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Five 9/11 Movies & Documentaries Worth Watching

September 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in American history. As we know, four planes hijacked by terrorists, flew into the Pentagon, the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania killing several thousand people on the planes and on the ground.

Since those tragic events, millions of people have tried to make sense of that day including filmmakers who have applied their talents to making movies and documentaries about 9/11. While movies like 12 Strong, Lone Survivor and American Sniper are certainly related and undoubtedly connected to 9/11, the movies we selected are movies about 9/11 directly.

Here are USAMM’s five 911 movies that are must-see. They aren’t ranked in any particular order.

1. Man in the Red Bandana (the ESPN version)
While there is a full-length version narrated by Gwyneth Paltrow, we picked the ESPN version not only because it is narrated by Edward Burns who played Pvt. Richard Reiben in Saving Private Ryan, but mostly because the ESPN version is so concentrated with raw emotion. Not to mention, the way the story is presented sucks you in from the opening scene which has a camera flying over water and heading into downtown Manhattan. And then you hear Edward Burns ask a powerful question.

The short documentary which runs less than 15 minutes long tells the viewer about Welles Crowther, a young New Yorker finding his way in the world when 9/11 happened. A lacrosse player, he was known as the ultimate teammate while playing at Boston College.

He was known to carry a red bandana his father had given him and it was sort of his personal trademark.

This is probably the best of the 911 movies out there not because it is a cinematic masterpiece, but because it tells a wonderful story, of an incredible human being. We don’t want to give too much away, but if you are looking for 911 movies to watch, start with this one.

Be ready. This probably the saddest of the 911 movies to watch. However, it will make you proud to learn some of the things that went on inside of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

2. World Trade Center
We are always a little partial to movies made by veterans because, well, many of us here at USAMM are veterans and we are a veteran-owned and operated business. World Trade Center, made in 2006, was created by Oliver Stone, a Vietnam infantry veteran, and Bronze Star Medal recipient. He is best-known for his movie, Platoon, but also known for blockbusters like Wall Street.

Starring Nicholas Cage (Code Talkers) and everyone’s favorite World War II tank driver from Fury, Michael Pena, the movie tells the story of two New York Port Authority Police officers who get trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center after it collapses on them. The movies is based on anecdotes shared with the filmmaker by survivors of the 9/11 attacks.

What makes this movie one of the 911 movies that you have to see is that it is also a true story. While the Man in the Red Bandana includes interviews with real people, Stone’s movie is done with actors, but it still delivers an incredibly moving message about what happened that tragic day and how first responders reacted to it.

Out of all the 911 movies, World Trade Center shows just how gritty the American spirit can be, but it also shows the commitment that the men and women of New York City’s fire and police departments have for each other.

Cage and Pena who aren’t necessarily known for their range as actors to some people are amazing in this movie and they convincingly come across as the heroes they portray. They are able to easily convince viewers that they are the everyday heroes that were involved in the tragedy that day.

There are few 911 movies that include actual people from the attacks. The two main characters played by Cage and Pena, the real-life heroes, are actually in this movie.

It is an exhausting movie to watch because it is hard to imagine the resolve these two men must have had to survive in that rubble. Hard to believe those buildings collapsed on top of them and, spoiler alert, they survived.

3. The Falling Man
Also released in 2006, this documentary by Henry Singer did not do as well as we thought it should, but maybe that is because of the subject matter. This documentary tells the story of a news photo captured by AP News photographer Richard Drew.

The photo shows a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center and Drew captured the man as he fell headlong to the ground. Some found the photo offensive and callous. Others thought it was an incredible piece of photojournalism which captured the horror of 9/11.

What the documentary does is give a face, an identity, to the person known as The Falling Man. The documentary humanizes the victims of 9/11. This is one of three 911 movies that is a documentary in our USAMM list.

The documentary forces the viewers to think, ‘what would I have done?’ It is believed that the man either slipped trying to escape the flames intensely burning in the building, or he jumped, fearing he would burn to death.

What The Falling Man does is make the viewer realize that all of the people who died that day were just going about their business, living their daily lives when the horrific attacks occurred. Nobody could have thought something like this would have happened.

4. United 93
This movie also came out in 2006 and it was made by Paul Greengrass who specializes in making films about historic events. The movie was based on the report created by the 9/11 Commission.

If you’re looking for big name actors, or some mellow dramatic storyline, you won’t find it here. This movie is factually based and that alone makes this movie a must see on our 911 movies list.

As we know, the passengers of United 93 learned that three other planes had been hijacked so when they knew that their plane had fallen into a similar fate, they took matters into their own hands and fought back. The 9/11 Commission later determined that United 93 was supposed to be flown into the U.S. Capitol or the White House by the terrorists.

The tension is tangible, and the use of not-so-famous actors allows the viewer to really invest in the characters since we’ve never really seen them before. We don't get distracted by the fact that we know them from other movies. They become the heroes on that plane.

What is painful to watch is the fact that everyone on that plane must have known that they were going to die and yet, as passenger Todd Beamer said, “Let’s roll,” they fought back and saved the lives of others. The plane hit the ground, upside down at more than 500 m.p.h.

5. Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror
We’re including this one in our 911 movies list even though it is a documentary series because it helps tell the full story of 9/11. While this series can often lean politically depending on the episode, it’s investigation and content is solid.

