7 Meaningful Movies Depicting the 9/11 Attacks

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is here, and a big part of this day is remembering what happened along with those we lost. Everyone has their own way of doing that, but one can be watching one of the many movies that go into detail about the day’s events.

There have been many amazing, true stories brought to the big-screen. That includes 9/11 movies that were so careful in getting the real events of September 11, 2001 right that they included people involved with the day’s horrible events. Then there are the stories that are fictional but inspired by the people whose lives will forever be changed. So which 9/11 movies should you watch? Here are seven meaningful movies about the 9/11 attacks.

1. United 93

United 93
Omar Berdouni and Jamie Harding in United 93 | Universal Pictures

On that heartbreaking day, flight United 93 was hijacked by four Al-Qaeda terrorists. They then turned the plane around to head east. Many people believe they were heading towards the White House. Their plan however was ruined by the passengers and crew’s attempt to take back the plane. Sadly it crashed killing all 44 people on the plane.

The movie tells this story with the help of many people who were impacted by the events of 9/11. Family members of the passengers and crew members helped with production. They helped by giving information on the clothes their family wore, the books they read, music they listened to, and even the candy they snacked on in order to make the movie even more authentic.

The director also got real participants of the day’s events to play themselves in the movie. That includes Ben Sliney who was the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s national operations manager at the time and gave the order to land all planes after the terrorist attacks.

When I issued that order to land regardless of destination,” Sliney said according to The Washington Post, “we were just trying to do something to try and resolve what was occurring and at least separate the good guys from the bad guys.”

His casting in United 93 wasn’t always the plan. Sliney initially was going to play an air-traffic controller, but then they made the change. “Ben was very good in that bit part, and I just thought, I can’t think of anyone better to play Ben Sliney than Ben Sliney,” Director Paul Greengrass said.

2. Reign Over Me

Reign Over Me
Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle in Reign Over Me | Relativity Media

There are a lot of movies that focus on the actual day and the many events that happened then. But there are lasting effects from that day and that is where this movie comes in. The fictional drama tells the story of a man named Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) who loses family in the attacks on September 11. He then runs into his college roommate (Don Cheadle) and they begin to hang out again while he is grieving. Given Sandler’s filmography this one might be surprising, but the movie is so different because it wasn’t written or directed by him. He also had to do a lot of research for the role according to Can Mag.

I met a lot of people, yeah. Through therapy sessions and what people were going through. I did that, just one on one stuff. It’s actually post traumatic stress disorder or something that these people were going through, they wanted it to get out into the public more so they it wasn’t easy for them. I would only come inside if they were okay with it and if they needed me to leave, I would leave, but normally they would just let me sit with them and listen. They just wanted to get the word out about what they were going through.

3. World Trade Center

Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena in the 9/11 inspired film, World Trade Center
Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena in the 9/11 inspired film, World Trade Center | Paramount Pictures

The movie shows two Port Authority police officers trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center. In World Trade Center there are characters in the movie that are based on real people. For example Dave Karnes was a real former Marine who drove to Ground Zero in order to help. Sgt. Jason Thomas is also a character who is also based on a real person. In real-life Thomas is black, but in the movie he is white because his identity was unknown at the time. Even Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character who is the pregnant wife of someone who is trapped, is based on a real person.

I met her a lot of times,” she told MTV News. “I’m not really playing Alison, but I am on another level. She’s got such a huge heart. I mean, that’s such a clichéd thing to say, but I feel her heart. I feel her heart, and I feel that it’s still kinda broken about what happened to her husband.”

4. Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty
Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty | Columbia Pictures

The Oscar-winning movie shows the hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jessica Chastain plays Maya who is a CIA operative that interrogates prisoners after the attacks. The information that she gets leads to the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 getting their target. Maya is a composite of several real female CIA operatives. She was nominated by the Academy Awards for her role.

The movie was met with some controversy. Some claimed the movie was promoting torture, but the director, Kathryn Bigelow stood by her decisions. “Rather than challenge the film,” Bigelow said according to Telegraph, “how about challenging the individuals who authorised those [torture] tactics? I was presenting the story as faithfully as I could, based on the research we gathered. To have omitted aspects of the story would have meant whitewashing it.”

5. The Guys

Anthony LaPaglia in the post-September 11 inspired film, The Guys
Anthony LaPaglia in the post-September 11 inspired film, The Guys | ContentFilm

Here is another movie that focuses more on the aftermath of that day and some of the event’s heroes. The drama tells the story of a fire captain who lost eight men on 9/11. He then gets an editor (Sigourney Weaver) to help write their eulogies. The movie is actually an adaptation of a stage play which the actress also starred in. According to TV Guide, Weaver said of the play:

I think part of the play is about how marginal a lot of New Yorkers felt because we didn’t have the skills to actually go and help out at Ground Zero. I felt immensely grateful, and still do, that I was able to bring what I do to a project about what happened. I think it was really an offering to the city. A lot of the fire community and their families came to our show, including the families of people we talk about.

6. Charlie Wilson’s War

Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War | Universal Pictures

This is the only movie on the list that actually takes place before the 9/11 attacks. It tells the true story of a Texas Congressman who secretly helped supply Afghan mujahideen with the weapons to fight against the Soviet Union. It also happens to be based on a book of the same name. This of course, has serious consequences. The 9/11 attacks do get referred to at the end of the movie.

The real Charlie Wilson was alive when the movie was being made and even gave notes on the script to help the movie be accurate. He later said he was happy with the result. “I really was happy with the film, yes,” Wilson said according to CNN. “I didn’t expect them to be able to hew as closely to the book as they did. It only had an hour and 37 minutes, and they really got a lot in there.”

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

extremely loud and incredibly close
Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close | Warner Bros.

The fictional movie shows a 9-year-old inventor coming across a mysterious key left behind by his father who died in the World Trade Center. He then searches New York City to find the lock that matches the key. This is another movie that deals with grief and how that day changed the rest of peoples’ lives. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is actually an adaptation from a novel. It was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Picture and one for Max von Sydow as Best Supporting Actor. Sandra Bullock is also in the movie and she was actually in the city for the events of 9/11. She witnessed the second plane hitting the south tower.

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