This weekend, everyone will get ready to buckle up, turn their seatbacks into an upright position and prepare for take-off as Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja hits theatres. Kapoor plays Neerja Bhanot, the Pan Am flight attendant who lost her life protecting more than 300 passengers aboard an ill-fated flight and became a national hero at the age of 22.
Just from reading that logline, one thing is clear: It’s not often mainstream Hindi movies offer films like this. Like the title character, it appears to be fearless, independent and brave. Having a strong female character as the lead, ignoring the temptations of a song and dance number and the appeal of larger than life histrionics, it refutes ‘conventional wisdom’ and breaks the rules.
There are so many other films that spring to mind when we think of plane thrillers. Setting a movie in a confined, claustrophobic and inescapable space offers brilliant dramatic possibilities that it makes complete sense so many great ones have been made. So why not look back on some of them? Here are 7 fantastic movies that spend a significant amount of time inside aeroplanes. And let’s just get this out of the way: If you’re a Snakes on a Plane fan, you’re going to be disappointed.
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Red Eye (2005)
The late, great Wes Craven may be more famous for his legendary horror films like The Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Last House on the Left (1972) and Scream (1996), but squeezed in between his better known classics is Red Eye. It’s a nifty little thriller featuring great over the top performances by Cillian Murphy (a terrorist with a far-fetched scheme to murder the US Secretary of Defense) and Rachel McAdams (the unwitting pawn in his plan).
Air Force One (1997)
Air Force One was part of the great ‘90s action resurgence. The plot was ludicrous: Harrison Ford (playing an action hero POTUS) has his ride taken over by crazy Russian terrorists led by Gary Oldman. It fully embraced its silly premise and remains fun to this day.
Jodie Foster was just coming off of Panic Room (2002), a similarly claustrophobic Hitchcockian thriller by David Fincher. Flightplan was directly inspired by the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie The Lady Vanishes (1938). It’s a fiendishly clever premise, in a nutshell: A passenger vanishes into thin air, no pun intended, and everyone else suddenly loses all memory of the missing person. Yes, it’s enough to drive anyone mad, let alone Jodie Foster.
Con Air (1997)
Some may call it a cheap Michael Bay ripoff, but Con Air was another in the line of goofy ‘90s action movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The basic premise can pretty much be summed up as ‘Suicide Squad let loose in mid air’. Oh, how we miss ‘90s Nicolas Cage.
Non-Stop is part of Liam Neeson’s Taken-inspired action star preoccupation. And like most of those movies, it’s pretty great. It’s like a glorious mash-up of Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. In an aeroplane. Liam Neeson plays a grave US Air Marshal who must protect his plane as a murderous maniac starts killing passengers one by one. The murderer has to be among them! (Side note: The casting is a spoiler)
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963)
OK, so strictly speaking, this isn’t a movie. It’s one of the best episodes of the original run of the great sci-fi series The Twilight Zone. And even though the movie adaptation included a segment inspired by this (directed by none other than Mad Max’s George Miller), we’re going to include the original episode here just because it’s so damn good. A pre-Star Trek William Shatner plays a passenger aboard an airliner who keeps seeing a gremlin (you read that right) on a wing and unsurprisingly, no one believes him.
Here’s a parody version by Saturday Night Live
United 93 (2006)
United 93 is the best film on this list and one that Neerja resembles most closely. In fact, it is one of the best movies of the last decade. It was one of the earliest movies to directly address 9/11. Released to several people wondering “Is it too soon,” United 93 told the story of the fourth plane that was hijacked on that fateful day and its brave crew that staged a revolt, saving countless lives. For almost two hours, you feel like you’re in the plane. It all feels uncomfortably real and if Neerja comes even slightly close to this movie’s greatness, it can be considered a success. Here’s hoping it does.
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan