a police chopper escort, the Joker has his men fire cables from one high rise building to the other across the street. The chopper snags one of the cables which sends it careening into the side of the building and eventually crashing down in front of the convoy. It’s just one part of a truly incredible sequence.

#2 – “APOCALYPSE NOW”

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“Apocalypse Now”

I may not hold Francis Ford Coppola’s beloved 1979 war picture “Apocalypse Now” in as high regard as many do, but I do recognize some of the great moments it gives us. Maybe the most well known scene in the film comes after Martin Sheen runs into Robert Duvall’s wacky, surf-loving Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. Kilgore leads his air calvary helicopter squadron in an attack on a Vietcong base based on nothing more than the fine surfing conditions in that area. The helicopter attack amid napalm drops and “Ride of the Valkyries” is for me the film’s most memorable scene. But it’s Coppola’s camera that makes it so good. His sweeping shots and perfectly framed chaos create one of the most visually stunning war sequences. This scene also leads to one of the most iconic film quotes in history – “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. How could this scene not be on this list?

#1 – “28 WEEKS LATER”

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“28 Weeks Later”

Whenever I think of helicopter scenes in cinema my mind will always gravitate to the inventive, over-the-top, and down right nutty chopper sequence in “28 Weeks Later”. I won’t get into the whole “are the Rage virus victims zombies” debate, but they’re close enough for me. In the movies we’ve seen zombies killed in a variety of ways but never as they are here. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s just say that our survivors are discovered hiding in the tall grass of a field by a huge ravenous group of snarling infected who instantly come running for them. But a friendly chopper steps in and boy does it take care of business. Pilot Harold Perrineau dips the nose of his helicopter to where his swirling blades are mere feet from the ground. You guessed it, he flies that thing right through the horde. Limbs fly, blood splatters, and heads roll in this graphic zombie/infected slaughter sequence. I still remember my first reaction when seeing it.

So there you have it. These are five phenomenal helicopter movie scenes that I love. But what about you? See something I missed? Please take time to share your favorites below.

“Olympus Has Fallen” – 4 STARS

Olympus posterLet me preface this review by saying I grew up on the action movies of the late 1980s and early 90s. In some ways I cut my movie watching teeth on the films of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, and company – the same movies that Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” undeniably and unashamedly pays homage to. From the bullets and body count to the plot holes and conveniences, “Olympus Has Fallen” mirrors those old-school action pictures. But there is another much more important thing that it has in common with the older films. It’s one heck of a fun and entertaining time. “Olympus Has Fallen” knows exactly what it wants to be. It sets its target, aims for it, and hits it dead center. I’ve always appreciated when a movie does that.

Throughout the reviews I’ve read, there seems to be two main criticisms hurled at this film. The first is that it’s nothing more than a “Die Hard” knockoff. Others blast the film for its blatant flag-waving American patriotism. I find it funny that people have gotten hung up on these two things the most. “Olympus Has Fallen” has its share of problems both structurally and narratively. But these two stumbling blocks for some didn’t hurt my experience in the least. As a matter of fact in some instances they actually helped it.

Look, the “Die Hard” gripe has some merit. In fact you could call this “Die Hard in the White House”. A mysterious terrorist group with North Korean ties attacks Washington DC in broad daylight. It starts with an air assault from a modified C130 followed by a violent ground attack which leaves many civilians dead and the city in chaos. But their prime target is the White House which they manage to take control of in 13 minutes. So much for our impenetrable national security, right? The terrorists seem to have the upper hand except for one small kink – U.S. Treasury desk jockey Mike Banning (Gerard Butler).

Now you know how this works, Banning is much more than a pencil pusher. He was at one time President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) Secret Service head honcho and close friend to the First Family, but an uncontrollable tragedy cost him his job. But you can’t be a one-man army just by doing Secret Service work. Just like Arnie, Sly, and Chuck in so many of their films, Banning is also a former Special Forces Ranger. Like John McClane in Nakatomi Plaza, Banning is the lone eyes, ears, and muscle inside the enemy-occupied White House. The “Die Hard” comparisons are unavoidable but is that really a bad thing? “Olympus Has Fallen” is a much better “Die Hard” film than either of the last two “Die Hard” movies. And while this doesn’t do much in terms of originality, it nicely uses several of the key ingredients that made that franchise so great.

