Cast & Crew
At dawn on September 11, 2001, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmed al Naimi and Ahmed al Haznawi read the Koran and pray in a New Jersey hotel room. Haznawi tells Jarrah, in Arabic, "It's time," and the four men get dressed, slipping knives and box cutters into their pockets before embracing one another. They go to the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where they check in for United Flight 93 and go through security. As the men take separate seats in the departure lounge, the airline's crew members get the plane ready for the nonstop flight to San Francisco. Meanwhile, at the Federal Aviation Administration's command center in Herndon, VA, Ben Sliney reports to work as the new national operations manager and greets his team. At the FAA's air traffic control center in Boston, controllers are concerned because American Airlines Flight 11, en route to Los Angeles, is not responding to radio transmissions. When a voice with a foreign accent is heard from the cockpit, the controllers suspect that the plane has been hijacked. Back in Newark, United 93 has boarded but is still on the runway. The pilot announces a delay due to heavy air traffic, and the four Middle-Eastern men, who are seated throughout the first-class cabin, grow increasingly uneasy. At the FAA command center, Sliney receives word that a flight attendant on Flight 11 called American Airlines and reported that the plane was being hijacked and several people had been stabbed. In Boston, the FAA replays the tape of the last transmission from Flight 11, in which a man in the cockpit says, "We have some planes," and determines that more than one plane has been hijacked. United Flight 93 is finally cleared for takeoff, just as the air traffic control center in Ronkonroma, New York, loses radio communication with United Flight 175, which is flying from Boston to Los Angeles. American Flight 11 disappears from radar over New York City, and a few minutes later, air traffic controllers in Newark are shocked to see thick smoke billowing from the north tower of the World Trader Center in lower Manhattan. Initial news reports suggest that a light aircraft has hit the tower, but when Sliney watches the coverage on television news channel CNN, he realizes that the damage is too great to have been caused by a small plane. Meanwhile, United Flight 175, which is now heading toward New York, appears to be on a collision course with another airplane and does not respond to redirection from the frantic air traffic controllers. United 175 begins a rapid descent, and the controllers watch in horror as, live on CNN, the plane crashes through the second tower of the World Trade Center. Sliney gives the order to ground all planes in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. The FAA soon receives word that American Flight 77 is missing, and all further departures are canceled as the air traffic controllers try to figure out what is going on. The Northeast Air Defense command center, which has received information that American Flight 77 is still in the air, asks the government to clarify the rules of engagement, but is not given authority to shoot the plane down. In the United 93 cockpit, the pilots see a message on the computer about planes hitting the World Trade Center. In the cabin, the passengers are eating breakfast when Naimi goes to Jarrah and urges him to take action. Jarrah nervously insists that the others wait for his sign, but Haznawi grows impatient and goes into the restroom with his flight bag. As the other men silently pray in their seats, Haznawi unwraps a large battery and bricks of modeling clay, then assembles what appears to be a bomb and straps it around his waist, zipping his jacket over it. After Haznawi returns to his seat at the rear of the cabin, Ghamdi grabs a flight attendant and holds a knife to her throat. Naimi then stabs a passenger as Haznawi rips off his jacket to reveal the bomb. In the ensuing chaos, Jarrah forces the flight attendant to open the door to the cockpit. Ghamdi stabs the pilot and copilot, and Jarrah takes control of the plane. As the air traffic controllers listen to the screaming and sounds of a struggle coming over the radio, Ghamdi kills the flight attendant and shuts the cockpit door. In the cabin, the terrified passengers are forced to the back of the plane and subdued by Naimi and Haznawi, who brandishes the loose wires from the bomb threateningly. After trying in vain to contact the cockpit, flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw calls United's maintenance department and reports the hijacking. When the hijackers in the cockpit learn that the World Trade Center towers were hit, Ghamdi goes out to share the news with the other two. The passengers begin discreetly using their cellphones and the air phones on the back of the seats to call people on the ground and urge them to contact the authorities. As the flight attendants are tending to the wounded passenger, Sandra sees the hijackers drag the pilots' bodies out of the cockpit. Some passengers overhear her say that the pilots are dead and tell people on the phone. CNN broadcasts a story about a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and the FAA bans all international flights from entering the country. On Flight 93, passengers on the phone with their loved ones learn that two planes have hit the World Trade Center, and that there has been an "explosion" at the Pentagon. The news quickly spreads throughout the cabin, and some of the passengers conclude that the hijacking is a suicide mission. Passenger Todd Beamer tells Sandra to find anything that could be used as a weapon, and she and the other flight attendants gather wine bottles, silverware, hot water and a fire extinguisher. Now aware of their fate, the passengers begin calling home to tell their families they love them. Several of the passengers form a plan to overpower the hijackers and take control of the plane, intending to get a passenger with some flight experience into the cockpit. Armed with the makeshift weapons the flight attendants have distributed, the passengers attack the hijackers, beating Haznawi with a fire extinguisher. The panicked Jarrah begins flying erratically, causing the plane to lurch violently. The passengers persevere, and after overpowering Naimi, they use a beverage cart to ram through the cockpit door. They struggle fiercely with Jarrah but cannot seize the controls quickly enough. The plane crashes to the ground in a field near Pennsylvania.
