Airplane!? What is it? It's a big white thing with wings, but that's not important right now.Airplane! is a comedic remake of an old disaster film, Zero Hour (itself based on the TV movie Flight Into Danger), where Ted Striker (Stryker in Zero Hour), an ex-military pilot, has to get over his personal traumas to pilot a commercial plane after the crew is stricken by food poisoning, and reconcile with his estranged girlfriend at the same time. Take that basic plot, and have a silly joke every three seconds. In fact, that is partly what makes the film work: if a joke falls flat, move on to the next one. Of course, further analysis of the jokes will just hurt the humor of it all. Just see the film for yourself. Along the way, it singlehandedly destroyed the Disaster Movie as a serious genre for over a decade.It was followed by a sequel called Airplane II: The Sequel in 1982, which didn't have any involvement from ZAZ.
Acoustic License: Bill and his girlfriend continue to have a perfectly audible conversation as one is standing in the doorway of a plane in the midst of takeoff and the other is running along on the ground beside it (and knocking over the steel towers in her way).
The "I say, Let 'em crash!" Guy was a parody of a now largly forgotten 60 Minutes segment called Point/Counterpoint in which a Conservative and Liberal debate an issue of the day. The segment was replaced by A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney in the early 80s.
Back in those days, airports really did have Hare Krishnas and other soliciting/panhandling/preaching types all over the place. In later years airports were given greater ability to control access, so nowadays you don't have to punch one in the face to get to your gate.
"The cockpit! What is it?" "It's a little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now."
Anachronism Stew / Two Decades Behind: News reporters still wear fedoras in 1979-1980, and a pair of nuns is seen in traditional garb. note The two nuns may have been part of a traditionalist order, as many orders do still wear the stereotypical habit. Most jarringly, Striker's flashbacks to what would logically be the Vietnam War include shots of World War I triplanes and even a pre-Wright-Brothers whirlygig. And the jukebox in his flashback plays The Bee Gees.
Artistic License - Military: Ted Striker says that he was in the Air Force, but the flashback in the Drambuie bar has him wearing a US Navy dress uniform. Of course, had he been wearing the dark blue USAF dress uniform, the subsequent Saturday Night Fever joke wouldn't have worked. He later shows up in an Army hospital, although that could've been justified if he was in WWII, in which he would've been part of the US Army Air Corps, but he's too youngnote Zero Hour, the movie that Airplane! is a parody of, was made in the 1950s, and the Ted in that movie did explicitly serve as a pilot in WWII, and they didn't have disco back then...ahh, screw it and enjoy the movie!
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: There are two lighted signs in the aircraft where the Spanish is just phonetic English. "Fasten Seatbelt" is written in English in one shot. Underneath it is "Putana da Seatbeltz" ("put on the seatbelts"). Then during a dive, there's "Return to Seat" / "Gobacken Sidonna" ("Go back and sit down").
Attack! Attack! Attack!: The attitude of the donation-seekers in the airport to Rex Kramer's Foe-Tossing Charge. One unusually dense fellow tries no less than three times, with different pitches. "How about Buddhism?" "Scientologyyyyyyy!"
Ted's cab's passenger, who is left with the meter running at the beginning of the film, shows up again after the credits.
The donation-seekers at the airport who accost Elaine and Ted try again with Kramer, with much less fortunate outcomes.
The Cameo: The directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker), Barbara Billingsley, Ethel Merman, Howard Jarvis, and Jimmy "JJ" Walker as the window washer at the beginning of the film. According to the director's commentary, he was only "comedy cameo" they accepted. Paramount wanted many of them.
The directors' cameo is as the ground crew members who direct the plane into the terminal building.
Cigarette of Anxiety: Steve McCroskey, ground support, picked the wrong week to quit smoking (which he says as he lights up a butt). Also the wrong week to quit drinking, taking amphetamines, and sniffing airplane glue.
Circling Vultures: They're not circling, but a bunch of vultures perch over the Heroes as they prepare to crash-land.
Circular Drive: Used to multiply the emergency vehicles. The circle is obvious, the film is sped up, and as it goes on more and more incongruous vehicles (including a beer truck and a farm tractor) get added in.
The Comically Serious: The key to the movie's charm. David Zucker made a conscious decision to give the comedic roles to actors known for playing serious, tough-guy characters: Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and, believe it or not, Leslie Nielsen.
Companion Cube: Otto the automatic pilot, who's a blow-up inflatable doll.
