Film / The Aviator

"Some men dream the future. He built it."

The Aviator is a 2004 biopic about Howard Hughes, a 20th century industrialist, film producer/director... and, well, aviator. Martin Scorsese directed it, and Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular character; the film also features Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, and a bunch of really famous people playing other famous people.

The story, which takes place smack in the middle of The Golden Age of Hollywood, documents Hughes's production of the films Hell's Angels and The Outlaw, his efforts to establish and grow Trans World Airlines and to develop reconnoissance and troop-transport aircraft for the Army Air Forces during World War II, his relationships with Hepburn and Gardner, and his ever-worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder. It won five out of eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress (Blanchett).


  • Affably Evil: Juan Trippe. In spades.
  • Author Appeal: Scorsese himself has been known to spend days holed up in his bedroom watching the same film over and over, though he doesn't take it to quite the extremes seen here.
  • Badass Bystander: True to Real Life, Hughes is saved from his plane crash by a bystanding GI.
  • Badass Mustache: Errol Flynn (naturally), Johnny Meyer, and later Howard.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever call the Hercules the Spruce Goose to Howard's face. He won't like it.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": This happens when Ava learns that Howard was tapping her phone lines and calls him out for it:
    Ava: What do you wanna know, Howard? Was I screwing Artie Shaw last night? Was I screwing Sinatra the night before? You bet! Everyone told me you were a goddamn lunatic, but I didn't listen! It's no wonder Katie Hepburn dumped your demented ass!
    Howard: (exploding, knocking her down) SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH!!!
    (Ava rebounds and shoves him down)
  • Buxom Is Better: This is Howard's argument to the MPAA when they object to the prevalence of Jane Russell's "mammaries" in his film The Outlaw.
    Glenn Odekirk: Howard, you really think they're gonna let you put out a whole movie just about tits?
  • Camera Fiend: "I need two more cameras by Saturday! Rent them if you can, steal them if you have to."
    • Kate's ex-husband.
  • Chiaroscuro: The screening room.
  • Color Wash: Every scene is supposed to look similar to color film stock from that year/era.
  • The Consigliere: Odie and Noah Dietrich are - or at least try to be - this for Howard.
  • Cool Plane: One would hope...
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pan Am chairman Juan Trippe.
  • Courtroom Antic: Howard gets pretty belligerent in the Senate hearing, producing a lot of Disregard That Statements.
    • Also a case of Truth in Television- the Senate scene was actually heavily based off of, sometimes word for word, the actual footage of Hughes during the hearing, who indeed did eventually start interrogating the senator.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ava Gardner
  • The Determinator: Howard Hughes himself. When he wants something, he'll do whatever it takes to get it.
  • Drink Order: "Milk, in the bottle, with the cap still on."
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Hughes relapsing into his madness.
  • Ejection Seat: Averted when the XF-11 crashes.
  • Fiery Redhead: Katharine Hepburn.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Howard and Kate can't end up together. Nor can he with any of his love interests in the film. His further descent into madness is also this.
  • Friendly Enemy: Subverted. Hughes and Juan Trippe are certainly civil to each other, but you can sense Trippe's superior attitude when it comes to Hughes... who, in turn, barely manages to mask his own contempt for Trippe.
  • From Bad to Worse: Hughes' progressive descent into madness.
  • Get Out: Ava tells Howard to do this after she learns that he was tapping her phone lines. See Big "SHUT UP!" above.
  • Girl of the Week: Katharine is not pleased about Howard's collection of these.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Martha Wainwright's brief appearance at the Coconut Grove. Rufus is also quite glamorous, but he technically doesn't sing during the war.
  • Good News, Bad News: This exchange, regarding a plane:
    Odekirk: You want the good news or the bad news?
    Hughes: Bad news, always.
    Odekirk: All right. We installed the radial. Struts won't take the vibration. The minute we fire her up, the struts start cracking at the attach points.
    Hughes: Well, what's the good news?
    Odekirk: There isn't any.
  • Herr Doktor: Professor Fitz.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Not entirely, since the movie does show Hughes' possessive nature, his paranoid wire tapping of Ava Gardner and his obsessive nature but it plays down a lot of Hughes' shadier and sleazier side and frames him as a Byronic Hero. Likewise, the film stops in the late 40s, right before Hughes enters his darkest phase (the purchase of RKO Pictures and his hermetic retreat). Some critics have noted that the film is a movie about Hughes as he might have made a movie about himself.
  • Hollywood Healing: Almost averted: after the plane crash, Howard does develop scars all over his torso, but his face stays in pretty good shape considering the huge fireball that exploded toward it earlier. It helps that he partially hides the scarring with a mustache.
    • The real-life Hughes did in fact start sporting that mustache after the crash to hide a scar on his lip.
