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Executive Decision
Directed by Stuart Baird
Produced by Joel Silver
Written by Jim Thomas
John Thomas
Starring Kurt Russell
Halle Berry
John Leguizamo
Oliver Platt
Joe Morton
David Suchet
J.T. Walsh
Marla Maples
Ahmed Ahmed
Richard Riehle
and Steven Seagal
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Editing by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) March 15, 1996
Running time 134 minutes
Language English
Budget $60,000,000

Executive Decision is a 1996 action film, directed by Stuart Baird and starring Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, David Suchet, John Leguizamo, and Steven Seagal. The film was released in the United States on March 15, 1996.



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, the decision to shoot down the aircraft before it reaches United States airspace is made, trading the lives of the approximately 400 innocent passengers to save the lives of hundreds of thousand people on the ground. This decision is an "executive decision", meaning that it must be specifically approved by the President of the United States.


Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis (Steven Seagal) leads an unsuccessful raid on a Chechen mafia safehouse by a United States Army special forces team to recover a stolen Soviet nerve agent, DZ-5.

Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell), a consultant for U.S. Army Intelligence, is informed that the world's most feared terrorist, El Sayed Jaffa (Andreas Katsulas), has been taken into custody.

Shortly after, Oceanic Airlines Flight 343, a Boeing 747-200, leaves Athens bound for Washington Dulles. It is hijacked by Jaffa's number two man, Nagi Hassan (David Suchet), and a number of Jaffa's men.

Grant is summoned to the Pentagon to join a team led by Travis which is being readied to intercept the hijacked plane. They listen to Nagi Hassan's demand for the release of Jaffa. Dr. Grant, however, does not believe Hassan wants Jaffa released. He believes that Hassan actually arranged for Jaffa's capture, that the hijacked plane is carrying a bomb loaded with DZ-5, and that Hassan wants to detonate the bomb over U.S. airspace.

A plan is worked out that will involve a mid-air transfer of a commando team onto the hijacked airliner using an experimental "Remora" aircraft. The plan is approved, and Colonel Travis assembles his commando team at Andrews Air Force Base. They board with Dr. Grant and engineer Dennis Cahill (Oliver Platt).

The boarding is only partially successful. When Sergeant "Cappy" Matheny (Joe Morton) is seriously injured, Grant, who was supposed to stay put, boards to help lift him into the plane. The 747 pulls up, though, putting too much stress on the boarding sleeve. Unable to board the plane, Colonel Travis sacrifices himself when he closes the 747's hatch, just as the sleeve breaks and he is thrown from the F-117. The remainder of the commando team make it to the 747's lower deck, but with half their equipment, so military command on the ground does not know whether or not the commandos made it on board.

With limited options, the commandos begin to search for the supposed DZ-5 bomb. Grant manages to make contact with a stewardess, Jean (Halle Berry), despite Hassan's suspicions, and asks her for assistance in finding the bomb's remote detonator.

Officials decide to release Jaffa in order to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, Cappy and Cahill locate and start to dismantle the bomb. They discover that bomb's arming device is barometrically activated. They seemingly disarm the bomb, but it is revealed that there is another trigger.

Jaffa calls Hassan from a private jet, telling him he is free, but Hassan will not be swayed from his plan. Grant realizes that only Hassan knows about the bomb, but none of his men do—which means there is a sleeper on board—one passenger among 400.

Jean spots a man with an electronic device and informs Grant. Meanwhile, the commandos manage to signal to US fighter jets that they are on board and not to shoot them down—using the plane's taillights and Morse code.

Grant and Jean enter the passenger cabin and take the suspect by surprise, but what Jean thought was an electronic device was merely a case of diamonds. Grant spots the real sleeper: Jean-Paul Demou, the man who built the bomb. Hassan attempts to fire at Grant, but is shot from behind by the on-board air marshal. The commandos storm the plane, and a firefight ensues, resulting in a break in the airplane wall, sucking out 3 passengers and Demou; however, all of the terrorists are killed, the bomb is finally disarmed and plane regains its stability.

