Flight (2012 Film)
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Flight 2012 Film
Flight film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced by
Written byJohn Gatins
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyDon Burgess
Edited byJeremiah O'Driscoll
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
Running time
138 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[2]
Box office$161.8 million[3]

Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins. It 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. Immediately following the crash, he is hailed a hero but an investigation soon leads to questions that put the captain in a different light.

This film is loosely inspired by the plane crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. A box office success generating positive reviews, Flight is the first live-action film directed by Zemeckis since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath in 2000, and his first R-rated film since Used Cars in 1980. The film was nominated twice at the 85th Academy Awards, for Best Actor (Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (Gatins).


Airline pilot Captain Whip Whitaker uses cocaine to wake up after a sleepless night in his Orlando hotel room. He pilots SouthJet Flight 227 to Atlanta, which experiences severe turbulence at takeoff. Copilot 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. Unable to regain control, Whip is forced to make a controlled crash landing in an open field, 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 his copilot is in a coma. Whip sneaks away for a cigarette and meets Nicole Maggen, a heroin addict recovering from a recent 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. Hugh promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds and succeeds. Whip visits and soon becomes intimate with Nicole but Whip's drinking habits clash with Nicole's attempts to stay drug-free. Later, he attends a funeral of a crew member, Katerina. He sees surviving flight attendant, Margaret Thomason and asks her to tell the NTSB that he was sober.

Whip pays a visit to his copilot Ken 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. Hounding him, the media catches Whip drunk after he spontaneously drives to the home of his ex-wife and son, both of whom resent him. 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. Although his minibar is empty, he finds the door to an adjacent room unlocked and raids the minibar there.

Whip is discovered by Charlie the next morning, passed out and still drunk. Harling is called to revive him with cocaine. 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 trial 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, who died in the crash, and with whom Whip had spent the night before. 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; he also admits to currently being drunk.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip lecturing a support group of fellow inmates says he is glad to be sober and doesn't regret doing the right thing. Whip is seen looking at pictures of Nicole, family and friends on the wall of his cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on his first anniversary of being sober. He is working to rebuild his relationship with his son, who visits to speak with him about a college application essay he's working on. It's about "the most fascinating person that I've never met". His son 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.


Robert Zemeckis entered negotiations to direct in April 2011,[4] and by early June had accepted, with Denzel Washington about to finalize his own deal.[5] It was the first time Zemeckis and Washington worked together on a motion picture.

By mid-September 2011, Kelly Reilly was in negotiations to play the female lead,[6] with Don Cheadle,[7]Bruce Greenwood,[7] and John Goodman[8] joining later in the month, and Melissa Leo and James Badge Dale in final negotiations.[9] Screenwriter John Gatins said in early October 2011 that production would begin mid-month.[10]Flight was largely filmed on location near Atlanta, Georgia, over 45 days in November 2011.[11] The film's relatively small budget of $31 million, which Zemeckis later calculated was his smallest budget in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980, was due to tax rebates from Georgia and from Zemeckis and Washington having waived their customary fees.[11]

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,[11] which was caused by a broken jackscrew. In that incident the broken jackscrew caused a catastrophic failure from which recovery was impossible but Pilot Ted Thompson and First Officer Bill Tansky were actually able to fly their plane inverted in the last moments of that 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."[12]

That crash had no survivors. The airplane in Flight, a two-engine T-tail jet airliner, appears to be from the same model family as Alaska Airlines 261, 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 decision to invert the airplane.

Scroggins Aviation Mockup & Effects was hired to supply production with three decommissioned MD-80 series aircraft that were used in Flight to represent the plane in the film, with additional MD-80 series aircraft being used for scenes of the aircraft's cabin and cockpit.[13][14]



Flight opened in 1,884 theaters across North America on November 2, 2012. In its first week, the film ranked second in the domestic box office, grossing $24,900,566 with an average of $13,217 per theater. Flight earned $93,772,375 domestically and $68,000,000 internationally for a total of $161,772,375, well above its $31 million production budget.[3]

Critical response

Flight received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film has an approval rating of 77% based on a sample of 232 critics on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a weighted average of 6.93/10. 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.[16]

Denzel Washington's performance received praise from various critics. 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."[1]Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars (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".[17] Ebert went on to name the film the sixth best of 2012.[18] Although the film was not nominated for Best Picture, he later noted that he felt 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."[19]

The film received some criticism from airline pilots who questioned the film's realism, particularly the premise of a pilot being able to continue flying with a significant substance-abuse problem.[20] The Air Line Pilots' Association in an official press release 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."[21] 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."[22] 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.[22]

Top ten lists

Awards and nominations

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 Lead Actor 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


  1. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd (October 15, 2012). "Flight: New York Film Festival Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012.
  2. ^ Horn, John (October 20, 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' got off the ground". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Flight". boxofficemojo.com. Box Office Mojo.
  4. ^ Kit, Borys (April 20, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis in Talks for Live-Action 'Flight' With Denzel Washington Circling". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012.
  5. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (June 3, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis finally looks to take 'Flight'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012.
  6. ^ White, James (September 13, 2011). "Kelly Reilly Takes Flight". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2012.
  7. ^ 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 2012.
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike (September 28, 2011). "John Goodman Boards Robert Zemeckis' Flight With Denzel Washington". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2012.
  9. ^ Kit, Borys (September 30, 2011). "Melissa Leo, James Badge Dale Booking 'Flight' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ Warner, Kara (October 5, 2011). "Denzel Washington's "Flight" Is 12 Years In The Making". MTV. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Horn, John (21 October 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' became airborne". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ "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 2016.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Filming Hollywood's Flights of Fantasy, by Christine Negroni". Airways. January 7, 2013 – via Airways Magazine.
  15. ^ Flight at Rotten Tomatoes Fandango
  16. ^ "Flight". Metacritic. CBS.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Roger Ebert Flight review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's Top Movies of 2012". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  19. ^ Entertainment Weekly Staff (February 8, 2013). "The Must List". Entertainment Weekly. New York: Time Inc.: 8.
  20. ^ Smith, Patrick (November 18, 2012). "Real Pilots Laugh at 'Flight'". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on November 27, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  21. ^ ALPA News Release. Alpa.org (October 31, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  22. ^ a b Real Pilots Laugh At 'Flight'. The Daily Beast (November 18, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.

External links

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