Seven Movies Worth Watching About 9/11
Some of these films are fictional. Others are inspired by, or based on, actual events. Each tries to provide insight into what the events of that day unleashed.
Saturday marks the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We are sharing sources to learn more about that day and its ramifications. Today we’re recommending seven movies about 9/11 and its consequences. Some of these films are fictional. Others are inspired by, or based on, actual events. Either way, they each try to provide insight into what the events of that day unleashed.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). An estimated three thousand children lost parents in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, forever altering their lives. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel of the same name, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of one such child. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) and his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), have a tight knit relationship. Thomas plans scavenger hunts that push Oskar outside of his comfort zone by requiring him to explore New York City and interact with others. A year after Thomas dies in the collapse of the World Trade Center, Oskar finds a key in Thomas’ closet. Oskar sets out to discover what the key had to do with his father. In doing so, he finds closure following his father’s death. You can watch Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, or YouTube.
Reign Over Me (2004). Thousands of Americans lost loved ones on 9/11. How do you cope with that kind of loss? In Reign Over Me, Director Mike Binder explores that question through the fictional story of Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). Charlie’s life comes crashing down around him when his wife and three daughters die in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Five years later, he runs into his former roommate from dental school, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle). Alan is shocked by how much Charlie has changed. Once friendly and outgoing, Charlie is withdrawn and unkempt. Alan works to rekindle their friendship and help his friend return to normal life. Charlie, in turn, helps Alan see the joy and meaning he had overlooked in his own life and relationships. The film, which also features Jada Pinkett Smith and Liv Tyler, shows the value of true friendship during dark times. You can watch Reign Over Me on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.
The Report (2019). In the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration turned to “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract information from actual or suspected terrorists. After news leaked that the CIA had destroyed tapes of the investigation of high-level al-Qaeda operatives to cover up instances of torture, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation. The Report tells the story of that effort, which concluded in 2014 with a 6,700-page report, much of which remains classified. Senate staffer Doug Jones (Adam Driver) is tasked by Senator Diane Feinstein (Annette Benning) to investigate the destruction of the interrogation videos. He uncovers evidence that the CIA misrepresented its methods, the number of detainees it tortured, and the quality of the information it gained. But not everyone wants the Senate to fulfill its oversight role. Driver and Benning, who are joined by Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, and Corey Stoll, elevate this procedural into a gripping look at recent abuse of human rights by the United States. You can watch The Report on Amazon Prime.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012). What happens when worlds collide, and what we want and what we had conflict? Based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells the story of Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani immigrant living in the United States. After graduating from Princeton, he seems to have it all. He works for a big Wall Street firm, his boss likes him, and he is dating a beautiful photographer (Kate Hudson). However, his life in America changes drastically after 9/11. He is suddenly viewed with anger and suspicion. He returns home to Lahore, Pakistan, where he soon becomes entangled with a CIA agent (Liv Schreiber) looking to find a kidnapped American college professor. Director Mira Nair focuses on the different directions Khan’s life pulls him–from his urge to pursue a career in the United States, his commitment to his family in Pakistan, and his conflicted views of the United States and U.S. foreign policy. You can watch The Reluctant Fundamentalist on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or Hulu.
Worth (2020). How much is a life worth? Washington, DC, attorney Kenneth Feinberg was tasked with answering just that question for each of the nearly three thousand people who died on 9/11. Two months after the attacks, he was appointed special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Director Sara Colangelo tells the story of how Feinberg over the course of nearly three years worked with the victims’ families to distribute more than $7 billion. Many families disagreed with the decisions he made and the manner in which he communicated them. Michael Keaton played Feinberg, while Stanley Tucci played Charles Wolf, whose wife died in the World Trade Center and who led the opposition to Feinberg. “There’s a certain dramatic license that they play in the film,” according to the real-life Feinberg, and journalists have been quick to point out where facts give way to fiction. But even Wolf agrees that the film rings true in its account of a man who changes and grows as he comes to understand the depth of pain the victims’ families. You can watch Worth on Netflix.
United 93 (2006). The 9/11 terrorists hijacked four planes. Three of them hit their targets. The fourth, United Flight 93, crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers heroically fought to retake control. In United 93, Director Paul Greenglass recreates the story of the doomed flight in real-time using what is known from its flight path, communications with air traffic control, phone calls from passengers to their loved ones, and interviews with the families of the flight crew and passengers. Greenglass shunned big Hollywood names and cast relative unknowns in the film. Indeed, the flight crew is portrayed by actual pilots and flight attendants. No one knows for certain what the terrorists intended to target with United Flight 93, though many experts suspect it was the U.S. Capitol. What we do knows is that the plane was just twenty minutes from Washington, DC, when it crashed. You can watch United 93 on Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Peacock.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012). In Zero Dark Thirty—military slang for the hours before dawn—Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow tells the story of Maya, a tenacious CIA agent whose work makes possible the Navy SEAL Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11. Did Maya exist in real life? No, she’s a composite character based on several CIA officers who helped track down Bin Laden. The film’s literary license wasn’t the only thing that stirred controversy when it debuted. Critics variously condemned initial plans to release it just before the 2012 presidential election, the fact that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal cooperated with the CIA as they planned the movie, and the film’s depiction of “effective” torture. (Senator Feinstein walked out of a screening of the film in real life to protest a waterboarding scene.) The controversy didn’t keep Zero Dark Thirty from being nominated for Best Picture, or Jessica Chastain from receiving a Best Actress nod for playing Maya. You can watch Zero Dark Thirty on Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube.
Margaret Gach and Leila Marhamati assisted in the preparation of this post.
This piece, first published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is used with permission.