TV shows and movies you should (and shouldn't) watch on a plane

There's nothing better than taking your seat on a long-haul flight, scanning the entertainment options and settling in for a relaxed uninterrupted session of movie watching.

The choices are generally very good – sometimes excellent – but there are things to bear in mind.

Some films just don't work on a plane. And I'm not even talking about ones, such as Sully, Flight and Cast Away, that feature on-board emergencies or crashes.

Three years ago, I had several conversations with friends and colleagues that started along the lines of: "Saw the new Mad Max the other day. Don't understand what all the fuss is about."

The first question back was "where did you watch it?". Almost always the response was "on a plane".

Immersive experiences like Mad Max: Fury Road and Dunkirk – made for cinemas with big screens and spectacular sound – are just not the same on a plane. If you're not hooked, find something else and watch them later somewhere you can enjoy the full experience.

Then there are movies that sound like they'll be fun but just aren't.

I steered clear of Baywatch in cinemas after hearing it wasn't great last year but, lured in by Dwayne Johnson starring and the prospect of a fun couple of hours, I tried it on a plane. It was such a dismal mess that I would have headed for an exit but for a drop of 10,000 metres.

Certain bad films are worth sticking with because they can be redeemed with a strong ending or because you can learn something about what went wrong. Not Baywatch.


Other relatively recent movies that I'd rate NRF – for No Redeeming Features – include Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Transformers: The Last Knight and Justice League.

If it's as bad as you feared it might be, cut your losses and find something else to watch.

Anything featuring more than the odd glimpse of nudity – even if toned down in the airline version – is best avoided unless there is zero chance of upsetting passing children or making nearby adults uncomfortable.

The French film Blue is the Warmest Colour triumphed at Cannes but, with its long graphic sex scenes, it's best avoided in British Airways economy.

One piece of advice: try a classic movie.

An old film – it could be in black and white from Hollywood's past, an Oscar winner you've never seen or a gem from Australian cinema history – might not sound that appealing but classics don't endure without good reason.

A few years ago I watched Chinatown for the first time on a Qantas flight. Even with all the sound and picture quality limitations, I loved it. Made the flight.

Scan the foreign-language and art-house options too. Where else do you have a few hours to try something you would never watch either in the cinema or at home? It might give you a taste for a different kind of film.

The other great advance in flight entertainment, of course, is the television series.

A long flight to Europe passed speedily two years ago with the first season of House of Cards. Thirteen episodes of political intrigue and black comedy from back when Kevin Spacey✓ was still Kevin Spacey.

My only mistake: I got to 12 episodes before landing.

I hunted around for the final episode when I got to the hotel, got distracted and only caught it when I arrived home two weeks later.

Season one of True Detective was another brilliant viewing experience on a long flight.

But clearly a slow learner, I started it late in the trip and arrived without seeing the final episode. But not to worry: it was only a few days before I was heading back so I had something to look forward to.

Long story short: the flight was delayed by fog then cancelled. I was switched from Etihad to Emirates. No True Detective on the new flight.

I bought the DVD of the series when I got home and the final episode lived up to expectations. It's recommended if you go for dark, twisted drama, masterfully written and acted.

I always carry a book on a plane – usually a novel or a biography. But as the flight takes off, I'll scan the movie and TV guide in the hope of finding something I'll love that I'd never watch at home.

As long as it's not Baywatch.

Garry Maddox is a longtime writer on film for Fairfax Media

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