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On the surface, Con Air and Air Force One appear to be two movies that don't have a lot in common, but they're actually more similar than you probably remember. For starters, both have plots that center around the hijacking of an airplane, both feature heroes who will put their lives in danger to save their fellow passengers, and both came out in the summer of 1997. With so many similarities (despite quite a few differences), it was only a matter of time before I wrote another movie-against-movie piece to see which film is more epic, and it appears now is that time.
Here's a little refresher for those who have either forgotten about the two shamelessly '90s action flicks. Released on June 2, 1997, Con Air features Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe, a soon-to-be-paroled army ranger who has the misfortune of being on a prison transport plane that gets hijacked mid-flight. Air Force One was released on July 25, 1997, and features Harrison Ford as United States President James Marshall who's aboard the titular plane when it hijacked by a group of former soviets. With that out of the way, let's see which film is more epic — Con Air or Air Force One.
Both of these movies feature strong leading men that aren't afraid to take on the hijackers, but which one is a better hero — Cameron Poe or James Marshall?
Con Air's Hero
Despite being soft-spoken and a man of few words, Cameron Poe proves time and time again throughout Con Air that he is both a badass and a hero who is willing to put his life on the line to protect others (even if they are a bunch of convicts). Poe is essentially a free man and is given plenty of opportunities to get off the plane and go be with his wife and young daughter, but he stays on to thwart the hijackers and save his diabetic cellmate and friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell. Even after the plane crash lands on the Las Vegas Strip, Poe continues to chase down the film's antagonists until the job is done.
Air Force One's Hero
From the very beginning of Air Force One, United States President James Marshall is portrayed as take-no-nonsense and heroic world leader, especially after the rousing speech in the film's opening minutes. And Marshall doesn't really back down from there, even when he's placed in an escape pod. The chunk of the movie that follows involves Marshall sneaking around the plane, taking down terrorists, making contact with Washington, and helping the passengers escape to safety. And after he takes out the last of the former Soviets, Marshall flies the plane until being forced to make a crash landing. Even then, Marshall puts his family first and nearly loses his life in the process.
As much as I love Cameron Poe, this first round goes to James Marshall.
You can't have a good hero with a worthy villain, and luckily both movies have some of the most over-the-top bad guys in '90s cinema. But who's a more worthy foe — Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom or Egor Korshunov?
Con Air's Villain
Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom is one of the most insane yet well-acted villains in movie history thanks in part to acting skills of the man who brought the character to life, John Malkovich. The mastermind behind the hijacking of the "Jailbird," Grissom is both ruthlessly violent and charismatic, a trait that is seen about halfway through the movie when he pretends to a corrections officer as more inmates are loaded onto the plane. And even though his endgame is a little lacking, Grissom takes command of the screen just like he does the plane, and it's hard to top that.
Air Force One's Villain
Throughout the '90s, Gary Oldman was responsible for some of cinema's most iconic villains, and his turn as former Soviet soldier turned terrorist Egor Korshunov is near the top of the list. Korshunov hijacks Air Force One as a bargaining chip for the release of General Ivan Radek, the deposed dictator of Kazakhstan, who was captured before the movie starts. Extremely charming and violent throughout the hijacking, Korshunov is filled both with rage and devotion to his former leader, even if the plan blows up in his face.
Gary Oldman's portrayal of Egor Korshunov is great and all, but there's no villain from the '90s that's going to beat out Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom.
The Hijacking Scene
There's no use in discussing a movie about a hijacking without going into detail about the plane being taken over by a group of armed assailants. Luckily for us, Con Air and Air Force One both feature some pretty badass hijacking scenes.
Shortly after the first batch of inmates board the "Jailbird" and take flight for their next rendezvous, a handful start a riot in hopes of taking over the plane to escape to a non-extradition country and live out the rest of their lives outside of prison. The scene is chaotic, violent, and defies logic, but I'll be damned if it's not an action-packed and all around fun scene.
Air Force One
The hijacking scene in Air Force One is a long, drawn-out process that involves a rogue Secret Service killing his colleagues, unlocking a gun locker, and setting of a smoke grenade aboard the most secure plane on the planet before a group of former Soviet soldiers take over the plane. The sequence in which the hijackers take over the cockpit, kill the pilot and copilot, and narrowly get the plane back in the air after a run in with the United States military is so good you almost root for the terrorists to win. Almost.
Con Air's chaotic and action-packed hijacking scene stands out, but everything that had to go down in Air Force One to pull off the takeover goes unmatched.
Both movies have pretty memorable — and asinine — endings, but which is more epic?
Con Air's Ending
Con Air is nearly two hours of pretty solid character building, eye-catching special effects, and logic-defying stunts, but nothing in the first 90 minutes compares to the emergency crash landing on the Las Vegas Strip. After the main hijackers somehow survive the crash landing, they hijack a fire truck and continue their plot to avoid capture, even if it cost them their lives. And then we get the moment in which Cameron Poe is reunited with his wife and meets his daughter for the first time… all while Trisha Yearwood's rendition of "How Do I Live" playing in the background.
Air Force One's Ending
After taking out the terrorists one by one, President James Marshall finally secures the Air Force One and prepares to allow his family to escape to another plane before Special Agent Gibbs reveals that he was helping the terrorists all along. The two fight on the rapidly descending plane until Marshall is able to detach himself from his "White House in the sky" leaving Gibbs to die a violent death as the aircraft crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. After that, Marshall reunites with his family as the Air Force's plane is renamed Air Force One.
That insane escape sequence in Air Force One is still fun to watch, but nothing beats a plane crashing onto the Las Vegas Strip.
The Iconic Quote
Going into the final round both movies are tied at two apiece, so it's going into overtime to decide which is more epic. And what better way to settle this than with the most iconic quote from each movie.
Con Air's Quote
Con Air gave us a lot of memorable scenes, many of which I discussed earlier in this piece, but the one that still gets me 23 years later is the one where William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford confronts Cameron Poe in the bowels of the plane. After Bedford starts to mess with bunny that Poe's daughter gave him, he threatens to reveal his identity to the other prisoners. Poe tells him to put the bunny back in the box before the two convicts engage in an old-fashioned fight to the death. After impaling Bedford, Poe looks to the dead man and says: "Why couldn't put the bunny back in the box?" for one of the most ridiculously sincere one-liners in movie history.
Air Force One's Quote
Not to be outdone, Air Force One gave Harrison Ford the opportunity to have a classic one-liner of his own just as he kills Egor Korshunov and takes back the plane. With Korshunov tied up in a parachute and cargo strap around his neck, James Marshall decides to give the terrorist some departing words with the now iconic: "Get off my plane!" line before snapping his neck.
As much as I love hearing Cameron Poe talk about a bunny after killing a man, this round has to go to James Marshall with his demand to get off his plane.
Con Air Vs. Air Force One: Which One Wins?
Well, that certainly was a fun ride (probably more fun for us than the passengers on those hijacked planes), but the showdown as come to an end. Con Air racked up points in the "Villain" and "Ending" categories, but it couldn't quite beat out Air Force One, which took the grand prize of being the most epic hijack movie from the summer of 1997 with points in the "Hero," "Hijacking," and "Iconic Quote" categories.
That about does it for me, but fret not because I'm sure I'll be back sometime soon to compare two similar movies that happened to be released in the same year.