Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jim Abrahams
|Produced by||Jon Davison
Howard W. Koch
|Written by||Jim Abrahams
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Joseph F. Biroc|
|Editing by||Patrick Kennedy|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||87 minutes|
|Budget||$3.5 million (est.)|
Airplane! (titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippines) is a 1980 American satirical comedy film directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty and features Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Lorna Patterson. The film is a parody of the disaster film genre, particularly the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour!, from which it borrows the plot and the central characters, as well as many elements from Airport 1975. The film is known for its use of absurd and fast-paced slapstick comedy, including visual and verbal puns and gags.
Airplane! was a financial success, grossing over US$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 the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay.
In the years since its release, Airplane!'s reputation has grown substantially. The film was voted the 10th-funniest American comedy on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list in 2000, and ranked sixth on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies. In a 2007 survey by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, it was judged the second greatest comedy film of all time.
In 2008 Airplane! was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time and in 2012 was voted No. 1 in The 50 Funniest Comedies Ever poll. In 2010 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Ex-fighter pilot and taxi driver Ted Striker (Robert Hays) became traumatized during an unnamed war, leading to a pathological fear of flying. As a result, he is unable to hold a responsible job. His wartime girlfriend, Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), now a flight attendant, leaves him. Striker nervously boards a Boeing 707 from Los Angeles to Chicago on which she is serving, hoping to win her back, but she rebuffs him.
After dinner is served, many of the passengers fall ill, and fellow passenger Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) deduces that the passengers have contracted food poisoning from the fish. The cockpit crew, including pilot Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) and co-pilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), have also been affected, leaving no one to fly the plane. Elaine contacts the Chicago control tower for help, and is instructed by tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) to activate the plane's autopilot, a large inflatable pilot doll (listed as "Otto" in the end credits), which will get them to Chicago, but will not be able to land the plane. Rumack convinces Ted to fly the plane, though Ted feels unable to handle the pressure and the unfamiliar aircraft.
McCroskey knows that he must get someone else to help take the plane down and calls Rex Kramer (Robert Stack). Kramer was Ted's commanding officer in the war, and despite their hostile relationship he would be the best choice to instruct Striker. As the plane nears Chicago, Ted is overcome by stress and can only land the plane after a pep talk from Dr. Rumack. Lightning strikes the plane, disabling some of its engines. With Kramer's advice, Ted is able to safely land the plane with only minor injuries to some passengers. Ted's courage rekindles Elaine's love for him, and the two share a kiss. "Otto" takes off in the evacuated plane after inflating a female companion.
- Robert Hays as Ted Striker
- Julie Hagerty as Elaine Dickinson
- Leslie Nielsen as Dr Rumack
- Peter Graves as Captain Clarence Oveur
- Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey
- Robert Stack as Captain Rex Kramer
- Lorna Patterson as Randy
- Stephen Stucker as Air Traffic Controller Johnny
- Frank Ashmore as Victor Basta
- Jonathan Banks as Gunderson
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Roger Murdock
- Craig Berenson as Paul Carey
- Barbara Billingsley as Jive Lady
- Lee Bryant as Mrs. Hammen
- Nicholas Pryor as Jim Hammen
- Joyce Bulifant as Mrs. Davis
- Maureen McGovern as Nun
- Kenneth Tobey as Air Controller Neubauer
- Marcy Goldman as Mrs. Geline
- Barbara Stuart as Mrs. Kramer
- Rossie Harris as Joey Hammen
- Norman Alexander Gibbs as 1st Jive Dude
- Al White as 2nd Jive Dude
- David Leisure as First Krishna
- Jill Whelan as Lisa Davis
- Ethel Merman as Lt. Hurwitz
- Lee Terri as Mrs. Oveur
- Jimmie Walker as Windshield Wiper Man
- James Hong as Japanese General
- Howard Jarvis as the Man in the Taxi
- Otto as Himself
Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (collectively known as ZAZ), wrote Airplane! while they were performing with the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a successful small theatre they founded in 1971. The trio came to the idea of spoofing airplane disaster films when they accidentally taped the 1957 film Zero Hour!, while they were looking for commercials to spoof. Abrahams later described Zero Hour! as "... the serious version of Airplane!". It was the first film script they wrote, and was originally called The Late Show. The original script contained spoofs of television commercials but people who proofread the script advised them to shorten the commercials, and, eventually, ZAZ removed them. When their script was finished they were unable to sell it.
