Top 10 Airplane Thrillers!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

So, Malaysia Flight MH370? WTF?! No doubt one of the most captivating, mystifying, terrifying…not to mention unprecedented real life scenarios- one plucked right out of a Twilight Zone episode – to ever materialize (or vanish) in front of the world stage. So many theories, so many possibilities, so little (deliberate) information and evidence actually divulged. Unreal. But with all the mystery and uncertainty surround the case, one thing remains a lock. No matter what transpires or turns out to be true about Flight MH370, you know Hollywood is already hot in the pants to adapt this whopper into a widespread mega motion picture. I mean, how could they not be? It’s a no brainer. Thing is, airline thrillers are a tough nut to get right. Hell, I just reviewed an Asylum flick called AIRPLANE VS. VOLCANO, for example. There have been some good ones over the years though, and as we all wait with bated breath for an outcome to the MAS MH370 saga, check out our Top 10 Airplane Thrillers above!


Equally deserving is the 60s TV episode starring Bill Shatner, one that inspired John Landis/Joe Dante/George Miller/Steven Spielberg feature adaptation in 1983. But because the film version lost life for the sake of its own art (RIP Vic Morrow), and because the thoroughly convincing performance of John Lithgow, the famed “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is the prizewinner. You know the deal. An already uneasy passenger upon a commercial airline starts to cause commotion aboard the flight when he claims to see something, or someone, latched onto the wing of the plane. The visions intensify, the paranoia escalates, the anxiety deafens, and soon the aircraft is utterly compromised. Big ups to George Miller for directorially outshining his American counterparts and creating one of the most nail-biting scenes ever.


Okay okay, so it isn’t a full-fledged airplane thriller, but given its title, and considering how that one portentously foreseen midair explosion in 2000 set off a chain-reaction of 7 film sequels…yup, FINAL DESTINATION deserves rank. High rank. I remember a friend hooking me up with the DVD for the flick in a Christmas raffle back when DVDs were brand new. I’d never seen the flick before then. So I popped it in, and given the raunchy teenage comedy tone it struck early on, I was flat out stirred, mouth-agape, in shock and horror when Devon Sawa’s character rushes off the Paris bound flight in a frenzy, only to watch that sucker create a fire in the sky immediately after takeoff. Pre-9/11, post-9-11…that wide shot of the kids looking through the airport glass as the plane explodes is utterly mortifying. And from then on, cheating death has become a film franchise.

#3. RED EYE (2005)

However elevated, you want a brisk and brainless commercial thriller from one of the genre’s all time mavens…Wes Craven’s RED EYE is the flight for you! Jeez, I recall taking a date to see this sucker when it was released in ’05, and what a legit laugh the two of us had afterward when discussing the mindless absurdity the flick shamelessly boasted. I mean, could you imagine this shite starring Sean Penn and Robin Wright, as originally intended? No f*cking way. Still, RED EYE is a silly, almost tongue-in-cheek action-thriller made eminently entertaining by Cillian Murphy’s wildly profligate performance. Damn, my man went HAM! Even more hammy than Craven went next with the utter abomination known as MY SOUL TO TAKE. Yikes! Not even the reddest eyes (stoned) could make that one enjoyable.


Consider this as much higher praise for the Stephen King novel than the 1995 miniseries it inspired…but I guess that goes without saying. Even so, there isn’t a more bone-chilling supernatural airplane thriller on our list, or perhaps any, than THE LANGOLIERS. So in that regard, the preeminent horror scribe of our generation lives up to his name as King! If you’re unfamiliar with the petrifying story, THE LANGOLIERS focuses on a group of people on a commercial airline flying from LA to Boston. Specifically, once the 10 strangers awake from a cross-country flight, they realize all the other passengers of the plane have vanished. All ground contact has been severed, all communication lost. Of course, that’s just the beginning. Once the plane mysteriously lands at a barren airport, a gaggle of blood-hungry monsters await their arrival.


