Airplane! (1980)

Airplane! (1980)

“There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”

A former fighter pilot (Robert Hays) in love with a stewardess (Julie Hagerty) must take over a plane when its pilots (Peter Graves and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) fall ill from food poisoning.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Comedy
  • Disaster Flicks
  • Lloyd Bridges Films
  • Robert Stack Films<
  • Satires and Spoofs

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “much of the humor” in this “ambitious, amusing spoof” by the Zucker brothers (previously known for 1977’s Kentucky Fried Movie) “comes from exaggeration of cliches” as well as “the fact that everything said is taken literally”. When “the shit hits the fan”, for instance, we see this actually happening; and when a stewardess (Hagerty) is asked whether she’s prepared to “face some unpleasant facts”, she answers truthfully: “No.” While this type of humor could easily become tedious, it rarely does; instead, scene after scene has us howling with sheepish laughter. Over the years, Airplane! has become a cult favorite, with certain lines — “And don’t call me Shirley” — instantly memorable. As Peary puts it, “the gags come fast and furiously and it’s amazing how many are funny.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hagerty giving a literal “blow job” to an inflatable co-pilot
  • Hagerty and Hays dancing to “Stayin’ Alive”
  • Two black passengers (Norman Alexander Gibbs and Al White) using incomprehensible jive-talk (with useful subtitles provided)
  • Captain Oveur’s inappropriate questions to a boy (Rossie Harris) who visits the cockpit: “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”
  • Countless memorable lines and hilarious wordplay:

    “I am serious– And don’t call me Shirley.”

Must See?
Yes. Airplane! remains one of the most consistently amusing satires ever made, and merits repeat viewing by all film fanatics.


  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Airplane! (1980)

  1. An absolute, riotous must!

    30+ years on, ‘Airplane!’ remains one of the funniest, most charming, and endearingly ‘stupid’ comedies ever.

    Much has been made, perhaps, about this intentional hodgepodge of a film being something of a mixed bag – and that not all of the jokes work. For my money, that’s more or less hogwash that would make potential audiences expect real waits between laughs. Having just rewatched, it’s apparent to me that even the rare joke that doesn’t ‘work’ is still at least mildly amusing – and that’s a pretty impressive average for a 90-minute feature. (I’m not sure even the likes of the Marx Brothers can make that boast.)

    A few things that may be taken for granted here: how well the cast has been directed in, more or less, playing it straight; how much genuine tension there is in this satire of disaster flicks; how smart it was to get a real pro (Elmer Bernstein) to do the film score.

    I have at least three personal faves among the endlessly entertaining bits:

    – the set-up of the cut-throat bar that culminates in the hilarious girl fight between two very tough girl scouts

    – the cocker spaniel who ‘gets excited’ when new people arrive at a home

    – Barbara Billingsley (of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ fame) as ‘Jive Lady’

    …but actually I could go on and on. …I do wish that the token gay guy was funnier instead of just plain garden-variety ‘gay’. But, oh well.

    Your first experience with ‘Airplane!’ will probably be your best. But, if there’s a long stretch between viewings, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much fun this one is to revisit (with many thanks going to Hays, Hagerty, Graves – as well as the deliciously hammy performances turned in by Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack).

  2. Your post has made me realize I’m already ready to rewatch this one, and it’s “only” been 4 1/2 years!

    (And that’s saying a lot, given how many thousands of films are still on my “to be seen” queue…)

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