The trio knew director John Landis, who encouraged them to write a film based on their theatre sketches. They managed to put the film, called The Kentucky Fried Movie, in production in the late 1970s, and entered a movie set for the first time. David Zucker explains: "[...] It was the first time we had ever been on a movie set. We learned a lot. We learned that if you really wanted a movie to come out the way you wanted it to, you had to direct. So on the next movie, Airplane!, we insisted on directing."
Filming took 34 days, mostly during August 1979. Zucker stood beside the camera during shooting, while David Zucker and Abrahams would be watching the video feed to see how the film would look; they would confer after each take.
David Zucker explained that "the trick was to cast actors like Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges. These were people who, up to that time, had never done comedy. We thought they were much funnier than the comedians of that time were." David Zucker felt Stack was the most important actor to be cast, since he was the "linchpin" of the film's plot. Stack initially played his role in a way that was different from what the directors had in mind. They showed him a tape of impressionist John Byner impersonating Robert Stack. According to the producers, Stack was "doing an impression of John Byner doing an impression of Stack." Stack was not initially interested in the part, but ZAZ persuaded him. Bridges' children advised him to take the part. Graves' agent rejected the script at first: "His agent got him the script, and he was totally turned off by it. He thought it was tasteless trash." This caused Abrahams to interject, "I don't understand. What did he think was tasteless about pedophilia?" They cast a relatively unknown Robert Hays, who was a co-star of Angie, and Julie Hagerty to round out the cast. The cast was advised to play it straight by the directors.
The film's writers and directors, as well as members of their family, showed up in cameo appearances. David and Jerry appear in the beginning as the two ground-crew members who accidentally cause a 747 to taxi into a terminal window. Abrahams is one of many religious zealots scattered throughout the film. Charlotte Zucker (David and Jerry's mother) is the woman attempting to apply makeup in the plane while it experiences turbulence. Their sister Susan Breslau is the second ticket agent at the airport. Jim Abrahams' mother is the woman initially sitting next to Dr. Rumack.
Several other cameos add to the humor by casting actors against type. Barbara Billingsley, best known as June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver, makes an appearance as a woman who announces she speaks jive and can translate for two black passengers who are otherwise unintelligible. Maureen McGovern appears as Sister Angelina, a spoof of the nun in Airport 1975, and a poke at her involvement as the singer of the Oscar-winning songs for the disaster films The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). 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 air-disaster film, The Concorde ... Airport '79. Howard Jarvis, the property-tax rebel and author of California Proposition 13, plays the taxi passenger who is left at the curb with the meter running in the film's opening and closing scene. Ethel Merman—in her last film appearance— plays a shell-shocked male soldier who is convinced he is Ethel Merman. NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays co-pilot Murdock, who is later revealed in dialogue to actually be Abdul-Jabbar living a secret double life. In the DVD commentary the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams revealed that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's role of co-pilot Roger Murdock was originally intended for baseball star Pete Rose. Due to Rose's schedule and his commitment to baseball, he had to decline the role.
In 1980 an LP soundtrack for the film was released by Regency Records, and included dialog and songs from the film. It was also narrated by Shadoe Stevens, and only featured one score track, the "Love Theme from Airplane" composed by Elmer Bernstein. The soundtrack was altered for the European 'Flying High' release, with several of the featured tracks swapped for pieces original to the LP.
Before its release, the directors had been apprehensive due to a mediocre response at one of the pre-screenings. But the film earned its entire budget of about $3.5 million in its first weekend of release. Overall, it earned more than $83 million in box office gross for $40 million in rentals, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of 1980.
Airplane! received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1980. Based on 55 reviews, compiled retrospectively Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 98% judging it "Certified Fresh." The consensus on the site reads "Though unabashedly juvenile and silly, Airplane! is nevertheless an uproarious spoof comedy full of quotable lines and slapstick gags that endure to this day."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote "Airplane! is sophomoric, obvious, predictable, corny, and quite often very funny. And the reason it's funny is frequently because it's sophomoric, predictable, corny, etc". Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote "Airplane! is more than a pleasant surprise... As a remedy for the bloated self-importance of too many other current efforts, it's just what the doctor ordered". In 2008 Airplane! was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It was also placed on a similar list by The New York Times, a list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. In 2010 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Coincidentally the same year, three of the film's cast members Barbara Billingsley, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen all passed away.
