"Get off my plane!" Just reading that sentence, you can hear Harrison Ford barking the famous catchphrase at Gary Oldman during a climactic sequence in "Air Force One." It's a familiar line, since we've all seen the classic 1997 thriller about a president (Ford) thwarting the Russian terrorist (Oldman) who's hijacked the flying White House. Still, there's probably plenty you don't know about the movie (which opened 15 years ago, on July 25, 1997), including how accurate it is (and isn't), how the filmmakers got access to the real Air Force One, the battle over the film's instrumental score, and the financial windfall that made one cast member the richest star by far (it's not who you think). Read on for the plane (get it?) truth behind the movie.
1. "Air Force One" was actually director Wolfgang Petersen's second movie in four years about a president whose life is threatened; it followed the German-born filmmaker's 1993 hit "In the Line of Fire."
2. If you're making a movie about a guy who goes ballistic when villains threaten or harm his family (like the president's wife and child on Air Force One), then Harrison Ford is your man, having tackled that plot in such films as "Frantic," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Patriot Games," "The Fugitive," and "The Devil's Own" (all released before "Air Force One"), as well as such follow-ups as "Firewall" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
3. Nonetheless, Ford wasn't the first choice to play the two-fisted, combat veteran president James Marshall. Initially, the filmmakers offered the part to Kevin Costner, but he was too busy directing and starring in "The Postman," so he suggested Ford. (In retrospect, a good idea for Ford, but not so good for Costner.)
4. Gary Oldman, then as now, was the go-to casting for the villain. He brought his usual method intensity to the role, at least when cameras were rolling. Once they stopped, Petersen has said, Oldman became jovial and friendly, so much so that Petersen redubbed the shoot "Air Force Fun." When he called "Action," however, Oldman instantly snapped back into character.
5. Playing the president's preteen daughter was Liesel Matthews, who had played the lead role a couple years earlier in Alfonso Cuaron's "A Little Princess." In fact, she was a princess of sorts; she was born Liesel Pritzker, an heiress to the family fortune of the Pritzkers, the Chicago clan that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. Her parents had divorced, and a battle brewed over whether she would use her father's or stepfather's surname as her stage name. She solved the problem by taking her brother Matthew's first name as her professional last name.
6. Xander Berkeley played Agent Gibbs, the Secret Service mole whose betrayal enables the hijackers. The movie never explains his treason, but Petersen said an initial draft of the script made clear that he was a former CIA agent disillusioned by the end of the Cold War.
7. At first, the White House wasn't going to allow the filmmakers access to the real Air Force One. A phone call from Harrison Ford persuaded the administration to change its mind.
8. The guide who took the crew on a tour of the real plane served as an inspiration for the character of Melanie Mitchell, the deputy press secretary. In fact, Petersen said, the crew were so fond of her that they became squeamish during the sequence where the terrorists execute her.
9. In fact, Peterson originally filmed a graphic execution sequence involving Mitchell, but ended up cutting it because he thought it was too intense (instead, the gunshot is only heard from Ford's perspective, who was then hiding out in the bottom of the aircraft).
10. The real plane, a Boeing 747-200, was played in the film by a Boeing 747-146 rented from cargo airline American International Airways. It cost $300,000 just to repaint the plane to look like Air Force One.
11. The sequence at the end, in which a Lockheed MC-130 Hercules rescues the 747 passengers by hooking a zipline to the crippled plane, is a near-copy of a similar sequence at the end of "Airport '75" (the only difference is that Charlton Heston's character was transferred via Super Jolly Green Giant Helicopter, not a Hercules).
12. Jurgen Prochnow, who plays the imprisoned war criminal, General Radek, was a veteran of Petersen's first big hit. He had played the U-boat captain in Petersen's 1981 submarine classic "Das Boot."
13. During the film, Prochnow's character is referred to as Gen. Ivan Radek, but the credits list him as Gen. Alexander Radek.
14. To compose the score, Petersen hired Randy Newman. The pop songwriter-turned-film composer was known for adding humorous and wistful Americana to dramas like "The Natural" and "Avalon" as well as to cartoons like Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story." But he was not known for action, and the result was a score that Petersen found too whimsical and frivolous. Newman was fired and veteran scorer Jerry Goldsmith was hired. With just 12 days to complete a new score, Goldsmith brought aboard fellow composer Joel McNeely to assist. The music they came up with was the more traditional, serious, suspenseful score that Petersen had in mind. Copies of Newman's score, however, had already been issued as promotional CDs, and they became popular bootlegs among collectors.
15. Bill Clinton, who was the real president at the time of the film's release, liked it so much he saw it twice. He pointed out, however, that the real plane didn't have a parachute ramp or escape pods like the aircraft in the movie. Petersen predicted that future models of Air Force One would incorporate such security features.
16. The film was a smash, earning $173 million in North America and another $142 overseas. It was the fifth-highest grossing movie of 1997.
17. The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Editing and Best Sound, but it won neither.
18. "Air Force One" turned out to be the last of a wave of "Die Hard"-inspired thrillers (action movies where terrorists invade a confined space and are foiled by a lone hero/saboteur). One reason was that, by now, every conceivable multi-passenger vehicle (planes, trains, city buses) had been tried.
19. The other reason was the real-life terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Petersen has said that, after 9/11, he wouldn't have felt comfortable making a movie about terrorists attacking America by hijacking a jetliner.
20. Matthews made one more movie, the little-seen "Blast," before abandoning acting. In 2002, she and her brother Matthew sued their father and 11 Pritzker cousins, claiming that their trust funds had been misappropriated. A 2005 settlement left Liesel and Matthew with assets of about $450 million each. After marrying Ian Simmons, she became known as Liesel Pritzker Simmons. Now 28, she is a philanthropist and founder of Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, which encourages microfinance loans in Africa. (You can check out a recent photo of her here.)
21. After "Air Force One," Berkeley continued to be in demand as a character actor, including on another terrorism-related drama, the first two seasons of "24." On the set of that TV series, he met co-star Sarah Clarke, to whom he has been married since 2002. Currently, he's a series regular on the CW's action drama "Nikita."
22. Wendy Crewson, who played the First Lady, also continued to find work as a character actress after "Air Force One." In 2005, she was part of the ensemble of another presidents-and-terrorists drama, the TV mini-series "The Path to 9/11," which also co-starred her then-husband, Michael Murphy. She was seen most recently in the 2012 movie "The Vow."
23. "Air Force One" was the first produced screenplay for Andrew W. Marlowe. He went on to write the thrillers "End of Days" and "Hollow Man" and to create the current sleuth TV drama series "Castle." He is currently developing a Nick Fury screenplay for Marvel.
24. Randy Newman's score for 2010's "Toy Story 3" reportedly included some music cues from his old, rejected "Air Force One" score.
25. In a gag in 2003's "Scary Movie 3," Leslie Nielsen, playing the president, says, "I wonder what President Ford would have done," then looks at a portrait. But the Ford in the portrait isn't Gerald, it's Harrison.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Charlton Heston's character was transferred via Hercules aircraft. In fact, it was a Super Jolly Green Giant Helicopter. We regret the error.