The top 10 airline safety videos named by a film critic: And the winner is...


Airlines take our safety seriously, as they keep telling us, which might explain why they make such awful safety films. Most of them traditionally confuse being serious with being dull. That's why they make you do up the seat belt, to stop you walking out.

The dull airline safety film reigned for about 20 years, from the introduction of in-seat entertainment screens in the late-1980s until 2007, when Virgin America broke the mould. They commissioned a cartoon full of freaky-looking punk characters and added a slightly-over-it male voice-over: ''For the point zero zero zero one per cent of you who have never operated a seatbelt before, it works like this…''

They were a new airline with nothing to lose, and the idea caught on. In 2009, Air New Zealand released the first of its now legendary silly safety videos – and the whole idea of the safety film changed. The video featured flight crew in full body paint and not much else, doing the safety instructions. It was a tease, in other words, but there was an inherent gamble in this idea: would the passengers pay attention to what they were being told, or just sit there wondering if the hosties were going to do a full flash?

That's the dilemma when you try to make safety entertaining: there's a fine line between communicating important details and distracting from them. Air NZ is the world champion of entertaining safety films, but even they fell foul of their Civil Aviation Authority last year with a fast-paced video featuring some of the world's top surfers, in top spots like Raglan Beach, Malibu and the Gold Coast, talking people through the safety announcements.

The NZ CAA passed the film for use, but wagged a finger. "As we have commented previously, the video diverges materially from the 'safety message' at times, and whilst I appreciate the need to engage the viewers, the extraneous material detracts from the scope and direction of the safety message," wrote a CAA official in a leaked letter.

One might wonder why they passed it if they thought that. Could that have something to do with the large amounts of money Air New Zealand spends on its safety films? How much remains a secret, but it's a lot. An advertising producer I know believes they must have spent between $NZ1.5 million and $2.5 million on the Most Epic Safety Film Ever Made – listed below.

The surfing film, showcasing places they fly to, was both a marketing tool and a safety film and that's the new trend. That has only become possible in the last ten years with the rise of the internet. We no longer need the plane to watch a safety film. YouTube has hundreds of them, and some of them are extremely popular. Air New Zealand's dozen or so funny films since the body-paint one have gathered more than 100 million views. That's a powerful marketing tool. It's no wonder the airline is prepared to throw money at them.

Clearly, the airline safety film needs a film festival, where they can compete with each other. Cat videos have one, so why not air safety films? We could call it the Mile High Film Festival – although that might suggest a different kind of video. Perhaps the Buckle-Up Film Fest, the Captive Audience FF, or even the Higher Plane FF? Whatever, here are my picks for the ten safety videos that absolutely have to compete for the inaugural and highly coveted Forward D'or prize that I just made up.

Virgin America #VXsafetydance, 2013

THE REVIEW This one's so funky you want to get up and dance. In a warehouse set, a team of dancers struts forward with song-and-dance stars John Song and Madd Chadd leading sexy-as-can-be flight attendants through a fully choreographed tune about safety. Favourite moment: the guy sings about turning off your electrical devices ''as fast as you can'', as they all converge on a nun playing with her phone. He grabs it from her hands and sings ''and don't make me ask you again''. This was done by John M Chu, who has directed a number of Hollywood features, including Step up 2: The Streets. It's full of energy and would be very hard to ignore on a plane. 

THE SCORE 8 oxygen masks