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United 93 is a 2006 film written, co-produced, and directed by Paul Greengrass that chronicles events aboard United Airlines Flight 93marker, which was hijacked during the September 11, 2001 attacks. 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 Statesmarker as an iconic moment of heroism. According to the filmmakers, the film was made with the full cooperation of all the families of the passengers.

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

The film opened nationwide in North America on April 28, 2006. 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. United 93 grossed $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.2 million worldwide.


The film opens early on the morning of September 11, 2001 with hijackers Ahmed al-Nami and al-Haznawi praying in their hotel room, United 93's skyjacking ringleader Ziad Jarrah reading the Quran, and Saeed al-Ghamdi shaving, then leaving for Newark International Airportmarker. At the airport, the passengers and crew board United Airlines Flight 93marker along with the hijackers. Shortly after boarding, Flight 93 is delayed for 30 minutes because of the high volume of traffic. The other three hijacked flights take off.

Flight 93 passes by Manhattanmarker. The pilot, Captain Dahl, makes a left bank and tells the forty-five passengers that those on the left side of the Boeing 757 have a clear view of Manhattan, especially of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Hijacker Ziad Jarrah, who is sitting in seat 1B, catches a final glimpse of the World Trade Centermarker as the plane climbs away.

Air traffic controllers monitoring all current flights notice that American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767, has taken a southern turn toward New York Citymarker. Shortly after, Flight 11 descends into Lower Manhattan and crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Centermarker, though air traffic controllers are not aware of it. About 20 minutes earlier, a tape recording was made of Mohamed Atta's line "We have some planes, just stay quiet and you'll be okay. We are going back to the airport." The controllers express uncertainty as to which airport is being referred to. The content of the recording is reported to FAA National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney. CNN then internationally telecasts the first shot of the smoking World Trade Center. While the air traffic controllers, unaware that Flight 11 has crashed, try to make sense of it, United Airlines Flight 175 begins to descend and turn toward New York City as well. Air traffic controllers then realize they are dealing with a hijacking. American Airlines Flight 77 is also hijacked. The traffic controllers alert the U.S. Air Force, who debate whether or not to shoot down all suspected hijacked flights. The air traffic controllers and Air Force then watch as Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower of the WTC on live television, reported by CNN.

Soon military personnel say that AA11 had not hit the North Tower, but was diverted to Dulles Airportmarker.

Word of the planes that hit the World Trade Centermarker reaches Flight 93, and the terrorists then decide to begin the hijacking. After Ahmed al-Haznawi assembles a fake bomb out of clay and plastic, the other three hijackers wrestle their way into the cockpit and overpower the pilots. In the cockpit they put a photo of the U.S.marker Capitolmarker, their target, on the flight yoke mounted clipboard. By this time, Flight 77 has crashed and created a huge fireball at the Pentagonmarker. The Mall in D.C. is also reported to have been struck by another jet airliner.

Soon, those at the air traffic control tower in Clevelandmarker suggest that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has also been hijacked, as Flight 93 heads closer towards the aircraft. Soon afterwards, Flight 1989 is taken off the list, and meanwhile Flight 93 soon turns towards D.C.marker.

To the growing consternation of Ben Sliney and his staff, coordination with the Air Force is haphazard and there are not enough planes ready, or armed, to respond to an in-air hijacking. Sliney ultimately decides to shut down all airspace in the United States and ground every flight.

The hijackers do not prevent the people from making phone calls through the on-board GTE Airfone system. After hearing about the planes crashed into the WTC and the Pentagon, the passengers and crew understand that if they do nothing, they will also die, and eventually elect to storm the cockpit and attempt to retake the plane. The passengers make one last set of phone calls to friends and family, in which they declare their intentions. The remaining crew assemble what makeshift weapons they can: cutlery, wine bottles, a fire extinguisher etc.

Learning that one of the passengers can fly a plane (although he has not flown a commercial aircraft), the group pin their hopes on his being able at least to control the plane. They debate whether the bomb is real or fake before deciding to start their counter-attack by overpowering al-Haznawi. He is killed by the passengers with a fire extinguisher. Having seen this, Ahmed al-Nami warns Jarrah and Saeed al-Ghamdi in the cockpit and makes several attempts to hold off the advancing passengers, including using what appears to be mace. He too is soon overwhelmed and killed by one of the passengers. Passenger Todd Beamer snatches the bomb from al-Haznawi's waist and announces the bomb was a fake.

Ziad Jarrah shakes the plane violently to throw the passengers off balance, but nonetheless they manage to enter the cockpit. As the passengers wrestle with Jarrah for control, the plane goes into an angled nosedive towards the ground. The film ends with a shot of a field seen through the cockpit window, with the screen going dark when the plane hits the ground.


