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The Red Baron

Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Nikolai Müllerschön
Produced by Dan Maag
Thomas Reisser
Roland Pellegrino
Written by Nikolai Müllerschön
Starring Matthias Schweighöfer
Joseph Fiennes
Til Schweiger
Lena Headey
Cinematography Klaus Merkel
Editing by Christian Lonk
Distributed by Warner Bros.[1 ]
Release date(s) April 10, 2008
Running time 120 minutes (approx.)
Country Germany
Language English
Budget €18 million
($22.5 million)

The Red Baron (German: Der Rote Baron) is a German biopic about the legendary World War I fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen.



In 1906, a young Baron Manfred von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer) is out hunting deer when he encounters an aeroplane overhead. Enchanted, he follows it on horseback, waving his arms like a bird.

Ten years later, Lieutenant Richthofen is serving as a fighter pilot with the Imperial German Air Service along the Western Front. After dropping a wreath over the funeral of an Allied pilot, Richthofen and his fellow pilots Werner Voss (Til Schweiger)and Friedrich Sternberg encounter a squadron of enemy planes led by Captain Lanoe Hawker. Richthofen shoots down Canadian pilot Arthur Roy Brown (Joseph Fiennes). After pulling Brown out of the wreckage of his plane, Richthofen assists Nurse Käte Otersdorf (Lena Headey) with applying a tourniquet to the Canadian's wounded leg.

Later, after successfully shooting down and killing "the notorious Captain Hawker," Richthofen awarded the Pour le Merite and promoted to command his own private aerial squadron. There, he is soon joined by his brother Lothar von Richthofen. He orders his men to avoid killing enemy pilots unless absolutely necessary and is enraged when Lothar deliberately strafes and kills a British pilot who has already been forced into a landing.

Later, during an aerial dogfight, Richthofen again encounters Captain Brown, who has escaped from a German POW camp after being nursed by Käte. Both are forced to ditch their planes in no man's land and share a friendly drink. Brown expresses hope that they will not meet again until after the war is over and tells Richthofen that Käte has feelings for him. When Richthofen asks how he can be so sure, Brown retorts, "She bitched about you for weeks."

On the way back to base, Richthofen is devastated to learn that his close friend, the Jewish pilot Friedrich Sternberg, has been shot down and killed. Over the days that follow, Richthofen makes no secret of his grief and refuses to leave his room. An enraged Lothar reminds him that, "A leader cannot afford to mourn."

Shortly thereafter, Richthofen is wounded in the skull and is sent to be nursed by Käte. As he recovers, the two share a romantic dinner and a dance. After Richthofen expresses gratitude for his wound, an enraged Käte gives him a tour of a local field hospital and berates him for regarding war as a game.

Later, Richthofen and Käte are beginning to make love when they are interrupted by an Allied bombing raid. Determined to protect the squadron's aeroplanes, he orders Käte to hide in the cellar and takes to the air with his men.

During a later visit from Käte, Richthofen informs her that he has been offered a rear echelon position in command of the entire Air Service. Käte, who has been long been frantic at the thought of losing him, is overjoyed. Richthofen, however, conceals his doubts from her.

Richthofen has realized that he is being manipulated for propaganda by the Kaiser and his Generals. On the eve of the Spring Offensive in February 1918, he approaches General Paul von Hindenburg (Josef Vinklar) and tells him that the war has become an no-win situation which should be ended as soon as possible. Hindenburg is outraged and orders him back to his squadron.

As the offensive begins, Richthofen's squadron sets out to clear every Allied aeroplane and balloon out of the target area. As Käte tends the wounded on the ground, she is horrified to learn that her beloved has returned to combat.

Käte confronts him and demands to know why he has turned down the chance to remain safe. Richthofen states that he will not betray the soldiers in the field, "by remaining the immortal god that Berlin wants me to be." He climaxes by informing her, "You are my greatest victory."

On the morning of April 21, 1918, Richthofen leads his squadron into battle after making love to Käte. Soon after, he is killed in action by Captain Brown.

In the aftermath, Käte crosses over to Allied lines with Brown's assistance. She directly addresses Ricthofen's grave, "I could not come sooner. It is not so easy to cross the lines into British territory. Finally a friend of ours helped me. He asked me why it was important for me to come here. I told him I love you. Did I ever tell you?"

The camera pans to a funeral wreath left by the Royal Flying Corps, "To our friend and enemy, Manfred von Richtofen."

Production background

Der Rote Baron is a German production filmed in the English language With an estimated budget of 18 million euros, it remains as one of the most expensive and at the same time lowest-grossing films in German history. It premiered on 31 March 2008 in Berlin and was released a week later in the German theatres. Fewer than 100,000 movie-goers saw the film in the first week, causing the film to miss the Top 3. In the second week it dropped to No. 10. In the third week the film was gone from the top ten.


The film was quite controversial in Germany, a nation wherein patriotism is deliberately avoided.[2] According to director Nikolai Müllerschön

"Historically there has been reluctance and there are strong voices in Germany still saying we're not allowed to do this: a film about a German war hero, but the film makes a very clear statement against war."[3]

The reviews after the first public performances of the film were mainly negative, criticized in particular the high level of historical inaccuracy. The fictitious love story between Richthofen and Käte Otersdorf was described as having little factual basis. The film was openly criticized at the Berlin premiere. According to Schweighöfer, Tom Cruise, with whom he starred in Valkyrie, enjoyed the film immensely.[4] The choreography and technical design of the dogfight sequences and the period equipment used in the film received high praise.


  • Richthofen: "When I was a little boy, I could hit all the targets with my father's rifle, targets so far away the others couldn't even see them. I dreamt of seeing everything and of being like a bird. Hawk's eyes, eagle's eyes it was called. When I became a pilot, I truly thought I would see everything from up there. I saw nothing. I was blind before I met you. You opened my eyes, you taught me to see what I didn't want to see. We all chose to fly; Voss, Sternberg, Immelmann, Wolf, Hawker, and whatever side we took we all knew the risk we took. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win and I thought I won. I can see now, Käte, we've turned the world into a damn slaughterhouse and I'm already too big a part of it. They use my photograph to give hope where there is none. They use my name to feign immortality whereas the reality is annihilation. You said it yourself, the men dying out there have no choice. I have and I cannot order men into battle. I can, perhaps, lead them, help them, die with them, but I will not betray them or keep the truth from them by remaining the immortal god that Berlin wants me to be. You are my greatest victory."


Actor Role Title/Rank of Character
Matthias Schweighöfer Manfred von Richthofen Freiherr / Rittmeister
Til Schweiger Werner Voss Leutnant
Lena Headey Käte Otersdorf Nurse
Joseph Fiennes Roy Brown Captain
Richard Krajco Lanoe Hawker Major
Volker Bruch Lothar von Richthofen Freiherr / Oberleutnant
Maxim Mehmet Friedrich Sternberg Leutnant
Lukás Príkazký Stefan Kirmaier Leutnant
Tino Mewes Kurt Wolff Oberleutnant
Axel Prahl Ernst von Hoeppner General
Gitta Schweighöfer Kunigunde von Richthofen
Josef Vinklar Paul von Hindenburg Field Marshal
Ladislav Frej Kaiser Wilhelm
Karsten Kaie Anthony Fokker

Production details


External links




  • - Pricey 'Red Baron' recalls war exploits
  • - After 88 years, the Red Baron is flying high again
  • [ ↑ dandy with a machine gun, Spiegel Online, 8 April 2008 April 2008 Der Spiegel review. In German.]


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