  • Hope Spot: After successfully standing up to Congress and getting the Hercules to fly, it seems like Hughes has finally overcome his mental instability — only to relapse into his madness at the end of the film.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Hughes: Hey, Odie! Take it easy! (after telling him to fire a janitor because he was staring at him)
  • Jar Potty: Part of Howard's first major breakdown.
  • Kill It with Fire: Howard does this to all his clothes after Katharine leaves him, presumably to get rid of her germs.
  • Kinda Busy Here: Howard says this on the phone during an argument with Katharine.
  • Madness Mantra: One of the symptoms of Howard's OCD.
  • Mangst: Practically Howard Hughes's middle name, especially as he tries to combat the symptoms of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Man on Fire: when the XF-11 crashes.
  • Married to the Job: The reason Katharine Hepburn dumps Howard.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: We get to see Howard's mother plant the seeds of germophobia in his mind when he's a kid.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Howard goes to dinner at Katharine's parents' house; her ex-husband is inexplicably hanging out with her family. You can guess how that turns out.
  • Motive Rant: Hughes has a doozy on why he's going to take on Juan Trippe no matter the cost.
    No one airline should have a monopoly on flyin' the Atlantic! For Christ's sake, it just isn't fair! Look, he owns Pan-Am. He owns Congress, he owns the Civil Aeronautics Board, but he does not own the sky! We are in a street-fight with that sonuvabitch now and I'm not gonna lose; I been fightin' high-hat, Ivy League pricks like him my whole goddamn life!
  • Neat Freak: Oh boy.
  • No Ending: As men in black suits and protective gloves start walking towards him (or at least he thinks they're walking towards him) he starts saying "The way of the future" repeatedly. Brief flashback, then he says "the way of the future" a few more times. Roll credits.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Juan Trippe learns that the airline bill is about to be defeated in the Senate, thus ending Pan Am's monopoly, he says, "Fuck!"
    • Just when it seems like Hughes has gotten over his mental issues at the end of the film, the sight of a pair of men in germ-resistant suits causes him to relapse.
  • Playing Gertrude: Leo, playing a late-thirties Howard Hughes.
  • Practical Voice-Over: Many scenes are narrated by news reports coming through a radio somewhere.
  • Precision F-Strike: Alec Baldwin's last line.
  • Pretty in Mink: Given all the old Hollywood movie stars in this film, many mink coats and fox wraps are worn.
  • The Professor: Howard thinks Professor Fitz should be like this, introducing him as a "mathematician" and expecting him to be able to improvise some legitimate-sounding BS despite being a meteorologist.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Howard thinks Katharine's family is this trope. Viewers might consider Howard to embody it as well.
  • Romance on the Set: In universe. The film depicts Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy hooking up on a movie set while she's still in a relationship with Howard; in reality, she and Howard had already broken up.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: This is pretty much Howard's approach to every endeavor. "I've got a tiger by the tail here and I'm not about to let go!" Either that or...
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: the only reason he's able to say "Screw the Money!" is because he has so damn much of it (at least he thinks he does).
  • Sleazy Politician: Senator Brewster operates in the interest of Pan-Am so that he can be a committee chairman.
  • Smug Snake: Juan Trippe, so very much.
    • Not to mention Senator Brewster. By the time he's deliberately arranging a hotel room to set off Hughes' OCD, you'll hate him just as much as Hughes.
  • Speaking Like Totally Teen: After Hughes gives Kate Hepburn the controls of the plane and she breathlessly declares, "GOLLY!"
    Hughes: I don't think I've ever met someone who actually uses the word "golly."
  • Super OCD: This is Howard's biggest obstacle, but the film also implies that the manic attention to detail made him a famous billionaire. Knowing his planes down to the last bolt, being able to figure out the math of a corporate takeover in minutes, keeping meticulous records to use during his Senate testimony; it may not have helped his social life, but it did make him a financial success.
  • Tabloid Melodrama: Averted when Howard bribes a paparazzo not to publish photos of Katharine Hepburn and the married Spencer Tracy cavorting on a boat.
  • Tempting Fate: Questioned about the usage of breasts in The Outlaw, Hughes confidently quips, "Who doesn't love tits?" The Motion Picture Association, that's who.
  • Tickertape Parade: Howard Hughes gets a tickertape parade after his around-the-world flight.
  • Title Drop: Done by Hughes in the immediate aftermath of the XF-11 crash. Also demonstrates what he considered important at the moment.
    Hughes: I'm Howard Hughes... The aviator.
  • Tomboy: Katharine Hepburn plays golf and wears slacks. See also Wholesome Crossdresser.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Howard Hughes has severe OCD, a very poor sense of financial responsibility, is an utter control freak, and looks like Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • Troubled Production: In-universe with the long, long production of Hell's Angels.
  • Verbal Tic: His habit of repeating different phrases over and over again, like "Show me all the blueprints," "Come in with the milk," and "The way of the future."
  • Yandere: Faith Domergue.