Five fabulous flights through the movies

As Wonderland takes us for a ride in a microlight, we unearth film's most magnificent flying machines

TV takes off this week, exploring the vertiginous airborne pleasures of microlighting tonight in Wonderland (9pm, BBC2/BBC HD) and joining swallows and Japanese cranes for an aerial view of the earth’s surface in Earthflight on Thursday at 8pm on BBC1/BBC1 HD, the images for which were also taken from a microlight.


Picking up the spirit of derring-do, here are five movies featuring the joys of flight, from comic inventions to adventure in the skies.

Around the World in 80 Days – 1956

David Niven looked suave as ever in the basket of a hot-air balloon in this film version of Jules Verne’s novel. As the upper crust adventurer Phileas Fogg, he embarks on a race around the globe that will see him hopping on and off all manner of conveyance. The lengthy trailer is part film promo, part travel ad.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes – 1965

Terry-Thomas’s moustache should get a credit for another sterling performance in this escapist comic adventure set in 1910, about a race through the air from London to Paris with the goal of demonstrating that Britain was champion of the skies. Terry-Thomas is at his dastardly best, with Eric Sykes as his browbeaten accomplice, doing his damnedest to sabotage the competition. The theme tune, of course, is as memorable as the film.

Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy – 1982

Woody Allen knows how to edit a gag for maximum silliness. In his Chekhovian spoof, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, he plays a self-involved inventor whose neglected wife falls for one of the house guests at their country home. Allen’s character is trying to unlock the secret of flight, opening the door for the kind of slapstick Allen tired of as his career moved forward. But the comedy here is in the cut. Would it be as good if we saw where Allen ended up?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – 1968

Those who’ve read Ian Fleming’s children’s adventure story will know that the film is an almost total departure from the original. A colourful, comic fantasy, the star of the piece is the lovable car, invention of eccentric Caractacus Potts, which sails into the air on enormous mechanical wings, taking Caractacus (Dick Van Dyke), Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) and children Jemima and Jeremy on their magical journey.

You Only Live Twice – 1967


Sean Connery pretends to fly a gyrocopter named Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice. Such is the glamour of 007 that you don’t really mind if it’s quite obvious he’s really sitting in a chair rocking backwards and sideways while a professional pilot takes Little Nellie through her paces. We get some spectacular panoramic shots from on high.