It’s been 20 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people and forever changed the world we live in. It’s difficult to forget where each one of us was on that day or how the events transformed us personally and as a society.
If you want to honor the occasion or learn more about what happened that day, we’ve made a selection of films, documentaries and TV shows that mark the occasion, recall the circumstances of the day and tell survivors’ stories. Unless otherwise noted, all the titles on this list were recently released and are already available to stream.
9/11: Inside the President’s War Room
This Apple TV+ documentary — made in partnership with BBC — retells the events of September 11, 2001, through the lens of President Bush and those who closely advised him that day. Narrated by Jeff Daniels, the film features never-before-heard testimony and recounts the 12 hours after the attacks and the decisions that had to be made.
You can watch 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room‘s trailer here.
9/11: One Day in America
This six-part documentary series was made in official collaboration with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. It uses archive footage and first-person testimony from first responders and survivors, who’ve spent almost 20 years reflecting on what happened. You can watch 9/11: One Day in America’s trailer here. The six episodes of this National Geographic show are available on Hulu.
Come From Away
There’s no reason why you can’t respectfully remember the events of September 11, 2001, with a little bit of music. The Apple TV+ Come From Away is the filmed version of a Broadway musical play set in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, in Canada. After all the flights going into the U.S. were grounded on September 11, 2001, Newfoundlanders welcomed those people who came from away while locals and newcomers alike processed the tragedy together.
This PBS documentary takes into account that, among the victims of the terrorist attacks, there were 105 expectant fathers. Now, their children are grown-ups. Generation 9/11 focuses on seven people whose fathers died that day and reveals how the generation was shaped by the events and their aftermath. You can watch the trailer here.
Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11
This MSNBC Films documentary, which is available on Peacock, goes back to self-recorded video testimonies that more than 500 Americans left in a video booth during the months after the attacks. Twenty years later, some of those same eyewitnesses were recorded again while reflecting on the last two decades. The film is directed by David Belton and Bjørn Johnson and is part of the selection at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). You can watch the trailer here.
NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½
Episodes 3 and 4 of Spike Lee’s four-part HBO docuseries “NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½” focus on the events of 9/11. The previous two episodes of this show dedicated to Lee’s hometown deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city and the January 6 insurrection against the U.S. Capitol Building. Here’s the trailer.
A previous version of Episode 4 of “NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½” that never aired and was only available to TV critics was criticized as providing a platform for discredited conspiracy theories. The episode offered testimonies of members of the conspiracy group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which promotes the disproven idea that the towers collapsed due to a controlled demolition instead of the terrorist attacks. Episode 4, which airs September 11, 2021, was reedited by Lee after several journalists reacted negatively to it and no longer features the interview with Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror
This five-episode Netflix docuseries from director Brian Knappenberger (We Are Legion) chronicles the events and offers testimonies of officials from multiple U.S. presidential administrations, former CIA members and U.S. military veterans. The filmmakers also interviewed Afghanistan National Army soldiers, Taliban commanders, members of the Afghan government, Afghan warlords and Afghan civilians. The show explains who attacked the U.S. and why while outlining the breakdowns in intelligence that allowed it to happen. Watch the trailer here.
This is one of the few fictional offers that have been released for the 20th anniversary of the attacks. Based on true events, in Worth Michael Keaton plays attorney and mediator Kenneth Feinberg, appointed by Congress to lead the Victim Compensation Fund. Amy Ryan plays Camille Biros, head of operations at Feinberg’s firm. Together, they “face the impossible task of determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses,” reads the Netflix synopsis. Here’s Worth’s official trailer.
Older Films and Documentaries
All the titles listed above have been recently produced and have in common the perspective and relative healing provided by time. But they aren’t the only documentaries and films to delve into the subject over the years.
One of the earliest in-depth looks that was released after the tragic events is the Franco-American CBS documentary 9/11. Former firefighter James Hanlon and filmmakers Gédéon and Jules Naudet were embedded with the FDNY on the day of the attacks. The directors of 9/11 were following a rookie firefighter on September 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Jules Naudet caught on camera the first plane hitting the tower. The footage was released to television stations and broadcast around the world. CNN Films updated the film in 2016 to mark 9/11’s 15th anniversary and added an introduction with actor Denis Leary. Watch 9/11: Fifteen Years Later on HBO Max.
Paul Greengrass’ 2006 movie United 93 is another of the titles released just a few years after the historic events took place. The movie follows United Airlines Flight 93, which hijackers wanted to crash into the United States Capitol. However, the plane ended up crashing into a field in Pennsylvania instead due to the crew and passengers’ efforts to thwart the hijackers’ actions.
The 2008 History Channel documentary 102 Minutes That Changed America marked the seventh anniversary of the attack. Narrated in real-time, the film used raw footage from eyewitnesses’ video cameras that recorded the events in New York as they happened.
Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow directed Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. The movie explores the years-long intelligence investigation that went into the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden, who led Al-Qaeda during the 9/11 attacks and claimed responsibility for the events.
The Report (2019) stars Adam Driver as Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones and Annette Benning as California Senator Dianne Feinstein. The Amazon movie goes into detail about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, which resulted in a 6,700-page report.
Whether you decide to remember and honor the day watching some of these films and documentaries or you opt for some quiet reflection, the anniversary highlights the significance of not forgetting this dark moment in history.