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Flyboys Final1Sheet2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Bill
Produced by Dean Devlin
Written by Phil Sears
Blake T. Evans
David S. Ward
Story by Blake T. Evans
Starring James Franco
Martin Henderson
Jean Reno
Jennifer Decker
Abdul Salis
Philip Winchester
Tyler Labine
David Ellison
Music by Trevor Rabin
Cinematography Henry Braham
Editing by Chris Blunden
Ron Rosen
Studio Ingenious Film Partners
Electric Entertainment
Skydance Productions
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates September 22, 2006
Running time 140 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $60 million[1]
Box office $17,834,865[1]

Flyboys is a 2006 American drama/war film set during World War I, starring James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, David Ellison, Abdul Salis, Philip Winchester, and Tyler Labine. It was directed by Tony Bill, a pilot and aviation enthusiast.[2] The screenplay about men in aerial combat was written by Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans and David S. Ward with the screen story by Blake T. Evans. Themes of friendship, racial prejudice, revenge and love are also explored in the film.

The film follows the enlistment, training and combat experiences of a group of young Americans who volunteer to become fighter pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, the 124th air squadron formed by the French in 1916. The squadron consisted of five French officers and 38 American volunteers who wanted to fly and fight in World War I during the main years of the conflict, 1914–1917, before the United States later joined the war against the Central Powers.[3] The film ends with an epilogue that relates each film character to the real-life Lafayette Escadrille figure on whom the movie was based.[3]


Prior to America's entrance into the war, a group of young Americans go to France, for different personal reasons, to fight in the French Air Service, L'Aéronautique militaire, during World War I. One of them, Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) faced with the foreclosure of his family ranch in Texas, decides to enlist after seeing a newsreel of aerial combat in France. Dilettante Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) joins because of his overbearing father. African-American boxer Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), who had been accepted as an athlete in France, was motivated to "pay back" his adopted country. These American recruits are under the command of French Captain Georges Thenault (Jean Reno), while the veteran fighter ace Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson), a fellow American, takes over as their mentor.

During their training, each pilot struggles with the demanding flying; later, they have to face the aerial dogfights that dominate the front line missions. Rawlings meets a young woman named Lucienne whom he courts despite her hesitations about his risky profession. [N 1]

On their first mission to escort two bombers to attack a German ammunition depot, the rookie pilots are ambushed by Germans and two are killed while flying; another pilot is forced to make an emergency landing. While on the ground this American pilot is strafed and killed by the German ace The Black Falcon, who returns to altitude and is met by the more chivalrous German pilot Franz Wolferd who shakes his head in disapproval.

During a later battle, Rawlings' single machinegun jams; while he tries to clear the jam, Wolferd—the pilot whom he had been chasing prior to the jam—gets him in his sights. As Rawlings closes his eyes to await the end, Wolferd fires a short burst, not striking the American or his plane. The German ace then flies beside Rawlings, before saluting and banking away toward home, sparing his opponent's life.

Rawlings attempts to repay the debt on another day, when he has Wolferd in the perfect position to shoot him down. He lets the German go, but when Wolferd dives after another American, Rawlings is forced to chase and kill him.

During an attack on a German Zeppelin, Reed Cassidy is mortally wounded by the Black Falcon but, as his final act, destroys the Zeppelin by crashing into it. Rawlings reunites with Lucienne before she leaves for Paris. Before Rawlings leaves for another battle, his plane is presented with an eagle, Cassidy's former insignia, and Rawlings is promoted to Commander. Their next mission is to escort four bombers which are being sent to bomb the same supply depot from the first mission. A few of the American pilots are killed, including Briggs Lowry, who shoots himself with his sidearm rather than be burned alive in his stricken plane. Nevertheless, the mission is a success and the German supply depot is bombed.

Upon returning from the bombing mission, Rawlings takes off again to exact revenge on the Black Falcon, followed soon after by several fellow members of the Lafayette Escadrille. A melee between Rawlings and his American pilots and the Black Falcon and his German squadron ensues. During the final battle, despite having jammed guns and being wounded, Rawlings evades his enemy and fatally shoots the Black Falcon with his pistol. The rest of the Germans either retreat or are shot down. Rawlings and three other pilots (Jensen, Skinner and Beagle) survive the encounter and return to base.


In writing the original drafts that formed the basis of the final screenplay, Tony Bill made an effort to incorporate the real-life adventures of a number of American World War I expatriates who served in both the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps, although pseudonyms were used throughout.[4]

The casting of James Franco in an action adventure feature at the time was considered a "stepping stone" to his rise as marquee player and movie star.[5]

The film was shot on location in the United Kingdom primarily in spring 2005 although principal photography continued on into the summer.[6] The trench scenes were shot in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, the same location used for Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan. The airfield and aerial shots were filmed on and above RAF Halton (near Aylesbury) where hangars, mess rooms and officers quarters were built adjacent to Splash Covert Woods. All scenery and props were removed when filming ended. The interior shots of the chateau were filmed at RAF Halton's officers' mess, Halton House. Some interiors and studio green-screen work were filmed at Elstree Film and Television Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.[7]

The film was financed privately outside the standard Hollywood studio circuit by a group of filmmakers and investors, including producer Dean Devlin and pilot David Ellison, son of Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison; both spent more than $60 million of their own money to make and market "Flyboys".

