United 93 (film)

United 93 is a 2006 biographical drama-thriller 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] The majority of the film is presented in real time.

United 93
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Greengrass
Produced byPaul Greengrass
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Lloyd Levin
Screenplay byPaul Greengrass
Based on9/11 Commission Report
by the 9/11 Commission
StarringChristian Clemenson
Cheyenne Jackson
David Alan Basche
Peter Hermann
Daniel Sauli
Trish Gates
Corey Johnson
Richard Bekins
Michael J. Reynolds
Khalid Abdalla
Music byJohn Powell
CinematographyBarry Ackroyd
Edited byClare Douglas
Richard Pearson
Christopher Rouse
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
(United States)
United International Pictures (United Kingdom)
Mars Distribution (France)
Release date
  • April 28, 2006 (2006-04-28)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$15 million[2]
Box office$76.3 million[2]

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 critical acclaim. Ten percent of the gross income from the three-day opening weekend was promised toward a donation to create a memorial for the Flight 93 victims.[6] The total gross intake of United 93 was $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide.[2][7] The film also received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Greengrass.


On the morning of September 11, 2001, passengers board United Airlines Flight 93 bound for San Francisco at Newark Liberty International Airport. Among them are Tom Burnett, Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Richard Guadagno, Louis J. Nacke II, William Joseph Cashman, and Patrick Joseph Driscoll. Four al-Qaeda terrorists (Ziad Jarrah, Saeed al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Nami, and Ahmed al-Haznawi) also board the flight.

Meanwhile, newly-appointed FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney is in a meeting when it is reported that American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles has been hijacked after Mohamed Atta is overheard on the radio saying "We have some planes". Soon thereafter it crashes into the World Trade Center's North Tower. To Sliney and his staff's horror, they learn that a second flight, United Airlines Flight 175 also from Boston to Los Angeles, has been hijacked, and after New York's air traffic controllers attempt to contact the aircraft, it is seen on live TV plowing into the World Trade Center's South Tower. Sliney and his staff realize they are dealing with several hijackings and order the military to be on the lookout for American Airlines Flight 77, which is reported missing and presumed to have also been hijacked.

On United 93, a hesitant Jarrah appears to have second thoughts of commencing the hijacking. Impatient, the other three hijackers prepare to attack. Al-Haznawi assembles a fake bomb out of clay and plastic during breakfast, then al-Ghamdi makes the first move and grabs flight purser Debbie Welsh and holds her at knifepoint. Passenger Mark Rothenberg is mortally wounded and the "bomb" is revealed, panicking the passengers, al-Nami and al-Haznawi force the first-class passengers to the back of the plane. Meanwhile, Jarrah and al-Ghamdi threaten Welsh and wrestle their way into the cockpit. The pilots send out a mayday call but are killed and dragged from the cockpit. Welsh is also killed. Jarrah takes the plane's controls and changes its course, intending to crash the plane into the US Capitol.

Sliney, still debating on what to do about the unfolding situation, is shocked when American 77 crashes into the Pentagon, and he orders the closure of US airspace and the grounding of all commercial flights until further notice.

Aboard United 93, the passengers become aware of the dead bodies of the crew-members, and learn from family members via airphone of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; they decide to take action, organizing a revolt against the hijackers. They are encouraged by knowing that passenger Don Greene is a pilot himself and passenger Andrew Garcia is a former air traffic controller.

After passengers arm themselves, pray, and make final phone calls to loved ones, Todd Beamer says "Let's roll!" The group begin their counterattack, rushing down the aisle and overpowering Ahmed al-Haznawi; Mark Bingham beats al-Haznawi to death with a fire extinguisher. With al-Haznawi's "bomb" being revealed by Louis Nacke as fake, the rebellion is emboldened, and the group heads for the cockpit. Seeing this, al-Nami alerts Jarrah and al-Ghamdi in the cockpit of the ongoing assault. Jarrah shakes the plane violently to throw the passengers off balance, while al-Nami attempts to foil them with a food cart and a fire extinguisher from the galley, but al-Nami is also overpowered and killed by Jeremy Glick. Seeing the passengers succeeding, al-Ghamdi and Jarrah debate whether to crash the plane, realizing that their plan to reach their intended target will not succeed. The passengers then breach the cockpit door with the food cart, and al-Ghamdi orders Jarrah to crash the plane. The passengers enter the cockpit and attack the two hijackers over the controls. As the passengers and hijackers struggle for control of the yoke, the plane violently turns upside down and nosedives toward the ground, crashing into an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board but preventing the terrorists from reaching their intended target.


Additionally, several people portray themselves in the film, including Thomas Roberts, Ben Sliney, Tobin Miller, Rich Sullivan, Tony Smith, James Fox, Shawna Fox, Jeremy Powell, Curt Applegate, Greg Callahan, and Rick Tepper.


