By Andrea Romano
November 08, 2019
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A lot of things can happen on an airplane. You can fall in love, catch a criminal, or even get into an all-out-war with a bunch of snakes.

We, of course, are talking about movies. Movies that take place on a plane or in an airport seem to have a unique quality to them. They make rom-coms more romantic, action films more thrilling, and dramas more heart-wrenching all because they take place 36,000 feet in the air.

Of course, movies about air travel naturally lend themselves to suspense — like "Flightplan" or "United 93" — mostly because the idea of being in a crisis in the air automatically makes for good drama. The stakes couldn't be higher and the air can’t be thinner.

Then there are straight-up horror flicks like "Final Destination" or "Red Eye." These are definitely not for the faint of heart — or anyone who’s planning to take a trip soon.

But not all airplane movies are disaster flicks or tense, action hero vehicles. Some of these movies can make you laugh, like "Airplane!," "View from the Top," or "The Terminal" — even though the latter mostly takes place in the airport.

And perhaps, the best part of these films is that they feature your favorite Hollywood actors and actresses — like Tom Hanks, Julianne Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Harrison Ford — who are often playing some of their most beloved roles.

But not all airplane movies are created alike, so we decided to round up the 25 best movies that involve flight or air travel and rank them for your reading pleasure. Who knows, you may be inspired to have a travel-themed movie night tonight.

Our ranking is based on critical reception, audience reception and popularity, script and production quality, and general consensus of which movies are truly “great.” Some films may not have done great at the box office, but are still audience favorites. All of the movies on this list involve air travel (of any kind) as a major plot point, and are not necessarily movies that are good to watch on flights.

But one thing’s for sure: these movies are some of the best titles for an aviation enthusiast.

25. "Turbulence"

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In this film, Ray Liotta stars as a convicted murderer who hijacks a plane. It’s a pretty typical airplane action movie with all the tropes in place, which is probably why the movie has a whopping 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s lots of acting that really chews at the scenery and some interesting (though mostly implausible) technical airplane stuff folded in.

24. "Non-Stop"

Liam Neeson stars as an alcoholic U.S. Marshal who must find a killer after receiving text messages that another passenger will die if the killer’s demands are not met. It’s one of those action thrillers viewers have come to expect from the "Taken" star, and if you’re willing to get around the loose ends and glaring implausibilities, you’ll definitely enjoy it.

23. "View from the Top"

Back in the early 2000s, Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in a number of odd, screwball romantic comedies. In this film, Paltrow stars as a trailer-park girl who dreams of being a classy flight attendant — and she has the brains and drive to achieve it. Is all that personal success worth sacrificing for a young Mark Ruffalo? We’re not sure. But this movie has a few good goofy moments, especially from Mike Myers, Christina Applegate, and Candice Bergen.

22. "Con Air"

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This movie may not have won any prestigious awards, but it’s become something of a cult classic, if only for the famous line, “Put the bunny … back in the box.” The script is sometimes quite hard to listen to, and Nicolas Cage has a very hard time nailing down that Alabama accent, but with all of its entertainingly over-the-top performances and explosions (lots of explosions), it’s enjoyable for people who like movies that are “so bad, they’re good.”

21. "Final Destination"

Let’s just say this is not a movie you want to watch on an airplane. As a society, we might’ve been worn out by the teen horror flicks of the ‘90s, but this 2000 film actually has a quite surprising and clever premise that goes beyond the typical slasher movie.

While it may not have gotten great reviews at the time, audiences still enjoyed it, earning it a fairly decent audience score of 68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

20. "Flightplan"

This 2005 suspense movie centers around an aircraft designer (played by Jodie Foster) who’s daughter randomly goes missing on a flight to New York. The twist? The sky marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) and captain (Sean Bean) on board are telling her that her child never boarded the plane.

It’s one of those few, amazing female-led suspense movies, because, of course, it’s Jodie Foster. And who doesn’t love Jodie Foster?

