For centuries, man dreamed of flying through the air like a bird. Of course, thanks to modern technology, he now can, but he’s since discovered that it can be dangerous up there – especially if you’re appearing in a Hollywood blockbuster.
Over the years, the exploding helicopter has almost become an expected action movie standard. It’s hardly surprising, then, that writers and directors have come up with imaginative new ways to destroy these aircraft. Whether they were blown out of the sky by missiles or downed by something as innocuous as golf balls, these 15 helicopters went out in an explosive blaze of glory.
15. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
“You just killed a helicopter with a car!” marvels Matt Farrell (played by Justin Long) in 2007 action sequel Live Free or Die Hard. “I was out of bullets,” responds immortal NYPD detective, John McClane. It’s clear from this simple, tough-as-nails one-liner that Bruce Willis’ McClane is back in action – this time taking on cyber terrorist Thomas Gabriel (portrayed by Timothy Olyphant). Targeted by gunfire from a helicopter, McClane responds by speeding down a tunnel towards the chopper in a police car and jumping out of the vehicle just before it hits a tollbooth and launches into the air. The car smashes into the helicopter just as the gunman jumps clear, leaving the pilot to face the music alone. This amazing scene was made possible with cables to keep the helicopter steady, and a combination of two live action shots: one of the gunman evacuating the chopper and another of the police car plowing into it. Thankfully, no Willises were harmed in the shooting of the scene.
14. Mission: Impossible (1996)
The 1996 reboot of popular television series Mission: Impossible went all out, choreographing a slew of breathtaking and escalating action sequences. Naturally, there was also time for an epic helicopter crash. After being dragged into the Channel Tunnel by the TGV train that agent Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) has attached him to, bad guy pilot Franz Krieger (portrayed by Jean Reno) tries to give Hunt a close shave with the rotor blades of his helicopter – while our hero clings desperately to the speeding TGV. In response, Hunt jumps onto the chopper and slaps some chewing gum on its front windscreen. This, of course, is very irritating, as gum is a pain in the ass to remove, but this is no ordinary gum – it’s exploding gum. Hunt jumps clear as the explosive detonates, taking down the helicopter, Krieger and Hunt’s double-crossing ex-teammate and former mentor Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight), who’s hanging onto the chopper’s skids at the time.
13. Stone Cold (1991)
In cheesy 1991 action cult classic Stone Cold, Alabama-based police officer Joe Huff (played by ex-NFL linebacker Brian Bosworth) gets suspended for using excessive force, which as we all know is the only way for a brawny, hard-ass cop to solve a really big crime. With his schedule freed up, the FBI sends Huff undercover as John Stone in order to infiltrate a drug-dealing white power biker gang, but things soon begin to unravel. After a tense standoff, Huff shoots a biker who’s speeding towards him off of his motorcycle, causing the bike to smash through a window and go flying into a perfectly placed helicopter. The pilot’s reaction only stretches as far as letting out a classic “Nooooooooo!” before the helicopter explodes in a huge fireball – classically, a moment before the motorcycle actually hits it.
12. The Matrix (1999)
Imagine if real-life was like The Matrix and we could get complicated skills – like how to fly a helicopter – instantly implanted in our heads via download. In the 1999 sci-fi action blockbuster, Neo (played by Keanue Reeves) and his fellow anti-machine rebels pull off a daring helicopter rescue of their leader Morpheus (portrayed by Laurence Fishburne), saving him from the clutches of Agent Smith (portrayed by Hugo Weaving). As said chopper has outlived its usefulness, it’s time for another memorable exploding helicopter crash. Pilot Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) abandons the vehicle, leaving it to crash dramatically into the side of a gleaming glass-fronted skyscraper, which ruptures and explodes as she swings out of harm’s way, suspended from a cable held by her love interest Neo. All in all, it’s a successful rescue mission with minimum fatalities – assuming the office workers in the upper floors of the building were all out to lunch.
