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Sully (also known as Sully: Miracle on the Hudson)[6] is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the autobiography Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. Tom Hanks stars as Sullenberger, with Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, and Jerry Ferrara in supporting roles. The film follows Sullenberger's January 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, in which all 155 passengers and crew survived with only minor injuries, and the subsequent publicity and investigation.

Sully xxlg.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Produced by
Written byTodd Komarnicki
Based on
Music by
CinematographyTom Stern
Edited byBlu Murray
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • September 2, 2016 (2016-09-02) (Telluride)
  • September 9, 2016 (2016-09-09) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes[1][2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[3][4]
Box office$240.8 million[5]

Sully premiered at the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016, and was released in the United States by Warner Bros. on September 9, 2016, in conventional and IMAX theaters.[2] The film received positive reviews from critics and grossed over $240 million worldwide, but created controversy with its fictionalized portrayal of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as "prosecutorial and closed-minded." The American Film Institute and National Board of Review both selected it as one of their ten best films of 2016,[7] and it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Editing at the 89th Academy Awards.


On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilots Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles board US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Three minutes into the flight, at an approximate altitude of 2,800 feet (approx. 850 m), the Airbus A320 strikes a flock of birds, disabling both engines. Without engine power and judging themselves unable to reach nearby airports (Teterboro Airport being the closest), Sully ditches the aircraft on the Hudson River. The crew and passengers evacuate without any fatalities. The press and public hail Sullenburger a hero, but the incident leaves him haunted, and experiencing a dream in which the plane crashes into a building.

Sully learns that preliminary data from ACARS suggest that the left engine was still running at idle power. Theoretically, this would have left him with enough power to return to LaGuardia or land at Teterboro. Furthermore, the National Transportation Safety Board claims that several confidential computerized simulations show the plane could have landed safely at either airport without engines. Sully, however, insists that he lost both engines, which left him without sufficient time, speed, or altitude to land safely at any airport.

Sully realizes that the Board believes the accident may have been pilot error, which would end his career. He arranges to have the simulations rerun with live pilots, and the results are relayed to the public hearing. Both simulations result in successful landings, one at each airport. Sully argues that they are unrealistic because the pilots knew in advance of the situation they would face and of the suggested emergency action, and were able to practice the scenario several times. The board accepts that in real life the pilots would have taken some time to react and run emergency checks before deciding to divert the plane.

Both simulations are rerun and relayed to the hearing, this time allowing a 35-second pause before the plane is diverted. The simulated diversion to LaGuardia ends with the plane landing short of the runway, and to Teterboro with a crash into buildings before the airport. The board announces that analysis of the port engine, now recovered from the river, confirms Sully's account that it was disabled by the bird strikes. The board concludes that Sullenberger acted correctly in selecting the best of the options available to him, which in the event saved the lives of everyone aboard.


Chesley Sullenberger (left) portrayed by Tom Hanks (right)


The film is based on Sully's autobiography Highest Duty, rights to which were optioned by producers Frank Marshall and Allyn Stewart in 2010.[8] They developed the screenplay with Stewart's partner executive producer Kipp Nelson, hiring screenwriter Todd Komarnicki.[9] From the start, Sullenberger wanted the film to encompass "that sense of our common humanity", noting that the incident had taken place shortly after the 2008 Great Recession. He explains: "People were wondering if everything was about self-interest and greed. They were doubting human nature. Then all these people acted together, selflessly, to get something really important done. In a way, I think it gave everyone a chance to have hope, at a time when we all needed it."[10] Komarnicki said the difficulty was not depicting the landing in the river, but the investigation afterwards: "It wasn't really a challenge of what to do with the event since that is the thing everyone knows about, it was more about how you parse out the information about the man slowly falling apart and becoming a hero in the eyes of the world when internally and with the investigators it was actually seemingly going the other way."[11]

By June 2015, it was reported that Tom Hanks was already in talks to play the lead role of Sullenberger.[12] Much of the rest of the cast was announced in August (with Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Holt McCallany, and Jamey Sheridan joining),[13][14][15][16] September (Jerry Ferarra),[17] and October (Max Adler, Sam Huntington, and Wayne Bastrup).[18][19][20]

