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United 93 (film)

"Flight 93 (film)" redirects here. For the telefilm, see Flight 93 (2006 film).
Not to be confused with I Missed Flight 93.

United 93
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Produced by Paul Greengrass
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Lloyd Levin
Written by Paul Greengrass
Starring See Cast
Music by John Powell
Cinematography Barry Ackroyd
Edited by Clare Douglas
Richard Pearson
Christopher Rouse
Distributed by Universal Pictures
(United States)
United International Pictures (International)
Release dates
  • April 28, 2006 (2006-04-28)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $15 million[2]
Box office $76.3 million[2]

United 93 is a 2006 drama film written, co-produced and directed by Paul Greengrass that chronicles events aboard United Airlines Flight 93,[3] which was hijacked during the September 11 attacks of 2001. The film attempts to recount with as much veracity as possible (there is a disclaimer that some imagination had to be used) and in real time (from the flight's takeoff) what has come to be known in the United States as a critical moment. According to the filmmakers, the film was made with the cooperation of all of the passengers' families.[4]

United 93 premiered on April 26, 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, a festival founded to celebrate New York City as a major film making center and to contribute towards the long-term recovery of Lower Manhattan.[5] Several family members of the passengers aboard the flight attended the premiere to show their support.

The film opened in North America on April 28, 2006 to unanimous critical acclaim. Ten percent of the gross from the three-day opening weekend was promised toward a donation to create a memorial for the victims of Flight 93.[6] United 93 grossed $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide.[2][7]


On the morning of September 11, 2001, four al-Qaeda terrorists Ziad Jarrah, Saeed al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Nami and Ahmed al-Haznawi pray in their respective hotel rooms before they arrive at Newark Liberty International airport. The quartet wait at a gate after getting through security to board United 93 headed for San Francisco. After 40 minutes of delay due to traffic the plane takes off flown by captain Jason Dahl and first officer Leroy Homer with all four terrorists on board.

Meanwhile, newly promoted FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney and his staff are dealing with a plane that has apparently been hijacked. American 11, headed to Los Angeles from Boston, is suspected of being hijacked after Mohamed Atta is overheard on the radio saying "We have some planes." American 11 then crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., much to Ben Sliney and his staff's horror. Soon thereafter, another plane, United 175, also headed to Los Angeles from Boston, is hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., being witnessed by the control tower staff at Newark International Airport. Ben and his staff discover they are dealing with several hijackings and orders the military to be on the lookout for American 77, which has also been hijacked. Despite their efforts, American 77 crashes into the Pentagon. Ben then orders United States airspace closed and orders all flights leaving and entering the United States to be grounded.

Meanwhile United 93 reaches cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and as the passengers relax and are being served breakfast the terrorists wait for the right moment to hijack the plane. After al-Haznawi returns from a toilet wearing an artificial bomb around his torso al-Ghamdi holds one of the flight attendants Debbie Welsh at knife point while the passengers are moved to the rear of the plane after al-Haznawi displays the "bomb." Both Jarrah and al-Ghamdi force Debbie to let them into the cockpit and both pilots as well as Debbie are murdered. Jarrah then takes over as the pilot and claims they have 50 minutes left to live as he flies the plane for their chosen target which is implied to be the Capitol Building. However the passengers decide to save themselves after discovering that the pilots are dead as well as learning via air phones the World Trade Center and Pentagon have been struck. After coming up with a plan and praying, the passengers attempt to take back the airplane. After al-Haznawi is killed al-Nami warns Jarrah and al-Ghamdi and despite his vain attempts to delay the passengers he is killed after Jeremy Glick snaps his neck. The male passengers frantically break into the cockpit and attempt to land the plane but Jarrah manages to turn the plane upside down before the aircraft crashes into Pennsylvania and the scene fades out implying everyone on board has been killed instantly.



The film was the first Hollywood feature to draw its narrative directly from the September 11 attacks of 2001. Passengers were portrayed in the film mostly by professional, but relatively unknown, actors (Tom Burnett, for instance, is played by Christian Clemenson, who has since appeared on Boston Legal and CSI: Miami). The roles of one of the flight attendants, the two pilots, and many other airline personnel were filled by actual airline employees.[citation needed] Some participants in the real-life events play themselves,[citation needed] notably FAA operations manager Ben Sliney.