David Alan Basche
Kate Jennings Grant
Jodie Lynne Mcclintock
Michael J. Reynolds
Major James Fox
Staff Sgt. Shawna Fox
1st Lt. Jeremy Powell
Patrick St. Esprit
John E. Smith
Gina R. Alfano
K. C. Bailey
T. Y. Chennayult
Lt. Col. Stephen Clutter
John A. Coleman
Mei Lai Hippisley Coxe
Sig De Miguel
Mark De Simone
Ruth Di Pasquale
Major James Fox
Robert P. Grayson
The working title of the film was Flight 93. Only the company credits and title appear before the film; all other credits are at the end. The following written epilogue appears before the end credits: "Of the four aircraft hijacked that day, United 93 was the only one that did not reach its target. It crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. No one survived. Military commanders were not notified that United 93 had been hijacked until four minutes after it had crashed. The nearest fighter jets were 100 miles away. At 10:18 a.m., the President authorized the military to engage hijacked aircraft. Fearing an accidental shoot down, military commanders chose not to pass the order to pilots in the air. By 12:06 p.m. every civilian airliner over America had been forced to land. Amidst an unprecedented military mobilization, U.S. airspace was closed until further notice. Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."
Paul Greengrass' onscreen credit reads "Written and directed by." The closing credits give special thanks to a long list of the hijacking victims' family members and acknowledge the Department of Defense, the Royal Air Force's 48th Fighter Wing, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), the 102nd Fighter Wing in Massachusetts, the 119th Fighter Wing in North Dakota and Dr. Mahjoob Zweiri of the Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, Dunham University. The credits also state that United 93 was filmed on location in New Jersey, Boston, Washington, Morocco and at Pinewood Studios, England.
On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four transcontinental flights as part of an organized terrorist attack. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, and American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. United Flight 93 took off from Newark's Liberty International Airport with thirty-seven passengers, including the four hijackers, on board. The plane was scheduled to depart for San Francisco at 8:00 a.m., but did not take off until 8:42 a.m. due to air traffic delays. At 9:28 a.m., the hijackers attacked and seized control of the plane, presumably killing the pilots. It is not known exactly what occurred on the plane after that, although many emergency services operators, as well as friends and family of passengers and crew members on the flight, have released transcripts or publicly related details from private cellphone conversations with them during the hijacking. The most well-publicized of these was passenger Todd Beamer's later famous "Let's roll," which is related in the film in a soft whisper, followed by "let's go."
An in-depth investigation by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (more commonly known as the 9/11 Commission), yielded the following information: Shortly after the takeover of the airplane, the passengers and flight crew began making calls from the plane's air phones and their own cellphones. Speaking with their family members and colleagues on the ground, the passengers learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center earlier that morning. The passengers and surviving crew members decided to revolt against the hijackers, and at 9:57 a.m., the assault on the hijackers began. The struggle went on for about five minutes before the hijackers crashed the plane into an empty field in Shanksville, PA, about twenty minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C. The 9/11 Commission Report summarized the outcome of the hijacking thus: "[Hijacker Ziad] Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93."
