Flight (2012 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Written byJohn Gatins
Produced by
CinematographyDon Burgess
Edited byJeremiah O'Driscoll
Music byAlan Silvestri
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
Running time
138 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million
Box office$161.8 million

Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by John Gatins and produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Steve Starkey, Zemeckis, and Jack Rapke. The film stars Denzel Washington as William "Whip" Whitaker Sr., an alcoholic airline pilot who miraculously crash-lands his plane after a mechanical failure, saving nearly everyone on board. Although hailed a hero, an investigation soon begins to cast the captain in a different light.

Flight premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 14, 2012, and was theatrically released the following month on November 2. It received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Washington's performance and Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking, his first such film since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath in 2000. The film was also a commercial success, grossing $161.8 million against a production budget of $31 million. Flight appeared on multiple critics' year-end top ten lists and received two nominations at the 85th Academy Awards for Best Actor (Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (Gatins).[1][2]


Airline pilot Captain Whip Whitaker snorts cocaine to stay alert after a long night of drinking in his Orlando hotel room. He pilots SouthJetAir Flight 227 to Atlanta, which experiences severe turbulence during takeoff. Co-pilot Ken Evans takes over while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap. He is jolted awake as the plane goes into a steep dive. Whip regains control by pulling out of the dive into inverted flight and makes a controlled crash-landing in an open field, hitting his head and losing consciousness on impact.

Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with moderate injuries and is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson, who represents the airline's pilots union. He tells Whip that he managed to save 96 out of 102, losing two crew members and four passengers, but mentions Evans is in a coma. Whip sneaks away for a cigarette and meets Nicole Maggen, a heroin addict recovering from an overdose in the same hospital. The next morning, his friend and drug dealer Harling Mays picks him up from the hospital.

Having retired to his late father's farm, Whip meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang, who explain that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) performed a drug test while he was unconscious. Results showed that Whip was intoxicated during the flight, although Hugh gets the toxicology report voided on technical grounds. Whip visits and becomes intimate with Nicole, but his drinking habits clash with Nicole's attempts to stay drug-free. Later, he attends a funeral for Katerina, a flight attendant who died in the crash, and with whom Whip had spent the night before the incident. He sees a surviving crew member, Margaret, and asks her to tell the NTSB that he was sober.

Whip pays a visit to Evans after he awakens from his coma. Evans has likely lost much of his ability to walk and may never pilot an airplane again. Although upset, Evans has no intention of telling the NTSB that Whip was drinking. Nicole decides to separate from Whip after he fails to stay sober and he spontaneously drives to the home of his ex-wife and son, both of whom resent him. Hounded by the media, he stays with Charlie until the NTSB hearing, vowing not to drink. The night before the hearing, Charlie and Hugh move Whip to a guarded hotel room with no alcohol. He finds the door to an adjacent room unlocked and raids the minibar there.

The next morning, Charlie discovers Whip passed out drunk. Whip and Charlie call Harling to provide Whip with cocaine, hoping to get him alert enough to make it through the hearing. At the hearing, lead NTSB investigator Ellen Block explains that a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew was the primary cause of the crash. She commends Whip on his valor and skill, noting that no other pilot was able to land the plane in simulations of the crash. She then reveals that two empty vodka bottles were found in the plane's trash, despite beverages not being served to passengers, and that Whip's blood test was excluded for technical reasons. She then states the only other member of the crew to test positive for alcohol was Katerina. Whip pauses, unable to bring himself to blame Katerina for his actions. He collects himself and comes clean, admitting to being intoxicated the day of the crash. A tearful Whip also admits that he is presently drunk and has a problem, coming to terms with his alcoholism.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip is lecturing a support group of fellow inmates. He mentions that not all of the deceased victims' families have come to forgive him, but he is glad to be sober and having done the right thing. He is also working to rebuild his relationships with Nicole and his son, who visits to interview Whip for a college application essay. He begins by asking, "Who are you?" As a plane flies overhead, Whip replies, "That's a good question."


Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly in Paris at the film's French premiere, January 2013.


