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Watch enough action movies, and you soon realize that the only thing more dangerous than being on a helicopter is wearing a V-neck Red Shirt or being the slutty girl in a Friday the 13th movie.[1]

Obviously, helicopters aren't quite that dangerous in Real Life, or else we wouldn't use them for anything for fear of them haphazardly spinning out of control and crashing into everything all the time. It just wouldn't be a productive way to get around. So why do they get knocked out of the air in seemingly every movie they ever appear in? Rule of Cool. Admit it, it's just cool to watch one of these things spin out of control trailing smoke, briefly becoming a Helicopter Blender for anybody unfortunate enough to be standing around on the ground in the general area.

It's particularly unfortunate if that helicopter was our heroes' ride home.

This trope is about helicopters crashing in situations where a heli crash wouldn't necessarily be expected. If a military chopper in a warzone gets hit by a rocket launcher and goes down, that's less of this and more of a Short-Lived Aerial Escape. If a giant monster smacks the 'copter out of the sky, it's a Helicopter Flyswatter. If a military chopper collides with another aircraft or power lines or something due to remarkably bad luck, then it's this trope. If the chopper goes down because Danger Takes a Backseat, it's this trope regardless of it being a military chopper in a warzone or not. If it's a police or news chopper getting blown up by a rocket launcher over downtown Los Angeles, it's both this trope and Short-Lived Aerial Escape[2], as you'd never really expect that sort of thing to happen.

In unusual situations, such as military choppers in a straight-up fight with aliens being taken out in ways that we would consider decidedly unusual (such as the Combat Tentacles example in the Film section), just remember that Tropes Are Flexible.

Applies to pretty much any helicopter or helicopter-analogue (such as tilt-jet military transports in sci-fi films). See also Short-Lived Aerial Escape. No relation to Hellish Horse. Subtrope of Anti-Air.

Examples of Hellish Copter include:

Film

  • Aliens: Corporal Ferro is flying the Drop Ship to pick up the surviving Space Marines to bring them back to the Sulaco. However, she has a hitchhiker, in the form of a Xenomorph which kills the pilot and causes the dropship to nearly crash into the Marines.
  • Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has an unplanned example: A helicopter that was rented for the movie was supposed to land in the background of a scene, except that the tail rotor struck the ground, causing the chopper to spin out and crash. The pilot escaped relatively unharmed, so everybody on the set decided to Throw It In, as it was too good a shot to hope for otherwise thanks to the small budget. Thus, a helicopter that wasn't supposed to crash in a movie still crashed.
  • The final battle in Avatar wouldn't count (military choppers being taken down in combat) except for what they were being taken down by: what one would essentially consider dragons swarming and attacking them. Particularly for the gunship that gets grabbed by a dragon and flung into another gunship, one of the gunners seeing the other gunship flying at them just in time to scream horribly.
  • Fire Birds has this happen to Preston (in a flight simulator) after he becomes disoriented due to his inability to adapt to the Apache's monocle display.
  • Not a literal example as it hadn't taken off yet, but in Jaws 2 the shark takes out a helicopter by biting one of its floats. The chopper tilts over and the rotor blades hitting the water disintegrate spectacularly.
  • Jaws rip-off Grizzly had the titular bruin attack and badly damage the protagonists' helicopter at the end.
  • Cliffhanger: Stallone's character takes down a chopper by throwing a bag of money into the rotors.
  • Cloverfield: Towards the very end of the movie the main characters are escaping in a helicopter which is knocked out of the air by the monster. They survive the crash, only to die either from being killed by the monster, or in the ensuing military air strike. Makes for a real Downer Ending.
  • Dante's Peak: Towards the end of the film, the helicopter pilot (along with many passengers paying him to take them away from the volcano) attempts to take off despite the huge amount of volcanic ash in the air. Just as he was warned, the volcanic ash was ingested into the helicopter's engines and choked them up, causing the chopper to crash back to the ground. As a trained pilot, he should have known better.
  • The Dark Knight: A police chopper gets clotheslined by some of The Joker's goons via some harpoon guns and some high-rises it was flying between. The helicopter gets tangled up, hits a building, and then crashes to the street below.
  • Deep Blue Sea has a rescue helicopter trying to take one of the characters to the hospital get towed into Aquatica's control tower by the giant mako, destroying both and setting off the action.
  • Happens numerous times in the Die Hard movies, with various helicopters meeting their ends due to rocket launchers, power lines, and police cars.

  I ran out of bullets.

