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The 15 Best Movies About Airplanes

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Stop us if you’ve heard this story: On January 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549 departed LaGuardia (LGA). Shortly after takeoff, its engines ran afoul of a flock of Canada geese, leaving the plane’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and his crew about three minutes to safely land an engine-less plane. The cool-headed captain navigated the Airbus A320-214 onto the Hudson River in a now-famous water landing that will no doubt be the money sequence of “Sully,” the Tom Hanks-starring, Clint Eastwood-directed Flight 1549 movie that opens in theaters Friday, September 9.

In honor of “Sully” and Hollywood’s abiding affection for aviation flicks, here are 15 of the best movies — presented in no particular order — in which airplanes and airports play a pivotal role as much as the actors.

1. AIRPLANE

Released: 1980

Premise: When the crew of Trans-Am flight 209 from LA to Chicago falls ill from a bout of food poisoning, a traumatized ex-fighter pilot with a fear of flying and a “drinking problem” (Robert Hays) is forced to save the day. Hilarious hijinks ensue.

Most Memorable Quote: “I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.”

Image courtesy of Airplane's Facebook page.
Image courtesy of Airplane’s Facebook page.

2. UP IN THE AIR

Released: 2009

Premise: A corporate termination specialist (George Clooney) reconsiders his life on the road after striking up a relationship with another elite frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga).

Most Memorable Quote: “I don’t spend a nickel, if I can help it, unless it somehow profits my mileage account.”

3. DIE HARD 2

Released: 1990

Premise: Terrorists hold the communications nerve center of Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) hostage, rendering all mid-flight planes in a fuel-draining holding pattern from hell. Unfortunately for them, Agent John McClane’s wife is on one of those planes. Bruce Willis shows everyone who’s boss.

Most Memorable Quote: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker.”

Image courtesy of Die Hard's Facebook page.
Image courtesy of Die Hard’s Facebook page.

4. FINAL DESTINATION

Released: 2000

Premise: A bunch of high schoolers are about to embark on a class trip to Paris. But when one student (Devon Sawa) has a horrifying psychic vision, he and bunch of his classmates get kicked off the flight, which then explodes spectacularly upon takeoff as they watch from the gate. Death, feeling cheated, then comes a-knockin’.

Best Scene: The opening crash scene is probably the most violent and unsettling one on film, though it’s hard to beat the impact of one character’s surprise death by bus.

5. CON AIR

Released: 1997

Premise: Granted early parole from a manslaughter charge, a retired Army Ranger (Nicolas Cage) catches a transfer on a plane stocked with criminals played by John Malkovich, Ving Rhames and Dave Chappelle, among others. When the convicts hijack the plane, US Marshal (John Cusack) troubleshoots from the ground, while Cage’s parolee assists from the sky.

Most Memorable Quote: “Put… the bunny… back… in the box.”

Image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
Image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.

6. FLIGHT

Released: 2012

Premise: Addiction and sobriety intersect in the aftermath of a dramatic crash landing. Is the pilot (Denzel Washington) a hero or a criminal?

Best Scene: The eight-minute crash sequence, the highlight of which is the plane arcing across a field upside down.

7. TOP GUN

Released: 1986

Premise: Naval pilot partners (Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards) attend the Top Gun flight school, where Cruise’s character falls for an instructor (Kelly McGillis) between thrilling plane maneuvers.

Most Memorable Quote: “I feel the need… the need for speed!”

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

8. RED EYE

Released: 2005

Premise: On a red-eye from Dallas to Miami, the manager of a luxury hotel (Rachel McAdams) is seated next to a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) who ensnares her in a plot to assassinate the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, a guest of her hotel.

Best Scene: When McAdams’ character flips the victim script entirely and stabs Cillian Murphy’s character in the neck with a pen.

9. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

Released: 2002

Premise: Biopic of con artist Frank William Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, among other things, impersonates a Pan-Am pilot.

Best Scene: Abagnale parading down the tarmac with a fleet of Pan-Am flight attendants, their golden-age-of-flying splendor a beautiful distraction for the FBI who are hot on his trail.

Image courtesy of DreamWorks.
Image courtesy of DreamWorks.

10. TURBULENCE

Released: 1997

Premise: When prisoners (led by Ray Liotta) take over an empty commercial flight, a flight attendant (Lauren Holly) locks herself in the cockpit and has to land the plane — in the middle of a hurricane.

Best Scene: Holly’s tearful flight attendant goes on the offense, crushing Liotta’s sing-songy villain’s ankle in the plane’s elevator.

11. AIR FORCE ONE

Released: 1997

Premise: Russian terrorists (led by Gary Oldman) hijack Air Force One. The President (Harrison Ford) is not happy about it.

Most Memorable Quote: “Get off my plane.”

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

12. THE AVIATOR

Released: 2004

Premise: Biopic of aviation innovator and Hollywood interloper Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio, again) as he spirals through struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Most Memorable Quote: “You don’t care about money because you’ve always had it.”

13. SNAKES ON A PLANE

Released: 2006

Premise: An FBI Agent (Samuel L. Jackson) escorts a protected witness to testify at a trial on a flight to LA. Meanwhile, the gangster the witness is testifying against has taken extreme measures to ensure the plane never reaches the City of Angels, sneaking a time-release crate of venomous snakes onto the plane. (At least the title tells you exactly what you’ll be getting, right?)

Most Memorable Quote: “I have had it with these motherf*ckin’ snakes on this motherf*ckin’ plane!”

Image courtesy of New Line Cinema.
Image courtesy of New Line Cinema.

14. BRIDESMAIDS (Honorable Mention #1)

Released: 2011

Premise: A Maid of honor (Kristen Wiig) can’t compete with another rich, snooty bridesmaid (Rose Byrne) when it comes to planning her best friend’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, flight-anxious Wiig gets the Vegas-bound bachelorettes’ plane grounded.

Most Memorable Quote: “I’m with him. I’m Mrs., Mrs. Iglesias.”

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

15. HOME ALONE (Honorable Mention #2)

Released: 1990

Premise: One family’s Christmas vacation to France goes awry when they accidentally forget one of their many kids (Macaulay Culkin) at home. Mom (Catherine O’Hara), restless despite her first-class seat, can’t shake the feeling she’s missing something…

Most Memorable Quote: “I have been awake for almost 60 hours. I’m tired and I’m dirty. I have been to Chicago to Paris to Dallas to… where the hell am I?” (Anyone who’s been shuffled around during weather cancellations, raise your hand).

Second Most Memorable Quote: “KEVIN!”

What are your favorite films about planes? Let us know in the comments, below.

Featured image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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