Executive Decision

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Executive Decision
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStuart Baird
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyAlex Thomson
Edited by
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • March 15, 1996 (1996-03-15)
Running time
133 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$55 million[1]
Box office$122.1 million[1]

Executive Decision is a 1996 American action thriller film[2] directed by Stuart Baird (in his directorial debut) and written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas, who also produced the film with Joel Silver. It stars Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Joe Morton, David Suchet and B.D. Wong. It depicts the rescue of an airliner hijacked by terrorists, by a small team placed on the plane in mid-flight. The film was released in the United States on March 15, 1996, by Warner Bros. It grossed $122 million against a $55 million budget.


In May 1995, Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis leads an unsuccessful Special Forces black ops raid on a Chechen mafia safe house in Trieste, Italy, to recover a stolen Soviet nerve agent, DZ-5. Three months later, Oceanic Airlines Flight 343, a Boeing 747-200, leaves Athens bound for Washington, D.C., with over 400 passengers aboard including Nagi Hassan, lieutenant of the imprisoned terrorist leader El Sayed Jaffa. Hassan and his men hijack the flight, demanding Jaffa's release. Meanwhile, just moments before the hijacking, a suicide bomber working for Jaffa destroys a London Marriott hotel restaurant.

Dr. David Grant, the U.S. Army intelligence consultant behind the botched raid, is summoned to a meeting at the Pentagon to plan an operation to retake the plane. Grant doubts Hassan's demands, suspecting he engineered Jaffa's capture, and intends to use the 747 to detonate a bomb loaded with the DZ-5 in U.S. airspace. The Pentagon authorizes a mid-air insertion of Travis' special operations team onto the hijacked airliner using the experimental "Remora F117x" aircraft. Grant and DARPA engineer Dennis Cahill reluctantly join the mission.

The Remora intercepts and docks with the airliner. Grant, Cahill, and team members Cappy, Baker, Louie and Rat successfully board but Cappy is injured after a fall. Severe turbulence strains the docking tunnel. Travis sacrifices himself by closing the 747's hatch before it decompresses. The Remora is destroyed along with the team's communications equipment, leaving the Pentagon unaware of their survival. They conduct a covert search for the bomb, hoping to neutralize it and storm the cabin. Grant accidentally reveals his presence to flight attendant Jean, but successfully recruits her to assist their search, despite Hassan's suspicions.

The team locates the bomb and Cappy, despite his injuries, guides Cahill in disarming it until they discover its arming device has an additional, remote-controlled trigger. Jaffa, released by U.S officials in an attempt to resolve the situation, calls Hassan from a private jet to tell him he is on his way to Algeria, but Hassan abruptly ends the call. Grant and the others realize Hassan's men are unaware of the bomb and Hassan's true intentions, after he kills one of them for rebuking him. He also inadvertently reveals that one of the passengers is a sleeper agent and the trigger-man for the bomb.

The Pentagon dispatches U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats to shoot down the 747, prompting Hassan to execute passenger U.S. Senator Jason Mavros as a warning. Baker uses Morse code via the 747's taillights to signal the fighters that the team made it aboard, requesting an extra ten minutes to neutralize the bomb and retake the 747, despite already crossing into U.S. airspace. Jean spots a man with an electronic device and informs Grant, who enters the passenger cabin to take the suspected individual by surprise, only to find he is merely a diamond thief. Grant spots the real sleeper, Demou, and fights him for the detonator. Hassan attempts to shoot Grant, but is himself shot by an on-board air marshal.

The commandos storm the cabin as a firefight ensues. Grant struggles to wrestle the detonator from Demou's grip while Baker and Rat gun-down several terrorists. Louie assists Grant by fatally shooting Demou and eliminating the remaining terrorists. Demou, however, manages to arm the bomb before dying, and stray bullets from a terrorist's weapon pierce a window causing explosive decompression. The bomb is disarmed just in time by Cappy and Cahill as the 747 stabilizes. Hassan kills the pilots and damages the controls, before being shot and killed by Rat.

Despite his limited flying experience and poor flying technique, Grant takes control of the 747 and attempts a landing but misses the approach to Dulles International Airport. Grant recognizes the area surrounding his training airfield, Frederick Field and attempts to land the 747 there. With Jean's assistance, Grant successfully lands the airliner and the passengers are safely evacuated. Grant is saluted by Baker, Louie, Rat and Cappy for his leadership before being summoned to the Pentagon.



Principal photography began on June 19 and ended on October 17, 1995.


