The Aviator (2004 film)

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{{#invoke:Infobox|infobox}} The Aviator is a 2004 American biographical drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King, and Charles Evans, Jr.. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. The supporting cast features Ian Holm, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Willem Dafoe, Alan Alda, and Edward Herrmann.

Based on the 1993 non-fiction book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham, the film depicts the life of Howard Hughes, an aviation pioneer and director of Hell's Angels. The highly stylized film portrays his life between the late 1920s and late 1940s, during which time Hughes became a successful film producer and an aviation magnate while simultaneously growing more unstable due to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The Aviator premièred in New York City on December 14, 2004, and was released in the United States on December 25.[1] The film proved to be a success, ranking at #4 on the opening weekend.[2] It gained $102,610,330 at the box office, with an estimated production cost of $110 million,[3] with Scorsese saying that he "grossly misjudged the budget".[4] The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Scorsese, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role for DiCaprio, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Alan Alda and Best Sound Mixing, and winning five for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Cate Blanchett.[3] This achievement would not be matched for seven years until Martin Scorsese's film Hugo.



In Houston, 1913, nine-year-old Howard Hughes is warned by his mother of the diseases that she is afraid he will succumb to. Fourteen years later, he begins to direct the movie, Hell’s Angels, however after the release of The Jazz Singer, the first partially talking film, Hughes becomes obsessed with shooting his film realistically, and decides to convert the movie to a sound film. Despite the film being a hit, Hughes remains unsatisfied with the end result and orders the film to be re-cut after its Hollywood premier. He becomes romantically involved with actress Katharine Hepburn, who helps to ease the symptoms of his worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In 1935, Hughes test flies the H-1 Racer, pushing it to a new speed record and three years later, breaks the world record by he flying around the world in four days. He purchases majority interest in Transcontinental & Western Air, the predecessor to Trans World Airlines, aggravating company rival, Juan Trippe, chairman of the board for Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). Trippe gets his friend, Senator Owen Brewster, to introduce the Community Airline Bill, which would give Pan Am exclusivity on international air travel. As Hughes’ fame grows, he is linked to various starlets, provoking Hepburn’s jealousy, later causing them to break up following her announcement that she has fallen in love with fellow actor Spencer Tracy. Hughes quickly finds a new love interest with 15-year-old Faith Domergue, and later actress Ava Gardner.

Hughes secures a contract with the Army Air Forces for two projects: a spy aircraft and a troop transport unit. In 1946, with the "Spruce Goose" flying boat still in construction, Hughes finishes the XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft and takes it for a test flight. With one of the engines malfunctioning mid-flight, he crashes the aircraft in Beverly Hills, getting severely injured. With the end of WWII, the army cancels their order for the H-4 Hercules, although Hughes still continues the development with his own money. When he is discharged, he is told that he has to choose between funding the airlines or his ‘flying boat’, in which he then orders Dietrich to mortgage the TWA assets so he can continue the development.

Hughes grows increasingly paranoid, planting microphones and tapping Gardner's phone lines to keep track of her. His home is searched by the FBI for incriminating evidence of war profiteering, provoking a powerful psychological trauma on Hughes, with the men searching his possessions and tracking dirt through his house. Privately, Brewster offers to drop the charges if Hughes will sell TWA to Trippe, an offer he rejects. With Hughes in a deep depression, Trippe has Brewster summon him for a Senate investigation, as they’re confident that he’ll not show up. After being shut away for nearly three months, Gardner visits Hughes and personally grooms and dresses him in preparation for the hearing.

Hughes defends himself against Brewster's charges and accuses Trippe of bribing the senator. Hughes concludes by announcing that he has committed to completing the H-4 aircraft, and that he will leave the country if he cannot get it to fly. He successfully test flies H-4 aircraft, and after the flight, talks to Dietrich and his engineer, Glenn Odekirk, about a new jetliner for TWA. The sight of men in germ-resistant suits causes Hughes to have a mental breakdown. As Odekirk hides him in a restroom whilst Dietrich fetches a doctor, Hughes begins to have flashbacks of his childhood, his obsession for aviation, and his ambition for success, whilst repeating the phrase, "the way of the future".




