Dear Hollywood, You’re Not Helping Our Aviaphobia

Hollywood is the world’s biggest mass producer of fantasy, but if you’re a frequent flier, maybe you need to keep your guard up: Filmmakers can sometimes take the fun out of flying. True, airplanes are often used only as backdrops for transition scenes (character A takes off for destination B to confront … well, whatever is at B), or as places for characters to meet cute, or even as comedy centerpieces (Airplane!anyone?). But other times the plane is doomed — a malfunction, perhaps, or a hijacking — and it’s not going to be pretty. This sort of action doesn’t make for a fun film night for the person who logs tons of hours per year in the air. If your livelihood involves staring out tiny windows from miles up in the air at least a few times per month, here are a couple of movies to block from memory if you’ve seen them or steer clear of them entirely if you haven’t.




In 2000’s Cast Away Tom Hanks plays a psychotically devoted Federal Express systems guru who spends his life obsessing over how fast a package can get where it absolutely, positively needs to be. One (not foggy) Christmas Eve he hitches a ride on a FedEx delivery transport plane, and things soon take a turn for the turbulent. The plane is forced to ditch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, ultimately breaking apart in the sea. From the first signs of trouble on board to the final chunk of fuselage sinking beneath the waves, the crash sequence is harrowing. Hanks survives, through luck and his own resourcefulness (and because he’s Tom Hanks, and because it’s only about 30 minutes into the movie), but it’s a mixed blessing. The island on which nature beaches him is far from any signs of life. He will have to spend four years alone, his only companion a friendly volleyball, before he gets back to civilization.




Seven years earlier, in 1993’s unfairly obscure Fearless, Jeff Bridges plays an architect with a cushy seat in a crashing airplane. The crash doesn’t use the amazing special effects Cast Away employs, but it may even be more frightening because it focuses sharply on the psychological aspects of the crash — the realization that you and the plane are going down. Most passengers on board scream, some pray, one chooses to drink up. Bridges internalizes, finding a sort of detachment from his own circumstances. After surviving the crash, he goes through a period of thinking he is, in a sense, unable to be harmed (fearless).




Certainly, we could all make our own lists of airplane movies that freak us out [feel free to share your list in the comments section below]. There’s probably no way to make an airplane disaster movie without scaring the heck out of us, but perhaps somewhere there are frequent fliers who wish someone would at least try.