Top 365 Films – #025 – Airplane! (1980)

Top 365 Films - AIrplaneDIRECTED BY: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker

STARRING: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Frank Ashmore, Jonathan Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Berenson, Barbara Billingsley, Lee Bryant, Nicholas Pryor, Joyce Bulifant, Maureen McGovern, Kenneth Tobey, Marcy Goldman, Barbara Stuart, Rossie Harris, Norman Alexander Gibbs, Al White, David Hollander, Michelle Stacy, David Leisure, Jill Whelan, Ethel Merman, Lee Terri, Jimmie Walker, James Hong, Howard Jarvis and Otto

BUDGET: $3.5m

EARNED (Domestic): $83.4m

AWARDS: None (Golden Globe Nomination for Best Picture Comedy/Musical and a BAFTA Nomination for Best Screenplay)



A man afraid to fly must ensure that a plane lands safely after the pilots become sick.


Ted Striker has just got dumped by his girlfriend Elaine Dickinson who works as a stewardess on an American Airline. Attempting to win her back he follows he aboard the plane, going against his own fears after the incident during the war. During the flight, the crew and several passengers get seriously ill due to bad fish for dinner and Ted is the only healthy person aboard with flight experience, putting the lives of those on the plane in his hands.


Airplane! is the mother of all spoof films that many have tried (and boy have they tried) to recapture every since and still it is at times so utterly absurd as the cast play it absolutely straight to the point that you can’t help but be in stitches laughing at certain jokes in the film, especially when paying attention to the background characters from time to time as you witness something new in each viewing going on. The films premise and predictability in unfolding the story plays well into the comedy that occurs, from the films opening with the announcers end up arguing the white and red zones at the airport, the jokes about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and him breaking character over it, to the automatic pilot, these scenes work tremendously well as does the classic way that Robert Stack’s Captain Rex Kramer is introduced. The dialogue is instantly quotable and the performances are memorable across the board with Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges being well highlighted in their roles over the years and credit for good performances as well goes to Julie Hagerty, Peter Graves and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Does every joke hit? 90% of it and that’s an outstanding feat. The writing from the ZAZ trio is incredibly clever and hilarious and their direction is well done.


FAVOURITE SCENE: Picking a favourite here is ridiculously hard but I always enjoy Rex Kramer’s introduction the most in the way that the scene is handled.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?

Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.

Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.’

DID YOU KNOW?: For the argument between announcers concerning the white and red zones at the airport, the producers hired the same voice artists who had made the real-world announcements at Los Angeles International Airport. At the real airport, the white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only, and there’s no stopping in the red zone (except for transit buses). They were also married to each other in real life. Aeromexico was the only airline to buy the film for their in-flight entertainment. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their “straight-arrow” personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny. Bridges was initially reluctant to take his role in the movie, but his sons persuaded him to do it. For the famous scene of the 747 crashing through the large windows inside the terminal, producer Jon Davison mentions (in the DVD extras) that after the movie, he received numerous letters from various pilots telling him that they have come very close to re-enacting that very scene in real life, with some pilots admitting that they had come so close as to touch the glass with the noses of their airplanes


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