Created in 2021 for Netflix, this five-part series dives deep into why 9/11 happened and how the United States responded. The key to watching this series is that you have to approach it with an open mind and avoid allowing any bias to influence you as you watch.

Our list of 911 movies is certainly not exhaustive, but if you are looking to reconnect with that horrible day, maybe even just to educate others, you can’t go wrong with watching any of these aforementioned recommended films.

If you have younger family members who are mature enough to handle the subject matter, all of these movies serve as great educational tools to teach others what happened on September 11, 2001 and why it is important to remember not just the day, but all of those that we lost.

Honoring 9/11: Five ways to Remember & Reflect

The attacks of September 11, 2001 forever changed the United States and set in motion a series of events that would impact the U.S. military and millions of service members who served in what would become the Global War on Terror.

Although the deployments have slowed for the U.S. military, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are now in the history books, there are still thousands of U.S. military personnel deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Many U.S. service members continue to deploy to combat terrorism.

Not long after the 9/11 attacks, there was an intense surge of patriotism and Americans posted U.S. flags on their homes, gathered to build care packages for deployed troops, and many flocked to the ranks to enlist and serve. It is hard to believe but many of those who enlisted not long after 9/11 are now eligible for retirement if they continued to serve in the military.

Now, 21 years later, while the day is still very vivid for millions, a growing number of Americans, because of their young age at the time of the attacks, hardly remember the fateful day. Others have simply moved on, tired of watching 20 plus years of war.

But for veterans who served in the nation’s longest war, we never forget. Many of us here at USAMM have worn the uniform and have served, including our CEO who enlisted in the Army because of 9/11. He also served in Iraq. We’ve employed veterans from all branches of service, including combat wounded veterans.

For the families and people who lost a loved one on that tragic day, 9/11 is a day for pause and reflection. Some remember, and others celebrate those who died that day, remembering who they were and what they brought to life.

Honoring 911 shouldn’t require a lot of inspiration if you were alive that day in 2001 and honoring 911 doesn’t have to be cumbersome for it to be meaningful. Here are some ideas.

1. Honoring 911 by Flying the Flag
While many Americans fly the U.S. flag at their homes or places of business, many others don’t, not because they are not patriotic, but they just haven’t thought about it. Honoring 911 can be as easy as flying the U.S. flag.

As previously mentioned, shortly after 9/11, Americans posted the colors in numbers not seen since World War II. There was a surge of national pride.

Certainly, two decades of war can cause the nation to have battle fatigue, but in general, most around the country remember to take out their flags and fly them on 9/11.

Flags are available just about anywhere unlike in the days after 9/11. USAMM is proud to keep flags in stock.

2. Honoring 911 by Sending a Care Package
Millions of U.S. service members deployed overseas to combat terrorists since 9/11. Many of them deployed multiple times. It’s hard to not run into a veteran who hasn’t deployed if they served in the last 20 years.

Not long after 9/11, some Americans felt that honoring 911 could be done by sending care packages. They sent treats, toiletries, books, magazines, coffee, etc.

Today, many Americans believe that the deployments for the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have stopped, but that’s not the case. Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel continue to deploy overseas in support of anti-terror operations. And while many of the places U.S. troops are deployed are established and have creature comforts, many of the items that American service members crave are usually not readily available. Honoring 911 by sending some troops care packages is a great way to commemorate 9/11.

Some military member favorites are beef jerky, meat sticks, paperback books, magazines, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, batteries, toaster pastries, chips, protein bars, protein powder, rehydration mix, cookies, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, grooming items for men and women, sunscreen, lip balm, and anything else that you can think of that will transport easily without breaking or spoiling.

3. Honoring 911 by Donating to a 9/11 Cause
There are numerous charities and organizations that have sprung into existence after 9/11. Some organizations help first responders who have grown ill from breathing the dust at Ground Zero, and others help the families of fallen veterans who died serving in the GWOT.

Honoring 911 can be as easy and meaningful as finding a good organization to donate to which will help people directly impacted from 9/11. This goes beyond throwing money at something. This is a direct way to impact the lives of those affected by 9/11.

While many of the families directly impacted by 9/11 might have been covered by health and life insurance, sky-high medical expenses are left behind and many of these charities establish funds to help families who lost a loved one or have someone to care for as a result of 9/11.

4. Honoring 911 by Visiting Attack Sites
Everyone should make the trek to see at least one of the 9/11 sites. Whether it is the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, or the Flight 93 Memorial. Every American should make the time to visit these solemn grounds and reflect on what happened that day.

The Flight 93 Memorial is managed by the National Park Service. The other two sites are managed by non-profits.

In addition to visiting the sites, donations are accepted for two of those sites which are managed by non-profit organizations. Honoring 911 by visiting the sites and donating money to support their upkeep and awareness programs is a good way to help keep this important moment in American history alive for generations to come.

But beyond donating money, visiting these sites is stirring. It is overwhelming to be at the site where such a horrific human tragedy occurred.

5. Honoring 911 by Sharing
Probably the most important way of honoring 911 is to talk about it, especially to younger generations. Young Americans should be aware of what happened on 9/11 and having discussions with them is far more educational than what can be taught in a history book.

Honoring 911 by talking about where you were, what you were doing, what you saw, how you felt, is far more impactful to a person who is too young to remember 9/11.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 are an important part of American history. Everyday we should honor those who died that day, but we should undoubtedly do something to reflect on September 11th of every year.