The Best Airport and Airplane Movies

For some people flying is an adventure and for others, it can be a downright nightmare. Whether you're a fan of flying or dread your trip to the airport, these movies will help you get ready for your vacation by reminding you "it could always be worse" when it comes to travel.

While the day-to-day workings of most airlines around the world are far less dramatic than most of the movies made about airports and airplanes make it seem, you can take your mind off of your trip by sinking into one of these must-watch movies featuring airlines, airports, and flights that may not have gone according to plan.

From "Sully," the heroic retelling of a pilot who safely landed a plane on the Hudson River in New York City, to "Twilight Zone: The Movie," which features an episode about an airline passenger who thinks he sees a gremlin on the plane's wing, these films are sure to frighten, delight, and get you excited about your trip.

  • 01 of 15
    the plane flies in the sky in beautiful clouds
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    This 2016 biographical film focused on the story of the "Miracle on the Hudson," when Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger successfully landed a commercial flight on the Hudson River after a malfunction during takeoff. Director Clint Eastwood brought this movie to life with Tom Hanks starring as the titular character. it got rave reviews from aviation geeks and non-aviation people alike for its realistic portrayal of the actual landing but might terrify those who are afraid their own plane is going to experience a problem. However, it's very unlikely the events of this film will happen again any time soon.

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    This independent documentary follows the aviation industry from the perspective of a general aviation airport in Los Angeles (the Van Nuys Airport). The film shows the story behind the facility's fight to survive in a competitive industry ruled by major airlines and international airports. Told through the stories of pilots, historians, and aviation geeks, including Academy Award-winning director and pilot Sydney Pollack, "One Six Right" is a great film to get you excited about the joy of flying—or at least to inform you about why small airports are so important.

     

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    The commercial airline industry was in its infancy when this movie, starring John Wayne, was released in 1954. In a departure from his usual Western flicks, Wayne plays a washed-up captain demoted to first officer who is haunted by a crash that killed his family. On a routine flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, the DC-4 loses after it's too far out to sea to turn around. Drama ensues with the passengers aboard while veteran pilot Wayne takes a risk to try landing the plane safely.

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    If you need to relieve some tension or anxiety about your upcoming flight, there's no better way to laugh at the fear than watching this 1980 classic. Made as an homage to "The High and the Mighty" if it had been a comedy, right down to the washed-up, haunted pilot, the film stars Robert Hays and Leslie Nielsen and also featured memorable cameos from Kareen Abdul Jabar, Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Billingsley, Maureen McCormick, and Ethel Merman. This film became a global sensation and fans still enjoy quoting the funniest lines from the movie including "Surely you can't be serious" "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

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    Harrison Ford, himself a pilot, plays the president of the United States aboard his official jet when Russian terrorists take over the plane. Instead of being ejected from the plane in a special pod, Ford's character, a former Vietnam War-era Air Force pilot and hero, stays aboard to eventually save the day. If you're a fan of cheesy 90s action flicks and subplots about Russian terrorism, this movie is sure to entertain.

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    George Clooney was pretty easy on the eyes in this film, but director Jason Reitman did a great job showing the realities of air travel, right down to filming key scenes in a closed terminal at Detroit Metro Airport. "Up in the Air" follows Clooney's character Ryan Bingham who enjoys living out of a suitcase traveling the country for work until he meets a new hire played by Vera Farmiga.

     

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    Considered the original air disaster movie, the plot included storylines on a paralyzing snowstorm, environmental concerns over noise pollution, and an attempt to blow up a plane. Additionally, it made a surprising $100 million on a $10 million budget and star Helen Hayes, who won a best supporting actress Academy Award playing a stowaway in the film. Oher actors in the movie included Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy and Van Heflin. This is the movie that helped spawn sequels including "Airport 1975," "Airport '77," and "The Concorde: Airport '79" along with the spoof "Airplane" series.

  • 08 of 15

    Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Abagnale, a forgery expert who flew the world pretending to be a Pan Am pilot and cashing fraudulent checks. He is eventually caught by an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks and ends up working for the FBI, then for himself by creating unforgeable checks. The film also stars Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken, and Amy Adams.

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  • 09 of 15

    Aviation geeks go crazy over all the technical errors in this 1990 movie where Bruce Willis reprises his role as New York City cop John McClain. This time, McClain stumbles on a rogue military plot at Washington Dulles International Airport during the busy Christmas season while waiting to pick up his wife, played by Bonnie Bedelia, who was aboard a flight. The mercenaries hijack the air traffic control system at Dulles, putting planes in danger of running out of fuel and crashing, and Willis has to step in to save the day again.

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    After surviving a horrific plane crash Max Klein, played by Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges, is changed. The journey to his recovery from the trauma and aftermath of surviving is shared when he meets another survivor of the same air disaster (played by Academy Award nominee Rosie Perez).

    The movie was based on United Airlines Flight 232 from Chicago to Denver which had an uncontained engine failure that damaged the hydraulic system on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 tri-jet. The plane made an emergency landing at Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, where 185 of the plane's 296 passengers survived. The crash scenes were so realistic that US Airways used the film to show the devastation of aircraft accidents and helped employees to plan accordingly.

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    Academy Award winner Denzel Washington plays a pilot who is forced to crash land a plane in the 2012 film "Flight." Based on the true story of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 that experienced a mechanical failure, not all is what it seems in this dramatic thriller. Although he's first lauded as a hero for saving the lives of 96 out of 102 passengers aboard, things change when a blood test administered by the National Transportation Safety Board discovered alcohol and cocaine in his system after the crash.

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    Academy Award winner Jodie Foster plays a widowed aircraft engineer who's on a jumbo jet (modeled after the Airbus A380) flight from Berlin to New York with her six-year-old daughter to bury her husband. A mystery ensues as the child disappears during the flight and the crew acts as if she didn't exist, making Foster's character think she's crazy. This thriller is more about the paranoia of Foster than it is about airline disasters but takes place almost entirely on the jet.

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    Wesley Snipes plays a former police officer mourning the loss of his wife who was killed in a convenience store robbery. After he gets a new job as vice president of a new anti-terrorism unit for Atlantic International Airlines, he travels to Los Angeles on a Lockheed L-1011 aircraft that is transporting international psychopath terrorist Charles Rane to a trial. When Rane breaks free, Snipes has to act fast to save not only his own life but those of other passengers on board.

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    This movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Margulies, was so bad it actually became good to watch. The plot is, as you might imagine, about a terrorist plot that releases a bunch of deadly snakes aboard an international flight. What makes this one special is that the movie was popular even before it was released in 2006, thanks to the studio including suggestions from fans in the film.

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    This movie, compiled of four episodes, included a remake of the iconic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which originally starred William Shatner. In this take, John Lithgow takes over the Shatner role as a nervous passenger who thinks he sees a gremlin on the wing of his aircraft who is intent on destruction.