19. "The Terminal"

If you’re in the mood for a charming romantic comedy, you can’t go wrong with Tom Hanks. This movie is a typical feel-good film and a ringing endorsement for John F. Kennedy International Airport. Who knew someone could feasibly live there?

Hanks plays a displaced Eastern European man who has to wait at JFK until the war in his home country is over. He’s smitten with a flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and changes the lives of everyone around him. This movie is basically the equivalent of a warm hug.

18. "Alive"

Again, this is definitely not something to watch while traveling at 36,000 feet. The cast is full of your early ‘90s crushes — including Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton — who are playing what is likely one of the darkest roles in their career.

It centers around a Uruguayan soccer team who gets stranded in the Andes after a plane crash, and while it can be hard to watch at times, it’s also based on real events. The story is a true testament to the ability of humans to survive the worst of circumstances.

17. "United 93"

This film came out five years after the tragedy of 9/11, which, if you think about how long Hollywood films are typically in production, it may seem like the producers jumped the gun in telling this story. The film is about the passengers on United flight 93 who crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

Performances by the entire cast, which is largely made up of relatively unknown actors, are nuanced, unsentimental, and incredibly emotional — though the script deviates quite a bit from actual events (or at least, what we know about them).

16. "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"

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Most of this movie does not take place on a plane, we know. But plane travel is a major plot point for young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin). Unlike the first film, we see more of that airport hustle-and-bustle when the McCallisters speed through the airport to make their flight.

Sure, there are some logic problems like, “Why wouldn’t a gate agent check his ticket?” and “Why didn’t the flight attendant make sure that Kevin was pointing out his real father?” and “How did Kevin remarkably find an empty seat on an overbooked flight to New York?”

But despite all that, any ‘90s kid will admit that they would love to accidentally fly to a cool city without their parents. Plus, it’s a great holiday movie.

15. "Air Force One"

Everyone’s fantasy president, Harrison Ford, plays the commander-in-chief in this action drama. Much like "The Fugitive" or "Patriot Games," we love to see Ford get mad and take down bad guys. It’s a pretty high-energy film that’s full of twists and turns, all taking place aboard Air Force One.

14. "Die Hard 2"

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John McClane is back, and this time, he’s going to save Dulles International Airport. This sequel takes place one year after the events in the first film, but this time the terrorists have taken over the Washington D.C. airport and only McClane can stop them. If he can’t, they’ll deliberately guide planes to crash.

If you’re looking for high stakes and lots of fight scenes, this is the perfect movie for you. Much like the first film in the series, it’s an unexpectedly good holiday movie, too.

13. "The Aviator"

Even though Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t win best actor for this one, his portrayal of one of the most interesting American historical figures reminds us why we love to see DiCaprio on the big screen. He’s joined by an incredible cast that includes Cate Blanchett (doing possibly the best Katharine Hepburn impression ever), Kate Beckinsale, and John C. Reilly. If all of that hasn’t convinced you, this movie also shows Leo flying a cool vintage plane.

12. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"

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This 1987 comedy classic stars John Candy and Steve Martin, and centers around two strangers (a veritable odd couple) who have to deal with what is possibly the most extreme travel delay in history. Delayed flights, broken-down trains, and bumpy rides make for some hilarious comedy with poignant character work by Candy and Martin. And, it’s one of the few Thanksgiving movies out there.

11. "Catch Me If You Can"

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This underrated Steven Spielberg film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the real-life FBI fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr. One of Abagnale’s clever ways of getting away from FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is impersonating a Pan-Am pilot (despite being 17 and having no flight experience).

Along with the unexpected friendship between an FBI agent and a bank forger, the film is also chock-full of vintage 1960s aviation details that will make any fan happy.

10. "Snakes on a Plane"

We all know the famous line, so there’s no need to repeat it here. Suffice to say that this film is a ridiculous, over the top, expletive-filled action flick that’s pretty much exactly what the title says it is. It was mostly panned when it first came out, but has gained a bit of a cult following.