Actor Real Life Role
Christian Clemenson Tom Burnett
Trish Gates Sandra Bradshaw
David Alan Basche Todd Beamer
Cheyenne Jackson Mark Bingham
Opal Alladin CeeCee Lyles
Starla Benford Wanda Anita Green
J.J. Johnson Captain Jason Dahlmarker
Nancy McDoniel Lorraine G. Bay
Polly Adams Deborah Welsh
Richard Bekins William Joseph Cashman
Susan Blommaert Jane Folger
Ray Charleson Joseph DeLuca
Gary Commock First Officer LeRoy Homer
Liza Colón-Zayas Waleska Martinezmarker
Lorna Dallas Linda Gronlund
Denny Dillon Colleen Fraser
Trieste Kelly Dunn Deora Frances Bodley
Kate Jennings Grant Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolasmarker
Peter Hermann Jeremy Glick
Tara Hugo Kristin White Gould
Marceline Hugot Georgine Rose Corrigan
Joe Jamrog John Talignani
Corey Johnson Louis J. Nacke, II
Masato Kamo
Becky London Jean Headley Peterson
Peter Marinker Andrew Garcia
Jodie Lynne McClintock Marion R. Britton
Libby Morris Hilda Marcin

Actor Real Life Role
Tom O'Rourke Donald Peterson
Simon Poland Alan Anthony Beaven
David Rasche Donald Freeman Greene
Erich Redman Christian Adamsmarker
Michael J. Reynolds Patrick Joseph Driscollmarker
John Rothman Edward P.marker Feltmarker
Daniel Sauli Richard Guadagno
Rebecca Schull Patricia Cushing
Chloe Sirene Honor Elizabeth Wainiomarker
Olivia Thirlby Nicole Carol Miller
Chip Zien Mark Rothenberg
Leigh Zimmerman Christine Snyder
Khalid Abdalla Ziad Jarrah
Lewis Alsamari Saeed al-Ghamdi
Omar Berdouni Ahmed al-Haznawi
Jamie Harding Ahmed al-Nami
Thomas Roberts Himself
Michael Bencal Boston 3
Tom Fitzgerald Boston 5
Bard Marques Boston 6
John Moraitis Supervisor
Scott Tourin Boston Controller 5
Amanda Boxer Cleveland Supervisor
Morgan Deare Cleveland Supervisor
Daniel Fraser Cleveland Controller
Ben Sliney Himself
Tobin Miller Himself
Rich Sullivan Himself

Actor Real Life Role
Tony Smith Himself
Michael Bofshever John White
Carol Bento Herndon 1
Robert Serviss Herndon Command Center ATC
Matt Siebert Herndon 2
Peter Wong Herndon 5
James Fox Himself (as Major James Fox)
Shawna Fox Herself (as Staff Sgt. Shawna Fox)
Jeremy Powell Himself (as 1st Lt. Jeremy Powell)
Patrick St. Esprit Kevin Nasypany
Gregg Henry Robert Marr
Karen Kirkpatrick Dawn Doskins
Curt Applegate Himself
Kevin T. Delaney New York Controller
John Kaplun New York Controller
Greg Callahan Himself
John E. Smith New York Controller
Peter Pellicane Paul Thumser
Rick Tepper Himself
Bill Walsh Newark Supervisor
Craig Woythaler Matt Hall (scenes deleted)
Susie Gossling Valerio Herndon Controller (uncredited)
Dennis Karagovalis Flight Crew (uncredited)
Jeff Lipman Neads — Missile Controller (uncredited)
Matthew E. Parr Herndon ATC Operator (uncredited)
Joey Sontz Newark passenger (uncredited)

Production notes

The film was the first Hollywood feature to draw its narrative directly from the September 11 attacks. Passengers were portrayed in the film mostly by professional actors (Tom Burnett, for instance, is played by Christian Clemenson, who has appeared on Boston Legal). 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 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 if a plane has "Squawked 7500."

Filming took place on a 20-year-old reclaimed Boeing 757, formerly operated by MyTravel Airways, at Pinewood Studiosmarker near Londonmarker, Englandmarker from October till 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 U.S. Action was filmed with handheld cameras, chosen for their versatility on the close-quarter sets and to create a sense of immediacy.

The title was changed from Flight 93 to United 93 in March 2006, to differentiate it from the A&E film 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." Universal Pictures appealed this rating, but it was rejected. The film was released in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2006. It opened second in the weekend box office behind RV, but netted a slightly higher per-screen average.

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."

