The best in-flight movies for all your holiday travel
Ah, the miracle of air travel: all those flying tin cans polluting the planet, packed with hundreds of humans breathing the same recycled air. A lot of us will spend a significant amount of time on planes in the coming months thanks to the holidays. And there is one silver lining to long-haul air travel: the chance to catch up on movies you maybe didn’t feel like paying $20 to see in theaters.
You might not get to see a film exactly the way a filmmaker intended — plane content is edited and censored by third parties, sometimes excessively so. But flying is still a great way to binge a bunch of stuff you missed the first time around, while momentarily escaping your cramped, hellish surroundings.
Some things to avoid: Those airplane screens are not, err, state of the art. The experience is kind of like watching a scratched portable DVD player manufactured in 2005. The audio is often terrible, even if you have fancy headphones. (Remember, bluetooth headphones and Apple lightning inputs don’t work with these puppies. You need a headphone jack.)
So even if you’re excited to watch a film like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I wouldn’t advise it. I watched it on my way to Seattle, and noticed a lot of my plane-mates watching it, too. Though shirtless Brad Pitt remains dazzling, the rest of Tarantino’s handiwork suffers. You need a big, gorgeous screen and good speakers for this one. Same goes for another Pitt vehicle offered on flights this holiday season: Ad Astra, which is super formulaic but visually stunning. Save this one to watch with the fam, on somebody’s fancy widescreen.
That said, here are seven high-quality flicks that are suitable for plane viewing, all available to stream on US airlines whilst you fly home to (or away from) family this holiday season.
If you haven’t seen this movie yet… Honestly, what are you waiting for? It’s not in theaters anymore, so unless you’re a critic with access to “For Your Consideration” screeners, I suggest you buy a plane ticket ASAP so you can bask in JLo’s ageless perfection as soon as humanly possible.
Hustlers is one of those movies that is so fun, and yet so heartfelt, that its existence is as awe-inspiring as watching Jennifer Lopez demonstrate fancy moves on a stripper pole. How is she pulling that off, exactly? This film is like someone mashed together Magic Mike and Ocean’s Eleven, but replaced every single male actor with iconic women who each steal the limelight in turn. Hit play, sis!
This is a delightful buddy comedy in the style of The Hangover — except the stakes are lowered to elementary school. It’s about three sixth graders on a quest to attend a “kissing party” hosted by the popular kids. They get waylaid, of course, by a quest to reclaim a captured drone from some teenage girls, who are, in turn, determined to get their hands on some molly before a Kendrick Lamar concert. It’s produced by Seth Rogan, if that gives you an idea of the vibe. It’s delightful!
Looking for an equally delightful coming-of-age buddy comedy? Watch Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, which spoke to me — a formerly anxious, straight-A goody-goody — on a deeply personal level. Be warned, however: certain airlines like Delta have been accused of overly-censoring Booksmart, by removing queer themes and references to female genitalia, which is obviously not cool.
POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Okay, I have to be honest with you. I didn’t watch Pokémon Detective Pikachu. But my boyfriend did on the seatback next to me, and I spent the next few… days… hearing about how incredible it is. I admit, I’d heard good things when it came out, too! And I have a soft spot for ridiculous franchises that become actually great entertainment (i.e. The Lego Movie, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical). So watch Pokémon Detective Pikachu on your next flight! Order an airplane wine or two while you’re at it! Have fun!
This isn’t a movie, it’s a weird Showtime series starring Jim Carrey as a Mr. Rogers-esque TV personality navigating some seriously fucked-up life shit. And you should binge all of it on your next flight (I caught it on JetBlue). It’s a story that just gets richer, stranger and more delightful the deeper you go. The cast is also stacked: in addition to Carrey there’s Judy Greer, Frank Langella, Catherine Keener, and a pair of crazy-talented kiddos — Cole Allen as Carrey’s son and Juliet Morris as Keener’s daughter. Run don’t walk!
I didn’t have time to watch Yesterday on my last flight, but I’m going to be sure to catch it on my next one. The premise is that after a freak accident, a struggling musician is the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles. Naturally, he becomes famous by playing and taking credit for their songs. Cute, romantic mayhem ensues!
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
I’ve noticed airplane movie catalogues have been stacked with films by powerhouse indie studio A24 lately, which is awesome! They produce some incredible films, like this year’s Waves and Uncut Gems and Midsommar, et cetera. Joe Talbot’s directorial debut is about an African-American man’s efforts to reclaim his childhood home, a grand Victorian in the Fillmore District in rapidly-gentrifying San Francisco. Talbot won a couple of awards at Sundance this year, and I highly recommend spending a couple of hours with his film.