MaximOnline.com named the airplane crash in Airplane! number four on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes." Leslie Nielsen's line (in response to Hays' question 'surely you can't be serious'), "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley," was 79th on AFI's list of the best 100 movie quotes. In 2000 the American Film Institute listed Airplane! as number ten 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. Entertainment Weekly voted the film the "Funniest movie on video" in their list of the 100 funniest movies on video.
Several actors were cast to spoof their established images: prior to their roles in Airplane!, Nielsen, Stack, and Bridges were known for portraying 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' 1970–1971 television role as airport manager Jim Conrad in San Francisco International Airport. Peter Graves was in the made for television film SST: Death Flight, in which an SST was unable to land due to an emergency.
Nielsen saw a major boost to his career after Airplane!'s release, and the film marked a significant change in his film persona towards a new specialty in deadpan comedy, notably in the three Naked Gun films based on the six-episode television series Police Squad!. This also led to his casting, many years later, in Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Brooks had wanted to make that film for a long time, but put it off because, as he said, "I just could not find the right Dracula." Brooks claimed to have never seen Airplane! until years after its release. When he did, he knew Nielsen would be right for the part. When it was suggested that his role in Airplane! was against type, Nielsen protested that he had "always been cast against type before", and that comedy was what he always really wanted to do.
Stack and Bridges saw similar shifts in their public image, though to lesser extents. Bridges went on to play similar comedic self send-ups in Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux along with Mafia!, as well as a couple of guest appearances on Seinfeld, while Stack took on comedic roles in Caddyshack II, Beavis and Butt-head Do America and BASEketball.
Several cast members having minor roles went on to better-known parts. Gregory Itzin, who appears as one of the religious zealots, played President Charles Logan in the Fox series 24. 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. Michael Warren, who is seen as one of the patients in the hospital during Ted's flashback (and had also been a teammate of Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA), would go on to play Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues. Jonathan Banks, who played Gunderson, gained fame playing the role of Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad.
In 2011 ABC aired a primetime special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best films chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Airplane! was selected as the No. 1 Best Comedy.
In 2012 Empire.com listed Airplane! as the Greatest Comedy of All Time in their poll, as voted by the public.
Peter Farrelly said of the film: "I was in Rhode Island the first time I saw Airplane! Seeing it for the first time was like going to a great rock concert, like seeing Led Zeppelin or the Talking Heads. We didn't realize until later that what we'd seen was a very specific kind of comedy that we now call the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school." Farrelly, along with his writing partner Bennett Yellin, sent a comedy script to David Zucker, who in return gave them their first Hollywood writing job. Farrelly said, "I'll tell you right now, if the Zuckers didn't exist, there would be no Farrelly brothers."
At the beginning of the epilogue mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the film is quoted. Charlie One-One says "Surely you can't be serious", and Romeo One-One replies "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
In the 2012 film Ted, the main character, John Bennett, tells the story of how he met Lori Collins. The flashback is a close recreation of the scene where Ted Striker met Elaine Dickinson in the disco.
In the Family Guy episode "Blue Harvest", a parody of Star Wars Episode IV, Leslie Nielsen is seen behind Han Solo as he and Luke Skywalker are fighting the Empire with his signature line, 'I just want to tell you both, good luck. We're all counting on you.'
Airplane II: The Sequel, first released on December 10, 1982, 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. In the DVD commentary for Airplane! David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker claim to have never seen nor have any desire to see Airplane II.
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|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Airplane!|
- Airplane! at the Internet Movie Database
- Airplane! at the TCM Movie Database
- Airplane! at AllMovie
- Airplane! at Box Office Mojo
- Airplane! at Rotten Tomatoes
- The New York Times retrospective article
- Retrospective article at The Guardian
- "The Two Troubled Commutes of Ted Stryker", comparison of Zero Hour! and Airplane! by Adam-Troy and Judy Castro.