While flying, it’s absolutely crucial to find movies to distract you from the utter impossibility of being hucked through the sky at twenty million miles per hour inside a pressurized metal death trap designed by aeronautical sadists. Choosing the right movie can be the difference between having a relaxing, enjoyable flight, and The Opposite of That, especially if you’re of a nervous disposition when it comes to the whole endeavor. Here are ten pieces of media that I absolutely swear by to help keep panic attacks at bay on flights.
The Golden Girls (Any Season)
Granted, my solution to every problem I have ever faced has been “put on The Golden Girls and pretend that your problems are imaginary,” and this goes doubly so for contending with the harrowing reality of man-made flight. It’s impossible to become consumed with fear and anxiety about the precarity of your safety at 20,000 feet up while watching Dorothy respond to Rose telling bizarre stories about growing up in Minnesota. In particular, I recommend any episode that revolves around Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche sitting in the kitchen and eating dessert in the wee hours while telling stories via flashback. It’s like audio-visual Xanax, and it’s a perfect contrast for the toe-clenching horror of flight.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
This adaptation is suffused with pure sunlight and joy, and nothing will help let the air out of your airborne panic attack as effectively as Brian Blessed screaming at the top of his lungs and Michael Keaton prancing around like an improv troupe pervert and Keanu Reeves attempting his best Shakespearean elocution. (To clarify, we are all very proud of Keanu and he did a great job. I will hear no criticism of Keanu’s vocal delivery in his role as the villainous Don John, which can be best described as Absolutely Existing.) You won’t even want to compulsively Google air fatality statistics while Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson roast each other under the balmy Italian sun. Don’t look at me. I love this movie.
The Devil's Advocate
Wild card, right? Here’s the thing: It’s the least relaxing film ever made, what with Al Pacino and the Satan stuff and the constant yelling, but it’s perfect for viewing while staving off your encroaching panic amid the claustrophobia of commercial airline travel. You won’t have time to think about your loved ones’ faces upon being told you died instantly once your plane crashed because you’ll be too busy trying to figure out why this movie is so long, and why “Al Pacino is the literal, actual devil” is the plot of the movie but also somehow the twist of the movie. Keanu Reeves (the lad! my precious boy!) shows back up in this film as a hotshot attorney who sounds like a rude child’s impersonation of Hank Hill, and the results are so perplexing that you’ll not only be able to distract from your airborne anxiety – you’ll want to watch it again once you’re back on the ground to make sure that this film is not a hallucination brought on by cabin pressurization.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
This movie, aside from being a national treasure and the finest performance of Steve Martin’s career, is a perfect Rube Goldberg machine that the brain can comfortably dig into like a dog on a couch covered in blankets. Every element of the script leads into the next, and there’s not a single moment wasted in this perfect, perfect, perfect film. If you’re on, say, a two-hour flight from Northern California to Southern California and you’ve downloaded a copy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to your mobile device in preparation for being tens of thousands of feet above where human beings were meant to be, you’ll have an hour and fifty minutes to avoid gazing into the yawning abyss of your own mortality. This movie is amazing even when you’re NOT doing that, but it’s the absolute balm of Gilead if you need to think about fancy con artists and slapstick genius instead of the alarming number of cracked airplane windows in the past year’s news cycle.
Cosmos with Carl Sagan (One Season)
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe, and if you wish to keep from stress-yarking in a bathroom the size of a coffee mug, you must first put on Carl Sagan’s seminal science education show Cosmos. It’s not just the fact that Sagan’s patient, mellow voice will both lower your blood pressure and clear your skin. It’s not the fact that it’s only 13 episodes and you can jump in anywhere. It’s not how visually soothing Sagan’s turtlenecks are. It’s the fact that, cosmically speaking, your airplane and the world it’s flying across are very, very, very small. If you’re just a molecule drifting across a pale blue dot, the insurmountable obelisk of your anxiety doesn’t look so big, does it? The universe is beautiful, and your terror is a part of that, and that is also beautiful. Also, Carl Sagan pronounces robots as “robutts” and humans as “yoomans.” I love Cosmos.
Murder, She Wrote
Angela Lansbury will save us all. She might be a bit of a murder magnet, since it just happens to pop up constantly wherever she goes, but she always figures it out in the end, and there’s something deeply comforting about the consistency of that fact. If you’re shaking and clammy and in your airline seat, you can always take comfort in her kind eyes and musical laugh as she basically does the same thing over and over again in every episode. Jessica Fletcher knows what she’s doing, all right? It’s her JOB, and nobody’s ever died in a plane crash in Cabot Cove throughout any of the show’s 12 seasons. It’s deeply relaxing for your anxiety, which seems counterintuitive for a show with “murder” in the title, but the simplicity and repetition will work wonders when you’re becoming consumed by the notion that you could accidentally get sucked out of the plane’s lavatory if you flush with too much force.
The Devil Wears Prada
This is the gold standard of in-flight movies. You don’t even have to have this movie downloaded onto your tablet or anything–even if it’s an airline without video screens, they’ll probably bring around a flight attendant with a smartphone that’ll play The Devil Wears Prada and you can huddle around it together in the galley. It makes absolute sense that this movie is so widely available on commercial flights: for the specific purposes of distracting yourself from thoughts of how quickly your body would be dashed across the cabin, nothing can compare to Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly. I’m pretty sure “The Devil Wears Prada availability for viewing on commercial flights” was ruled a universal human right by the United Nations.
As with most Baz Luhrmann films, the experience of consuming Moulin Rouge! is not unlike being force-fed twelve pounds of funnel cake by a barbershop quartet of shrieking goblins – that is to say that it’s great, and it’s a lot, and it’s perfect for microwaving your brain on a flight in order to keep from paying attention to your frantic internal monologue. The absolute sensory Chernobyl of Moulin Rouge! won’t even give you the option of looking away to obsess over whether you think you’ve seen the flight attendants secretly signaling to one another that the flight is doomed. Ewan MacGregor and all of his lousy bohemian friends will grip you by the eyeballs for at least two hours and make you feel schmaltzy feelings, and when the swirling neon vortex has faded, you’ll be like “Well, at least I’m in Cleveland or wherever now, but why can’t I stop crying?” It’s like I always say: Airplane bathroom sinks were built for the contents of precisely one human being’s tear ducts.
Is that–why, so it is! It’s Keanu Reeves again! And he’s here to help keep the taste of burning bile back down in your belly where it belongs as he seeks revenge for the murder of the cutest puppy in the world. If you don’t have anybody sitting with you on the flight to help steady your nerves and remind you that statistically speaking, you’re way more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash and oh God why would they say that because now you’re just afraid of cars AND planes and–the important thing here is that this is a perfect action movie, sole purpose of which is to keep you locked on and watching for the duration of its runtime. There’s a visceral style to the direction and camerawork that allows you to forget about absolutely everything around you (up to and including the terror that the last face you’ll see before being consumed by fire is the old guy next to you with the whistly nose) and focus on Keanu’s magical murder spree.
Harold and Maude
The way out is through, and if you’re going to grapple with the idea of mortality (and, more specifically, your own), nothing softens the blow like a soundtrack by Cat Stevens. A film about the weirdo love between a death-obsessed twentysomething and a fun-loving seventysomething, Harold and Maude is an oddly soothing experience because of the instant familiarity of Harold’s fixation on death as a response to the anxiety of living, and when you’re absolutely convinced that both of the engines on your Boeing 747 are planning to sneeze at the most comically appropriate moment possible, it’s nice to watch something that acknowledges the reality of how scary everything is. It’s okay to be afraid because occasionally, your anxiety can have musical accompaniment from the guy who did “Peace Train.”