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The 10 Best Airplane Movies

November 3, 2012  |  9:15am

Flight, the new film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, hits theaters nationwide this weekend. In it, Washington plays a commercial airline pilot who executes a miraculous maneuver to save the lives of his plane’s passengers. Controversy arises when alcohol is found in Washington’s character’s blood, with some calling for him to be prosecuted while others still view him as a hero.

To celebrate its release, we decided to count down our favorite movies in which aviation or an airplane are central to the plot. Have a look below.

10. Executive Decision
Starring Kurt Russel and Halle Berry, 1996’s Executive Decision sees terrorists hijacking a commercial flight and demanding the release of a captured fellow terrorist…or else! A daring mid-air deployment of a special ops team into the hijacked plane is executed. Part of the team is Kurt Russel’s Dr. David Grant, who teams up with flight attendant Halle Berry and eventually is able to land the plane safely after neutralizing the hijackers. Executive Decision epitomized the over-the-top suspense characteristic of ‘90s action films, while at hte same time setting the stage for the success of Air Force One, which came out a year later. Call it the hey-day of airplane-based action blockbusters.

9. Snakes on a Plane
I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had it with enigmatic film titles that barely reflect their plot. I’m a busy person; I don’t have time to look up plots to movies, and if I have to, I probably won’t be seeing them. Herein lies the genius behind 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. There is no mystery as to what you are getting yourself into when you sit down to watch this film. There is also a great opportunity to empathize with the characters in this film, particularly Samuel L. Jackson. This is because if I were stuck on a plane that had snakes on board, well, I imagine I’d get pretty sick of them too. -Brian Tremml

8. Alive
Based on the classic book by Piers Paul Read, Alive is the true-life story of a rugby team whose plane crashes while crossing the Andes. Those who emerged from the wreckage were then stranded in the middle of the treacherous mountain range for over two months, surviving on melted snow and, gulp, the bodies of their dead teammates. The film is a chilling examination of what the human body and mind are capable of when they are not only pushed to the brink of death, but held there for an agonizing 72 days.

7. Catch Me if You Can
Also based on a true story, 2005’s Catch Me if You Can revolves around a charming cat-and-mouse game between Leonardo DiCaprio, playing teenage forgery expert Frank Abagnale, and Tom Hanks, playing the FBI agent on his tail. In the fim, Abagnale grows up idolizing airline pilots, and one of his first cons involves forging paychecks from Pan Am Airways, using stickers from toy Pan Am planes to make the checks look official. This eventually leads Abagnale to con his way onto actual flights, pretending to be a dead-heading pilot. His dream of living the pilot’s life and walking arm-in-arm with flight attendants is realized, but it isn’t long before the forged life comes crashing down around the young criminal mastermind.

6. Up in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney, 2009’s Up in the Air follows Ryan Bingham (no, not that Ryan Bingham), whose job consists of flying back and forth across the country to fire various corporate employees. The film is primarily a portrayal of Bingham’s isolation and the depressing circumstances of his job, and in doing so provides a spot-on illustration of the the life of the jaded business traveller who knows his way around an airport better than his own home.

5. Con Air
A fear of flying is something that terrorizes more of us than we probably realize. However, nothing quite compares to sharing an aircraft with a handful of America’s most dangerous criminals. Such is the plot of 1997’s fabulously entertaining Con Air. An ensemble cast consisting of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Danny Trejo and the tantalizing John Malkovich as Cyrus “the Virus” make for one hell of a ride, providing plenty of stellar action sequences and memorable one-liners.—Brian Tremml

4. The Aviator
For 2004’s The Aviator, Marty Scorsese teamed up with frequent muse Leonardo DiCaprio to take on the life of Howard Hughes, the wealthy, notoriously obsessive compulsive filmmaker. Above even film, though, Hughes’ principal passion is aviation, and The Aviator focuses on his many endeavors into the world of flight, from owning TWA to flying around the world in four days. Producers had high hopes for the film to bring home a few major Oscars, but largely missed out save for Cate Blanchett winning Best Supporting Actress for her role as Katherine Hepburn, a romantic interest of Hughes.

3. Top Gun
Aviator shades, fast airplanes and a touch of beach volleyball make up one of the best action films of the ’80s. This film has it all: Tom Cruise in a star-making role; an exhilarating soundtrack courtesy of Kenny Logins; character names like Iceman and Maverick; and finally, perhaps one of the greatest subversive plots in movie history. At the end of the day it is simply impossible to deny the need for speed that lies in all of us.—Brian Tremml

2. Air Force One
Air Force One simultaneously blends thrilling action with unbridled patriotism, thanks in part to Harrison Ford’s stellar performance as America’s Commander in Chief. With a plot that holds up relatively well 15 years after its release, the audience undoubtedly finds itself rooting for the president as he fights to reclaim his plane after it is taken hostage by hijackers. Furthermore, Ford’s iconic command at the climax of the film deserves recognition on its own.—Brian Tremml

1. Airplane!
Like Snakes on a Plane, Airplane!’s title doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. This movie is about an airplane, and emphatically so. It’s not only the first film that comes to mind when one thinks of the many convergences of cinema and flight, it’s one of the great comedies of all-time. It features one absurdly funny scene after another as tormented war pilot Ted Striker tries to overcome his demons (and his drinking problem) to land a plane whose pilots have been poisoned.

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