You don’t pop over to the airport or board an airplane unless you have something important to do. Sometimes you need to meet a loved one or go on a vacation. Other times, you need to save hundreds of innocent people from evil thugs. You know how it goes! With so much real-life drama happening in airports and on airplanes, it’s no surprise when they play starring roles in some of the most popular movies. Romance, action, thrills, and chills – these movies have it all. The Way.com team presents the 10 best airport and airplane movies (in no particular order) for your enjoyment.
(Note: Includes spoilers!)
1. Snakes On a Plane
We just had to start with this movie – it’s one of those that are delightfully absurd yet totally enjoyable! The title of this 2006 movie is pretty much the entire plotline. There’s this plane, and someone releases a bunch of deadly snakes on it. Then Samuel L. Jackson gets super miffed, leading up to one of the most epic movie quips of all time: “I’ve had it with these ************ snakes on this ************ plane!” We weren’t tired at all, and that’s why this movie makes it to our best airport and airplane movies list.
2. The Terminal
The perfect underdog story also makes for the perfect airport movie. The Terminal will give you warm fuzzies every single time you watch it. This feel-good romantic comedy stars John F Kennedy International Airport in an underrated yet very vital role! Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a traveler from the fictional nation of Krakozhia. His country is in turmoil, and he lacks the necessary documentation to exit the airport. Hanks ends up spending the longest ever layover (nine months) at JFK airport. Still, he manages to make friends, land a job, and even get a girlfriend (that too, Catherine Zeta-Jones!). And you’re wondering what to do on a layover at JFK Airport? Tsk…. tsk…
3. Die Hard 2
John McClane (Bruce Willis) can’t seem to stay out of trouble on Christmas Eve! The 1990 sequel to ‘Die Hard’ starts with John doing something innocuous. He’s simply waiting for his wife at Dulles Airport in Washington. But then again, this is John McClane! So, when he notices some suspicious activity, he’s on the job in an instant. The finale has our hero fighting some baddies on the wing of a plane and then blowing it up with all the villains on board. ‘Yippee-ki-yay’ is all we have to say to this wild ride of a movie.
The 1970s movie ‘Airport’ has Burt Lancaster playing an airport manager, trying to handle operations during a really tough time. There’s a horrible blizzard, a stuck airplane blocking the runway, nearby residents with noise complaints, an elderly stowaway, and some explosives in a suitcase! If those weren’t reason enough, how about Helen Hayes at her academy award-winning best plus nine other academy nominations? The only downside to this movie is that it spawned a few more much less impressive airplane-themed disaster movies, which brings us to the next movie on our list.
We can’t even type this one with a straight face is how hilarious this movie is! Campy, ridiculous, silly, but undeniably funny. Airplane! was only one of the first great spoofs in film history. This 1980 movie was a spoof on all the airplane/airport disaster movies during the time. It has some brilliant lines that’ll have you rolling down the aisles! (See what we did there? Aisles, hahaha, no? Ah well, we tried!)
6. Up In the Air
A quintessential frequent flyer, Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, flies a lot, a hella lot. He is a corporate ‘downsizer, lives out of a suitcase, travels across the country for his job, and clocks thousands of miles every week. With his eyes closed, he knows the layout of every airport and all the ins and outs of aviation travel. In this 2009 comedy, the lead character is a master at perks, privileges, shortcuts, and time-saving. Watch this if you need to get your air travel hacks down to a science like he does. If not for that, watch this movie for one important reason – George Clooney.
7. Passenger 57
Dreaded terrorist Charles Rane is apprehended and taken to Los Angeles by the FBI in this 1992 thriller. We can only assume that’s how they did things back in the day. Else why would one of the world’s most dangerous individuals be transported on a commercial airline? There are plenty of innocent passengers on board and unfortunately, so are several of Rane’s crew. Fortunately, so is Wesley Snipes playing an airline security specialist who then proceeds to take down all the bad dudes (how else!) single-handedly.
8. Red Eye
Continuing with the theme of villains on planes, we have Rachel McAdams on a red-eye flight from Dallas to Miami. Surprisingly (not) her seatmate is none other than Cillian Murphy, who happens to be a terrorist. He tries to trap McAdams in a conspiracy to assassinate a VIP guest at her hotel. The fact that McAdams has nowhere to hide in the eerie silence of the red-eye flight and that Murphy’s creep factor is set to uber high is what makes the 2005 movie so sinister.
9. United 93
This real-life-based docudrama was released narrative five years after the tragedy of 9/11. The movie is about the tragedy that befell the passengers of United Flight 93, which crashed on September 11, 2001, in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The entire cast’s performances are subtle, unsentimental, and very emotional. That almost makes up for the fact that the script deviates significantly from actual events (or at least, what we know of them).
This extraordinary story of US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger just had to be on our list of airplane movies. Tom Hanks plays the titular hero, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. His splash-landing in the Hudson River in 2009 (dubbed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’) earned him an instant celebrity or notoriety, depending on your POV. We enjoyed this movie because it provides a rather nuanced depiction of the pilot that neither reveres nor condemns him for the events that transpired. The real Flight 1549 lasted about four minutes, including the departure from LaGuardia and the notorious geese collision, but the Clint Eastwood-directed movie will have you engrossed for much longer. Watch it, unless you’re a nervous flyer.
11. The Aviator
It’s really unfortunate that Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win an Academy Award for his role in this 2004 Martin Scorsese-directed movie. Aviator is based on the early life of the legendary pilot and eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes. DiCaprio’s portrayal of one of the most prominent men in aviation history was absolutely spot on, as was the research. He was supported by a superb ensemble cast that included Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, and John C. Reilly. If all of that isn’t enough to persuade you, this movie also has Leo flying a beautiful vintage plane.
This 2005 psychological thriller movie stars Jodie Foster as Kyle Pratt, an aviation designer whose daughter mysteriously goes missing on a flight to New York. However, the sky marshal and the captain tell her that her child didn’t even board the plane! She realizes that something much more insidious is afoot. Foster must now battle against all odds to find her daughter and prove her sanity. We love it because it’s one of the few outstanding female-led suspense movies and because of Jodie Foster. Who doesn’t love Jodie Foster?
13. Air Force One
Air Force One stars Harrison Ford as the family-loving, terrorist-fighting President of the United States. The 1997 high-energy thriller is set almost completely on the President’s jet – Air Force One. The plot begins when a group of Communist extremists headed by Gary Oldman seize the President’s plane and threaten to execute hostages unless the US administration agrees to their requests. This leads to hours of Situation Room deliberations, Harrison Ford stalking terrorists all over the airplane, and plenty of action scenes. We were rooting for you throughout, Mr. President!
14. Con Air
This 1997 Nic Cage airplane movie is all about a plane full of convicts in the air (sometimes on the ground, too). Cage plays a veteran Army Ranger who’s granted early parole from a manslaughter conviction. On his way to freedom, he boards a plane filled with an assortment of criminals played by John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, and Dave Chappelle, among others. When the convicts seize the plane, Cage takes them on. He is helped by John Cusack, who plays a US Marshal on the ground.
Denzel Washington plays a pilot with pretty major addiction issues in this 2012 movie. Even so, he near miraculously manages to avert a plane accident. While he is lauded for saving so many lives (the collision only had a few fatalities), an investigation reveals that he was flying while under the influence. This causes him and everyone around him to question his judgment and actions. This movie has everything you want in a Robert Zemeckis movie – a damaged protagonist seeking redemption, tension-filled moments, and tragic revelations; and Washington delivers in spades.
Have we missed out on any really awesome airport or airline movies on this list? Do let us know and we’ll add them too!