Principal photography on the film began on September 28, 2015, in New York City.[21] On October 15, filming started in Atlanta, where a building in downtown Atlanta was transformed into a New York hotel.[22] Most of the film's budget was spent in Los Angeles, where the crash sequence and water evacuation scenes were filmed at Warner Bros. Studios and Universal Studios Hollywood.[23] Filming also took place in North Carolina; Holloman AFB, New Mexico; and Kearny, New Jersey and concluded on April 29, 2016. The film was shot almost entirely with Arri Alexa IMAX cameras.[24]


Sully premiered at the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016, and was released in the United States in conventional and IMAX theaters on September 9 by Warner Bros.[25] When deciding when to release the film, Warner Bros. executives had begun circling the first weekend after Labor Day, considering that most adult fall dramas do not begin opening until September or October. However, this meant that the release coincided with the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which made executives wary as the film contains a dream sequence in which the plane crashes into Manhattan skyscrapers. But Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein and his team nevertheless decided to release at that time because "Sully is a story of hope and a real hero who did his job."[26] However, according to Komarnicki, the release date was coincidental rather than planned, and he attributed it to box-office logistics, principally the limited availability of IMAX screens during the summer and at Christmas time.[27]

Home mediaEdit

Sully was released by Warner Home Video on Digital HD on December 6, 2016, with a subsequent Blu-ray, DVD release on December 20, 2016.[28]

Despite being shot, almost entirely, with IMAX cameras and released in IMAX theaters in the 1.90:1 aspect ratio, the home media release did not include the film in that aspect ratio, instead including a cropped 2.39:1 aspect ratio that was used for non-IMAX screenings.

Screening on airlinesEdit

Several major airlines, including American Airlines and British Airways, decided not to screen the movie on their onboard entertainment; Virgin, however, did show the film.[29]


Box officeEdit

Sully grossed $125.1 million in the United States and Canada and $115.7 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $240.8 million, against a production budget of $60 million.[5] It broke the September record for biggest global IMAX opening for a 2D film with $5.1 million from 523 IMAX screens, eclipsing the previous record held by The Maze Runner ($4.2 million in 2014).[30] In total it had grossed $10 million in IMAX plays globally.[31]

Sully recorded the second biggest debut for Clint Eastwood's career in North America[32]

United States and CanadaEdit

In the United States and Canada, Sully was released on Friday, September 9, 2016, across 3,525 theaters, of which 375 were in IMAX, and was initially projected to make $25 million on its opening weekend, with Box Office Mojo projecting $31 million due to its large theater count and positioning.[4][33][34][35] Box office trackers were expecting Sully to launch in the same range as Hanks's 2013 hostage drama Captain Phillips, which opened with $25.7 million, and the 2012 airline drama Flight at $24.9 million. The weekend after Labor Day has historically been a lackluster period for film revenues, although Deadline Hollywood noted that this doesn't apply to the "more intriguing titles". Sully was one of four wide releases of that weekend.[3] According to ticket selling website Fandango, it outsold Hanks's previous film, Bridge of Spies in advance ticket sales.[3] It earned $1.35 million from Thursday previews at 2,700 theaters, which marked the biggest of Hanks's career,[36] and was considered strong by Box Office Mojo given that it coincided with the first NFL game of the season.[35] On its opening day it made $12.2 million (including Thursday previews), of which $1.3 million came from IMAX.[37] It is the second-biggest Friday ever for a wide Eastwood opening, trailing behind only the $30 million opening day of American Sniper.[38] In total, it grossed $35 million from its opening weekend, which is one of the top five September openings of all time (or twelfth adjusted for inflation).[39][40] The debut is the second-biggest wide release opening for an Eastwood movie, behind the $89 million of American Sniper, and Hanks's third-biggest live-action debut behind The Da Vinci Code ($77 million in 2006) and Angels & Demons ($46 million in 2009).[41] It also performed exceptionally well in IMAX, having been shot entirely in that format: for the weekend alone, it brought in a record $4 million from 375 auditoriums, being 11% of the total gross. This broke the previous September weekend record held by The Equalizer of $3.1 million in 2014.[42]

