Anytime you see a movie poster with an airplane on it, you know it's not going to end well. When you're stuck 40,000 feet above land with nowhere to run, tension and thrills are just around the corner.
Whether it's crash landing in the desert or needing to defuse a mid-flight bomb threat, there are all kinds of movies that take place on planes. Here are our picks for the best movies about planes!
12. Red Eye (2005)
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
Thriller (1h 25m)
Wes Craven's psychological thriller Rey Eye takes places aboard a red-eye flight—one that takes off at night and arrives by morning. Rachel McAdams plays the innocent hotel manager Lisa, who has no idea what she's about to step into.
Charmed by a handsome young man (played by Cillian Murphy) at the airport bar, she's pleased to find her seat next to his on the plane. That is, until he turns out to be a terrorist who wants to exploit her position at the Lux Atlantic Hotel.
A crowd-pleasing box office success, Red Eye has all the makings of a sturdy thriller with grounded performances in the clouds.
11. Non-Stop (2014)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy
Action, Mystery, Thriller (1h 46m)
Liam Neeson loves himself a good action movie, with him and his gun always front and center. Non-Stop slots perfectly into his thrilling filmography as he plays a US Air Marshal who goes undercover on a flight from New York to London.
After takeoff, Bill receives an anonymous text that someone will die every twenty minutes unless $150 million is transferred to his bank account.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra in his second collaboration with Neeson (previously Unknown in 2011), Non-Stop is a classic disaster flick that is sure to entertain if you can take its wobbly logic on the chin.
10. United (2011)
Directed by James Strong
Starring David Tennant, Jack O'Connell, Sam Claflin
Drama, History, Sport (1h 34m)
Although United only takes place on a plane for about ten minutes, the whole premise of the (true) story is based around it crashing.
Directed by James Strong, this British television film tells the heartbreaking story of the Manchester United Football Club in 1958, who were caught up in the Munich air disaster.
After two failed attempts, British European Airways took off from the slushy grounds of Germany where only 21 passengers made it to the other side alive.
Jack O'Connell leads the film as the famous surviving footballer Busby Babes, along with his teammate Sam Claflin and coach David Tennant.
9. Sully (2016)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Biography, Drama (1h 36m)
Sully (or Sully: Miracle on the Hudson) is a biographical drama, starring Tom Hanks as Captain "Sully" Sullenberger.
The title tells you all you need to know about this movie: the brave American pilot has to pull an emergency landing over the Hudson River in order to save 155 people. But, of course, the media needs a target to blame... and Sully is the most obvious choice.
Clint Eastwood directs this adaptation of Sully's 2009 memoirs Highest Duty, with critics praising Hanks for his strong and confident performance. Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney also star.
8. Alive (1993)
Directed by Frank Marshall
Starring Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton
Adventure, Biography, Drama (2h 8m)
The title of Frank Marshall's survival drama might sound like good news—they're alive! But what's the good in surviving a crash when you're stuck in the Andes Mountains with no food? When all you have is a radio that declares your search party has been called off?
A true story about a sports team caught in a devastating plane crash, Alive is taken from Piers Paul Read's tragic 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors.
The unfortunate Uruguayan rugby team plummet into the largest mountain range in the world, with only one option to stop themselves starving to death...
7. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch
Adventure, Drama (2h 22m)
Which is worse to find yourself crashed: the freezing and snowy mountains, or the dry and arid desert?
In Flight of the Phoenix, a cargo plane ends up stranded in the latter environment while on their way to Libya. The surviving crew is surrounded by nothing but sand storms and unforgiving sunlight as they attempt to rebuild the plane—like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Robert Aldrich directs the original version from 1965, starring Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough. John Moore directs the 2004 remake. Both are worth watching, but we like the original.
6. Top Gun (1986)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, Kelly McGillis
Action, Drama (1h 49m)
A classic Hollywood action film starring a classic Hollywood action star: Tom Cruise. Everyone knows Top Gun, right?
This film was directed directed by Tony Scott in the 1980s, who was inspired by an article titled "Top Guns" in California magazine three years prior. Cruise plays a suave, leather-jacket-wearing naval aviator who's training at the US Navy's Fighter Weapons School in San Diego.
A huge commercial hit, Top Gun features some amazing special effects, stunts, and aerial shots—especially for its time! A sequel is planned to be released in May 2022, directed by Joseph Kosinski.
5. Flightplan (2005)
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean
Drama, Mystery, Thriller (1h 38m)
A psychological thriller squeezed into the claustrophobic confines of an airplane, Flightplan is wound tight with suspense. Robert Schwentke directs the brilliant Jodie Foster as a widowed aircraft engineer who loses her 6-year-old daughter on a flight back to New York.
The flight attendants are adamant the little girl was never on board, wondering if the mother's grieving state has made her hallucinate. Although criticized for being somewhat far-fetched, viewers loved the plot twists and keen performances of Flightplan. And so do we!
4. Flight (2012)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle
Drama, Thriller (2h 18m)
Here's another true story where a life-saving pilot gets the blame.
Flight stars Denzel Washington as the talented but messy Captain "Whip" Whitaker. When a steep dive puts the plane out of the pilot's control, Whip takes a calculated risk and turns the whole thing upside down so he can land in an open field and save the lives on board.
However, Whip is an alcoholic—and his blood alcohol level shows up in the toxicity report. That prompts the NTSB to investigate him as to whether he caused six deaths.
Director Robert Zemeckis' taut biographical drama was nominated for two Oscars, and you've no doubt seen Washington's performance on various "best acting" reels.
3. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
Comedy, War (1h 35m)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satire of the Cold War that may not take place on a plane, but does feature planes as an integral part of the plot.
Creatively directed by the zany Stanley Kubrick—and starring an even zanier Peter Sellers as a nutty ex-Nazi scientist—Dr. Strangelove is a black comedy like no other.
When an American Brigadier deploys a B-52 nuclear bomb without permission, he puts the world on the brink of destruction. A black-and-white masterpiece that could never be so relevant as it is today, Dr. Strangelove is definitely more one for the cinephiles.
2. Airplane! (1980)
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen
Comedy (1h 28m)
A pilot who's afraid of flying? Talk about oxymoronic!
This classic 1980s romantic comedy—alternatively titled Flying High!—had three directors. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker put their heads together to create one of the highest-ranking British comedies, with Robert Hayes starring as the pilot.
Former Captain Ted Striker, who's traumatized by his days as a fighter pilot, is once again brought to the wheel when a bout of food poisoning ripples through the plane. A precursor to the kind of humor championed by the Farrelly brothers, Airplane! is cult comedy gold.
1. The Aviator (2004)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale
Biography, Drama (2h 50m)
Infamous director-actor duo Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio delivered this epic award-winning movie back in 2004.
The Aviator tells the true story of one filmmaker, businessman, and aviation pioneer named Howard Hughes. Despite all his charm, wealth, and success, the troubled entrepreneur gradually spirals into his ever-worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Set in the jazzy 1930s, Scorsese paints the screen with a brassy, turquoise color palette to accurately mimic the two-strip Technicolor process of the time. Based on Charles Higham's 1993 book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life, The Aviator is a finely tuned drama.