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 played 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 the relatives of those they portrayed. Almost none of the passengers in the film are referred to by their names. Their identities remain anonymous, emphasizing the co-operation between the passengers rather than any individual heroics (as well as recognizing the fact that strangers on an airplane would not know each other's names). Much of the dialogue aims for technical authenticity as opposed to relying on theatrical embellishments, such as discussion 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, even eating 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

The title was changed from Flight 93 to United 93 in March 2006 to differentiate it from the A&E TV movie Flight 93. 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."[11] 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".[12]

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.[13] Universal did not heed that call, although one theatre in Manhattan pulled the trailer after audience complaints.[6]

The Iraqi-born, London-based actor Lewis Alsamari, who plays hijacker Saeed al-Ghamdi, 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.[14] Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.[15]

Historical accuracy

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 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 failed to 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, a 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 contradict the filmmakers' choices in terms of some dialogue and specific aspects of the event. For example, the pilots, Jason Dahl and LeRoy Homer Jr., are shown in the film being killed by the terrorists immediately during the hijacking. Some statements made by the terrorists in the cockpit voice recorder transcript,[16] as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit,[17] 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.[18]

Marion R. Britton is seen handing her mobile to fellow passenger Honor Elizabeth Waino so she can call her mother. It was actually Lauren Grandcolas that handed Honor Elizabeth Waino her phone.[19]

There is some controversy between some of the family members of the passengers and the investigative officials as to whether the passengers managed to breach the cockpit before the plane crashed. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that "the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them". However, many of the passengers' family members, having heard the audio recordings, believe that the passengers did breach the cockpit[20] and struggled with the hijackers for control of the yoke (which the movie depicts).[21][22]

Portrayal of Christian Adams

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 emotionally painful.[23] Erich Redman, who portrayed Adams in the film, has stated 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."[23]


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."[24] Travers termed it "one of the most moving films of the year", in Rolling Stone. The film holds a 90% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 203 reviews, with the consensus: "Potent and sobering, United 93 treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to Hollywood aggrandizement."[25]

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,[26] (although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is the re-released 1969 film Army of Shadows).[27][28] The film was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film).[29]

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[30][31][32] 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:[26]

Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer named it among the top ten best films of 2006.[26]


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.[35] 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.[36] 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. "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. (April 10, 20??). "A Dark Day Revisited". Newsweek.
  7. Boorstin, Julia (January 8, 2006). "MSNBC". NBC News. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 21, 2006. Retrieved May 21, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Burkeman, Oliver (April 28, 2006). "The Day They Hijacked America". The Guardian.
  10. "Director's commentary". United 93 (Blu-ray ed.).
  11. "MPAA Film Ratings". MPAA.org. Archived from the original on May 18, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  12. Lim, Dennis (April 18, 2006). "A Flight to Remember" Archived April 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. The Village Voice.
  13. 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.
  14. (April 21, 2006). "9/11 film actor refused visa for US premiere". The Times.
  15. Judd, Terri (April 22, 2006). "America bars Iraqi immigrant who played hijacker in September 11 film". The Independent on Sunday.
  16. United Flight 93 Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript Archived September 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. "Some point to the comment made at 9:45:25 to indicate doubt that both pilots were dead." Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  17. United Flight 93 Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript Archived September 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. "There are several unattributed groans recorded at 9:58, before the passenger assault on the cockpit apparently began." Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  18. The 9/11 Commission Report Archived December 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, page 13, paragraph 2. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  19. Pauley, Jane (September 11, 2006). "No greater love". NBC News. Retrieved August 24, 2008.
  20. "Families of Passengers Question Theory That Hijackers Crashed Flight 93". Foxnews.com. Associated Press. August 8, 2003. Archived from the original on July 4, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2008.
  21. Emanuel, Mike; Liza Porteus (April 13, 2006). "Flight 93 Hijacker: 'We Have a Bomb on Board'". Fox News. The Associated Press. Archived from the original on October 15, 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  22. "Wives of Passengers on Flight 93". ABC News. September 18, 2001. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  23. "United 93 actor defends portrayal". BBC.co.uk.
  24. Ebert, Roger (April 27, 2006). "United 93 Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert Digital, LLC. Archived from the original on June 25, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
  25. "United 93 (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  26. "2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
  27. "Best Reviewed Film of 2006". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  28. http://www.avmaroc.com/videos/united+airlines-cLiPUfHP1_DIie0.html%5B%5D
  29. "Best of 2006: CriticsTop10". CriticsTop10.com. December 29, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  30. "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 23, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  31. "2006 Overall Critics Choice Results Discussion". The Hot Button. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  32. "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. January 6, 2007. Archived from the original on January 27, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  33. "United 93 Awards and Nominations". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  34. "The Awards Scoreboard". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 22, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  35. "United 93 Blu-ray Announced and Detailed". High-Def Digest. Internet Brands, Inc. May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  36. "United 93 Universal 100th Anniversary edition". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved October 11, 2014.

Further reading

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