The dialogue, which was mostly improvised during rehearsals Greengrass held with the cast, was based on face-to-face interviews between actors and families of those they portray. Almost none of the passengers in the film are referred to by their names. Their identities remain anonymous, emphasizing the group effort over any individual heroics (and also portraying the fact that strangers on an airplane would not know one another's names). Much of the dialogue uses technical authenticity rather than theatrical embellishments, such as talk about whether a plane has "Squawked 7500."[citation needed]

During production, the actors playing the crew and the passengers of the flight were put in separate hotels from the actors portraying the hijackers, even eating their meals separately, ostensibly to create an air of antagonism in the film between the two groups.[citation needed]

Filming took place on a 20-year-old reclaimed Boeing 757, formerly operated by MyTravel Airways, at Pinewood Studios near London from October until December 2005. The cockpit was built by Flightdeck solutions. The location was chosen both for its financial incentives and to shield actors from unwanted public scrutiny they might have received in the United States.[8] Action was filmed with handheld cameras, chosen for their versatility on the close-quarter sets and to create a sense of immediacy. Exterior airport sequences were shot on location at Newark Liberty International Airport, while interiors were shot back in England at London Stansted Airport. A few scenes were also shot in Washington, D.C. and Boston. In addition, an opening sequence set in Afghanistan was shot in Morocco, but it was cut from the film before release.[9]

The title was changed from Flight 93 to United 93 in March 2006, to differentiate it from the A&E TV film.[citation needed] Shortly thereafter, the film was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence."[10] Universal Pictures appealed this rating, but it was rejected.[citation needed] The film was released in the United States cinemas on April 28, 2006. It opened second in the weekend box office behind RV, but it netted a slightly higher per-screen average.[2]

Initial screenings ended with the closing credits line "America's War on Terror had begun." This was replaced in the release version with '"Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."[11]

After trailers for the film began circulating in cinemas, there were calls for Universal Studios to pull them, due to the upset and surprise caused to some audience members.[12] One theatre in Manhattan pulled the trailer after audience complaints.[6]

The Iraqi-born, London-based actor Sarmed al-Samarrai, who plays a hijacker in the film, was reportedly denied a visa by United States immigration authorities when he applied to visit New York City to attend the premiere, despite having already been granted asylum in the United Kingdom since the 1990s. The reason reported to have been given was that he had once been a conscripted member of the Iraqi Army — although this was also the grounds for his refugee status after his desertion in 1993.[13] Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.[14]

Historical background

The real United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757-222 flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California. On September 11, 2001, the aircraft on the flight was one of the four planes hijacked as part of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, possibly intended to crash into and destroy the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. It was the only plane out of all four hijacked that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, near Shanksville, about 150 miles (ca 240 km) northwest of Washington.

The cockpit voice recorder tape from United Flight 93 has never been made public; however the transcript was made public after the film was completed, shedding more light on what actually happened in the final 30 minutes before the plane crashed. In some parts, it may contradict the choices made by the filmmaker in terms of some dialogue and specific aspects of the event. For example, the pilots, Jason Dahl and LeRoy Homer, are shown in the film to be killed by the terrorists immediately as they are hijacking the plane. Some statements made by the terrorists in the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder tape,[15] as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit,[16] raised doubts that both pilots were indeed dead before the plane crashed; however, other documentary evidence from the 9/11 Commission Report indicated that at least one passenger reported in a cell phone call seeing two bodies, possibly the pilots, lying dead on the floor outside the cockpit after the hijacking.[17]

The film has been criticized for its portrayal of German passenger Christian Adams, who is the only passenger portrayed as counseling appeasement, despite the absence of any evidence that he did so. It was also reported that Adams's widow did not cooperate with the filmmakers because it was too painful.[18] Erich Redman, who portrayed Adams in the film, said he did not intend to portray Adams as cowardly but as a man who "never made rash decisions and everything he did was always well-considered."[18]


Critical response

United 93 was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2006. Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Peter Travers and James Berardinelli all awarded it four stars on their rating scales, with Ebert calling the film "masterful and heartbreaking" and saying that it "does honor to the memory of the victims."[19] It was termed "one of the most moving films of the year" by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. It holds a 91% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 203 reviews with the consensus: "Potent and sobering, United 93 is even more gut-wrenching because the outcome is already known. While difficult to watch, director Paul Greengrass' film has been made with skill and treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to the aggrandizement of which Hollywood has sometimes been accused. Especially effective is the cast of mostly unknown actors, who portray the passengers of the doomed flight as ordinary people who respond with bravery to extraordinary circumstances."[20]

The film also has a score of 90 on Metacritic, where the film appears on 39 critics top ten lists, more than any other 2006 film on the site,[21] (although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is the 1969 Army of Shadows).[22][23] The film was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film).[24]

At the website Movie City News, which ranks 250 critics lists and awards point values for list-placement, United 93 ranks as the #1 film of 2006[25][26][27] with a score of 917.5 points.

