Firefighting is one of the most dangerous and respected careers out there. As many moviegoers love watching hero-based movies which see the main characters leaping into action to save lives, real-life firefighters do this everyday.
Despite the respect and awe many feel about firefighters, they seem to be largely ignored by cinematic creators. However, their exciting and extremely dangerous jobs make for some thrilling stories.
Although there aren’t many in existence, the films that do feature firefighters are highly thrilling, emotional and compelling. Many firefighter films are praised for their accurate depictions of firefighting and commended for celebrating these everyday heroes on the big screen.
Whether you’re a firefighter yourself, or just actively interested in the career, be sure to have tissues on hand for some of the films on this list.
When we think of firefighters, the first image our mind conjures is men and women in firetrucks, saving people from burning buildings. But the reality is that a career in firefighting covers a whole range of vastly different paths.
Hellfighters is the depiction of a fireman (John Wayne) whose job is to extinguish fires on oil rigs - a job that sees him travelling the world.
Based on the life of a real oil well firefighter, the dangers of his job causes a breakdown in the marriage between him and his wife.
At the same time, his daughter falls in love with a man who shares the same hazardous job as him. The film creates the right balance between danger and personal struggles and shows an entirely different aspect of firefighting that many don’t realize exists.
Hellfighters may be one of John Wayne’s less remembered films, but it is one of the earliest depictions of the disaster movie genre which went on to become a very successful sub-genre of film.
In Old Chicago (1938)
As the oldest film on this list, In Old Chicago stands out for its epic climax - which made it the most expensive film ever made at the time.
Based on one of the most infamous fires in history - the Chicago Fire of 1871 - the film depicts the event which claimed 300 lives and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
According to legend, the fire started after a cow in Mrs O’Leary’s barn knocked over the lanterns. Although it features a heavily fictionalized account of Mrs O’Leary’s life, the film’s epic action scenes make this an entertaining watch.
It’s also a pretty good watch if you’re a fan of older cinema.
This may not be the most exciting firefighting film as it’s more focused on romance, but it was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008. Fireproof tells the story of a fireman (Kirk Cameron) struggling to keep his marriage alive.
But before carrying through with the divorce proceedings, a fellow firefighter suggests he takes on the 40-day love dare to improve his marriage. Using the firefighter code, Fireproof inspires viewers to “never leave your partner behind”.
Audiences praised the movie for its Christain values, but some viewers found the themes very heavy-handed. Also the acting is a little reminiscent of soap-opera acting, but it’s an easy-going romance to watch nonetheless.
Another film which emphasises romance over action, Always is one of director Steven Spielberg’s lesser known films. It also stars the legendary Audrey Hepburn in her final film role.
Following the death of risk-taking aerial firefighter Pete (portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss), he returns as a ghost to inspire a new firefighter to follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately for Pete, his new protege falls madly in love with his old flame (Audrey Hepburn).
What this film lacks in suspense, it certainly makes up for in drama. Always shows the risk that firefighters take and the heartbreak they leave behind when it all goes wrong.
This is a slightly different film than the rest on the list as it’s actually a documentary. So, if you’re looking for a more factual and true to life representation of firefighting, this documentary is a must watch.
It follows a year in the life of Engine Company 50 of the Detroit Firefighters. Filmed following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the city of Detroit is shaken by bankruptcy and a declining population.
Arson rates skyrocket, as people continually set fire to abandoned buildings all across the city. The documentary closely watches the firefighters battle the arson attacks whilst dealing with budget cuts within their own department.
Overall the documentary presents a sobering reality of firefighting. If you’re looking for an action blockbuster, this documentary may not be for you. However, if you are a firefighter, or you’re just looking for a realistic insight into the career, Burn is an entertaining documentary film.
World Trade Center (2006)
Set during the tragic events of 9/11, World Trade Center follows the story of four firefighters who ran into the Twin Towers to rescue survivors. As the story unfolds, it turns to the group of US marines who are tasked with rescuing the firefighters caught in the rubbles.
The film depicts the bravery of all those who put their lives at risk to save the survivors during 9/11. Aside from the rescue mission, the film includes touching scenes of the firefighters reuniting with their families.
Although it’s a nice tribute to the heroes, the shift of focus to the marines can take away from the firefighter element of the film.
Ladder 49 (2004)
Starring John Travolta as a Captain and Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix as a new hotshot firefighter, Ladder 49 depicts the ins and outs of a Baltimore fire company of the same name.
Unlike other firefighter films, the attention isn’t focused on the action-fuelled fire scenes, but rather on the personal lives of the firefighters themselves. Viewers are given an insight into the everyday heroes who dedicate their lives to saving strangers.
If you’re looking for a good introduction to firefighting that doesn’t overwhelm with dangerous action scenes, Ladder 49 focuses on the bonds formed between firefighters through the dangers they encounter together.
The movie received positive reviews on its release, and professional firefighters have commended the filmmaker’s accurate representation of what happens when a fire company is called to the scene of a fire.
Backdraft is the work of a former firefighter who wrote the film inspired by his days on the job. It tells the story of two firefighting brothers (Kurt Russel and William Baldwin) in Chicago who team up with an arson investigator (Robert DeNiro) to stop a crazy pyromaniac.
Featuring big names, director Ron Howard delivers the action with thrilling set pieces and scenes which allows viewers to get up close and personal with fire - more than any other film in the genre.
Despite its popularity, many real firefighters have noted that quite a few of the fire scenes are riddled with inaccuracies. But I guess that’s just some movie magic to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
In 2019, Backdraft 2 was released, which saw William Baldwin reprise his role as one of the firefighting brothers. However, the sequel didn’t really hold a candle (no fire-related pun intended) to its nineties’ original.
The Towering Inferno (1974)
A popular choice, The Towering Inferno is perhaps the most famous firefighting film ever made, and set the standard for the disaster film genre. The combination of thrilling action scenes and groundbreaking special effects stunned audiences.
Starring acting legends Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, the film centres around a fire chief and architect as they try to save people in a badly constructed tower block that’s gone up in flames.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards - including Best Picture. Following its release in 1974, a surge of disaster films were released, hoping to replicate its success.
Only The Brave (2017)
Based on a tragically true event, Only The Brave depicts the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who try to save a small town in Arizona from a devastating wildfire.
Struggling to make ends meet after his daughter’s birth, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) joins the Hotshot’s ranks under their superintendent (Josh Brolin).
As the Granite Mountain Hotshots are largely ignored about their fear of the fire’s behaviour, they are finally brought in to put a stop to any further devastation. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and the events led to the most devastating firefighter loss since 9/11.
Only The Brave is perhaps the most emotional, affecting and compelling fire fighting movie ever made. The film succeeds in showing the harsh realities of the job, and shows viewers how extraordinary the people who choose to follow this career really are.
Many viewers found it a powerful and touching tribute to the real life heroes of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Sadly, Only The Brave didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the box office, but it has since been recognised as a standout and emotional firefighting film from home media.
Bonus Film - Kid’s Choice
Firehouse Dog (2007)
So this movie may not be the serious, action-fuelled fire fighting film you may be looking for, but it’s perfect for kids who may have an interest in firefighters. Firehouse Dog is the tale of a famous Hollywood dog that goes missing and is adopted by a small, struggling firehouse.
Taken under the wing of one of the firefighter’s kids (played by a young Josh Hutcherson), superstar dog Rexxx helps the firehouse regain its reputation and becomes a firefighting hero in the process. This wacky but heartwarming film is perfect for a family movie night.