Executive Decision

Executive Decision

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


The film opens with a raid on a Chechen mafia safehouse by a United States Army special forces team whose objective is to recover a stolen Soviet nerve agent, DZ-5. The raid is unsuccessful, and one of the commandos is killed. The team is led by Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis (Steven Seagal).

We are introduced to Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell), who is taking a flying lesson and nervous about flying on his own for the first time. Later, at the office, he is informed that the world's most feared terrorist, El Sayed Jaffa (Andreas Katsulas), has been taken into custody.

Oceanic Airlines Flight 343 takes off from Athens bound for Washington Dulles. Soon after, the 747 is hijacked by Jaffa's number two man, Nagi Hassan (David Suchet), and a number of Jaffa's men. In London, a suicide bomber blows up a Marriott hotel restaurant, and the American embassy is notified by one of Jaffa's men using a tape recorder playing into a public telephone. The bombing is meant to underscore Hassan's seriousness.

Back in Washington, we see Dr. Grant as a bit of a ladies' man as he attempts to charm a woman at a party with a pair of hockey tickets. His efforts are thwarted, however, as he is interrupted by news of the hijacking.

On the plane, an air marshal (Richard Riehle) hides his gun in an ankle holster. Flight attendant Jean (Halle Berry) notices the words "ARMED AIR MARSHAL" on the passenger manifest, and hides it from Hassan in order to keep him from finding out about the air marshal.

Dr. Grant heads over to the Pentagon, where he and several Pentagon officials, including Colonel Travis, listen to Nagi Hassan demand 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, killing 40 million citizens.

Back on the plane, Hassan addresses a man revealed to be U.S. Senator Mavros (J.T. Walsh), a potential presidential candidate.

At the Pentagon, 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). Much to Cahill's dismay, Travis insists that the engineer come with them when they board the airliner.

The boarding process is complicated by the fact that the pilots and terrorists on the plane are unaware of the presence of the commandos. When the 747 attempts to gain altitude, the commando's aircraft is forced to break away. Most of the team makes it over, but Sergeant "Cappy" Matheny (Joe Morton) is seriously injured and two other team members are electrocuted by some sparks in the Remora. Colonel Travis is caught between the two planes and killed, but not before he manages to close the plane's hatch. The commando team quickly set up in the 747's lower deck.

Because of the botched transfer, military command on the ground does not know whether or not the commandos made it on board. A carrier group has been ordered to intercept the plane and shoot it down over the Atlantic if necessary, killing over 400 passengers on board.

Hassan forces the copilot down into the lower deck to investigate a malfunction caused by the transfer. While down there, he sees the commandos and almost gives their presence away, but recovers and tells Hassan it is merely a fried circuit. In the lower deck, Cahill and Grant reveal that if they fail in their mission before the plane enters US airspace in 3 hours and 50 minutes, the Pentagon will order the plane shot down. With limited options, the commandos begin to search for the supposed DZ-5 bomb. In the cockpit, the copilot quietly mentions to the captain that he saw American soldiers in the lower deck.

As the team discreetly moves through the structure of the plane, setting up cameras that peer into the cabin and searching for the bomb, Senator Mavros' aide encourages the Senator to negotiate with the terrorists, as it will greatly enhance his public image if he is successful. Suddenly, Jean spots Dr. Grant in the elevator of the plane as he is moving between decks. He signals for her to keep quiet. Hassan approaches and grows suspicious, but finds nothing. Jean manages to steal a page from a book in Hassan's coat, which diagrams the blast radius of the bomb over Washington D.C. Senator Mavros, meanwhile, approaches Hassan in an attempt to open a dialogue with him. The team finds the bomb, and Dr. Grant comments that there is "enough nerve agent to wipe out half the eastern seaboard."

On the ground, officials decide to release Jaffa in order to resolve the situation. In order to be set free, Jaffa must convince Hassan to land the plane in a remote location, whereby the terrorists will be given passage to a nation of their choice. Jaffa agrees to try and convince Hassan, "in the interests of peace."

Cappy, although injured, starts examining the bomb. Cappy is immobile, so the team must enlist the help of a reluctant Cahill to tamper with the bomb's arming device, which is barometrically activated. While Cahill and Cappy work together to disarm the bomb, Grant and the other commandos get ready to storm the plane and take out the terrorists. After a few tense moments, Cahill seemingly disarms the bomb, but suddenly someone runs a system test on the bomb and it is revealed that there is another trigger. The team is forced to abort.

Jaffa calls Hassan from a private jet, telling him he is free, but Hassan will not be swayed from his plan, saying "Our destiny is to deliver the vengeance of Allah into the belly of the infidel." Hassan's second-in-command takes exception to this, and the two get into a heated argument. Hassan shoots him. Grant realizes that only Hassan knows about the bomb, none of his men do - which means that whoever ran the system test is not one of Hassan's men, but a sleeper - one passenger among 400.