Warren Beatty planned to direct and star in a Hughes biopic in the early 1970s. He co-wrote the script with Bo Goldman after a proposed collaboration with Paul Schrader fell through. Goldman wrote his own script, Melvin and Howard, which depicted Hughes' possible relationship with Melvin Dummar. Beatty's thoughts regularly returned to the project over the years,[5] and in 1990 approached Steven Spielberg to direct Goldman's script, but the outing never materialized.[6] Despite Beatty's hope to make a Hughes biopic, Charles Evans, Jr. purchased the film rights of Howard Hughes: The Untold Story (ISBN 0-525-93785-4) in 1993. Evans secured financing from New Regency Productions, but development stalled.[7]

The Aviator was a joint production between Warner Bros, who handled Latin American and Canadian distribution, and Disney, who released the film internationally under their Miramax Films banner in the US and the UK. Disney previously developed a Howard Hughes biopic with director Brian De Palma and actor Nicolas Cage between 1997 and 1998. Titled Mr. Hughes, the film would have starred Cage in the dual roles of both Hughes and Clifford Irving. It was conceived when De Palma and Cage were working on Snake Eyes with writer David Koepp, who regarded it as being the best screenplay he ever wrote.[5][8] Universal Pictures joined the competition in March 1998 when they purchased the film rights to Empire: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes (ISBN 0-393000-257), written by Donald Barlett and James Steele. The Hughes brothers were going to direct Johnny Depp as Howard Hughes, based on a script by Terry Hayes,[9] Universal canceled it when they decided they did not want to fast track development to complete with Disney. Following the disappointing release of Snake Eyes in August 1998, Disney placed Mr. Hughes in turnaround.

Disney restarted development on a new Howard Hughes biopic in June 1999, and hired Michael Mann to direct Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of Howard Hughes, based on a script by John Logan. Disney intended to release it under their Miramax Films banner.[10] The studio put it in turnaround again following the disappointing box office performance of Mann's critically acclaimed The Insider. New Line Cinema picked it up in turnaround almost immediately, with Mann planning to direct after finishing Ali.[11] Mann was eventually replaced with DiCaprio's Gangs of New York director Martin Scorsese.

Howard Hughes suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He had an obsession with germs and cleanliness. In production of the film, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio worked closely with Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, Ph.D. of UCLA to portray the most accurate depiction of OCD. With the help of Dr. Schwartz their representation of the disorder was accurate and clear. The filmmakers had to focus both on previous accounts of Hughes’ behaviours as well as the time period. At the time when Hughes was suffering there was no psychiatric definition for what ailed him. Instead of receiving proper treatment, Hughes was forced to hide his stigmatized compulsions. His disorder began to conflict with everyday functioning and eventually destroyed his once-successful career.

Leonardo DiCaprio dedicated hundreds of hours of work to portray Howard Hughes’ unique case of OCD on screen. Apart from doing his research on Hughes, DiCaprio met with people suffering from OCD. In particular, he focused on the way some individuals would wash their hands, later inspiring the scene in which he cuts himself scrubbing in the bathroom. The character arc of Howard Hughes was a drastic one: from the height of his career to the appearance of his compulsions and, eventually, to him sitting naked in a screening room, refusing to leave and repeating over the phrase “the way of the future.” DiCaprio successfully found this range of behaviour in his portrayal of Hughes.[12]


Hughes crashes in a field; screenshot showing the simulated bipack color film used in scenes depicting events before 1935.

