United 93 (film)

2006 film by Paul Greengrass

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United 93
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Greengrass
Screenplay byPaul Greengrass
Based on9/11 Commission Report
by the 9/11 Commission
Produced byPaul Greengrass
Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Lloyd Levin
StarringChristian Clemenson
Cheyenne Jackson
David Alan Basche
Peter Hermann
Khalid Abdalla
CinematographyBarry Ackroyd
Edited byClare Douglas
Richard Pearson
Christopher Rouse
Music byJohn Powell
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]
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Arabic (diegetic)
Budget$15 million[2]
Box office$76.3 million[2]

United 93 is a 2006 docudrama thriller film written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The film chronicles the events aboard United Airlines Flight 93,[3] one of the four hijacked flights during the September 11 attacks and the only one not to hit its intended target due to the intervention of passengers and crew.

The film attempts to recount the hijacking and subsequent events in the flight 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). The film was made with the cooperation of many of the passengers' families,[4] though not all agreed to participate.[5]

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.[6] 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's victims.[7] The total gross intake of United 93 was $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide.[2][8] The film also received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Greengrass.


On the morning of September 11, 2001, four al-Qaeda members, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Nami and Ahmed al-Haznawi pray in a Newark, New Jersey hotel, and after Jarrah makes a final phone call to his girlfriend, board United Airlines Flight 93, piloted by Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr., at Newark International Airport. Among the passengers are Tom Burnett, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Richard Guadagno, Louis J. Nacke II, Lauren Grandcolas and Mark Bingham who is the last passenger to board, barely making the flight. United 93 becomes delayed due to airport traffic. Air traffic controllers lose contact with American Airlines Flight 11 which diverts toward New York City and realise it has been hijacked after hearing suspicious transmissions. Shortly after United 93 takes off after its slight delay, Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and United Airlines Flight 175 is also hijacked and heads toward New York City. Air traffic controllers learn that American Airlines Flight 77 has also been hijacked and watch in horror as United 175 crashes into the South Tower.

As the passengers are served breakfast on United 93, Jarrah hesitates to start the hijacking. Via an ACARS message, Dahl and Homer are notified of the WTC attacks and to beware cockpit intrusion. After Nami unsuccessfully urges Jarrah to attack, an impatient Haznawi prepares an artificial bomb in the lavatory. Ghamdi grabs flight attendant Deborah Welsh at knife point and passenger Mark Rothenberg is mortally wounded by Haznawi. As Haznawi and Nami force the passengers to the back of the plane, Ghamdi kills both pilots, despite sending out a mayday call, and Welsh, as Jarrah begins piloting the aircraft, and redirects it towards Washington, D.C., with the intention to crash it into the United States Capitol. Grandcolas (an emergency medical technician) tries to help the dying Rothenberg but Nami berates her. The hijackers jubilantly react to the success of the WTC attack. While flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and CeeCee Lyles unsuccessfully attempt to revive Rothenberg, Bradshaw sees the hijackers moving the bodies of the pilots and Welsh and the passengers overhear this.

After Flight 77 crashes into The Pentagon, FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney decides to shut down all U.S. air space and ground all flights. Passengers on United 93 learn of the other attacks from family members via airphone. Realising the hijackers have no intention of landing, Burnett, Bingham, Beamer, Glick (a former judo champion), Guadagno and Nacke form a plan to retake the plane, with assistance from flight staff, arming themselves with weapons, and learn passenger Donald Greene is a licensed pilot and passenger Andrew Garcia is a former air traffic controller. As the group gather, Haznawi and Nami anxiously realise they are losing control and Jarrah and Ghamdi become agitated, as they are twenty minutes away from D.C. and are unable to speed up to reach their target. Passenger Christian Adams, attempting to counsel appeasement, is restrained by some of the passengers, while other passengers pray and make final calls to loved ones.

After Beamer urges the group to take action, the passengers charge a stunned Haznawi, tackle him and beat him. As Nami, Ghamdi and Jarrah panic, Bingham defeats Haznawi by bashing his skull in with a fire extinguisher and Nacke declares the bomb a fake. As Grandcolas, passengers William Cashman, Patrick Driscoll and Alan Beaven join the assault, Jarrah violently rocks the plane to disrupt the assault and Nami tries to hold them off with a serving cart, Mace and his own fire extinguisher. He too is subdued, and Glick gouges his eyes out before snapping his neck. As the group move Greene and Garcia though first-class, the passengers reach the cockpit door. Jarrah and Ghamdi are disheartened by the realisation that they will never reach their target, and debate on whether to crash the plane rather than cede control. The passengers breach the cockpit with the cart just as Jarrah puts the plane into a steep dive, reciting the takbir. Ghamdi tries to protect Jarrah, but the passengers overpower him and wrestle Jarrah for control. The aircraft inverts and crashes into a Shanksville field, killing everyone aboard.

