Airplane! is a 1980 American comedy film directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. Airplane! starred Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lorna Patterson. For release in Australia, Japan and the Philippines, Airplane! was known as Flying High.
Airplane! is a spoof of the disaster film genre. It was inspired by and includes various lines of dialogue and references to the 1957 film Zero Hour!.
Airplane! was a major financial success, grossing over $83 million in North America alone, against a budget of just $3.5 million. The film's creators received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Comedy, and nominations for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy) and a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay. Years later, Airplane! was voted as the 10th-funniest American comedy in AFI's "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list and was ranked 6th on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".
When the flight crew and numerous passengers aboard a commercial jet succumb to food poisoning
, it falls to Ted Striker (Robert Hays
), a traumatized ex-fighter pilot, to conquer his fear of flying
and land the plane quickly and in poor weather, while air traffic controllers
led by Steve McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges
) and Rex Kramer (Robert Stack
) talk him down. Adding to the tension is the presence of Striker's stewardess
ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty
), and Striker's negative wartime history with Kramer.
was a hit. Even though the budget was about US $3.5 million, it earned more than US $80 million at the box office
and another US $40 million in rentals. The directors were initially apprehensive due to mediocre response at one of the pre-screenings, but the film made back its entire budget in its first weekend of release.
Leslie Nielsen saw a major boost to his career, and since then has specialized in playing clueless deadpan bumblers, notably in the six-episode TV series Police Squad! and its film follow-ups, the three Naked Gun movies. Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack saw similar shifts in their public image, though to lesser degrees.
In 2000, the American Film Institute listed Airplane! as #10 on its list of the 100 funniest American films. In the same year, readers of Total Film voted it the second greatest comedy film of all time. It also came second in the British 50 Greatest Comedy Films poll on Channel 4, beaten by Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Some critics claim the movie's most important achievement was ending the Airport series of movies, which could no longer be taken seriously.
Leslie Nielsen's line, "I am serious...and don't call me Shirley," was 79th on AFI's list of the best 100 movie quotes.Foreign reception
Airplane! had an interesting reception outside the U.S. Its translated titles carry sly comment on the nature of the film. For example, in Australia and New Zealand it is titled Flying High; in Germany, it became The Unbelievable Flight in a Crazy Airplane (Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug) ; in French, Croatian, Polish and Slovenian, Is There a Pilot on the Plane? (Fr: Y a-t-il un pilote dans l'avion? , Cro: Ima li pilota u avionu?, Pol: Czy leci z nami pilot?, Slo: Ali je pilot v letalu?); in Portuguese (for release in Brazil), Fasten your seatbelts, the pilot is gone (Apertem os cintos, o piloto sumiu); in Italian, it's The craziest plane in the world (L'aereo più pazzo del mondo); in Finnish, it's Hey, we're flying! (Hei, me lennetään!); in Spanish, it was Land if you can (Aterriza como puedas) in Spain and And where is the pilot? (¿Y dónde está el piloto?) in Latin America; in Norway it became Help, we're flying (Hjelp, vi flyr); in Swedish it's Look, we're flying (Titta vi flyger); in Czech it is Fasten your seatbelts, please (Připoutejte se, prosím), in the UK it's still called Airplane! however the correct term is Aeroplane in the UK, this has lead to some people believing the name was misspelled for comedic effect.
The Spanish adaptation Aterriza como puedas set a title pattern for several following parodies: A few examples include The Naked Gun film series, known as Agárralo como puedas, Spy Hard as Espía como puedas, 2001: A Space Travesty as 2001, Despega como puedas, Jane Austen's Mafia! as Mafia, Estafa como puedas.
Airplane! has an impressive 98% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
MaximOnline.com named the airplane crash in Airplane! #4 on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes.
Several actors were cast to spoof their established images: Leslie Nielsen
, Robert Stack
, and Lloyd Bridges
were known for adventurous, no-nonsense tough-guy characters. Stack's role as the captain who loses his nerve in one of the earliest airline "disaster" films, The High and the Mighty
(1954), is spoofed in Airplane!
, as is Lloyd Bridges
's 1970-1971 television role as airport manager Jim Conrad in San Francisco International Airport
. Peter Graves
was in the made-for-TV-movie SST: Death Flight
, in which an SST was unable to land due to an emergency.Other roles
Several members of the cast in minor roles went on to better known roles. Gregory Itzin
, who appears as one of the religious zealots, played President Charles Logan
in the Fox
. David Leisure
, who played one of the Hare Krishna
, went on to fame as Joe Isuzu
before appearing as Charlie Dietz in the sitcom Empty Nest
Airplane II: The Sequel
, first released on December 10
, attempted to tackle the science fiction film
genre, though there was still emphasis on the general theme of disaster films. Although most of the cast reunited for the sequel, the writers and directors of Airplane!
chose not to be involved.
parodies Zero Hour!
directly, with numerous references to other films, particularly those in the Airport
series, the final installment of which, The Concorde: Airport '79
, was released a few months before it.
