The tragic end to Brazilian football team Chapecoense hit headlines across the world and reminded us that air travel can go awry when we least expect it. The search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in 2014, is still ongoing. Understanding aviation and flight is a difficult job to begin with, so we compiled a list of the scariest airplane films ever made to make sense of these and other tragedies that have happened in the air over the years.  


Alive, starring Ethan Hawke, tells the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team stuck in the Andes after a crash-landing and forced to survive using desperate measures. Together, they must stave off starvation and survive the cold. The unforgiving Andes mountain range is beautifully cinematographed, while the musical score elevates the film to another level.  


With a near-perfect opening that will have you on the edge of your seat, Flight tells the story of an airline pilot, portrayed expertly by Denzel Washington, who crashes his plane in order to save his passengers. Trouble begins when he is told that he needs to lay low after investigators find that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system during the crash. It is one of those rare films which gives thrills from the performances and story rather than from fights and other action sequences.  

United 93

The scariest thing about United 93 is that the events unfolding on screen really happened. The movie is a real-time account of the United plane on which passengers overpowered the terrorists during 9/11 before crashing the plane in Pennsylvania, thereby foiling the terrorists’ plan to destroy a major target like they did in New York City. The best part of the film is the understated way in which director Paul Greengrass narrates the events unfolding aboard United 93.  

Executive Decision

Executive Decision could very well be the story of how 9/11 was planned, except for one tiny detail – the movie was released in 1996 and stars Kurt Russell, Halle Berry and Steven Seagal. The biggest takeaway from this film is the fact that, when it was released, a movie about terrorists blowing up planes to get what they want was considered escapist fare back then. Also, who knew Steven Seagal could act well if he’s given a supporting role?  

Airport ‘77

This is a Hollywood disaster epic from the 70s and a prime example of why it’s high time somebody revived this genre of filmmaking. Airport ‘77 is actually part of a sequel of movies made on air disasters. The movie tells the story of a billionaire’s insanely expensive art collection getting stolen mid-air and crash-landing in the Bermuda Triangle, which leads to the good guys turning up for the rescue effort. While most of the movie takes place over water, the flight sequences – and the fact that these campy disaster movies were a big deal back then – put this movie on our must-watch list.  

Flight Plan

Flight Plan isn’t necessarily the smartest film out there, but you’ve definitely been worried about losing your luggage on a flight, right? Now imagine the airline loses your child and then refuses to take responsibility for their massive blunder. Very frightening stuff that goes before your regular airplane disaster film.  

Drop Zone

Drop Zone features Wesley Snipes as a US Marshal who learns skydiving to track down a group of skydiving criminals who killed his brother. Featuring some stunning aerial shots and action-a-minute sequences, the film keeps the thrill alive even as you ask yourself what would happen if skydivers really turned rogue!  


This is the only Indian entry that’s several notches above some of the choices on this list. The movie is a hijack drama about a plane from Chennai which is forced to land at Tirupati on its way to Delhi. An NSG commando, played by Nagarjuna, must free the passengers and overpower the hijackers. What makes this movie unique is the absolute lack of melodrama in the storyline. There is no heroine in the film and no song sequence – a rather unusual feat for a South Indian potboiler. Gaganam also has a subtle message about media ethics and is the most realistic attempt at making a hijack movie, which makes it worthy of appreciation by one and all.


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