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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Throughout my life, I have been on a lot of flights. They’ve been for a lot of reasons: to see family, to move houses, and to go on vacations. Unfortunately, I don’t like flying on airplanes, but I’ve learned the best way to get through being crammed in a metal cylinder hurtling through the sky is to entertain myself. Sometimes I read, or write stories, but mostly, I watch movies. Lots and lots of movies, especially on long flights. Choosing the best movie to watch from the airplane entertainment menu can be overwhelming. But over the years, through lots of trial and error, I have figured out my criteria for finding the best movies to watch on a long, long plane ride. 

The first, and most important, requirement is that the movie’s length should not be longer than the flight time. This more so applies to shorter flights, but it’s still not a good idea to put on a three-hour movie when you have an hour left. Once, my brother put on Mission: Impossible – Fallout and the plane cut the movie off right as Ethan Hunt cut the wire. Don’t do it. It leads to inevitable disappointment. Length is also important when deciding how many movies you want to watch on one flight. Depending on the day, I might want to watch one three-hour movie rather than multiple shorter films or even watch one shorter movie to give me time to do other things. Any movie length works as an airplane movie, but knowing how long I want my airplane watch to be is very important. 

Secondly, the movie must strike a balance between being a film that I want to see but that I don’t care too much about. Obviously, I don’t want to put just anything on, but I’ve also learned that watching a movie that I’m dying to see on a miniscule screen through crappy headphones will always leave me disappointed. On my most recent plane ride, my dad and I watched The Zone of Interest, a film that won awards for its sound design. I wish I had waited and watched it at home on good speakers. So, even though in the past I have seen plane rides as a way for me to catch up on just-released critically acclaimed movies or Oscar contenders, I try not to do that.  

Speaking of The Zone of Interest, my other main requirement for an airplane movie is that it shouldn’t be hyper-serious. For example, several years ago, I watched Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, a film following the life of Fred Hampton Jr., on a plane. Though it was an excellent movie, it was also very gut-wrenching and sad. I don’t regret seeing it, but to me, it was a film that should not have been watched on a plane. The Zone of Interest, similarly, is a movie focused on the banal evil surrounding the Holocaust. These films are incredible works of art, but they cover very serious topics. And when flying on a plane, I’m looking for escapism. To me, there’s a time and place for consuming art that makes you reflect on the state of the world, and that place is not an airplane. 

My one exception for the “shouldn’t be hyper-serious” rule, however, is if the movie is a rewatch. I rewatched Oppenheimer on a return flight, and I found that despite the heavy subject matter and the poor quality of the airplane screens, I still thought it was just as excellent as the first time I saw it.  

Another, very personal, rule for airplane movies is that they should not include airplanes. Inevitably, when a movie features airplanes prominently, even if it’s a comedy, those airplanes will probably crash (see Final Destination, Sully, and Airplane!). Once, my dad watched a documentary about the Malaysian Airlines disappearance while on a flight, a decision that I consider baffling. I don’t need my flight anxiety to be any worse. 

So, what should be watched on a plane? There are certain genres that are perfect, and some that aren’t. The ones that aren’t have already been discussed a little, but the main ones that I try not to watch are dramas, historical, and anything psychological (thriller, drama, horror, the works). I also generally steer clear of documentaries unless they’re about something ridiculous, like The King of Kong (I haven’t seen it, but it seems like it would be a perfect airplane movie). The movie genres that I find make the best watches are comedies, musicals, romances, and action-adventures. These kinds of movies are generally light and breezy flicks, perfect for escaping the confines of a tiny airplane seat. However, I’ve found that the best airplane movies combine factors of these genres, like my personal favorite airplane watch, Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar. Mamma Mia! is another movie that combines romance, comedy, musicals, and just a little bit of drama into a fantastic ride. Mission: Impossible movies are also great airplane watches (just make sure you have plenty of time). Finally, Cowboys & Aliens was a stupid western-sci-fi that I inexplicably had a blast with. 

Airplanes freak me out, despite my best efforts. However, with the perfect airplane movie, I can get through them. I will probably be going on an airplane ride this upcoming summer, and I will use my criteria to help me choose the perfect way to spend my time on it. 

Anna Burns


Anna Burns is a freshman at the University of South Florida. She is an English major with a concentration in Literary Studies. When she is not procrastinating assignments, she loves reading, listening to music, and talking her friends' ears off about bands.