In an interview for the American Cinematographer, January 2005, John Pavlus wrote: "The Aviator is (Robert) Richardson and Scorsese’s third collaboration, following Casino (see AC Nov. ’95) and Bringing Out the Dead (AC Nov. ’99). The film boasts an ambitious fusion of period lighting techniques, extensive effects sequences and a digital re-creation of two extinct cinema color processes: two-color and three-strip Technicolor.”[13] For the first 52 minutes of the film, scenes appear in shades of only red and cyan blue; green objects are rendered as blue. This was done, according to Scorsese, to emulate the look of early bipack color films, in particular the Multicolor process, which Hughes himself owned, emulating the available technology of the era. Similarly, many of the scenes depicting events occurring after 1935 are treated to emulate the saturated appearance of three-strip Technicolor. Other scenes were stock footage colorized and incorporated into the film. The color effects were created by Legend Films.[14]

Production design

In The Aviator, scale models were used to duplicate many of the flying scenes. When Martin Scorsese began planning his aviation epic, a decision was made to film flying sequences with scale models rather than CGI special effects. The critical reaction to the CGI models in Pearl Harbor (2001) had been a crucial factor in Scorsese's decision to use full-scale static and scale models in this case. The building and filming of the flying models proved both cost-effective and timely.[15]

The primary scale models were the Spruce Goose and the XF-11; both miniatures were designed and fabricated over a period of several months by New Deal Studios.[16] The {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} Spruce Goose model had a wingspan of {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} while the {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} XF-11 had a {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} wingspan. Each was built as a motion control miniature used for "beauty shots" of the model taking off and in flight as well as in dry dock and under construction at the miniature Hughes Hangar built as well by New Deal Studios. The XF-11 was reverse engineered from photographs and some rare drawings and then modeled in Rhinoceros 3D by the New Deal art department. These 3D models of the Spruce Goose as well as the XF-11 were then used for patterns and construction drawings for the model makers. In addition to the aircraft, the homes that the XF-11 crashes into were fabricated at 1:4 scale to match the 1:4 scale XF-11. The model was rigged to be crashed and break up several times for different shots.[15]

Additional castings of the Spruce Goose flying boat and XF-11 models were provided for new radio controlled flying versions assembled by the team of model builders from Aero Telemetry. The Aero Telemetry team was given only three months to complete three models including the 450 lb H-1 Racer, with an {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} wingspan, that had to stand-in for the full-scale replica that was destroyed in a crash, shortly before principal photography began.[17]

The models were shot on location at Long Beach and other California sites from helicopter or raft platforms. The short but much heralded flight of Hughes’ HK-1 Hercules on November 2, 1947 was realistically recreated in the Port of Long Beach. The motion control Spruce Goose and Hughes Hangar miniatures built by New Deal Studios are presently on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, with the original Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose".[15]



Miramax Films distributed the film in the United States, the United Kingdom as well as Italy, France and Germany. Miramax also held the rights to the US television distribution, while Warner Bros. Pictures retained the rights for home video/DVD distribution and the theatrical release in Canada and Latin America. Initial Entertainment Group released the film in the remaining territories around the world.[18][19]

Box office performance

The Aviator was given a limited release on December 17, 2004 in 40 theaters where it grossed $858,021 on its opening weekend.[20] It was given a wide release on December 25, 2004, and opened in 1,796 theaters in the United States, grossing $4,240,000 on its opening day and $8,631,367 on its opening weekend, ranking #4 with a per theater average of $4,805.[21][22] On its second weekend, it moved up to #3 and grossed $11,364,664 – $6,327 per theater.[23]

The Aviator grossed $102,610,330 in the United States and Canada and $111,131,129 overseas. In total, the film has grossed $213,741,459 worldwide.[24]

Home media

The film was released in DVD in a two-disc-set in widescreen and full screen versions on May 24, 2005.[25] The first disc includes commentary with director Martin Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann. The second disc includes "The Making of 'The Aviator' ", "Deleted Scenes", "Behind the Scenes", "Scoring The Aviator", "Visual Effects", featurettes on Howard Hughes as well as other special features. The DVD was nominated for Best Audio Commentary (New to DVD) at the DVD Exclusive Awards in 2006.[26]

The film was later released in High Definition on Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD on November 6, 2007.[25]

Critical response

The film received highly positive reviews with the review tallying website Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 186 out of the 213 reviews were positive with a score of 87% and certification of "Fresh".[27] On review aggregator site Metacritic the film scored an average of 77 out of 100, based on 41 reviews.[28] Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four and described the film and its subject, Howard Hughes, in these terms: "What a sad man. What brief glory. What an enthralling film, 166 minutes, and it races past. There's a match here between Scorsese and his subject, perhaps because the director's own life journey allows him to see Howard Hughes with insight, sympathy – and, up to a point, with admiration. This is one of the year's best films."[29]