F*ck Snakes on a Plane yo…I’m talking ZOMBIES ON A PLANE! To those who rock Netflix Instant, I wholeheartedly urge you to queue up Umberto Lenzi’s grimy 1980 zombies-on-a-plane joint NIGHTMARE CITY. Do so stat, you won’t regret it! The story goes like this. When an airliner exposed to radiation touches down in a nearby city, a horde of foul, gore-soaked, bloodthirsty zombies de-board the plane and make for a nice little jaunt across the Italian countryside. How tight is that? You have the claustrophobia of a single-set, the typical tension of an out of control airplane on the brink of crashing, and a flight manifest consisting of flesh-starved corpses running roughshod. Trust us, this is Italian splatter-sleaze at its most bonkers!

#6. SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006)

“Enough is enough. I’ve had it with these motha-f*cking snakes on this motha-f*cking plane!!!” Props to the late David R. Ellis, who made a B-movie of epic proportions that will not only go down in infamy as a whole, but one that boasts perhaps Samuel L. Jackson’s most memorable line (and that’s no easy feat). As the butt of many a joke before any footage was even shot, SNAKES ON A PLANE overcame the stigma and has become one of those cult-gathering midnight movies that, seen with a large crowd all equally in on the joke (like a TROLL 2 or THE ROOM etc.), is an awful lot of fun. Credit goes to the fans who created such an internet clamor upon announcement of the flick that 5 extra shooting days were allotted by New Line to give the flick a nastier bite from PG-13 to R-rated.

#7. FLIGHTPLAN (2005)

Either suffering from an expectation or a marketing campaign a little too similar to CONTACT, whatever the case, the Jodie Foster flick FLIGHTPLAN is actually a pretty underrated “what the hell happened” thriller. Dubbed a Hitchcockian thriller at 30,000 feet, the story finds a distraught mother and daughter aboard a globetrotting flight from Berlin to the U.S. When the little girl mysteriously vanishes from the midair flight, suddenly all the passenger and flight-crew denies her ever being on the plane to begin with. As opposed to NON-STOP, it’s like a reverse whodunit…and it’s up to Foster to figure out what the hell happened to her daughter. Good performances, solid direction from Robert Schwentke and an engrossing script by Peter Dowling and Billy Ray make FLIGHTPLAN soar!


One recent sequel that did a bang-up job of rivaling the original, if not outright surpassing it, is John Pogue’s punny parasite picture QUARANTINE 2: TERMINAL. You know, as in an airplane terminal doubling for terminal illness. Ah yes, so clever. But more impressive than the double-entendre is the flick itself…a fast-flying 86 minutes of a rabid-zombie inducing virus taking out an entire airplane…in the air and on the ground! If you’ve not seen it, trust us, it’s flick definitely worth contracting. For a mere $4 million, Pogue and his crew crafted a gorily engrossing, face-paced, shut-in terror-scape that continues to entertain from the first minutes up in the air to the last moments on the ground. A highly underrated horror sequel we urge everyone to check out.

#2. CON AIR (1997)

In the immortal words of Cyrus the Virus: “I despise rapists. To me you’re somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that accumulates at the corner of the mouth when you’re really thirsty.” HA! Really, I can’t tell if CON AIR is a guilty pleasure or a self-reflexive satire of a so-bad-it’s-good B-movie. And frankly, I don’t care. With a supercharged cast that includes Cage, Cusack, Malkovich, Buscemi, Rhames, Chappelle, Trejo and others…this is a big, dumb, hilariously implausible good time at the movies. I know because I saw it in theaters when I was 14. Even at that age I was in on the joke, intentional or not, of how ridiculous and over the top pretty much every character, line of dialogue and action set-piece was. And Nic Cage’s hair? Only outdone by that accent. Whoa!

#10. TURBULENCE (1997)

My my, the sheer stupidity of TURBULENCE is alone good enough to make it crack the top 10. Let us count the ways. First off…Liotta, febrile, sweaty, still coked-off from GOODFELLAS. Lauren Holly’s giant tits oddly can’t distract from her putrid haircut. Brendan Gleeson as a hilarious baddie, Hector Elizondo, Jeffrey DeMunn and Catherine Hicks doing their best to class up the joint. Oh, Rachel Ticotin as well…deserving an award for appearing in both this and CON AIR in the same year. All these things pale in comparison though to the ludicrous plot, whereby a pair of criminals are being transported on a commercial 747 on Christmas Eve. Once a heavy shootout goes down, it’s up to a feisty stewardess (Holly) to match wits with Liotta’s maniac and land the plane herself.

Tags: Hollywood

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