United 93 (2006)

Cinema’s first full-length response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was this documentary-style thriller by Britain’s Paul Greengrass.

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Alternative titles

  • Flight 93 Working
  • Vol 93 Alternative


“Greengrass’s movie is tightly wrapped, unrelenting, and, no matter how exciting, superbly precise.”
David Denby, The New Yorker, 2006

With fact-based TV work – including The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999) – and one politicised blockbuster – The Bourne Supremacy (2004) – to his name, Paul Greengrass had already shown an aptitude for the conscientious thriller. In United 93, which speculates about events on board the one hijacked plane that failed to reach its target on 9/11, he crafted a film so absorbing that audiences could be excused for forgetting that they already knew the ending.

Shot on a real Boeing 757 at Pinewood Studios and playing out largely in real time, the film aims for a Battle of Algiers-style muddying of the lines between documentary and drama. Real airline staff were cast in some roles, unknown actors as the passengers and hijackers, while selected ground crew played themselves.

Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday (2001) is a similarly documentary-style recreation of another famous atrocity. Oliver Stone tackled the 9/11 attacks in World Trade Center (2006).

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