Ground Control

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Ground Control Movie Poster Image
Air traffic control drama has lots of tension, profanity.
  • PG-13
  • 1998
  • 93 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It can be difficult, but you can overcome your fears if you keep trying, especially if you concentrate on trying to help others. An additional theme is teamwork. Treat people like individuals and not just faceless, nameless blips on a screen. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack is a good model for overcoming past trauma and working through his fears. He's a creative problem-solver, is willing to perform menial tasks to be helpful, and takes the time to offer tips and instruction to a coworker on her first day. Cruise is arrogant, resentful, and verbally hostile at first, but he learns the value of teamwork and of treating people with respect. Racially diverse coworkers include a few women in a traditionally male-dominated field. All authority figures are white; two women have powerful positions.


Sustained suspense as a plane is in danger of crashing. Fearful passengers are shown, and the pilots discuss where and how to land the plane to minimize injury and death. News-coverage-style footage shows plane wreckage and emergency responders. A past assault is mentioned as justified. Suicide is mentioned. A dead but not gory Canada goose is shown.


A couple of instances of mild sexual innuendo. Reference to G-string used in an analogy. Blow job mentioned. Attraction and rejection are shown, and one character hints at further socializing, but nothing comes of it.


"Ass," "dammit," "s--t" several times each. "Screwed the pooch," "bitch bear," and "f--ked" once. "Bulls--t" repeated many times by off-camera voices.


Dunkin' Donuts box featured prominently. Coke and Sprite cans clearly visible in several scenes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A New Year's toast with hard alcohol shared by the team. Jack's past problems with alcohol and that he completed rehab mentioned; he says he doesn't drink. A cigarette is lit but not smoked. Jack mentions he quit smoking. A minor character covets and holds an unlit cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ground Control is a 1998 movie about an air-traffic controller overcoming the trauma of a past plane crash. Television-news-type footage shows wreckage and emergency responders. Otherwise there's no violence, but suspense is sustained over a long period and builds in intensity as a jet is in danger of crashing. Strong language includes one use of "f--ked" in a joke and several milder words such as "ass" and "dammit." Attraction is shown; otherwise the only sexual content is one use of "blow job" and "G-string" in an analogy. Main character Jack is a positive role model who values teamwork, and the supporting cast is diverse.

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What's the story?

In GROUND CONTROL, five years prior, a flight that air traffic controller Jack Harris (Kiefer Sutherland) was responsible for crashed. Many people died, and Jack was so traumatized that he quit air traffic control altogether. But this New Year's Eve, the busy Phoenix flight control center is short on staff, and a big storm moving across the country means the facility has to take on even more flights than usual. Jack's old boss asks him to come in and help out just for the night, and Jack reluctantly agrees. As he gets pulled back into the world of blips on the radar screen and voices over the radio, he has to fight to keep the horror of the past from blinding him to the present. When a pilot radios in that the plane is in trouble, will history repeat itself?

Is it any good?

The made-for-TV-movie production quality is surprisingly easy to overlook thanks to a strong supporting cast and plot that effectively builds and sustains the drama and suspense. Although Ground Control is fine for older kids who can handle occasional strong language and sustained dramatic tension, a lot of the movie is watching people sitting in front of screens. But viewers who don't need a lot of action will enjoy this look into the hidden and fascinating world of air-traffic control that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And don't be surprised if your heartstrings feel a little tug at the end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes Jack a positive role model in Ground Control. What kinds of things can we do to be more like him?

  • Do you think the profanity used here is realistic? Does it show how people really talk? What's wrong with using swear words?

  • Did you know that flight control centers like the ones where Jack works existed? What surprised you about what they do and how they operate?

  • How do the characters in Ground Control demonstrate teamwork? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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