Steven Seagal says that he was enticed to accept the unusual role of Austin Travis by a hefty salary, which amounted to around a million dollars per day spent on the shoot. He also found some satisfaction in knowing that his character's unexpected fate would shock the audience, and therefore did not regret taking the role.[4] Former Warner Bros. Vice President Bill Daly later stated Seagal agreed to the role in exchange for the studio forgiving him losing his director's salary due to going over-budget with his directorial debut On Deadly Ground.[5]

Exterior shots of the Boeing 747 were done using models and two real aircraft.[6] Grant McCune Design constructed two models for actual shooting, one model to test the rig, one complete lower half for closeups of the landing gear extension sequence, and one 1/12 scale nose section for the stealth docking sequence. Two models of the Remora were also made at 1/6 scale, one for the docking sequence with a motion controlled snorkel and articulated hatch and another for post dock sequences.[7] An ex-Kuwait Airways 747-269BM belonging to Kalitta Air (registration N707CK) was featured in most of the in-flight shots,[8][9] while a Corsair 747-121 (externally identical to the 747-200) formerly owned by Pan Am was used for closeups of the aircraft in the aftermath of the crash landing at the end. The latter aircraft was stored in the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, after filming wrapped up and was subsequently scrapped in 1998.[10]

The F-14s featured in the film came from the VF-84 Jolly Rogers squadron. This would be VF-84's last Hollywood appearance before disestablishment.[11]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 63% based on reviews from 41 critics, with an average rating of 6.30/10. The site's consensus states: "Executive Decision adheres entertainingly to classic action thriller formula, proving a genre outing doesn't need to win points for originality to be solidly effective."[12] On Metacritic the film has an approval rating of 62 out of 100, based on reviews from 20 critics.[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Leonard Maltin called it "a tense, inventive thriller" which needed more editing.[15] Leonard Klady of Variety wrote, "The picture's logic may be a bit fast and loose, but its action-and-excitement quotient is top-notch."[16] Roger Ebert rated it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "a gloriously goofy mess of a movie" with several plot holes (e.g. smuggling a toxin into the country would likely be easier and just as effective as hijacking). Ebert praised the first-act plot twist of killing off the character played by Seagal, then a major Hollywood star: "I perked right up".[17]


Halle Berry earned a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress - Adventure/Drama for her performance in the film in 1997.

Steven Seagal earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance in the film but lost to Marlon Brando for The Island of Dr. Moreau.[18]

Other versions[edit]

The European theatrical version of the film was edited by the studio in order to remove reference to Islam. The original US version was the source of the DVD in that country, while the European version was used worldwide as the source for the Blu-ray HD master.[19][20]

See also[edit]

Ghost Squad, a 2004 arcade game from Sega that has a level set on Air Force One, similar to the plot of Executive Decision.


  1. ^ a b "Executive Decision". The Numbers. Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  2. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (March 26, 1996). "Executive Decision". Entertainment Weekly.
  3. ^ "PLOT HOLES MAR THRILLING 'EXECUTIVE DECISION'". Deseret News. 15 March 1996. Steven Seagal, who is not billed in the opening credits
  4. ^ De Semlyen, Nick (March 2007). "Lost Action Heroes: #1 Seagal" (PDF). Empire. No. 213. London: EMAP.
  5. ^ Dettenmaier, Ethan. "Why Seagal was killed in Exec Decision? Former WB VP Bill Daly & I remember our days w/'The Steven'". Brigade-Radio-One. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
  6. ^ Norris, Guy; Wagner, Mark (1997). Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969. Wisconsin: Motorbooks International. p. 113. ISBN 0760302804.
  7. ^ Failes, I. (15 March 2021). "The high-flying miniatures of 'Executive Decision', and where they are now". befores & afters.
  8. ^ Photo of N707CK during production
  9. ^ "N801KH Kitty Hawk Collateral Liquidating Trust Boeing 747-200(F)". Planespotters.net. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  10. ^ "N3293H Unknown Boeing 747-100". Planespotters.net. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  11. ^ Leone, D. (July 5, 2018). "VF-84 Jolly Rogers Last Hurrah: filming the movie Executive Decision". The Aviation Geek Club. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  12. ^ "Executive Decision (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  13. ^ "Executive Decision". Metacritic.
  14. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  15. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780698183612.
  16. ^ Klady, Leonard (1996-03-10). "Review: Auds Likely to Decide in Favor of 'Executive'". Variety. Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (1996-03-15). "Executive Decision". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  18. ^ Wilson, John. "1996 Razzie Awards". Golden Raspberry Awards. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  19. ^ Gerald Wurm (2011-09-29). "Executive Decision (Comparison: Intern. Blu-ray / European Version - US DVD)". Movie-Censorship.com. Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  20. ^ "Executive Decision Re-Edited Blu-ray Version (1996)".

External links[edit]