Ladder 49, Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is stuck inside a warehouse fire after saving the life of a trapped civilian.
The film then follows a series of flashbacks that tell the story of how Jack joined the fire brigade, developed friendships with his crew, and built a loving family back home. It explores heartbreaking moments when Jack’s children and wife express fear for the very situation he’s in right now – trapped in a fire.
Meanwhile, Jack’s team, led by Deputy Chief Mike Kennedy (played by John Travolta), embark on a heroic rescue operation to get Jack out alive.
Ladder 49 has some hilarious scenes of camaraderie among firefighters in the station. But it also explores the fears and anxieties that firefighters and their families face every day. 2. Backdraft (1991)
Backdraft is a story of a multi-generational family of firefighters who seem to have fire fighting in their blood. The father dies early in the movie while on a call out, but his sons follow in his footsteps to become firefighters themselves.
The two brothers have a strained relationship which forms the backdrop to the film. The older brother – a decorated hero – doesn’t believe his younger sibling has what it takes to be a firefighter.
When the younger brother is transferred to a ‘safe’ assignment, he’s tasked with investigating a string of arson attacks across the city. The investigation leads the younger brother to think the Baltimore alderman, a prisoner, and his older brother, are in on the arson plot together.
Overall, the movie has a classic 90s drama feel about it – but I personally didn’t find the plot that too compelling and the film does feel a little dated. Nonetheless, it was nominated for 3 Oscars and still wins critical acclaim.
3. Only the Brave (2017)
Only the Brave is an incredibly emotional story that follows the true events of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This crew of elite wildfire fighters lost 19 of their 20 crew members in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arazona in June 2013.
The story follows the lives of the crew leading up to the event. Brendan, one of the central characters, joins the crew after a more or less failed life in the lead up. He was arrested, unemployed, and a drug abuser, who was recently kicked out of his home.
When Brendan’s child is born to his ex-girlfriend, Brendan applies to join the hotshots. The superintendent, Eric, gives Brendan a chance to get his life back in order. The story then follows his experience with the crew and getting his life back together.
At the end of the film, Brendan is the last remaining hotshot, and while he lost all his crew, he lives his life in their honor.
Overall, this is an incredibly moving film that shows how being a firefighter gives higher meaning to a person’s life.
4. Trial By Fire (2008)
Trial by Fire stands out for being a film that challenges the masculine orthodoxy in firefighting films. The main character, a woman by the name of Rick, works to prove herself capable of joining in the elite Smoke Jumpers team who parachute deep into wildfire territory on rescue and containment missions.
The films starts with the story of Rick being falsely accused of causing her firefighter father’s death. From here, Rick has something to prove – and she sets her sights on the Smoke Jumpers crew to do just that. She works her way through training and fights back her doubters. But before her training can end, she’s thrown into the line of duty to be tested in a real-life emergency sooner than she expected.
5. The Towering Inferno (1974)
This classic film follows the rescue mission led by the San Francisco Fire Department after a tower catches fire.
The story follows the opening gala for the newest and tallest building in the world. The architect of the tower gets worried that the electrical wiring in the tower has not been completed to his specifications. Suspense builds as people below hope the fire does not ignite – until smoke is seen on the 81st floor.
What follows is a rescue mission that feels incredibly unrealistic, but hey – it’s Hollywood.
After several horrific deaths at the hands of the fire, it is eventually put out when the Fire Department explodes water tanks on top of the tower, which fill the building with water and save the last remaining trapped civilians.
It’s old, unrealistic, and lacks much character development … but what more can you expect with a 50 year old film?
6. World Trade Center (2006)
This story of firefighters who ran into the Twin Towers in 2001 has some good emotional tributes and it worth a watch. It follows the story of four firefighters who ran into the twin towers to rescue survivors. As the story unfolds, two of the firefighters die, and the other two are buried in the rubble.
The story then turns to a group of US marines who rescue the two firefighters from the rubble. The firefighters are reunited with their families.
In the epilogue, we see the surviving firefighters at a barbecue with their families, while one of the rescuers re-enlists with the Marines in the post-9/11 enlistment drive.
While it’s a nice tribute to heroes, some of the scenes are pretty cliche, and it’s not our favorite firefighting movie of all time.
7. Burn (2012)
If you’re planning on becoming a firefighter, this documentary is a must watch. It follows a year in the life of members of Engine Company 50 of the Detroit Firefighters.
Set in post-GFC Detroit, the city is shook by bankruptcy, a declining population, and high arson rates as people set alight abandoned building throughout the city. The firefighters must content with this spate of arson while also dealing with budget cuts across the essential services.
The three main characters in the documentary are Dave, Brendan and Don. Dave is nearing retirement and acts as a mentor to his younger crew. Brendan suffers an injury on duty which leaves him paralyzed. He’s forced to content with a new reality. And Don is tasked with becoming the new fire commissioner for Detroit at a time of high arson, low morale, and no money.
Ovearll it’s a sobering documentary on the reality of firefighting, but it’s not an entertaining film unless you yourself are a firefighter or are deeply interested in these issues.
Movies we Didn’t Like
Lastly, we thought we should share two that … frankly, we weren’t fans of.
The first is
Fireproof (2008). This film started okay – a firefighter who knows that value of standing by his partners in the line of duty. It then explores the decaying home life of him and his wife. As the movie progresses, it gets … frankly, far too preachy for our taste. The firefighter needs to rediscover his connection with God and the importance of Christian marriage. The preachy message overshadowed the plot, so we gave up on it.
The other is
Firehouse Dog (2007). It’s definitely a movie for kids … but still, we were a little disappointed. It’s your typical story of unloved mutt is given a chance by a kid (Peter from Hunger Games when he’s a kid!) and becomes the hero. He joins the force of Engine 55, saves the day, and becomes the hero of the story. Put it on for your kids … but I wouldn’t recommend you sit through it with them. Final Thoughts
We were surprised just how few high quality firefighting movies there are out there. It’s an untapped genre and we hope to see a few more firefighting films coming out in coming years.
Ladder 49 in our opinion outshines the rest. If you’re aspiring to be a firefighter, these films can all be a bit of fun and the documentary ‘Burn’ might be interesting to you, too.
We hope this review was helpful to you, and if you’ve got any more firefighter films you’d like us to add to the list, leave a comment below!