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Title: Airplane!  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Leslie Nielsen, Stephen Stucker, Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, List of film director and actor collaborations, Lorna Patterson
Collection: 1980 Films, 1980S Comedy Films, American Aviation Films, American Comedy Films, American Disaster Films, American Films, American Parody Films, American Satirical Films, Aviation Films, Directorial Debut Films, Disco Films, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Elmer Bernstein, Films Directed by David Zucker, Films Directed by Jerry Zucker, Films Directed by Jim Abrahams, Films Set in Airports, Films Set in Chicago, Illinois, Films Set in Los Angeles, California, Films Set on Airplanes, Films Shot in Los Angeles, California, Paramount Pictures Films, Slapstick Films, United States National Film Registry Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
(collectively known as ZAZ)
Produced by Jon Davison
Howard W. Koch
Written by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays
Julie Hagerty
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Patrick Kennedy
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 1980 (1980-07-02)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million (est.)
Box office $83,453,539[1]

Airplane! (titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippines) is a 1980 American satirical disaster-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,[2] 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.[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.

In the years since its release, Airplane!'s reputation has grown substantially. The film was 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, after Monty Python's Life of Brian.[3]

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.[4] In 2010 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.[5][6]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Casting 3.1
    • Score 3.2
  • Release 4
  • Reception 5
    • American Film Institute lists 5.1
  • Influences 6
  • Sequel 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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 (Trans American Flight 209) 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 land the plane only after a pep talk from Dr. Rumack. With Kramer's advice, Ted is able to land the plane safely 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.



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.[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 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.[7]

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."[7]

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.[8]

During filming, Leslie Nielsen used a fart toy to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro".[9]


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.[7] 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."[2] Stack was not initially interested in the part, but ZAZ persuaded him. Bridges' children advised him to take the part.[7] 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?"[9] 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.[8]

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.

On April 28, 2009 La-La Land Records announced that it would release the first official score album for Airplane!, containing Bernstein's complete score.[10]

The soundtrack was released digitally on February 19, 2013, by Paramount Music.[11][12]


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,[1] making it the fourth highest-grossing film of 1980.[13]


"Airplane! emerged in 1980 as a sharply perceptive parody of the big-budget disaster films that dominated Hollywood during the 1970s [and] introduced a much-needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic".

Airplane! received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1980.[14][15][16][17] Based on 56 reviews, compiled retrospectively Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 98% judging it "Certified Fresh."[18] 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".[19] 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".[20] In 2008 Airplane! was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[21] It was also placed on a similar list by The New York Times, a list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[22] 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, that same year, three of its cast members, including Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves and Barbara Billingsley, passed away.

Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen in the cockpit. The autopilot "Otto" is on the left. named the airplane crash in Airplane! number four on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes."[23] 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.[24]

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.[25]

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 listed Airplane! as the Greatest Comedy of All Time in their poll, as voted by the public.

American Film Institute lists


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."[9] 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."[9]

Thirty years later, the documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story opened with a scene from the film.[26][27]

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.[28]

In early 2014 Delta Air Lines began using a new on-board safety film with many 1980s references, including the end of the safety film with a cameo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the co-pilot Roger Murdock from the film Airplane![29]

In 2014, Travel Wisconsin began airing an ad with Robert Hays and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reprising their roles from the movie. Kareem makes the comment "Why did I ever leave this place?" referring to his time playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. Hays also reprises his role as an airline pilot in Sharknado 2: The Second One.


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.


  1. ^ a b c "Movie Airplane! – Box Office Data, News, Cast Information". The Numbers. July 4, 1980. Archived from the original on July 31, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Abrahams, Jim; Zucker, David; Zucker, Jerry; Davidson, Jon (2000). Airplane! DVD audio commentary (DVD). Paramount Pictures. 
  3. ^ "Life of Brian named best comedy". BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2014
  4. ^
  5. ^ Empire Strikes Back' among 25 film registry picks"'". Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ Barnes, Mike (December 28, 2010). Empire Strikes Back,' 'Airplane!' Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry"'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on December 30, 2010. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d Emery, Robert J. (2002). "The films of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker". The Directors: Take One. Allworth Communications, Inc. pp. 337–342.  
  8. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (2011-10-04). "Random Roles: Robert Hays". Retrieved 20 October 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Surely It's 30 (Don't Call Me Shirley!)". The New York Times. June 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ "La-La Land Records Announces a Special Mayday Alert!". Archived from the original on August 19, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Airplane! - Music from the Motion Picture". Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Airplane! (Music from the Motion Picture)". iTunes Music Store. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  13. ^ Airplane! (1980) – Box Office Mojo
  14. ^ "Greatest Films of 1980". Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  15. ^ Ethan Morris,  (June 14, 2007). "The 10 Best Movies of 1980". Archived from the original on August 12, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  16. ^ "The Best Movies of 1980 by Rank". Archived from the original on September 6, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  17. ^ IMDb: Year: 1980
  18. ^ "Airplane! Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Airplane! :: :: Reviews". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  20. ^ Janet Maslin (July 2, 1980). "Airplane! (1980)". The New York Times. Retrieved December 2, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Empire Features". Empire. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  22. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  23. ^ Airplane! Clip crash scene from the Maxim website
  24. ^ Brod, Doug (October 16, 1992). "The Kings of Comedy". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  25. ^ Andrew Dalton and Bob Thomas, 'Airplane!', 'Forbidden Planet' actor Nielsen dies, Associated Press, Nov 29, 2010, accessed Nov 30, 2010.
  26. ^ Kenneth Turan (November 19, 2010). "'"Movie review: 'Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Film". Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  28. ^ Ted': Will 'Ted' Make You Feel Guilty For Laughing?"'". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 9, 2013. 
  29. ^

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