The Best Movies to Watch on a Plane… at Home

Gabriella Paiella
·8 mins read

Six months into a pandemic that has grounded much of the world, I not only miss traveling, I miss the small rituals of flying. The plane movie, for instance.

The ideal plane movie is something easy and low-stakes that you probably won’t ever think about again. You wouldn’t go see it in a theater for one reason or another, but it’s entertaining enough to keep you occupied while gliding thousands of feet above the earth, in the liminal space from here to there. There’s a strong chance, as our very own Brett Martin pointed out on This American Life, that it will make you cry for some inexplicable reason. (As someone who once got teary during Ricki and the Flash mid-air, I believe it.) There’s an even stronger chance that it’s a Dad Movie.

Here, we’ve curated our own inflight entertainment menu to replicate the experience while stuck home—and bypass the endless streaming buffet. It’s cheaper, safer, and gives off fewer carbon emissions.

Inferno

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno, 2016.
Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Inferno, 2016.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

A few weeks ago, overcome with the urge to watch a Plane Movie™, I knew exactly where to turn: having screened the previous two Dan Brown film adaptations mid-flight, I needed to complete the trilogy with Inferno. Tom Hanks stars as Harvard professor Robert Langdon, who is basically an audience proxy for dads who are waiting for the day someone shows up at their door and tells them, “You’re the only person who can save the world from a global catastrophe, based entirely on knowledge gleaned from watching the History Channel all day.” In Inferno, it’s a deadly pandemic, so, bonus points for relevance. Even though you know there’s no way this one has a dark ending, it’s captivatingly twisty all the same. (My fellow Borgen-heads will also be pleased to see our girl Sidse Babett Knudsen.) Watch it, love it, Google “is symbiologist a real job?,” then call your dad. — Gabriella Paiella

The Intern 

Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern, 2015.
Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern, 2015.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Francois Duhamel for Warner Bros.

If my wife of 50 years suddenly passed away, my bucket list probably wouldn't include working at a millennial fashion startup based in Brooklyn, but perhaps that fantastical premise is what makes 2015's The Intern such a zippy emotional rollercoaster. In the film, we have a legendary generational actor, plus Robert De Niro, navigating the murky rigors of startup life while attempting (and mostly failing) to balance family, ambition, and doing right by your people. Star Anne Hathaway (as Jules, a young CEO) and Bob De Niro (as Ben, her 70-year-old intern) are an oddball pairing, sure, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that they sort of end up mentoring... each other. Directed by Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give), the film is a mostly predictable, low-stakes swirl of old-school values jutting up against the tired injustices of the modern workplace, and yet the performances are just sticky and sweet enough to convince you to buy in. Hathaway is dynamic, and owns a brownstone. De Niro is affable in a rare role where he isn’t required to shoot anyone. And there's a Workaholics guy in it! Heed the sage advice of De Niro as Ben the Intern quoting Mark Twain in the film: “You’re never wrong to do the right thing.” And the right thing to do is stream The Intern before it’s too late. — Chris Gayomali

The Accountant 

Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck in The Accountant, 2016.
Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck in The Accountant, 2016.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Chuck Zlotnick for Warner Bros.

Wide awake and bored on a cross-country red-eye is the perfect setting to make this casually bizarre thriller seem like a revelation. Ben Affleck plays a… high-functioning autistic math whiz who serves as an accountant to the underworld, and… also happens to have Jason Bourne-like survival skills. It's as ridiculous as it sounds, but by touchdown don't be surprised when you're Googling info on a sequel. It holds up fine on the couch, just don't think too hard. — Frazier Tharpe

Cold War

Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in Cold War, 2018.
Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in Cold War, 2018.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Amazon

Flights are my opportunity to see all those foreign films I want people to think I watch but lack the strength of character to catch in theaters. This led me to Cold War, a 2018 black and white film about two star-crossed lovers, a musical director and a young singer in communist Poland. It’s heavy stuff, but the cinematography is beautiful and the story is undeniably moving. I can’t imagine when I would have seen it if I hadn’t had five hours to kill on a plane. And I’m willing to bet you have more than five hours to kill right now. — Colin Groundwater

Edge of Tomorrow 

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, 2014.
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, 2014.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of David James for Warner Bros. Pictures

