While the current orders to avoid travel will keep you grounded for the near future, you’ll likely not be catching new releases onboard anytime soon. So, if you can’t be inflight watching a movie, then flip it around and watch a flick about flying.
While your last trip on Southwest might've been relatively unremarkable, anything can happen when it's Hollywood's turn to takeoff from the tarmac. From frequent flyers going the extra mile for love to overhead bins bursting with boa constrictors, more excitement can happen in the economy cabin than you ever thought possible.
Released: 1980 – Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The end-all and be-all of aviation comedies, Airplane! is still as hilarious today as it was when it debuted back in 1980. While there have been numerous attempts try to usurp the position as flying’s funniest film, others all fall into the overly campy category. Airplane avoids that by being a true to form parody film of the previous decade's infatuation of disaster films like Airport and Zero Hour!. Travelers will appreciate its low-brow riffs on the same situations found on present-day planes: annoying seatmates, cheery cabin crew, and pilots who prefer to overshare. If you consider yourself a comedy or aviation buff and haven’t watched this flick yet, surely you can’t be serious.
Released: 1997 – Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich
Recently paroled ex-con and Army Ranger Cameron Poe, played by Cage, finds himself onboard a prison transport plane with a roundup of the worst felons imaginable. Soon after takeoff the inmates hijack the plane, leaving Poe to spring into action. A guilty pleasure for some, this explosive-laden flick is a two-hour thrill ride, pulling back the yoke with memorable characters and one-liners to match.
Released: 2002 – Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken
Let this true tale of trickster Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) take you back to the golden age of air travel. Posing as a Pan-Am pilot, con-artist Abagnale outwits an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks while jetsetting around to avoid capture. Backdrops of New York JFK's famous TWA Flight Terminal and scenes with flight attendants in 1960s period uniforms are nostalgic scene-stealers for anyone who geeks out over aviation history.
Released: 2016 – Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Clint Eastwood depicts the incredible real-life story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” and heroic actions of Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks). This biopic extends beyond the events of that January day by diving deeper into Sully's psyche and the subsequent investigation posed by National Transportation Safety Board. The film’s uber-realistic reenactment of the US Airways A320’s water landing is worth the watch alone.
Released: 1997 – Starring: Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close
When you’ve got commander-in-chief, Harrison Ford onboard a 747 instead of the Millennium Falcon, you know there's going to be a lot of high-flying fun in store. Air Force One pits the president against a gang of Eastern Bloc baddies that hijack the plane with a series of demands. Little do they know President James Marshall, played by Ford, is a former Medal of Honor recipient willing to wield his executive orders on terrorists at 35,000 feet instead of behind a desk in the Oval Office.
Released: 2006 – Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips
If you’ve watched this movie before, just reading the title will have its infamous unfit-to-print quote by star Samuel L. Jackson jetting through your head. And If you haven’t, then the title succinctly wraps up the plot of this action thriller in just four words. A cultural phenomenon when it was released, the preposterous premise of this expletive-filled B-movie still has bite years later as an entertaining ride through slithering skies.
Released: 2009 – Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Follow frequent flyer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) as he jets around the country extolling the virtues of living out of a suitcase while breaking bad news to unsuspecting employees. Up in the Air is a rare film that gets the logistics and reality of continuous business travel right. Throw in a few romantic threads and some existential questioning of life choices, and you'll see why this brutally honest movie earned six Academy Award nominations.
Released: 1986 – Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis
The iconic and most-essentially 80’s movie about Navy fighter pilots is prime for a re-watch as you relive the flying scenes by pretending your couch is a cockpit. Now a pop-culture treasure, the aerial acrobatics by Maverick (Tom Cruise) and fellow wingmen are still as stunning as when the movie came out nearly 35 years ago. So, if you feel the need… the need for speed, while sitting at home, hop on the highway to the danger zone.
Released: 1970 – Starring: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg
Inspiration for the spoof Airplane!, this 1970’s disaster-drama seemingly kicked off the entire genre of aviation gone awry. And it does so by covering all the bases, from planes stuck in snowbanks, onboard bombs, to infighting among crew and passengers. Airport is a must-watch for all aviation aficionados. A surprise commercial success when released, Airport sired three more (albeit campier) sequels worth a watch: Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde: Airport ’79.
Released: 2014 – Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy
Unneeded hyphen aside, Non-Stop delivers 106 minutes of constant action, even if much of its logic doesn’t quite land on the right runway. However, viewers who overlook some of the plausibility factors will undoubtedly enjoy this turbulent ride as a Federal Air Marshal, played by Liam Neeson, is on the hunt to uncover the identity of a mysterious murder onboard.
Released: 1959 – Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
I’ll be upfront. This movie only has one scene that involves an airplane, but, as one of the most famous sequences in Hollywood history, it makes the cut. This thriller revolves around a tale of mistaken identity following Cary Grant’s character through heart-racing predicaments across the United States as both he and the audience are unaware of why henchmen are after him.
Released: 1963 – Starring: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith
While most of the movies key scenes take place inflight, The V.I.P.s’ plot revolves around the fall out of not being able to board an airplane. Due to extensive fog, a group of high-society flyers get stuck in a lounge at London-Heathrow, all anxiously facing life-altering decisions as the drama unfolds before departure.
Released: 2005 – Starring: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
Even though directed by the "Master of Horror," Wes Craven, Red Eye is less of a trip down Elm Street and more a suspense thriller that will keep you pinned down in your economy class seat. The armrest gripping tale revolves around Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), who meets a seemingly suave stranger when flying to Miami but soon becomes held captive and entangled in a deadly terrorist plot.
Released: 1992 – Starring: Wesley Snipes, Bruce Payne, Tom Sizemore
Often compared to as Die Hard on a plane, (yes, Die Hard 2 is very airplane centric too) Passenger 57 pits retired secret service agent John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) against sadistic psychopath Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) onboard a cross-country flight to Los Angeles. With the help of Rane’s henchmen, a hijacking ensues, and Snipes figuratively puts on his comic book cape to save the day in this airborne action-thriller.
Released: 2012 – Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Gripping from the very first scene of improbable aerial maneuvers, Flight avoids becoming a wreck of its own thanks to an incredible performance by Denzel Washington. Playing troubled pilot "Whip," Washington's character is initially revered as a hero for successfully crash-landing a plane with minimal fatalities. But following the impact, things go upside down for Whip as ongoing battles with his vices and an inquiry from the National Transportation Safety Board unravel the actual story.
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