So, here's our run down of the most memorable exploding helicopter movies of all time. Our rankings were establishing using a complicated scientific formula which looked at the number of exploding helicopters, the imagination employed in its destruction, and how artistically it was rendered. We also argued about it down the pub.
1 - Rambo III
The holy grail of exploding helicopter films, a sacred text against which all other movies must be judged, Rambo III has no peer in the genre.
Its tally of 4 chopper fireballs is impressive, but it’s the unrivalled diversity of destruction that elevates Rambo III to high art. One is destroyed after a crash landing, another after being gratuitously machine-gunned at point blank range.
We’re also treated to the unusual sight of Sylvester Stallone downing a whirlybird with an explosive tipped bow and arrow. The whole film is topped off in spectacular style when Sly, driving a tank, defeats the Soviet army by playing chicken with a helicopter.
For ambition and execution, you can’t beat Rambo III.
2 - Blue Thunder
In a film all about a new super-helicopter, the chance of chopper conflagration goodness was always high. After teasing the audience with several helicopter crashes (we’re strict, there has to be an explosion) we finally get chopper fireball satisfaction during the film’s climax.
The hero and villain engage in a cat-and-mouse helicopter duel amidst Los Angeles’ skyscrapers. After pulling off an aerodynamically impossible manoeuvre (hey, it’s the movies), Scheider brings down both McDowell and the conspiracy.
But that’s not all. The closing moments of the film feature the remarkable sight of a helicopter being rammed by a train. Outstanding.
3 - Broken Arrow
Director John Woo delivers a mother-lode of exploding helicopter action in this ripe slice of nineties action hokum.
A master of stylised action and violence (and dove related symbolism), Woo serves up his chopper fireballs with verve and pizzazz. We get slow motion replays, rich lustrous fireballs, and an inventive array of methods: gunfire, collision, incineration and electro-magnetic pulse.
After watching one particularly epic helicopter explosion, John Travolta sums up the thrill for everyone: "I said goddamn what a rush!"
4 - Sudden Death
Doubtless pitched to the studio as 'Die Hard in an ice rink', this Jean Claude Van Damme action flick delivers the goods in so many ways: a fight with a giant penguin, JCVD's ice hockey penalty save, and Powers Boothe's delirious turn as the villain.
All this comes to a head in the finale, where 'Van Dammage' downs the helicopter Boothe is trying to make a getaway in. The ensuing chopper fireball has an almost operative quality.
5 - The Last Match
When a young girl is framed and jailed for drug offences she didn’t commit, it appears there’s no way to help her. Fortunately, her father is an American football coach who recruits his team to break her out of prison.
This low budget action flick takes its American football theme and runs with it all the way to the end zone. The team’s football skills come in handy when, during their rescue bid, they’re attacked by a police helicopter.
One of the players stuffs a grenade inside a football and then drop kicks it inside the circling chopper. Touchdown!
6 - Battleship
Number of exploding helicopters: 8
Many films have given us more imaginative and innovative helicopter explosions, but for sheer scale nothing can beat Battleship.
The board game based blockbuster includes no less than 8 exploding helicopters – more than any other film. The choppers are all blown-up in one giddy scene of wanton whirlybird destruction.
A spinning alien weapon comes careening through an air base where an octuplet of helicopters are innocently parked. The spherical spaceship barrels choppers in an orgy of rotor-bladed carnage.
There’s much to be said for exploding helicopter scenes that are unnecessary and gratuitous – and they don’t come more needless than this.
7- Stone Cold
Number of exploding helicopters - 1
I love the maverick-cop-who-ignores-the-rules genre almost as much as I love exploding helicopters. So imagine my delight when those two world's collide with such spectacular results.
Former American football star turned mulleted b-movie action star Brian Bosworth, goes undercover in a biker gang, led by the criminally neglected character actor Lance Henriksen. In a classic sequence 'the Bos' finds himself facing down Henriksen inside an office block.
One of Henriksen's goons is sat astride a motorbike. The goon guns the motorbike engine and charges at Bosworth who shoots him out the saddle. The motorbike's momentum takes it speeding forward out the glass window of the building where it smashes into the chopper conveniently hovering opposite. Ridiculous, over the top, in all the best possible ways.
8 - Mission Impossible
Number of exploding helicopters: 1
This big screen reboot of the sixties TV series features a number of classic set pieces (the wire dangling burglary remains a classic), but it’s the train and chopper finale you should get most excited about.
Pursued by Cruise, Jon Voight escapes to the roof of the Eurostar train, where Jean Reno is waiting for him in a helicopter. To stop Voight escaping, Cruise uses a dangling winch-line to tether the chopper to the train as it speeds into the Channel Tunnel. Voight and Cruise brawl while hanging onto the helicopter’s landing skids. Tiny Tom then sticks explosive chewing gum to the windshield. Bam!
Inevitably, the blast kills the baddies but just propels Ethan onto the slanted back of the slowing train. The blazing chopper crashes on behind him and its sharp rotor blades stop just short of his neck. Innovative, original and well executed, this is top drawer chopper fireball action. .
9 - Die Hard 4.0
Number of exploding helicopters: 1
For a long time, die hard Die Hard fans argued whether this or Die Hard 2 was the worst film in the franchise. But then Bruce Willis gave us A Good Day To Die Hard and made those debates redundant.
Grumbling aside, there is a vintage helicopter explosion to marvel at and enjoy. Bruce takes refuge in a tunnel from a pursuing helicopter, but is nearly killed when Timothy Olyphant's villain uses his computer wizardry to redirect traffic towards him.
Tiring of his near death experiences, the grumpy vest wearer races a car towards the tunnel entrance (where the helicopter is hovering, waiting to finish him off). At the last moment Willis jumps clear of the car which hits the central reservation, flies-up and crashes into the chopper.
The bravura sequence is capped with a one-liner. "You just killed a helicopter with a car!" exclaims Bruce’s irritating sidekick. "I was out of bullets," comes Bruce’s droll reply.
10 - True Lies
Occasionally, it can seem that filmmakers have run-out of new ways to blow-up helicopters. Fortunately, whenever those dark thoughts occur someone a movie comes along with a chopper fireball we’ve never seen before.
So, in True Lies, we get to watch the unique sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger downing a helicopter with a rocket-propelled terrorist.