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Then there’s the patriotism criticism. I guess I missed the announcement. When did patriotism become a liability or a weakness in a film. I can understand it becoming a problem when a movie beats you over the head with it, but that’s not the case here. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety in this movie’s pro-American spirit presentation but I don’t see why there has to be. As long as it doesn’t drown us in it. At one time there was an overload of ham-fisted patriotism in movies but that was a while ago. This was one area where the movie did feel surprisingly fresh. In other words the patriotic angle worked.

“Olympus Has Fallen” is helped by its nice supporting cast. Morgan Freeman is rock solid as always. He plays the Speaker of the House who is elevated to Commander in Chief after the President’s abduction. Melissa Leo was good as the Secretary of Defense even though she’s given a few pretty corny lines to wrestle with. I also loved seeing Robert Forster as a grumbling Army General and Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service.

But this is an action movie and the action is the film’s bread and butter. After a rather slow moving beginning which serves more as table setting, the action kicks in gear when the terrorists attack DC. Now I’ve heard a lot of criticism over the special effects but I don’t see it. With the exception of a few small hiccups, I thought the visuals were quite good. Maybe I got lucky but the DLP digital screen at my theater was ablaze with furious gunfire and massive explosions. The C130 attack, while preposterous, looked great and sucked me right in. There’s also a fantastic shootout on the front lawn of the White House that’s nothing more than old-school, bullet-riddled fun. Shootouts and hand-to-hand throwdowns continue throughout the rooms and halls of the White House with the percussion-heavy score amping up the macho intensity. Once the action starts you rarely have time to catch your breath.

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In an action movie like this one has to know it’s violent. But it should be said it’s really violent. Bodies drop at an alarming rate per minute and there’s no shortage of the red stuff. A lot of blood splatters through a huge variety of violent deaths. Be prepared for the numerous neck snaps, knife stabs, and head shots. Explosions are everywhere from jets and helicopters to buses and garbage trucks. Everything is fair game for Fuqua’s explosive experts.

As I hinted at earlier, this type of movie mandatorily requires some suspension of disbelief. You also must be prepared to deal with certain gaps in logic, tons of action movie cliches, and a few gaping plot holes. These things didn’t take away from the fun I had with “Olympus Has Fallen” but they are the kinds of things that keep it from being a truly magnificent film. There are several head-scratching moments that will pull you out of the film if you allow yourself to dwell on them. Why would the entire White House security code system remain the same even though people with access to them have been fired for a year and a half? Why do these and most other action movie villains insist on dragging out their missions instead of quickly carrying them out before the heroes have time to get in their way? I could go on. There are several in this film but if you can put it aside you’ll have a good time.

For me “Olympus Has Fallen” was a trip back in time through both the film’s high-octane action as well as with its predictable shortcomings. This was the real key to my enjoyment. There was a genuine nostalgic satisfaction as well as an appreciation for a film that sets out to be a specific kind of movie and never deviates from that goal. Now those who find testosterone-driven action flicks with fast moving kill counters to be relics from an outdated genre will have a hard time digesting this film. I can understand that. But this movie really surprised me, certainly not for its perfection, but for its rousing fun factor. There are tons of bullets, loads of explosions, and pride in the American spirit. For me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing and at the end of the movie I left with a smile on my face. Mission accomplished Mr. Fuqua!