Hassan kills both pilots, hoping the bomb will detonate if the plane crashes, but he is killed by Captain Rat. Grant is forced to attempt to land the 747, despite his limited piloting experience. He misses the Dulles runway, but recognizes the airfield where he normally practices flying and decides to try there. With Jean's assistance, he makes a sloppy but relatively safe landing.

Production notes


Originally developed at Paramount, the studio put the project in turnaround and sold to Warner Bros. in exchange for the rights and screenplay to Forrest Gump. Executive Decision was considered a hot project while Forrest Gump was going through multiple problems with the script and casting.


The film received full cooperation from The Pentagon. One alteration to the screenplay was the removal of the President of the United States (he is said to be out of the country and doesn't appear on screen); his part in the story was taken by the Secretary of Defense played by Len Cariou.

The film's plot device of a stealth fighter linking to a civilian airliner had its roots in a F-117 field test, conducted by the famous "Skunk Works". In the test, a "red-eye" transcontinental flight was picked at random by Skunk Work engineers. An F-117 "Have Blue" fighter then flew just below and behind the selected airliner. Engineers watched radar screens for the airliner's reaction. If the airliner deviated from its flight path, the engineers would assume that its anti-collision radar system had detected the stealth fighter. According to the story, the unknowing airliner stayed on its preset flight path. After nearly an hour the invisible fighter plane veered off and returned to its test site.


The film is rather notable in that Steven Seagal actually has a fairly minor role, and his character is killed early on, despite being one of the more well-known of the actors to appear in the film, and a major action star at the time. Furthermore, Seagal is not cited in the opening credits, but Seagal's image was used heavily in advertising for the movie due to his enormous popularity in Europe.

Aircraft props

Oceanic Airlines is a fictional airline often used in action movies and TV series involving ill-fated air planes. Some scenes from this film were used in other films and TV series.

The external shots of the Oceanic Airlines 747 depicts the 747-200 version of the aircraft, yet all the cockpit scenes in the movie feature the much more modern glass cockpit of the newer 747-400 which has a longer upper deck than the -200 model as well. The same discrepancy occurs in the movie Turbulence - a common incongruity in motion pictures which involve scenes in the cockpit.

Some early model Boeing 747s flown by United and American (some also later went to Pan Am second hand from UA and AA) used to have lower-lobe galleys with service elevators. However, later standard 747s no longer featured the lower-lobe galleys. The only commercial aircraft where this feature was standard on were the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 1, 100, 200, 250 and some models of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 depending on how the airlines ordered it.

Kurt Russell is shown in an opening scene piloting a Beechcraft Bonanza. Kurt Russell was actually flying the airplane and it is seen making an approach into Chino, California. The scene is spliced into a ramp scene from Van Nuys airport. The ground scenes were filmed in Van Nuys, with Van Nuys standing in for Maryland.

The scene involving the F-14 interception was the last film appearance of Squadron VF-84 before being decommissioned.


This film is also known under the name Critical Decision, for the Belgian market; the German title was Einsame Entscheidung and Final Decision in South Korea.


Box office

  • US Gross Domestic Takings: US $56,569,216
  • International Takings: $65,400,000
  • Gross Worldwide Takings: $121,969,216

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Executive Decision is a 1996 action film about the U.S. Army special force trying to take out the plane which was hijacked by terrorists. The terrorists had brought bio-chemical bomb on the plane to attack Washington DC.

Directed by Stuart Baird. Written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas.
From miles above the earth, an elite team of six men must make an air to air transfer, in order to save 400 lives on board a 747 and 40 million below.

Colonel Travis

Grant: If you don't believe me, what are you doing up here?
Travis: Well... who the hell else is gonna do it... you?


Grant: Jesus, they got it!
Sgt. Baker: [surprisingly] They got it?
Grant: They got it!
Sgt. Baker: I take back every rust pickin', squid hatin' thing I've ever said about swabbies!

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