36 user 22 critic

Aces High (1976)

PG | | Action, Drama, War | December 1977 (USA)
1:14 | Trailer
In World War I, the high casualty rate amongst the rookie pilots of the Royal Flying Corps puts an enormous strain on the survivors.


Jack Gold


Howard Barker (screenplay), R.C. Sherriff (play) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Malcolm McDowell ... Gresham
Christopher Plummer ... Sinclair
Simon Ward ... Crawford
Peter Firth ... Croft
David Wood ... Thompson
John Gielgud ... Headmaster
Trevor Howard ... Silkin
Richard Johnson ... Colonel Lyle
Ray Milland ... Brigadier Whale
Christopher Blake Christopher Blake ... Roberts
Gilles Béhat Gilles Béhat ... Beckenauer (as Gilles Behat)
Elliott Cooper Elliott Cooper ... Wade
David Daker ... Bennett
Barry Jackson ... Joyce
Jacques Maury Jacques Maury ... Ponnelle


A naive young officer straight from school arrives on the Western front to fight the air war against the Germans. However, the life expectancy of green pilots is not very good. Written by Orde Saunders <ODS101@York.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


High above the trenches 14 days is a long life...This is the 15th day!


Action | Drama | War


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Malcolm McDowell and David Wood appeared in If.... (1968). See more »


Croft and Sinclair fly an Avro 504 on a reconnaissance mission. They are attacked by a German fighter. When we see the Avro from the German pilots point of view, it has transformed into a Caudron Luciole, because those scenes are outtakes from "The Blue Max". See more »


Mess Corporal Bennett: [as the pilots set off early in the morning on a dangerous mission] How many for breakfast? Any of them?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: England October 1916 See more »

Alternate Versions

Some DVD releases feature a shorter print which reduces the French restaurant scene and misses out shots of the officers looking at a slideshow of nude photographs. These appear to have been made by the distributor, as the film has never been cut by the BBFC. See more »


Version of Journey's End (2017) See more »


Written by Bert Lee and R.P. Weston
See more »

User Reviews

Well done WWI drama/character study
14 January 2000 | by MartaSee all my reviews

Written from the English point of view, this film seems to have it's tongue in it's cheek at times, but it's not at all funny. There are several flashes of humor in the early scenes, at the expense of the British upper class, but those quickly give way to the special horrors of the first war fought in the air.

Patriotic young pilots straight out of college lost their lives in literally a few days time, due to their inexperience and the stress of this new kind of battle. Malcolm McDowell has the unwelcome task of leading the 76th Squadron and also visiting colleges to drum up recruits, all the while knowing he's inviting them to an almost certain death. He keeps these new recruits at arms length to soften the blow to his mental health when they invariably get shot down. When he shows up at his own alma mater, an idealistic young man, played by Peter Firth, signs up for McDowell's squadron. On his arrival at the airfield, Firth sees the evidence of the turnover in pilots but fails to see the connection to his own longevity; a family photo and personal effects are whisked out of the room he's been assigned, right in front of his eyes. He is introduced to Simon Ward, a stony-faced pilot who by the end of the movie is finally driven insane by the awful, daily anticipation of his own death in battle.

The young pilots experience the respect that their station in the Air Corps elicits from the locals and from women, but at the same time they see how they are more likely to be killed than the average filthy foot soldier. Firth is taken with a local cabaret girl, who invites him to her room one night. The next night, when he expects her to be glad to see him, she ignores him and pays attention to an older, richer officer. The very next day the pilots are given the task of destroying German spotter balloons, which always have heavy gun and air protection, and the older pilots know this is almost a death warrant. Six planes go out, with McDowell and Firth in two of them, but you'll have to watch the film to find out how many come back.

A very good, but depressing, film, McDowell is subdued in his performance and seems to come out of his cocoon only at the end. This is necessary, I think, for his character to survive in the surroundings of constant tragedy. Firth is naive in the extreme, and this probably a correct portrayal of a green recruit in WWI, where there was no frame of reference for how dangerous those early airplanes were. The film shows us just how little the commanders valued the lives of their men by sending them out unprepared and inexperienced, and that they know after one group of fliers is decimated, there is always a fresh batch of innocent boys to take their place. I recommend the film highly, since it has a firm anti-war message.

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UK | France


English | French | German

Release Date:

December 1977 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Aces High See more »


Box Office


GBP1,250,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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