Is This the Best Movie About Pilots?

Published: 05-10-2021
What's your favorite pilot movie?

The Oscars are over, and the big Best Picture win went to the film Nomadland. While the characters in that movie stick to campers and RVs on the ground, they do share a compulsion to travel, just like airline pilots.

There have been many films about pilots in the history of film. Military pilots and – yes – commercial airline pilots.

For Airline Pilot Central, the best pilot film ever is Sully. Read on to find out why.

Sully – The True Story

The film Sully is based on the real life experience of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. In January 2009, the real Sully had just taken off in an Airbus when a flock of birds struck both engines, disabling them.

Sully had to think quick. He calculated that he could not reach an airport with both engines down, and he landed the aircraft in the Hudson River.

Amazingly, there were no casualties. Sully went on to write the book Highest Duty about his experiences.

Sully – The Fictional Film

In the film, Sully is subject to a harsh evaluation and trial from the National Transportation Safety Board, which claims that multiple computer models showed that Sully could have reached an airport, despite the engines being down.

The NTSB in the film asserts that Sully endangered his passengers by landing in the Hudson. Furthermore, Sully is hounded by the press during the trial.

Sully is traumatized by both the near-death experience and his conscience about the event.

Why Is Sully the Best?

Sully is masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood with Tom Hanks playing Sullenberger in the lead role. The film is shot with moody chiaroscuro lighting that visually represents Sully’s psychological ambivalence about his role in the event.

Tom Hanks, as Sullenberger, shows the pilot as an ordinary man but also as a hero. He didn’t set out to become the hero, but he was made one by circumstance with the life of all his passengers in his hands. This is true of all commercial airline pilots whenever they take off from the runway.

By creating the NTSB as Sully’s antagonist in the film, Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki are able to show step-by-step the decision-making of Sullenberger and visualize every possible calculation that Sully was required to make within seconds of the fateful bird strike.

Eastwood then repeatedly cuts to the events in the sky for further dramatic effect. But it is ultimately the humanity of Hanks as Sully, compared to cartoonish Marvel superbeings, that shows what a real hero looks like.

A film with a military pilot may be inherently dramatic, but the way that all the collaborative filmmakers turn a commercial airline pilot into a conflicted hero worthy of our examination makes Sully the best pilot film ever made.

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