At the beginning of the film, the opening sequence is a parody of the film Jaws. The music played during the opening of the film is a spoof of John Williams' music from that film.
The story of an in-flight medical emergency, caused by food poisoning, with the passengers being rescued by a former military pilot shows up in the 1956 CBC TV movie Flight into Danger.
As the film's creators explain in the DVD commentary for Airplane!, they discovered Zero Hour! when they were taping late-night commercials to spoof. They then bought the rights to it. Airplane! lifts its major characters and most of its story line from Zero Hour!. Many of the best known straight lines of Airplane! are repeated verbatim, for example, "Can you face some unpleasant facts?" and "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking." The "wrong week" line becomes a running gag — as the emergency escalates, so does the potency of the drug ("Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking/drinking/amphetamines/sniffin' glue.")
The scene where emergency vehicles scramble onto the tarmac begins as a direct recreation of a similar sequence in the John Wayne film The High and the Mighty, though the Airplane! version quickly turns absurd as more and more bizarre vehicles join the emergency response.
Airplane! uses elements from the films and novels Airport and Airport 1975, which are based on work written by Arthur Hailey:
- The argument that breaks out between the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) announcers over the public address system is taken from the novel Airport, and is voiced by the two actual LAX announcers at that time.
- A scene where a stewardess sings to a sick little girl parodies a similar scene in Airport 1975, though in Airplane! the well-meaning singer inadvertently swings her guitar into the little girl's life-critical intravenous drip, disconnecting it.
Other targets of the parody include:
- The marshaller accidentally directing the plane to crash into the terminal parodies the film Silver Streak, as well as It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
- The side plot of the ill-fated George Zip (one of the soldiers who died in the wartime crash that makes Ted afraid to fly) is "paid off" in a pep talk given to Ted by Rumack; the pep talk is a parody of the famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech from the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All-American. While Rumack is delivering his monologue, a version of the Notre Dame Victory March can be heard as the background music (it is also played over the closing credits).
- Captain Oveur asking Joey "Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?" is a reference to the movie Midnight Express.
- The first wartime flashback parodies both Casablanca and Saturday Night Fever, and a later flashback is similar to the famous kiss scene in From Here to Eternity (although on the DVD commentary track the filmmakers deny having seen the film and say they had either seen some stills without realizing what film it was from or came up with it on their own).
- During the wartime flashback, the jukebox begins playing Stayin' Alive by The Bee Gees, which is sped up by 10% to add to the comedic element of the Saturday Night Fever parody.
was the first film written and directed by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker
; previously they had written The Kentucky Fried Movie
, which was directed by John Landis
. Filming took 34 days, mostly during August 1979
Robert Stack initially played his role differently to what the directors had in mind. They played him a tape of impressionist John Byner "doing" Robert Stack. According to the producers, Stack was "doing an impression of John Byner doing an impression of Stack.
The plane (model and real) used throughout the movie was a TWA Boeing 707 model operating as a fictional airline in the movie called Trans American Airlines; the plane taking off with "The End" credit is not a 707 (which has four engines), but a Boeing 727 tri-jet. The ambient noise of the plane is not a jet but a piston engine, was taken from the soundtrack of Zero Hour!, making it the longest running gag in the movie.
The film's writers and directors, as well as members of their family, showed up in cameos. David
and Jerry Zucker
appear as two ground crew members who accidentally direct a plane to taxi through a terminal window. Jim Abrahams
is one of many religious zealots scattered throughout the film. Charlotte Zucker, who is David and Jerry's mother, is the woman attempting to apply makeup in the plane as it violently shifts while their sister, Susan Breslau, is the second ticket agent at the airport. Jim Abraham's mother is the woman initially sitting next to Dr. Rumack.
Several other cameos add to the humor through against-type casting. Ethel Merman, in her last film appearance, shows up as a soldier who is convinced he's Ethel Merman. Barbara Billingsley, known as June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver, makes an appearance as a woman who announces she "speaks jive" and would be willing to translate. Maureen McGovern not only appears in a cameo as Sister Angelina (a spoof of the nun in Airport 1975), but as a play on her involvement as the singer of the Oscar-winning songs for big-budget disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) ("The Morning After") and The Towering Inferno (1974) ("We May Never Love Like This Again"). Jimmie Walker cameos as the man opening the hood of the plane and checking the oil before takeoff (Walker also had a minor role in the 'serious' air disaster film, The Concorde: Airport '79).
Howard Jarvis, the property tax reformer and author of California Proposition 13, plays the rider in the taxi that Striker is driving in the movie's opening and closing scene.
Network TV version
The network TV version (which first aired on NBC
in 1983) contains many additional scenes not in the theatrical release, but altered the scene in which a woman's breasts are jiggling due to airplane turbulence while she wears a white T-shirt that says "Moral Majority" in black letters on it. In earlier network TV versions, this was replaced with a woman wearing a striped yellow and red shirt. Later versions used the original footage but used digital technology to entirely remove the letters reading "Moral Majority".