Image: YouTube/The Escapist
11. True Lies (1994)
In James Cameron’s over-the-top 1994 action comedy True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, a U.S. counter-terrorism agent whose wife Helen (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (portrayed by Eliza Dushku) think he is a plain old computer salesman. Eventually, juggling work and his family life proves so problematic that Tasker is forced to borrow a U.S. Marine Harrier to rescue his little girl from a bunch of terrorists. With terrorist leader Salim Abu Aziz (played by Art Malik) dangling from one of the Harrier’s missiles, Tasker delivers the brilliantly cheesy line “You’re fired” before launching the missile through the gutted floor of a building and into a terrorist-filled helicopter on the other side. Luckily, visibility on the day was good, giving everyone on board the helicopter a chance to really extend their “Nooooooo!” cries before impact. While the movie made use of green screen for a lot of the effects, three real Harriers – hired from the U.S. government complete with pilots for a whopping $2,410 per hour – were also used.
10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
In the 1977 Bond classic The Spy Who Loved Me, Agent 007 (played by Roger Moore) looks into a series of suspicious submarine hijackings. At one point, Bond and his KGB rival-turned-ally Major Anya Amasova (portrayed by Barbara Back) are pursued by the henchmen of villain Karl Stromberg (played by Curd Jürgens) and Stromberg’s persistent accomplice Naomi (portrayed by Caroline Munro). Speeding away from the chopper in his Lotus Esprit, Bond decides to hide underwater and drives off the end of a nearby jetty. Once submerged, the iconic car transforms into a submarine, before Bond uses the gear stick to set his sights on the helicopter hovering above them piloted by Naomi. He fires a missile that instantly engulfs its target in flames. After the film came out, there was such an increase in demand for white Esprits that Lotus was forced to apply a waiting period of three years. Exactly how many of those eager customers misguidedly drove their cars off jetties is unknown.
9. Rambo III (1988)
How many points do you get for shooting down a helicopter in an action movie? Well, you can probably multiply that score by a thousand if you use a bow and arrow to bring it down, like Vietnam veteran and all-round badass John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) does in 1988 action sequel Rambo III. Admittedly, this was no ordinary feathered projectile; instead, in this jaw-droppingly over-the-top scene, Rambo fires an arrow tipped with explosives to send the chopper to the ground in bits and pieces. Anything else would be completely ridiculous, right? It’s a fine line. Amusingly, the doomed pilot takes so long to believe what he’s seeing that he has only just begun his “Noo…” when his helicopter is blown to smithereens in this cowboys and Indians style attack. You can’t help but feel that Arnie would have finished with a line like, “How’s that for an Apache resistance?”
8. The Other Guys (2010)
At the end of 2010 action comedy The Other Guys, NYPD odd-couple detective buddies Terry Hoitz (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Allen Gamble (portrayed by Will Ferrell) find themselves squaring off with a helicopter at a driving range, following a high-speed chase in their Toyota Prius. As the bad guys descend on them with guns blazing, Hoitz and Gamble run for cover, but not before Gamble yells, “We’re cops, hit the chopper” at the golfers. This is all the prompting the eager players need to start pummeling the helicopter with golf balls. What’s more, one of the balls hits the pilot on the side of the head, sending the chopper spiraling out of control and crashing to the ground. Cue massive explosion. Now that’s what you call a hole in one.
7. Cliffhanger (1993)
Sylvester Stallone-fronted 1993 action flick Cliffhanger delivers on the title’s promise – quite literally. When a group of criminals led by Eric Qualen (portrayed by John Lithgow) loses three cases of stolen money over the Rocky Mountains, they trick rescuer Gabe Walker (played by Stallone) and his buddy Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) into helping them find the loot. Walker is no fool, though, and he fights tooth and nail to stop them, culminating in an impressively choreographed two-crash sequence involving the same chopper. As Qualen menaces Walker from the sky, the helicopter’s winch cable gets attached to a nearby ladder. Under fire from Tucker, the tethered chopper crashes into the side of the mountain. Cue an action-packed cliff-side fight scene on the dangling helicopter’s upturned underbelly, followed by Walker’s victorious one-liner, “Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times.” With that, the whole thing plummets to the ground and explodes.