The Nieuport 17s featured in the film included four replicas built by Airdrome Aeroplanes, an aircraft company based outside of Kansas City, Missouri. The other aircraft used were a mix of authentic aircraft (the Nieuport 17 that James Franco used throughout the filming was an original combat aircraft from Kermit Weeks' collection in Florida, specially brought over for the film)[8] and replicas including Nieuport 17s, a sole Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter and a number of Fokker Dr.I replicas.[9]

In preparing for the starring role, James Franco took flying lessons. All the other main actors, except Jean Reno, were filmed in actual aircraft in anticipation of using the aerial footage in final scenes. (Reno pointedly refused the offer, with a "No thanks, I'm afraid of flying." admission). Very little other than Franco's closeups in a cockpit ultimately made it to the screen.[10]

Historical accuracy[edit]

This film has been widely criticized for its lack of historical accuracy.[11] The most serious lapse was the blending of the Lafayette Escadrille with the Lafayette Flying Corps, a sub-unit where the real-life Eugene Bullard actually served.[12]

Various details of World War I fighter aircraft technology shown in the film were inaccurate. For example, the aircraft engines in the CGI scenes are pictured as not moving. On the rotary engines used in some early aircraft, the engine case and cylinders rotated, with the crankshaft bolted to the airframe. The spinning of the cylinders improved cooling, and the propeller was attached to the crankcase (the opposite of radial engines). One operating rotary engine appears in a scene that takes place in the repair hangar. The Nieuport and Fokker aircraft used in the movie are flying replicas built with new radial engines, due to the unavailability of original-type rotary engines. This detail can be briefly seen in the final combat when the black Fokker is taking off after Rowling's ground attack at the German airfield.[8]

Another error is that the American pilots are operating the Nieuport 17, while the Germans are operating the Fokker Dr.I, which entered front line service some time after the Nieuport 17 was no longer operational.[13]

The singular use of Fokker Triplanes, which were not in widespread operational use, is contentious and almost every Triplane was also painted red in the film, indicating that the Triplane was in Jasta 11, the "all-red" unit. Its leader, Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron", flew four "blood-red" Triplanes (although undersurfaces remained blue). The Red Baron was killed either by Canadian Ace Roy Brown or by ground forces on April 21, 1918, whilst flying low above the Somme valley.[14] On the director/producer commentary track for the DVD release, Producer Dean Devlin noted that they were aware the predominant use of red triplanes was historically inaccurate, but wanted to give clear visual signals to the audience to enable them to easily distinguish friend from foe in the aerial sequences.[15]

The film's only military adviser for the entire project was Jack Livesey, a convicted defrauder, who fabricated his résumé and military service to gain employment as an administrative assistant at the Imperial War Museum, London. Livesey was charged and convicted with fraudulently claiming £30,000.00 in benefits. Livesey had served three years in the British Army Catering Corps. His claims of service in Northern Ireland, the Falklands conflict and that he was a curator of The Imperial War Museum were not true.[16]

In the film, the RMS Aquitania is depicted as a luxury liner; however, in early 1914, she was converted to use as an armed merchant cruiser, and by 1915 had been put into use as a troop transport ship, painted with dazzle style camouflage; however, the film might have used it to demonstrate the style of transport ships during the war.[17]


Critics generally gave unfavorable reviews of the film based on the hackneyed dialogue and inconsistency of the plot, although public acceptance was more forgiving focusing more on the realistic aerial scenes. Rotten Tomatoes, as of September 2006, gave it a "Rotten" rating of 33%.[18]

The film opened at #4 the box office with a gross of $6,004,219 from 2,033 theaters for an average of $2,953 per venue. The bottom fell out from then on; the film dropped 61% in its second weekend. It ended up with a total of $13,090,620 domestically, $4,744,235 internationally, and a total worldwide gross of $17,834,865.[1] Variety named it one of the 10 biggest box office flops of the year.[19]


  1. ^ The hero is given a small bear, which he carries as a good luck charm, possibly a reference to the small bear carried as a good luck charm by a pilot in "Wings," a silent film about World War I American Pilots, which, in 1927, was the first film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  1. ^ a b c "Flyboys (2006)." Box Office Mojo, August 15, 2011.
  2. ^ Farmer 2006, p. 18.
  3. ^ a b Sherman, Steven. "Lafayette Escadrille: American Volunteer Pilots in WWI." acepilots.com, 2007. Retrieved: April 27, 2008.
  4. ^ Farmer 2006, pp. 18–19.
  5. ^ Farmer 2006, pp. 19–20.
  6. ^ Farmer 2006, p. 16.
  7. ^ Farmer 2006. p. 50.
  8. ^ a b Farmer 2006, p. 20.
  9. ^ Farmer 2006. pp. 21–22, 50.
  10. ^ Farmer 2006, p. 53.
  11. ^ Phillips, Michael. "Script strafes story of historic WW I squadron: Flyboys". Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2006. Retrieved: February 10, 2012.
  12. ^ Flammer, Phillip M. "Roster of the Lafayette Flying Corps." New England Air Museum, 2006. Retrieved: August 24, 2008.
  13. ^ "Early Aircraft Engines." U.S. Centennial of Flight, 2003. Retrieved: August 24, 2008.
  14. ^ Winchester 2004, p. 141.
  15. ^ Bill, Tony and Dean Devlin. "Special Features: Audio Commentary." Flyboys (DVD: Full Screen). MGM, 2006.
  16. ^ Daily Mail "Jack Livese." Benefit Cheat John Livesey escaped jail thanks to fantasy Falklands Heroics, 2008. Retrieved: May 16, 2012.
  17. ^ Mancini, Louis. "RMS Aquitania." Monsters of the Sea: The Great Ocean Liners of Time, 2008. Retrieved: August 24, 2008.
  18. ^ "Flyboys (2006)", Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: April 4, 2012.
  19. ^ Laporte, Nicole. "2006: Hollywood diagnosis." Variety, December 24, 2006. Retrieved: 15 August 15, 2011.
  • Farmer, Jim. "The Making of Flyboys." Air Classics, Vol. 42, No. 11, November 2006.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Fokker DR.1: JG 1". Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.

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