Zemeckis entered negotiations to direct Flight in April 2011,[3] and by early June had accepted, with Denzel Washington about to finalize his own deal.[4] It was the first time that Zemeckis and Washington had worked together on a motion picture.

By mid-September 2011, Kelly Reilly was in negotiations to play the female lead,[5] with Don Cheadle,[6] Bruce Greenwood,[6] and John Goodman[7] joining later in the month, and Melissa Leo and James Badge Dale in final negotiations.[8] Screenwriter John Gatins said in early October 2011 that production would begin mid-month.[9] Flight was largely filmed on location near Atlanta, Georgia over 45 days in November 2011.[10] The film was produced with a relatively small budget of $31 million, which Zemeckis calculated to be his smallest in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980, made possible because of tax rebates from Georgia and because Zemeckis and Washington waived their customary fees.[10]

Gatins explained in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times that the dramatic fictional crash depicted in Flight was "loosely inspired" by the 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261,[10] which was caused by a broken jackscrew. In that incident, an ungreased jackscrew came loose and caused a catastrophic failure from which recovery was impossible, though pilot Ted Thompson and first officer Bill Tansky were able to fly the plane inverted in the last moments of the flight. Among the captain's last words on the CVR were:

Okay we are inverted... Now we got to get it... Are we flying? We're flying... We're flying... Tell them what we're doing. At least upside down we're flying."[11]

The Alaska Airlines 261 crash had no survivors. The airplane in Flight, a two-engine T-tail jet airliner, appears to be from the same model family as was the plane involved in the Alaska Airlines 261 disaster, a variant of the MD-80. Many elements from the accident were used in the film, such as the cause of the accident, segments of the radio communication, and the inversion of the airplane.

Scroggins Aviation Mockup & Effects was hired to supply three decommissioned MD-80 series aircraft that represented the plane in the film, with additional MD-80-series aircraft used for scenes in the cabin and cockpit.[12][13]



Flight opened in 1,884 theaters across the US and Canada on November 2, 2012, with a runtime of 138 minutes.[14] In its first week, the film ranked second in the American box office, grossing US$24,900,566 with an average of US$13,217 per theater. Flight earned US$93,772,375 in the US and an additional US$68,000,000 in other countries for a total of US$161,772,375, well above its US$31 million production budget.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Flight received mostly positive reviews, and has an approval rating of 78% based on a sample of 236 critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with a weighted average of 6.90/10. The site's consensus states "Robert Zemeckis makes a triumphant return to live-action cinema with Flight, a thoughtful and provocative character study propelled by a compelling performance from Denzel Washington".[15] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 76 out of 100 based on reviews from 40 critics, indicating "generally favourable reviews".[16] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[17]

Washington's performance received praise. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "provides Denzel Washington with one of his meatiest, most complex roles, and he flies with it".[14] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four, writing "Flight segues into a brave and tortured performance by Denzel Washington—one of his very best. Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way." He also noted the plane's upside-down flight scene was "one of the most terrifying flight scenes I've ever witnessed" and called the film "nearly flawless".[18] Ebert went on to name the film the sixth best of 2012.[19] Although the film was not nominated for Best Picture, he later noted that it deserved to be. Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Denzel Washington didn't get an Oscar nod for nothing: His performance as an alcoholic airline pilot ensnared by his own heroics is crash-and-burn epic".[20]

The film received some criticism from pilots who questioned its realism, particularly the premise of a pilot being able to continue flying with a significant substance-abuse problem.[21] The Air Line Pilots' Association dismissed the film as an inaccurate portrayal of an air crew and stated that "we all enjoy being entertained, but a thrilling tale should not be mistaken for the true story of extraordinary safety and professionalism among airline pilots".[22] Airline pilot Patrick Smith also commented that "a real-life Whitaker wouldn't survive two minutes at an airline, and all commercial pilots—including, if not especially, those who've dealt with drug or alcohol addiction—should feel slandered by his ugly caricature".[23] The pilot also criticised the portrayal of the relationship between copilot and captain, the decision of Whitaker to increase speed dangerously in a storm, and the ultimate dive and crash landing of Whitaker's aircraft.[23]