Luckily, according to rumors, Samuel L. Jackson actually wanted to be part of the film because of it’s silly title, so he clearly didn’t take it seriously. Also, don’t think a snake falling from an overhead bin can’t happen, because it actually did in 2016. Have fun sleeping tonight.

9. "Flight"

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Denzel Washington stars as an alcoholic pilot who manages to avoid a plane crash with some pretty physics-defying maneuvers. While he’s praised for saving so many lives (the crash only had a few casualties), an investigation makes him and everyone around him question his judgement and actions.

Responses to Washington’s performance were a bit mixed at the time, but this film is everything you want in a Robert Zemeckis movie: a deeply flawed protagonist looking for redemption, tense action, and heartbreaking revelations.

8. "Sully"

The incredible story of U.S. Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is easily one for the history books, and definitely something we all want to see Tom Hanks bring to the big screen. While Sullenberger was hailed a hero after making an emergency landing in the Hudson River without a single casualty, this biopic is actually a pretty nuanced portrait of the pilot that neither reveres nor condemns him for the circumstances surrounding that fateful event.

7. "Red Eye"

Wes Craven’s in-flight suspense thriller is definitely one of the better (and underrated) suspense thrillers out there. It stars Rachel McAdams as a woman who is kidnapped and dragged into a murder plot by a stranger (Cillian Murphy) aboard a red-eye flight.

It’s one of those highly psychological horror movies that builds just the right amount of tension and doesn’t lag anywhere along the way. It may not be the most realistic movie, but it’s certainly an entertaining one.

6. "Airport"

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This 1970 classic might be one of the first airplane disaster movies ever. It stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, and Jacqueline Bisset, and centers around the flight and ground crew who are figuring out how to safely land their plane after a bomb is detonated on it. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned film that can be a little cheesy at times, but it’s essential watching for aviation fans.

5. "Up in the Air"

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George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga star in this smart and funny portrait of corporate employees who live out of their suitcases. Clooney is a man who is just shy of one of his life goals — 10 million frequent flyer miles — when his company slashes his travel budget.

It’s not as action-packed as other films on this list, but it’s superbly acted and has an excellent, entertaining script that pretty much guarantees a good watch.

4. "Cast Away"

It seems impossible not to be moved (and terrified) by the epic plane crash that happens in this film based on a true story. The beginning of this movie doesn’t shy away from a difficult situation, and honestly, it can be hard to watch for anyone who flies a lot. But the film, ultimately, is about survival and is a sad, impressive, and sometimes funny journey that we’re all happy to go on with Tom Hanks.

3. "The Right Stuff"

This movie focuses on the lives of the first U.S. astronauts, but much of the film is about the grueling training they went through in order to have “the right stuff.”

It’s a highly personal, funny, and triumphant film that centers around some significant points in American history, and has some amazing performances from Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, and Dennis Quaid.

2. "Top Gun"

This Tom Cruise classic is about high-flying Navy pilots, and we’re sure that it inspired a lot of ‘80s kids to become pilots. The film has some of the best aerial footage in Hollywood history and is one of the movies that launched Cruise’s career. We dare you not to quote Maverick after watching.

1. "Airplane!"

There’s no better airplane film than one that makes you laugh. Sure, some of the jokes and gags in this film haven’t survived the test of time, but this screwball 1970s comedy has one of Michael Scott’s favorite lines:

Ted Striker: Surely, you can't be serious.

Dr. Rumack: I am serious … and don't call me Shirley.

Classic comedy gold.

Honorable Mention: "Bridesmaids"

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This film is largely not about air travel, nor does air travel make-or-break the plot, so sadly we couldn’t include it in the main list. However, the scene in which Kristen Wiig gets drunk on a flight to Las Vegas may be one of the most quotable of all time.

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