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theatrical poster
Directed by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Produced by Jon Davison
Howard W. Koch
Written by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker
Starring Robert Hays
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Julie Hagerty
Leslie Nielsen
Robert Stack
Lloyd Bridges
Peter Graves
Frank Ashmore
Lorna Patterson
Stephen Stucker
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Patrick Kennedy
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) June 27, 1980 (1980-06-27)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,500,000 (est.)
Gross revenue $83,453,539[1]
Followed by Airplane II: The Sequel

Airplane! 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 spoof of the disaster film genre, and is essentially a remake of the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour!.[2] In Australia and New Zealand the film is known as Flying High.

Airplane! was a huge financial success, grossing over US$83 million in North America alone, against a budget of just $3.5 million.[1] 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.[3]

In the years since its release, Airplane!'s reputation has grown substantially beyond its modest comic intentions. The film was voted the 10th-funniest American comedy on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list, and ranked 6th on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies. In a major 2007 survey by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, it was judged the second greatest comedy film of all time.[4]

In 2008, Airplane! was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.



Ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker became traumatized after an incident during the war, leading to his fear of flying and his "drinking problem" (implying alcoholism, but specifically the "problem" refers to that he always misses his mouth with any drink and splashes his face). Recovering his courage, Striker attempts to regain the love of his life from the war, Elaine, now a stewardess. In order to win her love, Striker overcomes his fear and buys a ticket on a flight she is serving on, from Los Angeles to Chicago. However, during the flight, Elaine rebuffs his attempts.

After dinner is served, many of the passengers fall ill, and fellow passenger Dr. Rumack quickly realizes that one of the meal options gave the passengers food poisoning. The stewards discover that the pilot crew, including pilot Clarence Oveur and co-pilot Roger Murdock, have all come down with food poisoning, leaving no one aboard to fly the plane. Elaine contacts the Chicago control tower for help, and is instructed by tower supervisor Steve McCroskey to activate the plane's autopilot, a large blow-up doll named "Otto", which will get them to Chicago but will not be able to land the plane. Elaine realizes that Striker, being the only pilot on board who has not succumbed to food poisoning, is their only chance, and he is convinced to fly the plane, though he still feels his trauma will prevent him from safely landing it.

McCroskey, after hearing Striker's name on the radio, sends for Striker's former commander, Rex Kramer, to help talk him down. As the plane nears Chicago, Striker neglects to check the oil temperature which damages one of the engines while a bad thunderstorm reduces visibility, making the landing even more difficult. Thanks to Kramer's endless stream of advice, Striker is able to overcome his fears and safely land the plane with only minor injuries to some passengers. Striker's courage rekindles Elaine's love for him, and the two share a kiss while Otto takes off in the evacuated plane after inflating a female autopilot doll.



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 had founded in 1971. The ZAZ came to the idea of spoofing airplane films when they accidentally taped the 1957 film Zero Hour!, while they were looking for commercials to spoof.[2] 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; however, people who proofread the script for them advised them to shorten the commercials, and, eventually, they removed them. When their script was finished they were unable to sell it.[5]

The trio knew director John Landis, who encouraged them to write 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."[5]

Filming took 34 days,[6] mostly during August 1979. The plane used throughout the film was a TWA Boeing 707 model; 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 that of a jet but a propeller driven plane (possibly piston engines); it was taken from the soundtrack of Zero Hour!, making it the longest running gag in the film.


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" to the film's plot.[5] Stack initially played his role differently 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."[2] Stack was not initially interested in the part, but was persuaded by ZAZ. Bridges was advised by his children to take the part.[5]

The film's writers and directors, as well as members of their family, showed up in cameo appearances. David and Jerry appear as two ground crew members who accidentally direct a 747 to taxi through 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 as it violently shifts. 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 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 African-American passengers. 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. Finally, 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 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.

On April 28, 2009, La-La Land Records announced that they would release the first official score album for Airplane!, containing Bernstein's complete score.[7]


Prior to its release, the directors had been apprehensive due to a mediocre response at one of the pre-screenings. However, the film made back its entire budget of about $3.5 million in its first weekend of release. Overall, it earned more than $83 million at the box office and another $40 million in rentals[1], making it the fourth highest grossing film of 1980.[8]


Airplane! received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1980.[9][10][11][12] The film maintains a 98% "Certified Fresh" rating at the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 48 reviews.[13] 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".[14] 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".[15] In 2008, Airplane! was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[16] It was also placed on a similar list by The New York Times, a list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[17]

Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen in the cockpit. The autopilot "Otto" on the left is typical of the film's sense of humor, as is Nielsen repeatedly popping in to the cockpit at inopportune moments with good luck wishes. named the airplane crash in Airplane! number four on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes."[18] 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. 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.[19]

Several actors were cast to spoof their established images: Nielsen, Stack, and 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' 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.

Nielsen saw a major boost to his career after the release of Airplane!, and the film marked a significant change in his film persona: since then he has specialized in playing clueless deadpan bumblers, notably in the six-episode television series Police Squad! and its film follow-ups, the three Naked Gun films. 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. Stack and Bridges saw similar shifts in their public image, though to lesser extents.

Several members of the cast in 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, would go on to play Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues. He was also a teammate of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA. Jill Whelan, who played the little sick girl Lisa Davis, went on to star as Vicki Stubing in The Love Boat.


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.


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Airplane! is a 1980 film that spoofs airport disaster movies. When the crew of an airplane come down with a severe case of food poisoning, the fate of the passengers depends on an ex-war pilot who is the only one able to land the plane safely.

Written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker.
What's slower than a speeding bullet, and able to hit tall buildings at a single bound? taglines



  • Elaine: Ladies and gentleman, this is your stewardess speaking. We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused. This is due to periodic air pockets we encountered. There's no reason to be alarmed and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
  • Kramer: All right, Striker, you listen, and listen close. Flying a plane is no different from riding a bicycle; it's just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.
  • Talk Show Guest: They bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!
  • Young Girl Passenger: [when offered cream for her coffee] No thank you, I take it black…like my men.


Striker: Surely you can't be serious?
Rumack: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

Randy: Excuse me sir, there's been a little problem in the cockpit…
Striker: The cockpit…what is it?
Randy: It's the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now.

Capt. Oveur: You ever been in a cockpit before?
Joey: No sir, I've never been up in a plane before.
Capt. Oveur: You ever…seen a grown man naked?


  • What's slower than a speeding bullet, and able to hit tall buildings at a single bound?
  • Thank God it's Only a Motion Picture!
  • The craziest flight you'll ever take!
  • The Plane's going to Chicago. The Pilot's going to New York. The Passengers are going to Pieces!


See also

  • Airplane II: The Sequel

External links

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