Europe in 1916. Thirsting for adventure and carried away by the euphoria of the moment, 24-year-old Manfred von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer) goes off to war like thousands of other young men. As celebrated fighter pilots, he and his comrades soon become cult figures for the soldiers on the battlefields, admired by friends and foes alike.
Marked by sportsmanlike conduct and ambition, technical exactitude and knightly propriety, they have their own code of honor. They decorate their aircrafts in a whole range of motifs. Manfred von Richthofen’s red Fokker DR I becomes a symbol of the feared but revered flying squadrons of the First World War.
Though it is not long before von Richthofen begins to understand that his hero status is deceptive. His love for Käte (Lena Headey), a nurse, opens his eyes to the brutality and viciousness of war. A war which leaves no room for valiant deeds and, even worse, eliminates many of his friends, who lose their lives in reckless aerial combat.
When Manfred from Richthofen comes to realize that he is being misused by the military regime for propaganda purposes and so actually contributing to encouraging thousands of soldiers – who worship him blindly – to rush headlong to their destruction, he decides to escape his fame. A decision that makes him legendary... but with tragic consequences.