David T. Courtwright from the University of North Florida characterized Aviator as a technically brilliant and emotionally disturbing film. He argues that the main credit for Martin Scorsese is that he managed to restore the name of Howard Hughes as of a pioneer aviator of the USA. In his opinion, Scorsese and Logan understood and depicted the aviation history well as they understood the paradox of the generation of aviation pioneers. Particularly, their sacrifice of a feeling of adventure in favour of creating risk-free, comfortable aeroplanes. Furthermore, Scorsese used Hughes’s romances with film stars in order to correctly depict the Hollywood’s interwar culture with its nightlife and its cult of bosomy celebrity.[30]



See also




  3. 3.0 3.1
  5. 5.0 5.1 David Hughes (March 2004). Tales From Development Hell. London: Titan Books. pp. 136–140. ISBN 1-84023-691-4.
  6. Joseph McBride (1997). Steven Spielberg: A Biography. New York City: Faber and Faber. pp. 446. ISBN 0-571-19177-0.
  7. Hughes, p.144-147
  8. Staff (1998-08-06). "'Snake' trio tackles Hughes; LaPaglia in 'Sam'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  9. Staff (March 2, 1998). "Hughes team tags Depp; 'Spider' rumors fly". Variety. Retrieved January 2, 2009.
  10. Chris Petrikin; Michael Fleming (June 24, 1999). "Mouse, Mann and DiCaprio pact". Variety. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  11. Michael Fleming (February 25, 2000). "New Line spruced up". Variety. Retrieved January 4, 2009.
  12. Kinsey, Beck. "The Affliction of Howard Hughes: OCD - Aviator - Martin Scorsese - Leonardo DiCaprio" January 2014 via Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  13. [1] "Robert Richardson, ASC exploits modern methods to craft a classic look for The Aviator, an epic that details the ambitions that drove Howard Hughes.". Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  14. "'The Aviator': Visual Effects – Behind the Scenes." Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Cobb, Jerry. "Movie Models are the real stars of 'The Aviator'.", February 25, 2005. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
  16. "New Deal Studios." Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  17. Baker, Mark. "Cottage Grove pilot dies in replica of historic plane." The Register-Guard, August 6, 2003 via Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  18. "Miramax Gets Distribution Rights to 'The Aviator'." Miramax Films via Hollywood Movies. Retrieved: February 20, 2015.
  19. "The Aviator (2004) - Company Credits" Company Credis via IMDb. Retrieved: February 20, 2015
  20. "Weekend Box Office Results for December 17–19, 2004." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  21. "Weekend Box Office Results for December 24–26, 2004." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  22. "Daily Box Office Results for December 25, 2004." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  23. "Weekend Box Office Results for December 31–January 2, 2005." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  24. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named BoxOfficeMojo
  25. 25.0 25.1 "The Aviator (2004)". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  26. "The Aviator (2004) Awards". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  27. " 'The Aviator'." Rotten Tomatoes via Flixster. Retrieved November 17, 2009.
  28. " 'The Aviator'." Metacritic via CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  29. Ebert, Roger. "Review: 'The Aviator'.". Chicago Sun-Times, December 24, 2004. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  30. Courtwright, David T. , The Journal of American History, [2].


  • Floyd, Jim. The Avro Canada C102 Jetliner. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 1986. ISBN 0-919783-66-X.
  • Higham, Charles. Howard Hughes: The Secret Life. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004. ISBN 978-0-312-32997-6.
  • Maguglin, Robert O. Howard Hughes, His Achievements & Legacy: the Authorized Pictorial Biography. Long Beach, California: Wrather Port Properties, 1984. ISBN 0-86679-014-4.
  • Marrett, George J. Howard Hughes: Aviator. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2004. ISBN 1-59114-510-4.
  • Wegg, John. General Dynamic Aircraft and their Predecessors. London: Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-833-X.

External links

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