With real-life hijack drama Captain Phillips hitting UK cinemas this week, there’s never been a better time to look back at the greatest hostage movies.
From hard-hitting suspense flicks to entertaining thrillers, Mark Butler negotiates his way through nine of the very best.
Inside Man (2006)
Armed with an excellent cast and directed with real flair by Spike Lee, this ingenious and intriguing tale sees a gang of meticulous robbers take over a New York bank – where they rapidly dress all of their captives in the same identical overalls and masks.
Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster all play their parts expertly in the twisty-turny mystery that unfolds. It’s smart, surprising – and utterly gripping.
The vast majority of Steven Spielberg’s sobering real-life drama concerns itself with Israeli secret service retaliation for the terrible terrorist massacre that occurred at the 1972 Olympic Games. But it is the flashbacks to the Munich incident itself that provide some of the most haunting moments.
Shot intelligently, powerfully, and in a way that truly captures the fear, confusion and helplessness of both the hostages and their increasingly frantic captors, Spielberg serves up images and emotions that are almost impossible to shake once viewed.
The Negotiator (1998)
Facing the distinct possibility of being framed for a crime he did not commit, Samuel L Jackson’s hostage negotiator finds himself on the other side of the equation when he resorts to holding an internal affairs cop, a secretary and various others at gunpoint.
Kevin Spacey is another hostage expert summoned to diffuse the situation in a superb police corruption thriller, which takes a neat premise and runs with it in engaging, edge-of-the-seat style.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Al Pacino and John Cazale are phenomenal as two small-time crooks who hold up a bank in Sidney Lumet’s multi Oscar-nominated drama. Forced to hold the workers captive and experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, their desperate anti-heroes are among cinema’s most compelling underdogs.
Based on a remarkable true story and captured with both sympathetic and tragic poise, it’s a classic character piece that perfectly reflects the anarchic cynicism of the ’70s.
Toy Soldiers (1991)
Something of a forgotten gem, this suspenseful action flick sees an exclusive boys school captured by a gang of Columbian terrorists. The authorities argue over how to free the privileged pupils inside – but it is the badly-behaved kids themselves that start to fight back.
Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton and military specialist R Lee Ermey all have key roles in a movie that has some genuinely shocking, tense and adrenaline-pumping moments along the way. Far better than the premise itself would suggest.
Air Force One (1997)
Harrison Ford’s resilient president and Gary Oldman’s delightfully ruthless paramilitary commander lock horns in this sky-high aeroplane thriller, which sees the leader of the free world turning action hero to thwart a dastardly takeover of his own personal transport.
Packed full of fiery exchanges, memorable fights and exhilarating set pieces, the general hammy-ness and OTT action get a free pass on the basis of the film’s game performances, perfectly-judged tone and sheer, full-throttle energy.
Phone Booth (2003)
Delivering a hugely impressive lead turn in an unbearably tense drama that takes place almost entirely within the confines of the titular confined space, Colin Farrell collapses from smooth, arrogant player to exhausted emotional wreck over the course of 80 nail-biting minutes.
A nerve-shredding tour de force from Joel Schumacher, the film sees Farrell’s character held in the sights of a sinister, unseen sniper, who forces the man to openly confess his sins and confront his callous shortcomings. Forest Whitaker is the attending cop and Kiefer Sutherland the voice of the sadistic gunman in this brilliantly-spun psychological onslaught.
Haunted by a terrible tragedy he failed to prevent, Bruce Willis is sympathetically accomplished as a hostage negotiator turned small-town cop – who finds himself embroiled in an edgy stand-off and wider conspiracy when two teenagers launch a home invasion against a family.
Ben Foster is excellent in a striking early role as the more disturbed and dangerous of the young assailants. Things gradually reach fever-pitch as showdowns, double-crosses and games of cat-and-mouse ensue.
Die Hard (1988)
One of the all-time great action movies, Willis is on altogether more fiery form as charismatic, wisecracking cop John McClane – who finds himself taking on a whole skyscraper full of gunmen in John McTiernan’s sensational bullet-spewing thriller.
Alan Rickman provides one of cinema’s most memorable-ever bad guys as the intelligent, articulate and ruthless Hans Gruber; there are quotable lines and inspired moments aplenty; and the whole thing is perfectly paced and judged: finding the ideal sweet spot between heart-in-mouth tension and explosive entertainment. Simply superb.