We often watch films to relive situations we can’t – and don’t want to – experience in real life. Aircraft crashes are a prime example of that. So, what movies show them in the most entertaining way?
Little explanation is needed here, as we all know what to expect from an aircraft crash in a movie: it has to be spectacular, suspenseful, and believable enough to not look laughable.
So, here are the ten most impressive ones we have ever seen:
10. Airbus A320: Knowing (2009)
While not the proudest accomplishment of the acclaimed director Alex Proyas, Knowing features a brief, but gripping crash scene with an airliner of the fictional Plymouth Air and plenty of rather badly aged CGI fire in the aftermath.
9. McDonnell Douglas DC-10: Fearless (1993)
Loosely based on the story of United Airlines Flight 232, the crash-landing is a centerpiece of the drama. It is filmed entirely from the perspective of the main character and features impressive practical effects as the fuselage of the tumbling plane is ripped apart all around the passengers.
8. McDonnell Douglas MD-80: Flight (2012)
Another film centered on a crash, Flight has problems with realism but still manages to pull off a suspenseful third act as a troubled plane, piloted by Denzel Washington, crash-lands in a field.
7. Embraer EMB 110P1 Bandeirante: Dark Knight Rises (2012)
In an opening of Christopher Nolan’s film, EMB 110P1 is tethered to Lockheed C-130A Hercules transport plane, before being torn apart and dropped onto Scottish countryside. What distinguishes it from many similar stunts is the fact that little CGI was used in the scene, Nolan opting for real planes instead. In the final stages of its destruction, the business jet was replaced by a gliding mockup though, but the result is impressive nonetheless.
6. McDonnell Douglas DC-9: The Grey (2012)
Very similar in its execution to the scene in Fearless, this crash shows clueless main character, played by Liam Nielsen, waking up on a flight only to find that the plane is falling, before being tossed out of the crumbling fuselage into the snowy plains of Alaska.
5. Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar: Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
This slightly underrated survival drama features a transport plane crash-landing in the middle of the desert, in a flurry of exciting practical effects. By the way, the 2004 movie is a remake of 1964 James Stewart vehicle, which featured less exciting on-screen crash, but had a very real tragedy behind the scenes, as a makeshift plane cartwheeled during production, killing a stuntman.
4. Fairchild FH-227D: Alive (1993)
Dramatizing the struggle of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 survivors, the film shows the plane being torn apart after impacting a mountain in a convincing fashion, and proceeds to follow it as the limbless fuselage carries remaining passengers down the slope.
3. Airbus A320: Sully (2016)
Very low-key and not action-oriented, the crash – just as the film itself – is a slight dramatization of US Airways Flight 1549. It represents real events beautifully, without flashy exaggerations and deserves respect for that.
2. Hughes XF-11: Aviator (2004)
We tried to keep military aircraft out of this list, and focus on the civilian side of aviation instead. But there is no denial that at least one cinematic crash of a military aircraft – Howard Hughes demolishing a row of Beverly Hills houses on a maiden flight of his prototype – is too impressive not to include. Masterful directing by Martin Scorsese makes the scene suspenseful, haunting and respectful to the real event it is based on.
1. Boeing 747-200F: Tenet (2020)
Overshooting his effects-making achievement in Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan decided – reportedly, for budgetary concerns – to crash a real retired jumbo jet in his latest film. The 747-200M, serial number 22105, was manufactured in 1981 and flew with a number of airlines, before being converted to a freighter in 1997, and continuing its service with Air Hong Kong, and later – Cathay Pacific. In 2019, it was purchased by the film production company, painted in fake Norskfreight livery, and smashed into a hangar wall in California. The crash is shown in great detail, from different… err… perspectives, allowing the viewers to enjoy one of the most impressive spectacles ever put on film.
By the way, even without crashes, most of these are rather enjoyable films in themselves. So, feel free to use this list as a companion to our other lists of recommended aviation movies!