The worst plane movies are sequels. Even worse if it's from some "cinematic universe" that runs on comic relief and meta-gags. You're telling me I gotta re-figure Thor's relationship with Taylor Swift's ex to account for the last three-hour monstrosity while I eat my Biscoffs? Pass. Edge of Tomorrow, on the other hand, quickly sets up a fun premise: A winningly greasy Tom Cruise and a brusque, hyper-competent Emily Blunt are trapped in a (spoiler!) time loop fighting aliens. And then it’s all resolved in less than two hours. There are no scenes included only for folks who watch ComicCon live streams. There’s never gonna be a Criterion release. It's just a (really good!) flick about Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt trapped in a time loop fighting aliens. — Chris Cohen

Happy Death Day

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day, 2017.
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day, 2017.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Universal Pictures

I know you all are reading this like….what in the actual fuck…but I should let you know that I’ll watch just about any bad horror film because I am a scaredy cat! I’m also not “above” watching dumb films because I think if they’re funny or silly or will bring a smile to my face, it’s worth it! So when I saw Happy Death Day 1 and 2 on one of the many Delta flights I took for work last year, I thought to myself, why not? I would love love to see why this woman keeps dying over and over again! And who killed her?! Honestly, in both the twists kept coming enough so to keep me entertained so I tuned. Combined with a few glasses of red wine and it was happy flying! — Nikki Ogunnaike

Blockers

Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann, and John Cena in Blockers, 2018.
Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann, and John Cena in Blockers, 2018.
Everett Collection / Quantrell D. Colbe

Never did I expect to be so moved by a movie with an extended scene of John Cena butt-chugging. A sneakily charming suburban comedy about a trio of parents trying to stop their daughters from having sex on prom night, Blockers manages to flip a near-fossilized running joke about parents and their daughters’ sex lives into a progressive parable on what it means to raise sexually healthy women. (Spoiler alert: not like this.) Still, maybe don’t watch it with your actual parents—they may have some prom night questions of their own. — Danielle Cohen

Long Shot

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot, 2019.
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot, 2019.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Philippe Bosse for Lionsgate

There are some films I simply don’t feel guilty about watching on a 6-inch wide screen. Long Shot, the rom-com starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, promised to be either mildly amusing or irritating. Come to find out, the unpolished journalist full of liberal integrity (Rogen) is adorably charming, and the micro-napping Secretary of State who dances to Boyz II Men (Theron) is pretty damn cool. If the movie were only Theron taking Molly and later having to negotiate a hostage situation, that would be enough to relax the spirit. One day, it might be worth a re-watch on a projector. — Codie Steensma

Literally any Marvel movie 

Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok, 2017.
Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok, 2017.
Everett Collection / Courtesy of Marvel and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

By any accounting, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is among the most impressive, intricate, carefully-plotted series of film-shaped objects in the history of Hollywood. Its twenty-odd movies rewarded patient, easter-egg-eyed viewing, so much so that it occasionally felt like you needed a notebook to keep track of everything. When did Benedict Cumberbatch get here? I thought Andrew Garfield was Spider-Man? You're telling me the Hulk got a haircut? Bizarrely, the qualities that make Marvel movies so frustrating—pedantry, hectic plotting, a nine-year-old-approved list of themes—also make them ideal plane fare. The Hulk got a haircut! This Spider-Man kid is pretty charming! Hey, Chris Hemsworth turned into a movie star! If you detach yourself from anything like expectations—if you remember for a moment that you probably shouldn't have expectations when it comes to a band of tights-wearing superheroes—you wind up with a set of reasonably fun, well-crafted movies. Which, on an otherwise dreary cross-country flight, is hard to beat. — Sam Schube

Dieter Rams—the spiritual godfather of GQ’s new Quality Issue—at the first Vitsoe shop in Frankfurt, 1971.
Dieter Rams—the spiritual godfather of GQ’s new Quality Issue—at the first Vitsoe shop in Frankfurt, 1971.

Editor-in-Chief Will Welch explains how the great German industrial designer Dieter Rams inspired the new “Quality Issue” of GQ—and why Rams holds the keys to a more sustainable future for fashion.

Originally Appeared on GQ