The film continued to dominate the box office, with only a modest decline of 36% to post $21.6 million in its second weekend, despite competition from three new wide releases: Blair Witch, Bridget Jones's Baby and Snowden.[43] It finally lost the top spot in its third weekend, after the releases of The Magnificent Seven and Storks.[44]

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow were thrilled by these results, as were theater owners, particularly as September tends to see a fall in box offices as schools re-open and new TV shows are marketed.[45] Scott Mendelson of Forbes magazine suggested that the film had potential to surpass $100 million, since Tom Hanks's films tend to be "leggy" and post big multiples, and Sully is aimed at older audiences who don't usually go to the opening weekend.[46] Deadline Hollywood pointed out that the marketing effort had been key to the robust opening (as well as good reviews and positive word of mouth), despite the absence of both Eastwood and Hanks on social media.[47] The film was released on the 15th anniversary of the infamous September 11 attacks, but Warner Bros.' domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein said that the anniversary did not post a big – both negative and positive – impact on the film.[26] According to a comScore audience survey, 82% of the moviegoers were older than 25, 80% above 35, and women comprised 56% of the opening weekend. 39% said Hanks was their principal reason for seeing it.[48][49]

Other countriesEdit

The film opened across 39 countries simultaneously with America and grossed an estimated $10.5 million from about 3,600 screens.[42] IMAX comprised $1.1 million of that from 148 IMAX screens.[30] It scored the biggest opening of any Eastwood film in Russia with $1 million, although it was No. 3 for the weekend behind Ben-Hur and Sausage Party; also in the UAE with $1 million, It was the second biggest in Australia with $2.4 million, where it had the advantage of opening on Father's Day.[30] It was released in Hong Kong during the Mid-Autumn Festival, delivering first place at the box office with $777,000.[31] In Japan, it scored the third biggest opening for Eastwood with $2.3 million, behind American Sniper and Letters from Iwo Jima.[50] Variety predicted it would end its run there with around $15 million.[51] In Brazil, after the aircraft disaster involving the football team Chapecoense, Warner Bros ordered the delaying of the release from December 1[52] to December 15.[53] The film was released in China during a crowded period (December 9), but managed to score an opening weekend worth $5.5 million from about 5,000 screens.[54]

Outside North America, the biggest markets have been Japan ($13.2 million), Australia ($9.9), the UK ($5.4 million), and Italy ($5.1 million).[54][55]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 85% based on 328 reviews, with an average rating of 7.22/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "As comfortingly workmanlike as its protagonist, Sully makes solid use of typically superlative work from its star and director to deliver a quietly stirring tribute to an everyday hero."[56] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[57] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[58]

Peter Debruge of Variety gave a positive review, praising Hanks and saying, "This is Hanks' show, and he delivers a typically strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we're watching an actor. With his snowy white hair and moustache to match, Hanks conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director."[59] IGN reviewer Simon Thompson awarded 9/10, writing: "Sully is a beautifully balanced, classily nuanced and hugely engaging film that avoids all the clichéd pitfalls it could have slipped into. Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career and Clint Eastwood's direction is beautiful and rich. It's not just a great movie, Sully is one of the best pieces of cinema that a major Hollywood studio has released this year."[60] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times praised both the film and Eastwood's direction, saying it is "economical and solid, and generally low-key when it's not freaking you out".[61]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "[A] vigorous and involving salute to professionalism and being good at your job".[62] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave 3.5 out of 4 stars and wrote, "the movie earns your attention and respect by digging deep, by finding the fear and self-doubt inside a man who'd never accept being defined as a hero. It's an eye-opener."[63] Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded it 4 out of 4 stars, praising the film as "an absolute triumph" and saying that Hanks "delivers another in a long line of memorable, nomination-worthy performances."[64]

