Top Grossing First Responder Movies: Did Yours Make the Cut?

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Who doesn’t like going to the movies? What’s even better is seeing a movie you can relate to. Do you have a favorite first responder movie?

There are so many out there, especially in the last few years, but it’s hard to say which movie did it best. We’re all subjective when it comes to entertainment. So let’s take a look at the top-grossing First Responder movies and see which resonates the most with you.

[Thanks to ScreenRant and IMDB for the stats.]


Over the movie-making years, a growing collection of first responder movies showcase firefighters. We’ll just name a few of the top-grossing and you can decide which ranks top for yourself.

Towering Inferno (1974)

Towering Inferno was hailed as both best of its time and fairly unrealistic depending on who you talk to. Either way, it grossed 203.3 million worldwide and set the tone for more disaster movies as producers strived to copy its success. Starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and with a large ensemble cast, this film drew in thousands. At the time, people loved a good disaster.

Backdraft (1991)

Grossing 152.4 worldwide, Backdraft won audiences with its dive into the personal stories of two brothers and, of course, its special effects. With Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, and Robert De Niro leading the cast, Backdraft was set to be a box-office hit. Stars aside, this movie is still claimed as one of the best firefighting movies of all time.

Ladder 49 (2004) 102.3

Joaquin Phoenix plays a firefighter who gets trapped in a fire and starts to have flashbacks of his life. The film grossed 102.3 million and showcases more details of a firefighter’s personal life and more drama and danger in the life of a firefighter. With John Travolta padding the top cast, and special effects and danger promising thrills, audiences came in and were not disappointed. This writer still remembers its filming when departments all over were invited to go down to New York to be an extra in a closing scene. A particular chief made the final cut.

Law Enforcement

Cop movies are certainly favorites among first responder movies and many have drawn in the bucks, but we’re keeping it as close to real as we can for this shortlist. Sorry, Men in Black; you’re still loved.

Fast & Furious 7 (2015)

Grossing a crazy 1.5 billion, Fast & Furious 7 ranks the highest of its series. Vin Diesel gets the crew together again to stop an enemy’s revenge scheme from killing off his friends. And, oh, there’s a terrorist plan too they need to stop. Packed with action, this film defies all laws of sequels and outperforms its predecessors. (There are other top-grossing Fast & Furious movies, but we’re skipping them for this post.)

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence work well together as they play off each other’s character’s personalities and hit those midlife issues while fighting a drug cartel. With a worldwide gross of 426.5 million, this film checks all the boxes of a good police movie: car chases, drama, action, and witty lines.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007) 383.5

Who doesn’t love a good Die Hard movie? (Yes, the original is a Christmas movie.) Bruce Willis does his job again in this high-grossing (383.5 million) film, sparing no action. There’s a cyber hacker and gunfire and plenty of one-liners in all the action. What’s not to love?


War movies probably have police and fire movies beat in volume, but they’re seldom considered first responder movies by the general public. We know better, so they’re certainly counted here as our military men and women are most definitely first responders. Let’s see what military movies rank as the top-grossing today.

American Sniper (2014)

Bradley Cooper puts the Chris Kyle story to the big screen as he plays a Navy SEAL sniper who struggles with his return home. The film, which grossed 547.4 million, follows his time as a snipper between deployment and home life and his struggles to connect with his family. Based on the true Chris Kyle story, this film reveals the trauma and honest trials of first responders everywhere, especially in the military.

Dunkirk (2017)

Set in 1940, Dunkirk follows a group of British and French soldiers trapped in a small port town and trying to escape the Germans. Critics claim the film succeeded in showing the soldiers’ emotions and turmoil and a group of veterans who were survivors from the event reported the movie’s accuracy. That’s high praise for a war movie and stands by its high gross of 527 million.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Grossing at 482.3, Saving Private Ryan may well be one of Tom Hanks and Matt Damon’s best dramas. Tasked with – obviously – saving Private Ryan, the last surviving brother of four, they trek into dangerous territory to complete their mission. The film has a long opening depicting the storming of Normandy’s beach which caused many veterans to walk out of the theater early. Realism brings the ugliness of war too close to those who have experienced it.

Other First Responder Movies

Sorry to clump, but they just don’t make enough first responder movies specifically about each category. Hopefully, that will change, but for this short post, here’s a smattering of some additional first responder movies that don’t fit above.

The Green Mile (1999)

Yes, it’s another Tom Hanks movie and, yes, it’s more about the inmates but it’s sort of about the corrections officers too. It grossed 286.8 million and brings personality and humanness to the corrections officers in the film, so it gets a mention here. (Most prison-based films don’t do that.) Based on the novel, The Green Mile works to change minds when it comes to first impressions and judging others by appearances. It’s a sweet and sad story, but a good one.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Another military movie but there’s plenty of medical and other first responder action. Grossing 450.2 million, this film depicts the actions from the initial and sudden strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941. From choosing who to save to a daring romance amidst war, this film is both entertaining and historic for first responders and history buffs alike.


Okay, so maybe your favorite of all the first responder movies isn’t here. What is it then? Let us know on social media via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram when we post this. Do you agree or disagree with some of those top-grossing movies? Are they accurate, entertaining, and enlightening, or horribly wrong? You decide and we’ll listen.