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United 93 (film)

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Title: United 93 (film)  
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Subject: 60th British Academy Film Awards, Christopher Rouse (editor), 12th Empire Awards, Online Film Critics Society Awards 2006, United Airlines Flight 93
Collection: 2000S Drama Films, 2006 Films, American Aviation Films, American Disaster Films, American Drama Films, American Films, Best British Film Empire Award Winners, British Aviation Films, British Drama Films, British Films, Docudramas, English-Language Films, Films About Aviation Accidents or Incidents, Films Based on Actual Events, Films Based on the September 11 Attacks, Films Directed by Paul Greengrass, Films Produced by Eric Fellner, Films Produced by Tim Bevan, Films Set on Airplanes, Films Shot in Morocco, Films Shot in New Jersey, Films Whose Director Won the Best Direction Bafta Award, French Drama Films, French Films, Pinewood Studios Films, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment Films, Studiocanal Films, United Airlines Flight 93, Universal Pictures Films, Working Title Films Films
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United 93 (film)

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 filmmaking 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 Flight 93 victims.[6] United 93 grossed $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide.[2][7]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Historical background 4
  • Reception 5
    • Critical response 5.1
    • Top 10 lists 5.2
    • Accolades 5.3
  • Home media 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


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 arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport. The quartet wait at a gate after getting through security to board San Francisco-bound United 93. 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 having been 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 ("WTC"), 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 crashes into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., witnessed by the control tower staff at Newark Liberty 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 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 flight attendant Debbie Welsh at knifepoint 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 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 the pilots are dead and learning via air phones the WTC and Pentagon have been struck. After devising 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 in Pennsylvania and the scene fades out, implying everyone onboard 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. Some participants in the real-life events play themselves, 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 relatives 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 portraying the fact that strangers on an airplane would not know one each other's names). Much of the dialogue uses technical authenticity rather than theatrical embellishments, such as talk about whether a plane has "Squawked 7500."

During production, the actors playing the flight's crew and passengers were lodged in separate hotels from the actors portraying the hijackers, and even ate their meals separately, ostensibly to create an air of antagonism in the film between the two groups.

Filming took place from October until December 2005, on a 20-year-old reclaimed Boeing 757 formerly operated by MyTravel Airways, at Pinewood Studios near London. 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-quarters 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. Additionally, 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 movie Flight 93 (2006). 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' appeal of this rating was rejected. The film was released in the United States cinemas on April 28, 2006 and 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] Universal did not heed that call, although 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 that 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 of all four hijacked that did not reach its intended target; instead, it crashed 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. Some parts may contradict the filmmaker's choices 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 cockpit voice recorder transcript,[15] as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit,[16] raised doubts that both pilots were dead before the plane crashed; however, other documentary evidence from the 9/11 Commission Report indicates 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' 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. James Berardinelli, Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, and Peter Travers 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] Travers termed it "one of the most moving films of the year", in Rolling Stone.

The film 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 10 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 10 lists

Only two films (The Departed and The Queen) appeared on more top 10 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. ^ (15)"UNITED 93".  
  2. ^ a b c d (2006)"United 93". 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. ^ "Director's commentary". United 93 (Blu-ray ed.). 
  10. ^ "MPAA Film Ratings". Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ Lim, Dennis (April 18, 2006). "A Flight to Remember". The Village Voice.
  12. ^ Waxman, Sharon (April 4, 2006). Trailer, Despite Criticism"United 93"Universal Will Not Pull . 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 actor defends portrayal"United 93".
  19. ^ Ebert, Robert (April 27, 2006). Review"United 93". Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert Digital, LLC. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  20. ^ (2006)"United 93". 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. ^ Awards and Nominations"United 93". 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. ^ Blu-ray Announced and Detailed"United 93". High-Def Digest. Internet Brands, Inc. May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  31. ^ Universal 100th Anniversary edition"United 93". Retrieved October 11, 2014. 

Further reading

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

External links

  • Official website
  • United 93 at the Internet Movie Database
  • United 93 at Rotten Tomatoes
  • United 93 at Metacritic
  • United 93 at Box Office Mojo
  • United 93 at ReelFaces
  • United 93 at the Wayback Machine (archived January 10, 2006)
  • : Researching and Honoring a Catastrophe: Part IUnited 93Investigating by Uri Lessing
  • : Researching and Honoring a Catastrophe: Part IIUnited 93Investigating by Uri Lessing
  • Interview with Andrew Bernstein
  • United 93German 9/11 Victim Defamed in – review focusing on the stereotyping and politics
  • filmsUnited 93Hijacking the Hijacking, the problem with the by Ron Rosenbaum, on
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