Top ten lists[edit]

Flight was featured on 47 top ten lists by North American critics.[24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated
AACTA Awards Best International Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Art Directors Guild Award Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film Nelson Coates Nominated
Black Reel Award Best Film Flight Nominated
Best Actor Denzel Washington Won
Best Supporting Actress Tamara Tunie Nominated
Best Ensemble The Cast of Flight Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Chicago International Film Festival Founder's Award Robert Zemeckis Won
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
Hollywood Film Festival Spotlight Award Kelly Reilly Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Motion Picture Flight Nominated
Outstanding Actor Denzel Washington Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor Don Cheadle Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture John Gatins Nominated
National Board of Review Spotlight Award John Goodman, also for Argo, ParaNorman, and Trouble with the Curve Won
Online Film Critics Society Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival Award Director of the Year Robert Zemeckis Won
Satellite Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture John Goodman Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original John Gatins Nominated
Best Visual Effects Jim Gibbs, Kevin Baillie, Michael Lantieri and Ryan Tudhope Won
Best Editing Jeremiah O'Driscoll Nominated
Best Sound (Editing & Mixing) Dennis Leonard, Dennis Sands, Randy Thom and William Kaplan Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Denzel Washington Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Best Actor Nominated
Best Scene (favorite movie scene or sequence) The plane crash Nominated
Visual Effects Society Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture Kevin Ballie, Michael Lantieri, Chris Stoski, Ryan Tudhope Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Writers Guild of America Award Best Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Flight". Box Office Mojo. Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ Horn, John (October 20, 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' got off the ground". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  3. ^ Kit, Borys (April 20, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis in Talks for Live-Action 'Flight' With Denzel Washington Circling". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  4. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (June 3, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis finally looks to take 'Flight'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  5. ^ White, James (September 13, 2011). "Kelly Reilly Takes Flight". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Morris, Clint (September 22, 2011). "Exclusive: Cheadle, Greenwood join Zemeckis's Flight". Moviehole.com. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike (September 28, 2011). "John Goodman Boards Robert Zemeckis' Flight With Denzel Washington". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  8. ^ Kit, Borys (September 30, 2011). "Melissa Leo, James Badge Dale Booking 'Flight' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  9. ^ Warner, Kara (October 5, 2011). "Denzel Washington's "Flight" Is 12 Years In The Making". MTV. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c Horn, John (21 October 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' became airborne". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Aircraft Accident Report, Loss of Control and Impact with Pacific Ocean Alaska Airlines Flight 261 McDonnell Douglas MD-83, N963AS About 2.7 Miles [4.3 km] North of Anacapa Island, California, January 31, 2000" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. December 30, 2002. NTSB/AAR-02/01. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  12. ^ Flight used a former American Airlines MD-82, N442AA, the main fuselage for the crash mock-up, a more complete nose for filming, and a former Delta Air Lines MD-88, N901DL, and for on stage work, a former Continental Airlines MD-82, N16807. "'Flight' the Movie". Airliner World Magazine. No. April 2013. Archived from the original on 2015-06-30. Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  13. ^ "Filming Hollywood's Flights of Fantasy, by Christine Negroni". Airways. January 7, 2013 – via Airways Magazine.
  14. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd (October 15, 2012). "Flight: New York Film Festival Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  15. ^ Flight at Rotten Tomatoes Fandango
  16. ^ "Flight". Metacritic. CBS.
  17. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Roger Ebert Flight review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's Top Movies of 2012". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  20. ^ "The Must List". Entertainment Weekly. New York. February 8, 2013. p. 8.
  21. ^ Smith, Patrick (November 18, 2012). "Real Pilots Laugh at 'Flight'". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on November 27, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  22. ^ ALPA News Release. Alpa.org (October 31, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  23. ^ a b Real Pilots Laugh At ‘Flight’. The Daily Beast (November 18, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  24. ^ "Best Movies of 2012". Critics' Top10. Retrieved 21 November 2022.

External links[edit]