Historical background

United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757-222 flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airportmarker) in Newark, New Jerseymarker, to San Francisco International Airportmarker in San Francisco, Californiamarker. 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 Capitolmarker building in Washington, D.C.marker It was the only one of the four planes that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvaniamarker, about 150 miles northwest of Washington.


The film has been criticized for its portrayal of Germanmarker passenger Christian Adams. Of all passengers on the plane, only Adams is portrayed as counseling appeasement. Sunday Times critic Cosmo Landesman mused, "Surely one of the passengers didn't phone home to point out that there was a cowardly German on board who wanted to give in?" Critic John Harris suggested in a Guardian blog, "there will surely be all kinds of cries about old European surrender monkeys, the United States' contrasting backbone etc." Skating on thin air May 25, 2006, accessed June 11, 2006 The Guardian reports that Silke Adams, Adams's widow, is "believed to have refused to cooperate on the film, saying that the memory of her husband's death was still too raw" and states that "so far there is no evidence to suggest that Christian Adams did not support the other passengers, or refused to storm the cockpit."

After the trailers for the film began circulating in cinemas, there were calls for Universal Pictures to pull them, due to the upset and surprise caused to some audience members. One theatre in Manhattanmarker unilaterally pulled the trailer after audience complaints.

The Iraqimarker-born, London-based actor Lewis Alsamari, who plays a hijacker in the film, was reportedly denied a visa by U.S. immigration authorities when he applied to visit New York City to attend the premiere, despite having already been granted asylum in the United Kingdommarker 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.. Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.

The official Internet forum for the film, previously available on Universal's website, was shut down as of May 3, 2006. No word has yet come from Universal as to why the board was removed from their server; however, it may have been because of flaming.

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 Dahlmarker and LeRoy Homermarker, 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, as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit, 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.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Peter Travers, and James Berardinelli all awarded it with four stars. It was termed 'one of the most moving films of the year' by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, and achieved an average 91% rating from the Web site Rotten Tomatoes, another 90% from Metacritic and a 95% from the Broadcast Film Critics Association. United 93 appeared on 214 critic's Top-10 lists (the third most of any 2006 film), and was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film). At the website Movie City News, which ranks 250 critics lists and awards point values for list-placement, United 93 ranks as the #1 movie of 2006 with a score of 917.5 points. On Metacritic, the film appears on 39 top ten lists, more than any other 2006 film on the site, although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is Army of Shadows.

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:

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

Awards and nominations

United 93 received numerous awards and nominations from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, the film received 2 Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, at the 79th Academy Awards and 6 BAFTA nominations, including Best British Film, at the 60th British Academy Film Awards winning two for Best Director and Best Film Editing.


2-Disc limited edition
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.The 1-disc editions included the following:

  • Feature Commentary with Director Paul Greengrass
  • United 93: The Families and the Film (videos of each family meeting the actor who plays their lost loved one)
  • Memorial Pages

The 2-disc edition included the above special features plus the following:

  • Featurette: Chasing Planes-Witnesses to 9/11.

The 1-disc editions are still being produced and shipped into stores, but the special limited edition is now only available online.

See also


  1. Four Years On, a Cabin's-Eye View of 9/11 January 1, 2006 New York Times article
  2. September 11 plane drama to open NY film festival March 29, 2006 Reuters article
  3. A Dark Day Revisited April 10, Newsweek
  4. msnbc
  5. Box Office mojo - United 93
  6. The Day They Hijacked America April 28 2006 The Guardian
  7. MPAA Film Ratings
  8. A Flight to Remember April 18, 2006 The Village Voice
  9. "A terrifying flight back in time" June 04, 2006 The Times
  10. United 93 'surrender monkey' defends role in film The Guardian (June 7, 2006)
  11. Universal Will Not Pull 'United 93' Trailer, Despite Criticism April 4, 2006, New York Times
  12. 9/11 film actor refused visa for US premiere April 21, 2006 The Times
  13. America bars Iraqi immigrant who played hijacker in September 11 film April 22 2006 The Independent On Sunday
  14. Former Site of United 93 Universal Pictures Message Board
  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. Accessed 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. Accessed December 10, 2006
  17. The 9/11 Commission Report, Page 13, paragraph 2. Accessed December 10, 2006
  18. Best of 2006 « CriticsTop10
  19. 2006 Overall Critic's Top 20 - Movie City News
  20. 2006 Overall Critics Choice Results Discussion - The Hot Button
  21. 2006 Overall Critics Choice Chart - Movie City News
  22. Best Reviewed Film of 2006 - Metacritic
  24. United 93 Awards and Nominations at IMDB
  25. United 93 Awards and Nominations at Movie City News

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