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Film Review: Airplane!

Updated on October 22, 2015
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1980, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker released the parody film, Airplane! as a satire of the disaster film genre. Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Frank Ashmore, Jonathan Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Craig Berenson, the film grossed $130 million at the box office. Receiving the Writer’s Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Comedy, it was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay. The film also received a sequel in 1982, Airplane II: The Sequel, which tackled the science fiction genre.


Ex-military pilot, Ted Striker, must get over his personal traumas in order to pilot a commercial airplane after the crew and many of its passengers are stricken by food poisoning. But he also has to reconcile with his estranged girlfriend and in the meantime, hilarity ensues with crazy characters and other situations.


With successful jokes happening every few seconds Airplane! ends up being an incredibly hilarious film, presenting well-done overt humor along with funny moments that aren’t as obvious.

The amount of humor present in the film makes it difficult to pinpoint some of the funniest moments, but it’s interesting to note that comedy happens immediately as the film opens, with the plane’s tail acting like that of a shark with the Jaws theme playing. It only gets better from there, with a man just waiting for the driver of a cab he stepped into to get back, only to be revealed at the end still waiting for the guy and the meter’s running. There’s also humor to be had with the religious donation seekers in the airport (which may seem dated to later viewers as there’s not a whole lot of Hare Krishnas or other religions panhandling or preaching at the airport these days). While they’re played straight in the beginning, when Kramer gets on the scene, he starts mercilessly tossing them aside to get through them. There’s even one who comes back twice trying two different religions. Some of the jokes go so far over the line, it ends up being a dot off in the distance, such as where a woman refuses some whiskey, but opts for some cocaine instead or maybe where a hysterical woman is being dealt with, only to keep getting interrupted. Turns out there’s a line to “help” her, which includes the Jive Talkers with weapons because simply slapping her won’t work.

The running jokes prevalent in the film also deserve a mention, such as Steve McCroskey picking the wrong week to quit smoking, drinking, taking amphetamines and sniffing glue, one of the pilots asking a boy stranger and stranger questions and Dr. Rumack sticking his head into the cockpit to tell the replacement pilots that everyone’s counting on them. Even after they’ve landed.

And when it comes to characters, it seems the most hilarious is Johnny, working in air traffic control. But while everyone’s attuned to the situation, he seems to constantly have a very different take on the action. Not only does he temporarily unplug the runway lights as a joke, but when the controllers are looking at newspaper headlines that indicate disaster for the plane, he finds that there’s a sale at Penny’s.

There’s also humorous conversations that are hilariously delivered deadpan, including the famous, “Don’t call me Shirley” line, such as having clearance Clarence and asking Victor what the Vector is.

But in addition to the hilarity thrown in the viewer’s face, there’s quite a lot of funny moments that happen in the background that the viewer may have to look for. Or listen for in the case of the white zone/red zone argument. In another instance, when Ted introduces basketball to the Africans, he ends up talking to Elaine shortly after and they’re performing Harlem Globetrotters tricks. In another overt moment, checking out the emergency vehicles that drive out to the runway include a cement mixer and a beer truck. Or maybe look in the background at the Mayo clinic. There’s jars of the condiment behind Dr. Brody.

It’s so hilarious that it might be hard to breathe. It’ll get five stars and a recommendation.

5 stars for Airplane!

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.


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