  • Before Die Hard With a Vengeance, the Clint Eastwood thriller The Gauntlet has a mob sniper's helicopter explode quite spectacularly after its rotor blades become tangled in some power lines.
  • Happens many times in D-War due to the helicopters belonging to the Redshirt Army, though their exploding is mostly due to the pilots' incompetence than outside forces.
  • Godzilla 1985, Godzilla blasts a helicopter with his breath and sends it plummeting onto a crowded highway, setting off a massive chain reaction of car explosions.
  • I Am Legend: A series of flashbacks show Neville making sure his family gets to the evacuation point so they can be airlifted out of the city. They board a helicopter which safely takes off and begins to fly across the river when another chopper begins spinning wildly out of control due to being overloaded and misbalanced with people who tried to grab onto the skid as it took off. There is a quick cut out of the flashback just before we can see the two choppers collide.
  • The helicopter in The Life Aquatic; its poor maintenance is something of a Chekhov's Gun.
  • If Looks Could Kill has a particularly silly helicopter crash where the rotor section detaches and comes after the heroes like a gigantic buzzsaw.
  • Helicopters are taken down twice in the Edward Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk, first when the Hulk throws a piece of debris at a military helicopter during the campus fight, and later when the Abomination brings down the helicopter carrying Betty and General Thunderbolt Ross.
  • The Other Guys: A helicopter gets taken out by a volley of golf balls.
  • The Matrix: Shortly after their Gunship Rescue moment at the office building, the chopper that Trinity appropriated takes too much damage and ends up crashing into a building.
  • Mega Piranha. Yeah, let's just say killer animal and giant monster movies really hate helicopters.
  • In Sheena the bad guys' helicopter gunship falls prey to a flock of telepathically controlled flamingos.
  • Skyline: A Blackhawk helicopter is taken down by a tanker alien using Combat Tentacles.
  • In the 1978 Superman movie we see a helicopter for the sole reason of having it get in an accident and cause Lois Lane to fall off a building. That gets to lead to a great line in the movie though:

 Superman: Easy, miss. I've got you.

Lois Lane: You - you've got me? Who's got you?

  • Superman II (1980). During the Army's battle with the three Kryptonian supervillains Ursa blows a helicopter away with her super breath, causing it to crash.
  • In The Towering Inferno, a helicopter is evacuating people from the roof of the burning skyscraper. When two women run after it as it's lifting off, the pilot swerves to avoid them, causing the craft to lose control in the updraft from the building, slam into the roof and explode.
  • The second Underworld movie has Alexander Corvinus' men's helicopter crash into the area where the final battle is taking place. Towards the end the rotors start spinning again and Selene is able to force Marcus back into the rotors, making him go Ludicrous Gibs.

Live Action Television

  • ER: At the helipad on the hospital roof, Dr. Romano comes a little too close to the tail rotor and loses an arm. For months after that, he avoids the things by hiding out in the ambulance bay when they land, but in the season finale the same helicopter loses control, falls off the roof, and crushes him to death.
  • Played with in the premier to Airwolf; Santini Air is providing the helicopters and pilot work for the set of an action movie. The star of the movie has an insanely inflated opinion of his own ability to pilot an aircraft and insists, because he anonymously leaked to a popular reporter that it would happen, that he be allowed to do his own stunt-flying. What follows is a hilarious sequence of near-crashes until Hawke, required to be in the helicopter "for insurance purposes," takes the controls at the last second.

 Reporter: [As the helicopter spins wildly but otherwise holds in place] What's that stunt called?

Santini: Well, it...it doesn't really have a name, generally you don't see that unless you've lost your tail rotor...

  • Subverted on Lost; the second episode of season 4 follows the survivors trying to locate the team of rescuers sent by helicopter to the Island after the helicopter hit turbulence and the passengers parachuted down. They finally track down the pilot and ask him where the helicopter crashed. He replies, "Crashed? What kind of pilot do you think I am? I landed it in that clearing." It does crash later, but only because it ran out of fuel due to a leak.