According to The 9/11 Commission Report, the two federal agencies responsible for protecting U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, were unprepared to deal with the scope and unusual nature of the hijackings. The report noted that the protocols in place at that time assumed that a hijacking "would take the traditional form: that is, it would not be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided missile." As depicted in the film, the FAA command center's national operations manager, Ben Sliney, gave the unprecedented order to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport.
News items noted the following about the production: British director Paul Greengrass submitted a 21-page treatment to Universal Pictures in the summer of 2005 and was immediately given a $15 million budget to make the film. As part of his extensive pre-production research, Greengrass and associate producer Kate Solomon traveled across the U.S. to conduct more than a hundred interviews with the families of the victims, who gave their full cooperation to the project. Greengrass shot the airplane scenes in an old Boeing 757 reconstructed on a Pinewood Studios sound stage. The actors portraying the terrorists were kept separate from the rest of the cast until the hijacking sequence was shot. Ben Sliney, who portrays himself in the film, had just begun his new job at the FAA's command center in Herndon, VA, on September 11, 2001. According to a April 22, 2006 Los Angeles Times article, Sliney was originally hired for a cameo role in the film, but Greengrass later dismissed the actor cast in the role of Sliney and asked the FAA manager to play himself. Greengrass cast other roles with nonprofessional actors as well. JJ Johnson, who portrays Captain Jason M. Dahl, is a real United pilot, and Trish Gates, who plays flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw, had been a flight attendant with United. In addition, a number of real air traffic controllers and military personnel-many of whom were on duty on 9/11-portrayed themselves in the film. According to a April 26, 2006 Los Angeles Times article, actor Karim Saleh, who had portrayed a terrorist on the 2005 Steven Spielberg film Munich auditioned for a role in United 93.
United 93 depicts the hijacking in real time. In a New York Times interview, Greengrass observed that the people on the plane "had 30 minutes to confront the reality of the way that we're living now, decide on the best course of action and act." He added that the passengers on United Flight 93 were the "first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world." A Village Voice news item reported that an unfinished print of the film concluded with a title card that read: "America's war on terror had begun." According to the Screen International review, the title card was "replaced with something more sobering and reflective."
On the DVD commentary, Greengrass revealed the following information about the film's production: He originally planned to start the film in Afghanistan and show Osama bin Laden and Sheik Mohammed planning the attack. After shooting this scene in Morocco, however, he decided it "seemed redundant." He also originally shot scenes of the crew members getting ready in their hotel rooms. The scenes in the air traffic control command centers and on the plane were shot in very long takes-often 45 to 60 minutes-using two cameras so that filming never had to stop while a camera was being reloaded. Many airplane scenes were shot with a camera suspended on a pulley for low-angle perspective. Later, in post-production, special effects technicians painted in the gap where the pulley ran through the center of the aircraft.
Explaining that he had wanted to give audiences "a ringside view of the events," Greengrass said in the commentary, "We tried to make no concessions to things being comprehensible. There was no attempt made to explain jargon-for instance, technicalities of transponders being dropped and course changes and so on." He added, "If this film was going to feel real, it needed to be quite challenging." In addition to the director's commentary, the DVD contains, as added content, a short documentary in which family members and friends of the United 93 victims share memories, meet the actors portraying their loved ones and attend a private screening of the film. There is also a memorial section that presents pictures and biographies of the passengers and crew members.
According to a May 1, 2006 article in Variety, Universal Pictures courted conservative commentators in the weeks before the film's release. Right-wing talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Prager were invited to advance screenings, and both endorsed the film. Prager also wrote in his syndicated column: "Apparently many Americans are not `ready' to see a film about 9/11 `so soon' after 9/11. If this is so, it is an ode to the weakening of the American people." The studio also hired Motive Entertainment, a Christian marketing firm, to distribute "United 93 Resource Guides," which included sermons inspired by the film.
News items reported that an AMC movie theater in New York pulled the promotional trailer for United 93 after audiences complained and began running a short making-of film instead. Universal defended the trailer, which included news footage of the World Trade Center attack, claiming that the trailer was being shown in thousands of theaters and no other cinema owner had pulled it.
