WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Flight” lands in theaters this weekend, but don’t look for the movie on the in-flight entertainment menu the next time you’re on a plane.
The film opens with a catastrophic aircraft malfunction, forcing seasoned pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) to make a crash landing. First lauded as a hero for saving nearly everyone onboard, investigators later find out Whitaker had alcohol in his system. It’s just one of the nightmares played out in a host of Hollywood films you’d probably rather be on terra firma to watch.
“I keep saying this was born out of my two greatest fears: drinking myself to death and dying in a plane crash,” screenwriter John Gatins said. “It’s like, wrap those two fears together and put it in this movie.”
“I much prefer my disasters to happen in a movie than in real life,” said “Flight” director Robert Zemeckis. “I’m not afraid to fly. I read the statistics, and I do believe that flying is the safest form of transportation, much safer than driving in a car.”
Not all of the cast share the same confidence.
John Goodman, who plays Whip’s best friend and enabler won’t be watching “Flight” or any other airplane disaster movie while flying. “Oh, God I hope not,” Goodman said. “I do better without thinking, but I’ve had trouble flying for a long time.”
Washington shrugged off any suggestion that his work on the film could make him a nervous flier. “I mean, it’s just a movie,” Washington said. “Well, worrying about it isn’t going to change anything, so I don’t worry about it.”
Melissa Leo, who plays a National Transportation Safety Board investigator in the film, is similarly unconcerned about life imitating art.
“You know, I’ve done a handful of ‘Law & Orders’ in my day. What, am I going to worry that I’m gonna become a murderer?” she said. “As I pass the pilots in the airport, I like to feel that they’re incredibly responsible people who understand the responsibility they’re taking on.”
While flying is certainly statistically very safe, “Flight” brings to mind more than a few films that could make even the most confident passenger jittery. Here are 10 more movies that might be better to watch on the ground.
This 1970 drama takes off with a blizzard, closed runways and a suicide bomber planning to blow up a Boeing 707 so his wife can collect the insurance money. The blockbuster includes what Variety called “a cast of stars as long as a jet runway,” including Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy. It won an Academy Award and was nominated for nine others, including best picture.
Three sequels followed, including “Airport 1975,” in which a small plane slams into a 747, “Airport ’77,” in which a 747 crashes and sinks to the bottom of the ocean with passengers trapped aboard, and “Airport ’79: The Concorde,” in which the supersonic jet has to avoid attack and make an unusual emergency landing.
While “Airport” played terror in the sky as a serious drama, “Airplane!” (1980) , starring Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty plays it as farce. When the pilots are sickened by their fish dinners, it’s left to Ted Striker (Robert Hays) to land the plane safely. “It is sophomoric, obvious, predictable, corny, and quite often very funny. And the reason it’s funny is frequently because it’s sophomoric, predictable, corny, etc.,” wrote critic Roger Ebert at the time. Honorable mention: “Zero Hour,” the 1957 film that took virtually the same plot seriously and contributed much of the dialogue for “Airplane!” almost verbatim.
This intense drama takes place on the flight hijacked on 9/11 that eventually crashed into a field in Pennsylvania as passengers tried to regain control. The movie, made five years after the attacks, was described in 2006 by Entertainment Weekly as “a harrowing, documentary-style reenactment, in real time, of what might have happened on the one airplane that didn’t fulfill the terrorists’ intended goals on Sept. 11.” Included in the cast are some Federal Aviation Administration and military employees who were on duty and dealt with the hijacked plane on the day of the attacks.
Even if you’re traveling with an anthropomorphic volleyball, the movie “Cast Away” (2000) could make you a bit jittery. A FedEx executive, played by Tom Hanks, is the only survivor of a plane crash and is forced to learn to live stranded on a deserted island with only a Wilson volleyball as a companion.
“Snakes on a Plane”
“All anyone really needs to know about this amusingly crude, honestly satisfying artifact is snakes + plane + Samuel L. Jackson,” wrote The New York Times at the time of the 2006 release. Crate loads of hyped-up serpents start killing the cast in creative ways as Jackson’s character tries to figure out how to save the aircraft and the FBI informant onboard.
This 1993 drama tells the true story of a plane crash in the icy Andes Mountains of South America. The crash is only the start of the survivors’ ordeal as they are forced to live on the treacherous mountainside facing starvation, the elements and the fact that they may never be rescued.
Charles Rane picks the wrong plane to hijack because of the man who happens to be passenger 57. “Wesley Snipes quips, glares, and kung fus his way through the role of John Cutter, a terrorism and hijacking expert who happens to be aboard the same plane as a terrorist hijacker,” wrote Entertainment Weekly at the time of the film’s 1992 release. A battle of wits ensues between Cutter and Rane on the L-1011 aircraft and in a Louisiana carnival.
A gremlin on the plane’s wing at 20,000 feet could make anyone’s flight a bit nerve-racking. The 1983 film (with Jon Lithgow) and the TV episode (with William Shatner) 20 years earlier both feature men who see something out to sabotage the plane on the wing but can’t get anyone else to believe them.
“Die Hard 2, Die Harder”
In this 1990 sequel, Bruce Willis returns as John McClane to fight terrorists trying to free a captured Latin American general by taking over Dulles Airport near Washington and trying to force planes circling overhead to run out of fuel. McClane, whose wife is on one of the planes, “places first in every event, including wrestling for guns, jumping onto conveyor belts, being ejected from cockpits, leaping onto the wings of moving airplanes and fighting with the authorities,” Ebert wrote.
If you think you are out of the woods when your plane touches down, you might want to keep “The Terminal” (2004) stowed away. The film starring Tom Hanks revolves around a man trapped in legal limbo at JFK Airport. Unable to return to his home country and unable to clear customs and enter the United States, he’s forced to figure out how to survive inside the terminal.