6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
In James Cameron’s classic 1991 sci-fi action blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, futuristic killing machine the T-1000 (portrayed by Robert Patrick) breaks the golden rule: do not tailgate Arnie. Pursuing future resistance leader John Connor (played by Edward Furlong), whom the robotic assassin has been sent back in time to dispose of, the T-1000 hovers in a stolen police helicopter behind a boosted SWAT truck driven by Connor’s protector the T-800 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) – an activity bound to piss off transport authorities. With Connor’s mother Sarah (played by Linda Hamilton) firing bullets at the helicopter, the T-800 takes his chance and slams on the brakes, causing the T-1000’s chopper to crash straight into the back of the van, exploding as a result of the impact. However, as he’s made of liquid metal, the relentless T-1000 emerges from the wreckage unscathed and ready for more.
Image: YouTube/James Bond Türkiye
5. You Only Live Twice (1967)
In one memorable sequence from 1967 Bond caper You Only Live Twice, James Bond (this time played by Sean Connery) flies an autogyro affectionately dubbed “Little Nellie.” Essentially, it’s a micro helicopter not much bigger than your average moped. Still, Bond uses it to take on an entire fleet of choppers. Wearing his safety-conscious yet stylish headgear, 007 quickly dispatches with the lot of them thanks to some top-of-the-range Q Branch weaponry: a flame thrower with a very impressive range, parachuting aerial mines, twin machine guns, rockets, and a pair of air-to-air missiles. And if it looks like the suave flying Scotsman didn’t even break a sweat, it’s because in reality he left the flying to the pros. Little Nellie was actually flown by the creator of the copter, former RAF Wing Commander K. H. Wallis, who needed to complete 85 trips to shoot the iconic action sequence.
4. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
In classic 1985 sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II, the eponymous true-blue American action hero John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) is let out of jail following the events of the first film and sent off to Vietnam to look for proof of prisoners of war. After Rambo uses a hijacked Huey helicopter to rescue a bunch of POWs, lesser villain Soviet commander Podovsky (portrayed by Steven Berkoff) pursues Rambo in a Mil Mi-24 chopper. During the pursuit, Podovsky hits Rambo’s Huey, but our muscle-bound protagonist contrives to land the chopper safely and plays dead. Then, when Podovsky is close enough, Rambo sits up quick as lightning and grabs a rocket launcher, blowing the Soviet bird out of the sky so fast that Podovsky doesn’t even have time to let out a scream.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
In 2009 comic book spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an on-the-run Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman) is relentlessly pursued by his former Weapon X colleagues. When a helicopter carrying skilled tracker and ex-Weapon X comrade Agent Zero (portrayed by Daniel Henney) fires a missile at him, Wolverine uses the blast of the exploding vehicle he was on to catapult himself up to the helicopter, slicing off its rotor blades with his adamantium claws, before jumping off just before it smashes to bits on the ground. Somehow Agent Zero manages to survive. Yet foolishly, instead of living to fight another day, Zero taunts Wolverine, who simply ignites a trail of fuel leading to the chopper using his claws and blows his foe to pieces.
2. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Based on the real-life 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer’s dramatic 2001 war movie Black Hawk Down follows a U.S. operation to apprehend two of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s highest-ranking assistants. During the mission, militiamen shoot down two Black Hawk helicopters with RPGs, one of them manned by Super Six-Four pilot Michael Durant (played by Ron Eldard). While there are no fireballs initially, the real action happens once the chopper hits the ground. Durant is stranded and left to face an angry mob, so two Super Six-Two snipers, SFC Randy Shughart (played by Johnny Strong) and MSG Gary Gordon (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), enter the fray to try and assist Durant. However, Shughart and Gordon are killed and Durant is taken prisoner.
1. Cloverfield (2008)
Unlike many of the other explosion-heavy helicopter crashes on our list, this scene from J. J. Abrams’ gripping 2008 sci-fi monster flick Cloverfield uses subtlety to deliver the knockout blow. Protagonists Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David), Hudson “Hud” Platt (portrayed by T. J. Miller) and Beth MacIntyre (played by Odette Yustman) jump on a marine evacuation helicopter and stare down on New York as the Air Force bombs the creature. Suddenly, through the smoke, the stumbling creature launches itself at the helicopter. As seen through the same handheld camera, first-person perspective we get from the rest of the movie, the chopper goes down (amid a rain of expletives). And the fact that we don’t get a clear shot of the action makes the crash seem even more intense, like a rollercoaster ride you don’t really want to end – because you know it won’t turn out well.