The film has been cited as a favorite by filmmaker John Waters, who presented it as his annual selection within the 2010 Maryland Film Festival.

Top ten lists

Only two films (The Departed and The Queen) appeared on more top ten lists of the best films of 2006 than United 93, and no film received more #1 mentions:[21]

Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer named it among the top ten best films of 2006.[21]


United 93 received numerous awards and nominations from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, the film received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, at the 79th Academy Awards, and six BAFTA Award nominations, including Best British Film, at the 60th British Academy Film Awards, winning two for Best Director and Best Film Editing.

Home media

United 93 was released to DVD on September 5, 2006, in both widescreen and fullscreen. Also released was a 2-disc Special Limited Edition in widescreen. A Blu-ray Disc version was released on September 6, 2011.[30] A second Blu-ray release from Universal Studios for the film was released on June 5, 2012 as a part of Universal's Universal 100th Anniversary releases. This version included the same Blu-ray Disc (same transfer and same bonus features) found in the first 2011 release in addition to a DVD and digital copy included in the pack with a brand-new sleeve that was not available with the previous release.[31] Both Blu-ray Disc sets for the film are region free.

See also


  1. ^ "UNITED 93 (15)". United International Pictures. British Board of Film Classification. May 11, 2006. Retrieved September 29, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "United 93 (2006)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. July 6, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  3. ^ Barra, Allen. "Historical Film: It's Time to See a Movie We Couldn't Bear to Go To". American Heritage, November/December 2006.
  4. ^ Heath, Iver (January 1, 2006). "Four Years On, a Cabin's-Eye View of 9/11". New York Times.
  5. ^ (March 29, 2006). "September 11 plane drama to open NY film festival". Reuters article.
  6. ^ a b (April 10, 20??). "A Dark Day Revisited". Newsweek.
  7. ^ Boorstin, Julia (January 8, 2006). "MSNBC". Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (April 28, 2006). "The Day They Hijacked America". The Guardian.
  9. ^ United 93 Blu-ray director's commentary.
  10. ^ "MPAA Film Ratings". Retrieved June 10, 2013. [dead link]
  11. ^ Lim, Dennis (April 18, 2006). "A Flight to Remember". The Village Voice.
  12. ^ Waxman, Sharon (April 4, 2006). "Universal Will Not Pull United 93 Trailer, Despite Criticism". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ (April 21, 2006). "9/11 film actor refused visa for US premiere". The Times.
  14. ^ Judd, Terri (April 22, 2006). "America bars Iraqi immigrant who played hijacker in September 11 film". The Independent on Sunday.
  15. ^ United Flight 93 Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript. "Some point to the comment made at 9:45:25 to indicate doubt that both pilots were dead." Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  16. ^ United Flight 93 Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript. "There are several unattributed groans recorded at 9:58, before the passenger assault on the cockpit apparently began." Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  17. ^ "The 9/11 Commission Report", page 13, paragraph 2. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  18. ^ a b "United 93 actor defends portrayal".
  19. ^ Ebert, Robert (April 27, 2006). "United 93 Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert Digital, LLC. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  20. ^ "United 93 (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  21. ^ a b c "2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Best Reviewed Film of 2006". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Best of 2006: CriticsTop10". December 29, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 23, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  26. ^ "2006 Overall Critics Choice Results Discussion". The Hot Button. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  27. ^ "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. January 6, 2007. Archived from the original on January 27, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  28. ^ "United 93 Awards and Nominations". IMDb. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  29. ^ "The Awards Scoreboard". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 22, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  30. ^ "United 93 Blu-ray Announced and Detailed". High-Def Digest. Internet Brands, Inc. May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  31. ^ "United 93 Universal 100th Anniversary edition". Retrieved October 11, 2014. 

Further reading

  • Greengrass, Paul (2006). United 93: The Shooting Script. Newmarket Shooting Script. New York: Newmarket Press. ISBN 978-1557047526. 

External links

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