“A Good Day to Die Hard” – 2 STARS

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Going into “A Good Day to Die Hard” (a.k.a. “Die Hard 5”), I knew that I would be the guy that would take a stand against the barrage of negative reviews from critics and fellow movie blogging buddies. I was prepared to respond to those who have berated the film or labeled it a major disappointment. I was ready to let everyone know why the current 16% Rotten Tomatoes score was misguided and wrong. But I ran into a problem. I was ready and prepared to defend this film. Unfortunately I can’t. If it weren’t for the title I would have never known this was a “Die Hard” picture. “A Good Day to Die Hard” is missing almost ever signature feature and clever nuance that has made this franchise great.

There are several things that have set this franchise apart from other action films. You have the fiery personality of its wisecracking lead character. You have strong, well-defined, charismatic villains. You have solid side characters that fit perfectly in John McClane’s chaotic world. You’ll have a hard time finding a trace of any of these things in “A Good Day to Die Hard” and for me the problems all start with the writing and direction. Skip Woods wrote the screenplay which explains a lot. His last two writing credits were for the terrible “X-Men Orgins: Wolverine” and the even bigger train wreck “The A-Team”. John Moore directs and while he’s received some box office success, his resume is filled with forgettable films. Put these two together and apparently this is what we get.

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The story is simple and pretty generic. John McClane (Willis) heads to Moscow after receiving news that his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been put in prison. John finds out that his son is a CIA field operative and they both find themselves in the middle of a deadly terrorist plot. A lot of the movie is spent with Willis and Courtney bouncing lazy, ham-fisted lines off each other. I grew tired of Jack’s constant whining and John is now a self-reflecting softie. This gets into one of my biggest problems with this movie. This isn’t the John McClane of the other “Die Hard” pictures. We see very little of his signature spunk and in-your-face attitude. I kept waiting for him to go off on one of the bad guys McClane style but it never happened. In fact, the closest we get to seeing that is when he punches out a motorist for getting in his face. Not one of the terrorists – a civilian!

For me, if you take away McClane’s charisma and attitude you’ve already lost a lot. Apparently Moore thought that having Willis yell and scream here and there would be enough. Not even close! But to make matters worse, McClane’s great smart-alecky humor is decimated by Woods’ poor dialogue. So many times the one-liners land with a thud and they feel cheap and artificial. He does deliver a handful of lines that did make me laugh, but nothing close to the number of great quotes from the previous movies.

It also doesn’t help that he lacks a clear and present villain to go back and forth with. Instead of showing us the bad guy and then allowing McClane to fight his way to him, this film tries to play out like a thriller by throwing several twists in along the way. That’s fine except this is “Die Hard” and this is a significant departure from the structure of the other films. The story itself isn’t terrible and they do try and make some pretty cool historical connections. But it all plays out to be pretty basic stuff and doesn’t stick nearly as well as the other movies, even 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard”.

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But what about the action? I mean the action is the franchise’s bread and butter right? Does it manage to save the movie. Well, yes and no. There are a couple of unbelievable action set pieces even though they seem to grow more and more unimpressive as the film moves on. Perhaps the greatest scene in the film involves a huge car chase through the heavy traffic in Moscow. The sequence has some amazing stunts but it also has an unforgivable problem. It features some of the most frustrating camerawork and editing that I have ever seen in an action film. I am not a fan of the herky-jerky handheld camera craze. Here it’s amplified x10! It’s a long scene but the quick edits rarely leave the camera on a shot for more than a second. And the few times the camera does follow a shot it’s constantly shaking or moving from one place to another. Not only does it make things indecipherable but it basically ruined the scene for me.

I know this may be simplistic thinking especially from a pseudo-critic like me, but how can you mess up when you have such a tried and true formula to use? It may not sound like it but I did find some entertainment in “A Good Day to Die Hard”. I did think there were elements to the story that were pretty cool and there were some good action moments. I also can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when it comes to John McClane. But that’s also why this one stings. This film doesn’t do the movie or the character justice. The tag team of bad writing and bad direction sink this ship and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Some are saying it’s time to bury this franchise. No way! I want McClane to go out right. So I hope they do another movie. Just don’t let Skip Woods and John Moore anywhere near it!

Interested in another 80’s action star’s comeback? Check out my review of Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand”.