Cahill determines that in order to disarm the bomb, they have to bypass the primary power sources by adding a power source of their own. He sets to work with Cappy on the task. Meanwhile, Grant enlists the help of Jean in order to find the sleeper. As he explains the task to her over the plane's interior communications system (find a passenger with a small electronic device), Hassan discovers her but again his suspicions are allayed. Jean moves through the cabin, handing out magazines and newspapers. She stops at the air marshal's seat, quietly whispering, "They're here", and pointing at a headline about American soldiers. As Jean helps a lady with her medication, she spots a man with an electronic device. While the man's face is not revealed, she takes down his seat number, 21K, and informs Grant.

Cahill and Cappy seem to be making progress disarming the bomb, until Cahill makes a mistake and the bomb does not detonate. They realize the electronics they have been working on are simply decoys; the real bomb is underneath. Outside, fighter jets arrive demanding that the 747 divert course. Grant and the commandos realize they are about to be shot down, and frantically work out a way to communicate with the jets using the plane's taillights and Morse code.

In the tense cockpit, Hassan calls on Senator Mavros to negotiate away the planes, but instead of letting the Senator talk, Hassan shoots him and threatens the death of one passenger every minute unless the plane is allowed to stay on course. With no other choice, the fighters get ready to shoot the 747 down, but the Morse code message comes through just in time, and the fighters back off. The team is granted 10 minutes to do their job. Captain Rat (John Leguizamo) gives Cahill and Cappy 5 minutes to finish disarming the bomb before the commandos storm the plane. Cappy protests that it will take a lot longer than 5 minutes, but Grant simply tells him to "do the best job he can."

Grant contacts Jean again and tells her to take the elevator down to the lower deck. When she comes back up, Grant is with her with a gun to her back, posing as a terrorist. He takes the man in seat 21K by surprise, but what Jean thought was an electronic device was merely a case of diamonds. Frantic, Grant looks around and spots the real sleeper: Jean-Paul Demou, the man who built the bomb.

Grant fires at him, but misses. Hassan attempts to fire at Grant, but is shot from behind by the air marshal. At that moment, the commandos storm the plane, and a firefight ensues. Most of the terrorists are killed. Demou manages to enter the code to detonate the bomb, but at that moment, Cahill disarms it and the detonation fails. One of the terrorists gets shot by the storming U.S. soldiers and dying, fires his AK-47 randomly and blows a hole in the side of the plane, and Demou is sucked out to his death. As the plane spirals out of control, Cahill and Cappy struggle to retain control of the bomb. Finally, the pilots manage to bring the 747 back into control, and they receive clearance to land at Dulles International Airport.

In a last-ditch attempt, Hassan kills both pilots, hoping the bomb will detonate if the plane crashes. Hassan is shot by Rat, but 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.

On the ground, the team says their goodbyes, and it is clear the commandos have developed a newfound respect for Dr. Grant. Although called to the Pentagon, Grant invites Jean along for a cup of coffee. As they drive away, Grant asks Jean if she likes hockey....


Box office

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


  • 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, despite his small role.
  • 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. Steven Seagal's image was on the cover, despite being a minor character, due to his enormous popularity in Europe.
  • 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. In addition, some Warner executives were afraid that the success of Rain Man would pre-empt Gump due to the perceived similarities of the projects' subject material (both involved lead chararcters with mental disabilities).
  • Oceanic Airlines is a fictional airline often used in action movies and TV series involving ill-fated air planes. Some scenes of this film were used in other films and TV series.
  • The scene involving the F-14 interception was the last film appearance of Squadron VF-84 before being decommissioned.
  • 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.
  • Kurt Russell is a pilot in real life.
  • The Frank Sinatra song "It's Nice to Go Trav'lin" is played over the end credits. The song is likely played as an homage to Die Hard 2, at the end of which "Let it Snow", also sang by Sinatra, is played in similar fashion to the closing of Executive Decision. It should also be noted that both films close in Washington D.C. and have to do with terrorists and hijacked airliners.
  • In real life, the Boeing 747 does not have lower-lobe galleys with service elevators as was depicted in the movie. The only commercial aircraft that were designed with this feature were the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
  • 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 error occurs in the movie Turbulence. This is a common mistake in motion pictures which involve scenes in the cockpit.

The film's plot device of a stealth fighter linking with a civilian airliner may have 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. The test involved flying an F-117 "Have Blue" fighter just below and behind the selected airliner. Engineers then watched radar screens for the airliner's reaction. If the airliner deviated from its flight path, the engineers would assume that the airliner's anti-collision radar system had detected the stealth fighter. According to the story, the unknowing airliner stayed on its preset flight path, as the invisible fighter plane veered off, returning to its test site.

  • The movie is similar to the 9/11 attacks as it depicts a novel idea of aircraft hijacking with the intention to use the hijacked aircraft as a suicide weapon to inflict massive casualties, as opposed to the conventional purposes of taking hostages in return for ransom or other demands. It was released over 5 years prior to 9/11/2001.
  • The 747 filming miniature used for the landing scenes was recycled for use in the 2007 action/horror film Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, albeit with the 'Oceanic' titles removed and the tail logo changed from 'OA' to 'CA'. The miniature is seen briefly in the trailer but also appears on the effects company's site

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