Ordinary Citizens Display Extraordinary Heroics in These 4 Films About 9/11

I was in middle school on September 11, 2001 so I’m hardly an historical authority but I would say that 9/11 has been the defining event for my generation. Even now, with Covid-19 and the upcoming election dominating the news, 9/11 retains its extraordinary power to showcase the soulless worst and the transcendent best of humanity.

Here are four unforgettable films — some fact, some fictionalized — that show the power of everyday patriots to triumph over evil:

United 93 (2006)

United 93 opens with the words, “September 11, 2001. Four planes were hijacked. Three of them reached their target. This is the story of the fourth.”

But that barebones description of the plot doesn’t begin to describe what British writer and director Paul Greengrass has accomplished here. The film faithfully recreates the hijacking and subsequent events in the flight in real time and was made with the full cooperation of the passengers’ families.

What’s more, ten percent of the gross income from the film’s three-day opening weekend was donated to create the memorial for the Flight 93 victims that opened in Shanksville, Pennsylvania in 2011.

Watch the trailer for United 93 here:

Boatlift: An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience (2011)

Boatlift, narrated by Tom Hanks, is a short documentary that tells the story of New York’s own Dunkirk moment on the afternoon of 9/11. Realizing that thousands were trapped in lower Manhattan, New York and New Jersey boat owners brought everything from ferries to dinghies to rescue their fellow citizens.

Watch Boatlift in its entirety here:

Tour of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Here’s a tour of the Flight 93 National Memorial, which opened in 2011. As the park ranger who conducts the tour reminds us, “That field is sacred ground. We were only able to recover remains from eight of the 40 patriots who gave their lives. That is their final resting place.”

9/11: The Firefighters’ Story (2002)

British documentary filmmaker Paul Berriff just happened to be filming with the FDNY on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks took place. 9/11: The Firefighters’ Story captures vivid footage of the day that 343 New York firefighters lost their lives and takes us post-9/11 to the Staten Island site where the damaged fire trucks and emergency vehicles were taken. Looking at the heaps of twisted metal, New York Fire Chief Mike Puzziferri remarks, “Leave it the way it is. Let this be our memorial.”

Watch 9/11: The Firefighters’ Story in its entirety here: