Top 10 must-watch airplane movies: films of aviation adventures

Empty cinema screen with audience

Aviation has long captured our imagination, symbolizing the human desire for freedom and exploration. Over the years, filmmakers have embraced the magic of flight, crafting incredible stories that take us soaring through the skies. From heart-pounding action to side-splitting comedies, aviation movies have delighted audiences with their captivating narratives and breathtaking visuals.  
Here, we present to you our run-down of the Top 10 must-watch airplane movies that have become classics. We begin our countdown at 10th place, moving onwards towards the number one movie in our lineup. 

It’s important to mention, though, that due to their portrayal of aviation incidents and accidents, some of these movies would be far from suitable as light-hearted in-flight entertainment, so viewer discretion is advised. 

10. Passenger 57 (1992) 

Starring Wesley Snipes, Passenger 57 is an action-packed film that follows an ex-police officer who becomes the only hope for passengers onboard a hijacked plane flying from Florida to Los Angeles. With intense fight sequences and adrenaline-pumping suspense, this movie offers an exhilarating airborne ride. 

9. Con Air (1997) 

Directed by Simon West, Con Air features an all-star cast including Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich and John Cusack. This action thriller tells the story of a parolee who finds himself on a prison transport plane with the most dangerous criminals imaginable. With explosive action and memorable characters, Con Air delivers high-octane entertainment from takeoff to landing. 

8. United 93 (2006) 

Directed by Paul Greengrass, United 93 is a gripping and emotional film that recounts the events of the September 11 attacks. It focuses on United Airlines Flight 93 and the heroic efforts of the passengers who fought against the hijackers. This powerful and harrowing movie is a poignant tribute to the real-life bravery and sacrifice displayed on that fateful day. 

7. Snakes on a Plane (2006) 

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane takes a unique approach to the airplane thriller genre. This campy and entertaining film concerns an FBI agent who must save the passengers when a crate full of deadly snakes is released onboard a flight. With its over-the-top premise and thrilling sequences, this movie is a guilty pleasure for fans of outrageous action.  

Unconnectedly, in an unsettling incident that unfolded during a real-life Aeromexico flight in 2016, a live snake unexpectedly fell from an overhead bin. The incident occurred on a flight originating from Torreon in Mexico’s northern region and destined for Mexico City. 

6. Flight (2012) 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Flight stars Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who saves his passengers during a mid-air catastrophe. The film then explores the aftermath of the heroic act, delving into themes of addiction, personal struggles and the consequences of the choices we make. Driven by a compelling performance from Washington, Flight offers a thought-provoking examination of human nature. 

5. Airport (1970) 

Considered a pioneer in the disaster film genre, Airport is based on Arthur Hailey’s 1968 novel and stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, and Jacqueline Bisset. This classic film follows the crew and passengers of a fictional airport as they face a series of crises, including a bombing attempt and a severe snowstorm. Airport captivated audiences with its suspenseful storytelling and set the stage for many subsequent airplane disaster films. 

Indeed, the Airport film series itself comprises a total of four disaster movies centered around aviation, namely Airport, Airport 1975, Airport ’77 and The Concorde… Airport ’79. 

4. The Aviator (2004) 

Directed by Martin Scorsese, The Aviator is a biographical drama based on the life of Howard Hughes, as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film chronicles Hughes’ aviation endeavors, including his record-breaking flights and his struggles with mental health. With stunning visuals and a captivating performance by DiCaprio, The Aviator makes for a compelling portrait of the aviation pioneer. 

3. Airplane! (1980) 

A comedy gem, Airplane!, directed by Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers, is a spoof of disaster movies and aviation tropes. This hilarious film follows the misadventures aboard a troubled passenger plane, filled with slapstick humor, clever wordplay and memorable gags. Airplane! remains a cult classic that parodies the airplane movie genre with immense wit and irreverence. 

2. Sully (2016) 

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully tells the true story of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, portrayed by Tom Hanks, who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, saving all onboard. This gripping film explores the investigation that followed the miracle landing, showcasing the professionalism and heroism of Captain Sullenberger. 

Top 1 – Top Gun (1986) 

Directed by Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise, Top Gun is a quintessential Eighties aviation film that showcases the high-flying excitement of fighter jet pilots. The movie centers on Maverick, a talented pilot undergoing training at the United States Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School.  

With adrenaline-pumping aerial sequences and a memorable soundtrack, Top Gun has become an action classic that showcases the competitive and daring world of military aviation. 

It has a legacy of its own, too. In 2022, a sequel took flight, carrying on the legacy of the beloved 1986 original. Top Gun: Maverick exhilarated audiences around the world when it graced the silver screen, with an adrenaline-fueled narrative that follows closely in the vapor trail of its iconic predecessor. 

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