THE RIGHT STUFF (1983, Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn) Flying at its coolest. When a toasted Shepard emerges from a crash with his elan intact, you forget all your three-hour layovers.
AIRPLANE! (1980, Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty) One of the first of the fast-paced Zucker-Abrahams pastiches feasts on the bloated corpses of the vaguely remembered Airport melodramas.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959, Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint) For pure tension, you just can’t beat Grant being chased by a crop duster — film’s most iconic airplane image, unless you count…
KING KONG (1933, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, VHS only) The biplanes give KK his persecuted majesty. Without them, he’d be just another tourist overwhelmed by the crowds.
ALIVE (1993, Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano) Based on a true story, it features one of the scariest plane crashes of all time — though the cannibalism subplot isn’t to everyone’s, um, taste.
GOLDFINGER (1964, Sean Connery, Gert Frobe) The image of the evil Goldfinger getting sucked through a window in the pressurized cabin still hovers over the national debate about allowing pilots to carry guns.
EXECUTIVE DECISION (1996, Kurt Russell, Halle Berry) You know a movie’s smart when it kills Steven Seagal but spares John Leguizamo, and emphasizes intelligence over courage.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (1957, James Stewart, VHS only) Billy Wilder and Stewart did a great job with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, but after WWII, audiences no longer found the outspoken isolationist so heroic.
WINGS (1927, Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, VHS only) You can keep your CGIs. The dogfights in the first Best Picture Oscar winner are still exciting.
AIR FORCE ONE (1997, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman) The film’s best moment: President Ford, invoking executive privilege with extreme prejudice, grumpily telling terrorist Oldman, ”Get off my plane.”