9/11 and its profound impact on cinema
Films, documentaries, series and thousands of references to the 9/11 attacks can be found across all types audiovisual content platforms.
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Until the tragic events that occurred on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, the only reference anyone had of an attack on North American soil was the Pearl Harbor bombings in 1941 — an event which has its own trove of films and propaganda paying tribute to the victims of the attack.
From here to eternity (1953), First victory (1965) and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), among others, are some of the most remembered, not including Michael Bay's super production in 2001, which took up the sensitive issue 60 years after the attack.
As for 9/11, some viewers thought it “too early” when two films about the tragedy were released in 2006. But for the filmmakers, as well as for the survivors and their families, the recognition was necessary to remember the silent heroes who lost their lives that day.
While some of these stories have been approached with embedded arguments about the events of that day, others have decided to narrate events after the attacks or present characters that carry the weight of the painful memory on their shoulders, as well as the physical and emotional consequences of those that managed to survive.
On the 20th anniversary of the tragedu, Netflix released two new products that dive deep on the profound impact of these events — a fictional film and a documentary series that collects several of the stories that emerged as a result of the attacks. So far, there are 64 productions part of this filmography.
Here, we present a top 10 of films that have used the 9/11 attacks as a theme or background to a story:
Released on Jan. 30, 2006, the television movie, produced by A&E Network, tells the story of United Airlines Flight 93, where passengers learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon through phone calls with their families. It is then that they revolted against the four hijackers of their place. It was the first film to be released after the attacks.
The film was directed by Peter Markle and starred Jeffrey Nordling, Colin Glazer, Brennan Elliott, and Ty Olsson.
This film, released on Jan. 24, 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival and on Sept. 3 on the Netflix, is the latest production to see 9/11 as a key plot element.
The biographical film, directed by Sara Colangelo and written by Max Borenstein, tells the story of lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who is fighting to compensate the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks. It features stars like Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci, Tate Donovan, Shunori Ramanathan, and Laura Benanti.
Bollywood was also inspired by the events of 9/11, and tells the adventure of Rizwan Khan, a Muslim whose stepson, Sameer, is killed in a racist assault in the aftermath of 9/11 and is blamed by his wife. It prompts Khan to go on a journey to meet the President of the United States.
Released on Feb. 12, 2010, the Hindi production was written by Shibani Bathija and Niranjan Iyengar, directed by Karan Johar and starred Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
It is an American film directed by Martin Guigui and written by Guigui and Steven Golebiowski. It is based on the play, Elevator, by Patrick James Carson, which takes place during the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The drama begins when Jeffrey Cage arrives at the North Tower with his wife Eve to sign the divorce papers. While in the elevator, American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the building, knocking the elevator out of service with them and others trapped.
The film stars Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Gina Gershon, Luis Guzmán, and Jacqueline Bisset, and was released in the United States on Sept. 8, 2017.
Directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Eric Roth, this New York production tells the drama of Oskar Schell, a boy with communication problems who loses his father in the attacks on the Twin Towers.
After a year had passed since the attacks, Oskar accidentally breaks a vase and inside, he finds a key in an envelope with the word "Black" on it. He becomes obsessed with finding the lock that matches the key, believing it to be a clue to his father. He finds 472 people with the last name "Black" in the New York phone book, and makes plans to visit all of them.
The film had a limited release on Dec. 25, 2011, and then a larger-scale one on Jan. 20, 2012. It starred Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, and Zoe Caldwell.
When the Twin Towers collapsed in 2001, Charlie Fineman lost everything important in his life. After five years have passed since his wife and daughters have died, Charlie is not even the shadow of the once successful and sociable man, so his in-laws begin to worry about his sanity.
Written and directed by Mike Binder, the film featured one of Adam Sandler's finest performances, accompanied by stars such as Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Saffron Burrows and Mike Binder. It was released on March 23, 2007.
Directed by Oliver Stone, the film is based on the experience of some police officers during the September 11 attacks, in which they were trapped in the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center.
It stars Nicolas Cage, Maria Bello, Michael Peña, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Dorff, and Michael Shannon. The film was released in the United States on Aug. 9, 2006, and is categorized as a disaster docu-drama.
An American thriller film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, it recreates the nearly decade-long international persecution of Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, after the September 11 attacks. The search leads to the discovery of his compound in Pakistan and the military attack where bin Laden was assassinated on May 2, 2011.
Released on Dec. 10, 2012, the film stars Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Reda Kateb, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini and Kyle Chandler.
Netflix recently made the series available to stream, and it provides an accurate reconstruction of the events of 9/11.
There are five episodes where, with great detail and a precise context, director and producer Brian Knappenberger narrates the incident from its historical antecedents, which date back to the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
This top 10 is rounded out with a documentary winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
Directed, written, and starring filmmaker, director, and political commentator Michael Moore, it presents a critical look at the George W. Bush presidency, the War in Iraq, and its media coverage. Moore hypothesizes that the U.S. corporate media were "cheerleaders" for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and did not provide an accurate or objective analysis of the justification for the war and the resulting casualties there.
The documentary also generated intense controversy, including disputes over its accuracy.
9/11 will continue to be the subject of conversation and of many cinematographic plots. Despite two decades having passed, the painful consequences of that day still touch the most sensitive fibers of the generations that lived that day and those that came later.
The diversity exhibited in the film and television products about the terrorist attacks is a clear example that September 11 not only changed the United States, but also the entire world, which will never erase those moments from its collective memory.