In a negative review, John Anderson of Time wrote, "Inevitable is how Sully feels. That, and a little soggy, given that the storyline is rooted not in the few seconds of Sullenberger's defining act of heroism, but in the way his conscience, and the National Transportation Safety Board, plagued him in its aftermath."[65]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards February 6, 2017 Best Picture Sully Nominated [66]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Academy Awards February 26, 2017 Best Sound Editing Bub Asman and Alan Robert Murray Nominated [67]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists December 21, 2016 Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated [69]
Cinema Audio Society Awards February 18, 2017 Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Live Action James Ashwill, Bobby Fernandez, Jose Antonio Garcia, Thomas J. O'Connell, Tom Ozanich and John Reitz Nominated [71]
Critics' Choice Awards December 11, 2016 Best Picture Sully Nominated [72]
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Todd Komarnicki Nominated
Best Editing Blu Murray Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 13, 2016 Best Actor Tom Hanks 5th Place [73]
Hollywood Film Awards November 6, 2016 Hollywood Actor Award Tom Hanks Won [74]
Japan Academy Prize March 3, 2017 Outstanding Foreign Language Film Sully Won [75]
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild February 19, 2017 Feature-Length Motion Picture – Contemporary Hair Styling Patricia Dehaney and Jose Zamora Nominated [77]
MPSE Golden Reel Awards February 19, 2017 Feature English Language: Dialogue/ADR Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray, Hugo Weng and Katy Wood Nominated [78]
Palm Springs International Film Festival January 2, 2017 Icon Award Tom Hanks Won [79]
People's Choice Awards January 18, 2017 Favorite Dramatic Movie Sully Nominated [80]
Favorite Dramatic Movie Actor Tom Hanks Won
San Diego Film Critics Society December 12, 2016 Best Editing Blu Murray Won [81]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle December 11, 2016 Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated [83]
Satellite Awards February 19, 2017 Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated [85]
Best Adapted Screenplay Todd Komarnicki Nominated
Best Visual Effects Sully Nominated
Society of Operating Cameramen February 11, 2017 Camera Operator of the Year – Film Stephen Campanelli Nominated [86]
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association December 18, 2016 Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated [87]
Visual Effects Society Awards February 7, 2017 Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature Mark Curtis, Tyler Kehl, Bryan Litson, Michael Owens and Steven Riley Nominated [88]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 5, 2016 Best Editing Blu Murray Nominated [89]

Dispute of depiction of NTSBEdit

The film generated controversy for its depiction of the National Transportation Safety Board as antagonistic. In a promotional video preceding the release, Eastwood claimed that the NTSB had "railroaded" Sullenberger by "trying to paint the picture that he had done the wrong thing."[90][91] After its release, NTSB investigators objected to their portrayal.[92] Christine Negroni wrote in The New York Times that "the film's version of the inquiry veers from the official record in both tone and substance", depicting the investigators as "departing from standard protocol in airline accident inquiries" and instead fictionalizing them as "prosecutorial and closed-minded".[90] NTSB lead investigator Robert Benzon further disputed the film's depiction, saying that investigators "weren't out to embarrass anybody at all", while a former NTSB investigator expressed concern that moviegoers would take it as evidence of "government incompetence".[91]

While the film has the NTSB presenting flight simulations showing that the airplane could have been landed at an airport, in the actual public hearing, Investigator-in-Charge Robert Benzon stated that "These flight simulations revealed that a successful return to LaGuardia or a diversion to Teterboro Airport was not assured".[93] After the film was released Benzon said:

I do not know why the writer and director chose to twist the role of the NTSB into such an inaccurate depiction. Their treatment of the NTSB went very far beyond cinematic license into simple mean-spirited dishonesty. The movie may actually be detrimental to aviation safety. Pilots involved in accidents will now expect harsh, unfair treatment by investigators.[94]

Hanks told the Associated Press that Sullenberger himself was disturbed by the fictionalized version, going so far as to ask (having reviewed an early draft of the script) that the NTSB investigators' real names be removed from the characters. According to Hanks, Sullenberger felt that the real-life investigators "were not prosecutors" and it was not fair to associate them with changes in the story to depict "more of a prosecutorial process".[91]

See alsoEdit


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  11. ^ McKittrick, Christopher. "The Eternal Now: Todd Komarnicki on Sully". Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
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