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Executive Decision is a 1996 action film, directed by Stuart Baird (his directorial debut) and starring Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, David Suchet, John Leguizamo, and Steven Seagal.

Terrorists have hijacked a Boeing 747 en route from Athens to Washington, D.C., demanding in exchange for the hostages the release of fictional terrorist El Sayed Jaffa, who had been recently captured and taken into United States custody. It is discovered that the terrorists are actually planning an attack on Washington, D.C., placing a bomb on the airplane that will release a large amount of nerve gas on detonation. A plan is devised to place a small team of United States Army Special Forces into the plane mid-flight to retake control and disable the bomb. If they are not successful, it may become necessary to shoot down the aircraft before it reaches United States airspace, sacrificing approximately 400 innocent passengers to save the lives of hundreds of thousands on the ground. That call is an "executive decision", meaning that it must be made by the President of the United States.

Comparisons with Air Force One are inevitable, but although that film is better known, this one actually predates it by one year.

Tropes used in Executive Decision include:


  • Advertised Extra : Travis.
  • Air Vent Passageway: Played With: The heroes take turns crawling around in the crawlspace above the passenger cabin so they can spy on the bad guys. They spend most of the rest of the movie hiding in the cargo bay.
  • Badass Bookworm: Grant.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The straw.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Air marshal Fred Edwards, who hides his badge and gun when the hijackers first make their move, being Genre Savvy enough to know how well it would work if he tried to stop them all on the spot.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The flying lessons.
  • Cool Plane: The Remora aircraft. Basically an F-117 with a boarding sleeve on the back.
    • Interesting to note this was inspired by an early F-117 test where the aircraft's stealth was tested by seeing if it could be detected by a 747's collision avoidance radar.
  • Covers Always Lie / Never Trust a Trailer: Although killed off quicky, Seagel's character was heavily featured in the film's marketing, as he was the most bankable star.
    • This was only in the international release. The American release had Kurt Russell solely billed above the title (he had some recent hits at the time as well, such as Stargate and Unlawful Entry).
  • Crash-Course Landing: Except the heroes are attempting to use the flight manual rather than having someone talk them in over the radio.
    • Such a manual being in the cockpit of a commercial jet is, of course, Truth in Television. The heroes knowing where it is and how to use it is Justified by them being a student pilot and a (non-pilot) member of the flight crew.
  • Deadly Gas: The whole reason why they board the plane midair in the first place.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Travis seems like a typical Seagal Invincible Hero, but is killed when the Remora is destroyed halfway through the film.
  • Dead Star Walking: Steven Seagal..
  • Deadpan Snarker: Rat is a master at this.
  • Destroy the Evidence: One of the flight attendants throws away the passenger manifest, which would have otherwise revealed the presence of the Sky Marshal on the plane to the terrorists.
    • The terrorists quickly realize that the manifest is gone, but they think that it was destroyed to cover up the fact that there was a Senator on board.
  • Die Hard on an X: Die Hard on a plane.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Played with.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Travis closing the external 747 hatch right before the Remora conduit integrity fails.
  • Hey, It's That Guy! : Hercule Poirot as a terrorist!
  • Homage: The scene involving the F-14 interception was the last film appearance of Squadron VF-84, The Jolly Rogers, before being decommissioned.
  • Jerkass: The only reason Senator Mavros tries to negotiate with Hassan is to get support from voters when he runs for President.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Travis unnecessarily puts Dr. Grant and Cahill in harms way out of stubbornness and spite respectively, but he genuinewly cares about them his team and Heroic Sacrifice to save both planes.
  • Mauve Shirt: Most of the named passengers and flight crew outside of Jean are this. Out of them, Edwards, Senator Mavros’s aid, and Nancy survive, while Senator Mavros, Allison, and the pilots are killed by the terrorists.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Just fly the plane."
  • Mundane Solution: The bomb is "defused" not with all the high-tech gear the soldiers brought on board, but rather by the simple expedient of thrusting a plastic swizzle-stick between two electrical contacts, thus preventing the detonator from firing.
  • Non-Action Guy: Dr. Grant, Dennis Cahill even more so.
  • Not Quite Dead: Rat, who kills Hassan in the end.
  • Operation Game of Doom: The bomb onboard the plane had a core that would explode if anyone touched the laser security grid around it.
  • Post Modernism: For most of us a movie begins when we see the trailer or the poster; Steven Seagal's character, Travis, features prominently in these places. So we figure he's the guy who will save the day and are doubly shocked when he dies. Utterly brilliant.
  • Red Shirt: Travis’s team has a few. Collins is killed in the opening scene, though his death seems to be the reason Travis hates Dr. Grant. Catman, Spider, and Doc also receive no characterization and are all killed in the Remora crash and never mentioned again.
  • Retirony: Allison, who is gushing about her recent wedding, is the first to die when the hijackers take over the plane.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Dr. Grant
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Allison. Invoked with Senator Mavros, who Hassan shoots to show he is serious.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Travis.
  • The Smart Guy: Cappy. Subverted by Grant and Cahill, since the former takes charge of the situation along with Rat while the latter is terrif out of his mind.
  • Spanner in the Works: Cahill.
  • Suicide Attack: Hassan's original intention.
  • You Have Failed Me: Not even for "failing" in the usual sense - just for disagreeing with the plan of the leader that all of his followers will make a suicide attack.
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