Video Games

  • Modern Warfare: Sergeant Jackson's helicopter, and several others, crashes due to being caught in the pressure wave of a nuclear explosion. Sergeant Jackson barely survives the crash, and lives just long enough to see the results of the nuke before succumbing to his injures.
    • Taken to Serial Escalation levels in Modern Warfare 2, where The Squad survives a conventional helicopter shoot-down, only to find themselves fleeing for safety after an EMP blast causes the rest of the choppers to rain from the sky.
    • Actually, it seems to be noteworthy if a POV character climbs aboard a helicopter in the Modern Warfare games and the chopper doesn't get shot down somehow, though most times it's actually the Short-Lived Aerial Escape at work.
      • Subverted in the "Black Tuesday" level in Modern Warfare 3, where the player character's helicopter take a massive hit and almost crashes into a New York high-rise, but manages to level out and fly away to safety.
        • Although played straight with the Russian Hind the player's helicopter was fighting. After getting shout out of the sky by the player, the Hind spins into the player's helicopter (the aforementioned massive hit), before slamming into said high-rise.
    • Call of Duty Black Ops: One helicopter gets harpooned with the harpoon's cable secured to the side of a building. When the helicopter tried to pull away, it ended up whipping itself around into another building.
  • In fact, most video games. If said chopper ride starts off the game, don't expect it to last long.
  • Resident Evil is quite infamous for this. The only safe helicopters are the ones at the end of the games. The 4th game in particular has casual mention of a rescue helicopter being shot down off screen, and then another helicopter appearing for all of 5 seconds before being shot down.
  • Sim Copter is all about this. Stock up on a LOT of choppers, because you'll burn your way through nearly all of them. A quick and dirty way to lose the game is to use the "RADIOACTIVITY" cheat. Fun stuff.
  • Left 4 Dead: At the end of the first level, the survivors get on a helicopter and all seems fine, until the pilot turns into a zombie, forcing the survivors to shoot them, forcing the chopper to crash. Pretty much the the exact same thing happens in the sequel.
  • Prototype has either Alex shooting things at the helicopter to take it down (which includes people), or him flying to the chopper, ripping it up to remove the pilot (if not invading and devouring him), and hijacking the thing. Crashing it later is optional.
  • This is actually lampshaded in Helloween4545's Let's Play of Singularity. After his helicopter is brought down by an EMP, he hypothesizes that the chances of a helicopter in a video game has an 80% chance of going down and characters on it dying.
  • Many many Helicopters meet their demise in the Grand Theft Auto series. The Ballad of Gay Tony missions "High Dive" and "For the Man Who Has Everything" get a special mention, where multiple LCPD and NOOSE Helicopters are severely damaged or destroyed.
  • In Alan Wake, helicopters get downed twice by birds being controlled by the Dark Presence, rendering them invulnerable to conventional weapons and enabling them to do horrendous damage.
  • Viewtiful Joe. The second mini boss you face in the 1st level is a Black Thunder Helicopter. Upon being killed flies out of control, crashes, and explodes in to large V points (this games currency).
  • Heavy Weapon has the white non-combat support helicopters that dropped powerups for you. While these were immune to enemies, you could accidentally shoot them down via friendly fire, and if you did, you'd be docked a lot of points from your score. Trying not to shoot them is easier said than done, as they may appear during the worst possible moments when several Demonic Spiders are on the screen.
  • Whenever a helicopter appears in any of the F.E.A.R. games, it is almost certain to go down. It gets especially brutal by the third game in the series, where Alma's "contractions" are accompanied by massive red pulses of energy that swat helicopters out of sky, rip apart the earth, and knock over buildings. The only point in the entire series where a helicopter didn't get shot down or otherwise savaged by enemy fire was the intro to the first game's second level, and the ending to the Perseus Mandate expansion.

Web Comics

  • Concerned: Gordon Frohman takes down a Combine Gunship on accident by trying to dispose of a body by throwing it off a bridge. The body gets caught in the rotor blades of the gunship, which causes a hilarious case of Disaster Dominoes.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Helicopter traffic reporter Arnie Pye has crashed at least twice; both times he came back uninjured, even though the first time it was implied he died. "Tell my wife I love..."
  • Futurama: A traffic reporter reports on his own helicopter crashing.

 Jim: I have just been informed that my last words were... "back to you, Linda". [BOOM!]

Morbo: I HATED JIM! In other news...

Real Life

  • In reality, the vast majority of helicopters obviously don't crash. However, over the decades, quite a few have crashed due to various reasons. Causes can include mechanical failure, bad weather, and pilot error. If the helicopter is operating in some high-risk situation, such as a Care Flight chopper trying to rescue an injured hiker on a mountainside, the risks can get much higher.
    • Theoretically, a helicopter with engine problems can still use the rotor to slow its fall, due to the inertia of the blades from spinning so fast. This is called autorotation. Practically, success depends on the load inside and what exactly went wrong. In some cases this won't slow the helicoper enough, and the passengers will still get crushed on impact. The good news is that a pilot can make the attempt on nearly any flat surface, without needing a huge open field like an airplane would.
    • Of course it's usually impossible to bail out of a helicopter with parachutes or an ejection seat, because of the large spinning blades on top. However some military models (like the Russian Ka-50) have ejection seats anyway. An instant before the ejection rocket goes off, an explosive inside the rotor detonates, severing the blades and getting them out of the way.
    • There are also helicopters that eject sideways, thus throwing the passenger/pilot clear of the vehicle.
  • During the filming for the Twilight Zone movie, a helicopter crashed during filming, killing Vic Morrow and two child actors on the ground.
  • A joke in aviation circles goes “If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage, it’s probably a helicopter — and therefore, unsafe”.

Notes

  1. Goodness help you if you're the slutty girl in a v-necked red shirt in a helicopter.
  2. And for the news chopper, Dead Line News as well
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