The film ends with a series of title cards explaining that of the four airliners hijacked on September 11, 2001, United 93 was the only one that did not reach its intended target. This is followed by a dedication to all who lost their lives in the attacks.


Throughout the film, Ben Sliney portrays himself.


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). Additionally, several participants in the real-life events portray themselves in the film, including Thomas Roberts, Tobin Miller, Rich Sullivan, Tony Smith, James Fox, Shawna Fox, Jeremy Powell, Curt Applegate, Greg Callahan, Rick Tepper, and notably FAA operations manager Ben Sliney. Sliney was initially involved in the film in an advisory role. He was then cast in a small role as an air traffic controller. Later, Greengrass offered him the opportunity to play himself, which he accepted.[9] The roles of one of the flight attendants, the two pilots, and many other airline personnel were filled by actual airline employees.[10]

During production, the actors playing the crew and the passengers of the flight were put in separate hotels from the actors portraying the hijackers and ate their meals separately, ostensibly to create an air of antagonism in the film between the two groups. The set itself was built so that it moved the way the actual flight did. During the filming, many of the actors actually got injured, and the blood visible on their faces during the revolt scene is authentic.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

During the scene where Nami is killed by the passengers in the revolt, he is shown crying. Finishing the very first take, Jamie Harding, who plays Nami, became overwhelmed that he was sobbing. In this scene, the sobbing Nami makes as Glick holds him around the head and throat and twists, breaking his neck, is authentic and not acted.[15]

The film was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence".[16] The film was released in the United States 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".[17]

There were calls for Universal to pull the film's trailers from circulation in cinemas, due to some audience members feeling startled or upset by the film's subject matter.[18] The studio did not heed that call, although one theatre in Manhattan voluntarily pulled the trailer after audience complaints.[7]

The Iraqi-born, London-based actor Lewis Alsamari, who plays 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.[19] Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.[20]

Historical accuracy

Of the four aircraft hijacked on September 11, United Airlines Flight 93 was the only aircraft that did not reach its hijackers' intended target.

The timing of the events is changed for dramatic effect, with Jarrah making his final call to his girlfriend from the airport, whereas he did it from his hotel room, and Mohamed Atta's transmission being determined before Flight 11 crashed into the WTC; it actually happened after.[21] In a interview, Ben Sliney said that Greengrass exaggerated other details for dramatic effect, such as him and various controllers swearing and shouting when in his recollection most people spoke quietly.[22]

The film suggests explanations for why the hijackers waited 46 minutes after takeoff to start the hijacking, portraying Jarrah as hesitant and doubtful, to the dismay of his fellow hijackers. The hijackers' intended target is unknown, but the film follows a common assumption that it was the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.[23]

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 immediately during the hijacking. This was based on documentary evidence from the 9/11 Commission Report which indicates that at least one passenger reported in a cell phone call seeing two people, possibly the pilots, lying dead or injured on the floor outside the cockpit after the hijacking.[24] Though Dahl is shown sending out the mayday call, Melody Homer claimed to recognise her husband as the voice of the mayday hailer.[25][26][27] Due to the then forthcoming Zacarias Moussaoui trial, Jason Dahl's wife Sandy Dahl was unable to tell the film's director, Paul Greengrass, what she believed really happened regarding her husband.[28][29] Some statements made by the terrorists in the cockpit voice recorder transcript,[30] as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit,[31] raised doubts that both pilots were dead before the plane crashed. Both Sandy Dahl and Melody Homer criticized the film for not focusing on the flight crew’s actions and ignoring their beliefs their husbands tried to interfere with the autopilot.[32]

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[33] and struggled with the hijackers for control of the yoke.[34][35]

Portrayal of Christian Adams

The film has been criticized for its portrayal of German passenger Christian Adams, who is portrayed as counseling appeasement, to the point the passengers restrain him when he tries to warn the hijackers, despite the absence of any evidence that he did so. It was also reported that Adams's widow did not cooperate with the filmmakers due to the emotional pain.[5] 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?"[36] 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."[37][38] 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".[38]


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 full marks on their rating scales, with Ebert calling the film "masterful and heartbreaking" and saying that it "does honor to the memory of the victims".[39] 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 212 reviews, and an average rating of 8.2/10, with the consensus: "Potent and sobering, United 93 treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to Hollywood aggrandizement."[40] Calling it "gut-wrenching and surprisingly probative," The A.V. Club includes it on a list of "Great Films Too Painful To Watch Twice."[41]

The film has a score of 90 on Metacritic,[42] where it appears on 39 critics' top 10 lists, more than any other 2006 film on the site,[43] (although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is the re-released 1969 film Army of Shadows).[44][45] The film was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film).[46]

At the website Movie City News, which ranks 250 critics' lists and awards points for list-placement, United 93 ranks as the number one film of 2006[47][48][49] 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 at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival.[50]

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:[43]

Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer named it among the top ten best films of 2006.[43]


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 full screen. Also released was a 2-disc Special Limited Edition in widescreen. A Blu-ray Disc version was released on September 6, 2011.[53] 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.[54] 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 11, 2021.
  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"[permanent dead link]. 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. ^ a b Brooks, Xan (June 7, 2006). "United 93 'surrender monkey' defends role in film". The Guardian.
  6. ^ (March 29, 2006). "September 11 plane drama to open NY film festival"[permanent dead link]. Reuters article.
  7. ^ a b Smith, Sean (April 9, 2006). "A Dark Day Revisited". Newsweek. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  8. ^ Boorstin, Julia (January 8, 2006). "MSNBC". NBC News. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  9. ^ Germain, David. (2006, April 29). FAA official plays self in ‘United 93’ Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2006/apr/29/faa-official-plays-self-in-united-93/?amp-content=amp
  10. ^ "Let's Roll! Inside the Making of United 93". Time. April 9, 2006.
  11. ^ Nancy Grace (April 28, 2006). "Families of 9/11 Victims Praise 'United 93'". transcripts.cnn.com. Retrieved June 21, 2021.
  12. ^ "Flight Deck Solutions". Archived from the original on May 21, 2006. Retrieved May 21, 2006.
  13. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (April 28, 2006). "The Day They Hijacked America". The Guardian.
  14. ^ "Director's commentary". United 93 (Blu-ray ed.).
  15. ^ "United 93". The Times. May 21, 2006. Archived from the original on June 3, 2021. Its part of the most traumatic series of events in American history. So how do you make a film about 9/11s United 93 and keep it real, asks John-Paul Flintoff
  16. ^ "MPAA Film Ratings". MPAA.org. Archived from the original on May 18, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  17. ^ Lim, Dennis (April 18, 2006). "A Flight to Remember" Archived April 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. The Village Voice.
  18. ^ Waxman, Sharon (April 4, 2006). "Universal Will Not Pull United 93 Trailer, Despite Criticism". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  19. ^ (April 21, 2006). "9/11 film actor refused visa for US premiere". The Times.
  20. ^ Judd, Terri (April 22, 2006). "America bars Iraqi immigrant who played hijacker in September 11 film" Archived September 25, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. The Independent on Sunday.
  21. ^ Prince, Stephen (2009). Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231520089.page 110
  22. ^ King, Susan (April 24, 2006). "Tragic day, harrowing job". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 1, 2022.
  23. ^ CNN.com - Flight 93 hijacker: "Shall we finish it off?"
  24. ^ The 9/11 Commission Report Archived December 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, page 13, paragraph 2. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  25. ^ "'I'm thinking about it all the time,' says Canadian wife of Flight 93 pilot". The Star. August 29, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  26. ^ "United Flight 93 co-pilot's wife says crew wasn't passive". Skift. February 24, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  27. ^ Mitchell, John N. "Wife remembers pilot, who died in Flight 93". The Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  28. ^ "United pilot's widow defends crew's role in 9/11 / Former flight attendant has been waiting 4 1/2 years to tell of Flight 93's final minutes". Sfgate.com. April 13, 2006. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  29. ^ Gonzales, Manny (May 8, 2016). "Flight 93 tape: Horror, heroics". The Denver Post.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (May 27, 2006). "For ONE moment it was possible to dream that the ending would be different' ...'". The Guardian.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ "Wives of Passengers on Flight 93". ABC News. September 18, 2001. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  36. ^ "A terrifying flight back in time" June 04, 2006 The Times
  37. ^ Skating on thin air May 25, 2006 http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk, accessed June 11, 2006
  38. ^ a b "United 93 actor defends portrayal". BBC.co.uk.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ "United 93". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 5, 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  41. ^ "Not Again: 24 Great Films Too Painful to Watch Twice". The A.V. Club. September 28, 2007.
  42. ^ "United 93". Metacritic.
  43. ^ a b c "2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
  44. ^ "Best Reviewed Film of 2006". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  45. ^ http://www.avmaroc.com/videos/united+airlines-cLiPUfHP1_DIie0.html[permanent dead link]
  46. ^ "Best of 2006: CriticsTop10". CriticsTop10.com. December 29, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  47. ^ "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 23, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  48. ^ "2006 Overall Critics Choice Results Discussion". The Hot Button. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  49. ^ "The 2006 Top Tens". Movie City News. January 6, 2007. Archived from the original on January 27, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  50. ^ Kaltenbach, Chris (May 7, 2010). "Maryland Film Festival: John Waters and 'United 93'". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  51. ^ "United 93 Awards and Nominations". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  52. ^ "The Awards Scoreboard". Movie City News. Archived from the original on January 22, 2007. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  53. ^ "United 93 Blu-ray Announced and Detailed". High-Def Digest. Internet Brands, Inc. May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  54. ^ "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.

External links

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