Executive Decision

Executive Decision
Executive Decision

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stuart Baird
Produced by Joel Silver
Written by Jim Thomas
John Thomas
Starring Kurt Russell
Halle Berry
John Leguizamo
Oliver Platt
Steven Seagal
Joe Morton
David Suchet
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Editing by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) March 15, 1996 (1996-03-15)
Running time 134 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million
Box office $121,969,216

Executive Decision is a 1996 action film, directed by Stuart Baird and starring Kurt Russell, Halle Berry and Steven Seagal. The original music was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. 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 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 thousands of 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.

David Grant (Kurt Russell), Ph.D, a United States Naval Academy graduate and now a consultant for 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 International Airport. It is hijacked by Jaffa's deputy director, Nagi Hassan (David Suchet), and a number of Jaffa's men.

Dr. Grant is summoned to the Pentagon to join a team led by Colonel Travis which is being readied to intercept the hijacked plane. They listen to Nagi Hassan's demand for the release of Jaffa. 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 team of SF soldiers 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 soldiers who survived insertion make it to the 747's lower deck, but with half their equipment and no communication. It is assumed the soldiers did not make it aboard.

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.

Senator Jason Mavros (J.T. Walsh) is called away from his seat to have a word with the president only to realize he's to be sacrificed as a warning that Hassan is serious. Hassan points a gun to the head of Senator Mavros as he tries in vain to get the president to listen but is shot in the head.

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

Grant and Jean enter the passenger cabin and take the suspected individual 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 soldiers kill the lights, make entry and storm the cabin where a firefight ensues. Stray bullets strike and break passenger windows wide open, causing explosive decompression sucking out three passengers and Demou out of the plane. The remaining terrorists are killed during the exchange, the bomb is finally disarmed, and the plane is able to regain its stability. In a last act of desperation, a seriously wounded Hassan kills both pilots, hoping the bomb will detonate if the plane crashes. Hassan is killed by a wounded Captain Rat.

Grant is then forced to assume control of the plane and attempt to land the 747 at Dulles despite his limited piloting experience. He attempts to land at Dulles but is flying too high by the time he reaches the runway and misses the approach forcing him to pull the plane back up to circle around and try again. As the plane begins to climb, Grant visually recognizes the area surrounding Frederick Field which is where he normally practices flying. Deciding to try and land the 747 there, with Jean's assistance, Grant makes a sloppy but safe landing but is unable to stop before reaching the end of the airport's relatively short runway. The plane is slowed to a stop by ramming into a sand berm at the runway's overrun area where emergency workers are able to safely evacuate the remaining passengers.




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 does not 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.


Steven Seagal had a fairly minor role in the film, and his character was 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 to movie goers.

Aircraft props

Oceanic Airlines is a fictional airline often used in action movies and TV series involving ill-fated airplanes. 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.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] The same discrepancy occurs in the movie Turbulence - a common incongruity in motion pictures which involve scenes in the cockpit.

Incidentally, the particular 747-121 aircraft featured in this film was actually involved in a real-life terrorist incident. On August 11, 1982, while operating under the registry N754PA for its original owner Pan Am and nicknamed "Clipper Ocean Rover," it was assigned to fly from Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan to Honolulu International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii as Flight 830. About 140 miles from Hawaii, a bomb under a seat cushion exploded killing 16-year-old Japanese student Toru Ozawa and injuring 15 others (including the boy's parents). The plane managed to make a safe landing in Honolulu and was eventually placed back into service with Pan Am. The plane was later sold and passed through several owners before being used in the film.

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 disestablished.


According to John Leguizamo, who played Cpt. Carlos "Rat" Lopez in the movie, Steven Seagal had punched the air out of him during film rehearsals. "He taekwondoe'd my ass against a brick wall..." [9]


This film is also known under the name Critical Decision, for the Dutch/Belgian market; Ultime Decision, for France; Décision au sommet, for French Canadian; the German title was Einsame Entscheidung and Final Decision in South Korea, Krytyczna decyzja in Poland and Boeing 747 v ohrožení (Boeing 747 in Danger) in Czech Republic.

Box office

  • United States Gross Takings: US$56,569,216
  • International Takings: $65.4 million
  • Gross Worldwide Takings: $121,969,216


  1. ^ The aircraft used in ground scenes was actually a Boeing 747-121(A) (the “21" of "-121” referring to which Boeing airline customer the aircraft was originally delivered to, not the configuration of the aircraft), registration F-GIMJ, with the only the port side of the aircraft painted in the fictional Oceanic Airlines livery, bearing the fictional name “N707CK”. At the time of filming, the actual N707CK was a Boeing 747-269B (formerly 9K-ADA with Kuwait Airways), also painted in the fictional Oceanic Airlines livery, which was the aircraft used for surface to air scenes. As of 2011, N707CK was borne by a Boeing 747-246F operated by the cargo airline Kalitta Air.
  2. ^ As of April 21, 1997, the aircraft fuselage used for the ground scenes was reportedly “interred” in the “aircraft graveyard” at Mojave Spaceport near Mojave, California, where it had been scrapped after last serving for the airline Corsair Airlines.
  3. ^ http://www.airliners.net/photo/1039419/L/
  4. ^ F-GIMJ previously had been in service for Corsair.
  5. ^ Previously, in 1995, the aircraft used for surface to air scences, a Boeing 747-269B, was photographed at the Willow Run Airport in Van Buren Charter Township and Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, near Detroit. It is therefore likely (but not certain) that Willow Run Airport “stood in” for “Frederick Field”, as seen in the movie.
  6. ^ http://www.airliners.net/photo/0151197/L/
  7. ^ The aircraft used for the surface to air scenes was scrapped at Royal Air Force Station Ahlhorn.
  8. ^ http://www.airfleets.net/ficheapp/plane-b747-21541.htm
  9. ^ John Leguizamo Slams Steven Seagal on Q TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TB1RvU8UR38

External links

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