The film had its premiere on April 25, 2006 as the opening-night selection at the Tribeca Film Festival. According to a April 25, 2006 Daily Variety news item, festival organizers decided to host the premiere in midtown, instead of at its usual venues in lower Manhattan, for fear that the proximity to Ground Zero could be too emotionally difficult for the audience. Private screenings for families of passengers were held on 8 April in Newark, NJ, and on 9 April in Daly City, CA. A June 1, 2006 Los Angeles Times news item reported that the film was screened at the White House on 30 May. Iraqi-born actor Lewis Alsamari (who portrayed hijacker Saeed al Ghamdi), was refused a visa to attend the New York premiere. A resident of London, Alsamari had been granted asylum in Britain in 1998. According to news items, Universal contributed 10% of box office revenue from the first three days of the film's North American release to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund, an organization that seeks to build a memorial near Shanksville, PA.
Reviews for United 93 were generally strong, although much of the film's press coverage questioned whether the American public was ready for a film about the 9/11 attacks. The Los Angeles Times review said, "This staggering, draining film is exceptionally accomplished but extremely difficult to watch." New York Times called United 93 "a persuasively narrated, scrupulously tasteful re-creation," but added, "[The film's] narrow focus, along with the lack of fully realized characters, and the absence of any historical or political context, raises the question of why...this particular movie was made." Some reviewers complained that the scene in which the passengers fight with the hijackers took too much dramatic license. In a New York Times editorial, Frank Rich wrote, "Two major liberties taken with the known facts in United 93-sequences suggesting that passengers thrashed and possibly killed two of the hijackers and succeeded in entering the cockpit-are highly cathartic but unsupported by the evidence." Village Voice cited this depiction of the struggle as "the most problematic of the movie's unverifiable events, and one might say its biggest concession to popular taste."
On July 10, 2006, Variety reported that the film had become an unexpected hit in the Middle East, grossing close to $200,000 in its opening week in the United Arab Emirates. Variety noted that the film was cleared by censors in countries throughout the Persian Gulf, including Lebanon, which had banned the 2005 film Syriana.
In addition to being named one of AFI's Movies of the Year for 2006 and being included on more than seventy "ten best" lists, United 93 received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Film Editing, and was named Best Picture of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle. Greengrass was named Best Director by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and the National Society of Film Critics. The film received a BAFTA award for Editing and a nomination for Sound, in addition to a Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film also was nominated for Best Picture by the London Film Critics' Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. As reported in Los Angeles Times on January 12, 2007, controversy arose surrounding Universal Pictures' Oscar campaign for United 93 after ads featuring the voice of critic Peter Travers, who spoke glowingly about the film, were broadcast on local Los Angeles radio stations. Although Los Angeles Times reported that Travers was not paid for the spots, and was only reading excerpts from his April 27, 2006 Rolling Stone review, other critics and media groups were highly critical of the ads.
Although United 93 was the first released feature film to depict the actual 9/11 attacks, the events had already been the subject of two made-for-television films. DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, which aired in September 2003 on the Showtime cable network, focused on the Bush administration's response to the attacks. Flight 93 was broadcast on the A&E cable network in January 2006 and drew almost six million viewers, the biggest audience in A&E's history. Oliver Stone's feature film World Trade Center, which opened in August 2006, was based on the true story of two Port Authority officers who were trapped under the rubble at Ground Zero. On 10 and September 11, 2006, ABC ran the controversial miniseries The Path to 9/11, which drew accusations of bias from former members of the Clinton administration. As of January 2007, other films about 9/11 in development include 102 Minutes, based on a book by two New York Times reporters that chronicles the time between the crash of the first plane and the collapse of the second tower, and Against All Enemies, based on former National Security Council counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's memoir.
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Director by the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Director by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle (SFFCC).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Director of the Year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Ensemble Cast by the Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Film by the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC).
Winner of three 2006 awards including Best Film of the Year, Best Director of the Year and Best British Producers of the Year by the London Critics' Circle.
Winner of two 2006 awards including Best Editing and the David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
Released in United States Spring April 28, 2006
Released in United States on Video September 5, 2006
Released in United States 2006
Shown at Tribeca Film Festival (Opening Night) April 25-May 7, 2006.
Project will take place in real time and be partly improvised.
Released in United States Spring April 28, 2006
Released in United States on Video September 5, 2006
Released in United States 2006 (Shown at Tribeca Film Festival (Opening Night) April 25-May 7, 2006.)
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2006 by the American Film Institute (AFI).