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Victor Navorski, a man from the fictional country of Krakozhia, has arrived in New York City, more specifically at JFK Airport. But there's a problem. During his flight, Victor's country ceased to exist due to a civil war. He can't leave the airport to go to New York, and he can't fly home, since his country technically doesn't exist anymore. So he starts living in the airport terminal, making friends with various workers, and developing feelings for a flight attendant named Amelia.
- Adorkable: Enrique, the catering car driver who likes Star Trek and is too shy to ask his Love Interest out.
- Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Victor. He grows out of this, of course.
- Flying Dutchman: Victor, of the "man without a country" variant.
- Honor Before Reason: Victor could easily get sanctuary status in the U.S. by saying he is afraid to return to his country. Since people are getting blown up in the streets in his home country, he has reason to be afraid. Yet, he doesn't feel afraid and refuses to say he is.
- Humble Goal: Victor just wants to get into New York to complete the autograph set of his father's favorite jazz musicians.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The commercials advertised this film as if it was just a situational comedy about a guy caught in a wacky situation and can't leave the airport. It's really more serious than that, though there are comedic portions.
- No Languages Were Harmed: Victor's native language, Krakozhian, is actually Bulgarian.
- Noble Demon: Despite constantly trying to get Victor arrested and deported, Dixon refuses to do so without Victor actually giving him cause. He'll use most any other questionable tactic, though.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Frank Dixon at the end of the film, trying everything he can to keep Victor in out of spite.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: A variation. The Planters Peanut Can that Viktor carried around with him contains the signatures of all jazz musicians who were included in the famous photograph "A Great Day in Harlem". Viktor's father, a jazz enthusiast, collected all of the signatures except for Benny Golson's before he died. Viktor now took on the task and flew to New York City to complete the collection for his father.
- Ruritania: Krakozhia.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is partially inspired by the 18-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I, Paris, France from 1988 to 2006.
- White and Grey Morality: The main villain decides, after Tom Hanks gets away to get his autograph, that he is not a danger to anyone and lets him go.
- You Can't Go Home Again