In Finnish, it's "Hey, We're Flying!". This led to a whole series of imported American comedies being titled Hey, We're [insert verb here]!
In Polish it's "Is there a pilot with us?".
France went with the similar "Is there a pilot in the plane?"
In Brazilian Portuguese, "Fasten Your Seatbealts, the Pilot has Disappeared!"
In Italian, it's "The Craziest Airplane In The World".
German has "The incredible voyage in a crazy Airplane".
Australia has 'Flying High!'.
In Spanish, the film was released as "So where is the pilot?" in Latin America and "Land [as well] as you can" in Spain. From then on, almost every movie that had Leslie Nielsen in its cast was released as "So where is X?" and "X as you can".
Parodied when Ted Striker, upon meeting the African tribesmen he and Elaine would be working with for their time in the Peace Corps, teaches them how to shake hands. This being accepted, he goes for a "gimme five" and gets punched out for his trouble.
Later, as media outlets around the world are reporting on the runaway aircraft, a stereotypically Polynesian reporter with very little technology at his disposal relays his story by drumbeat. There is a child's drawing of an airplane on the drawing board behind him, instead of a newsroom graphic. Then he's handed a different pair of drumsticks for his next news report, and turns to a different camera.
The movie itself did this to the entire Disaster Movie genre, which wouldn't get taken seriously again until Independence Day in 1996 (which only got through by combining disaster with Sci-fi and a bit of comedy).
Tower guy: "We're all ready sir. This is Captain McCrosky, Captain Roberts, Captain Kramer, Captain Kolosomo. Captain Henshaw, this is Captain Gatz. Captain Kramer, Captain Gatz. Captain Henshaw, Captain Roberts..."
Dressed To Heal: Dr. Rumack is introduced wearing a stethoscope for no reason, first shown right after he's asked if he's a doctor. In a later scene, he's giving an OB-GYN exam for no apparent reason - yes, in flight. With stirrups. And holding a vaginal speculum at the ready.
Driven to Suicide: Three people commit suicide rather than listen to Ted Striker's reminiscing. Double subverted with the third case; the man drenches himself in gasoline and lights a match, then blows it out in relief when Ted leaves his seat, only to explode anyway.
Driving a Desk: Rex Kramer's drive to the airport. Parodied viciously as he runs over a bicyclist and passes everything from traffic accidents to raiding Indians on horseback, with only his terrified passenger reacting to what's notionally going on. During another portion, the background shows fast-motion footage of a drive down a winding, hilly road, while Kramer holds the wheel completely straight and still the whole time.
Droste Image: McCroskey stands in front of a framed photograph of himself, striking the exact same pose as in the photograph, which itself contains the same framed photograph in its background. They took it one step further in the sequel.
Executive Meddling: The studio wouldn't let the producers use a propeller plane as the airliner, so the producers gave the jet a propeller plane sound instead.
Face Cam: Elaine and Ted Striker during the dance scene in the bar.
Falling into the Cockpit: Ted Striker must pilot a multi-engine jet airliner even though he has only flown single engine fighters.
Fanservice Extra: The buxom Francesca "Kitten" Natividad pulls uncredited duty here as the jiggling passenger in the white T-shirt (She later confirmed that she was not the naked woman who appears directly in front of the camera from out of nowhere for no real reason while the rest of the plane is panicking). She makes another blink-and-you'll-miss-it uncredited appearance as the jiggling woman in the "Moral Majority" T-shirt in Airplane II.
Fate Worse than Death: Listening to Ted's exposition about his guilt and failed relationship with Elaine.
Flashback: Ted and Elaine (meeting in the bar, in the Peace Corps, in the hospital, rolling on the beach), Ted's war memories.
The technician changing the oil under the airplane's hood, then falls off the ladder trying to pop it shut, as the pilots are discussing the weather in the cockpit. Then we have Oveur being handed the bill for the repairs and him paying it on the spot.
An accidental one, but still funny: When Dr. Rumack is removing eggs from the woman's mouth and cracks one open to release a bird, the bird nearly hits a passenger in the face as it flies off.
Amongst the procession of rescue vehicles going out to the runway is a cement mixer and a Budweiser truck.
Fun with Subtitles: The scene with the two jive dudes helpfully "translates" their conversation into English. For some bonus humor, in this "making of" clip, when the two actors are speaking about the role, some hilarious "jive" subtitles are added to their dialogue.
Gainaxing: Bouncy, bouncy Kitten Natividad. Though to be fair, her breasts are bouncing in synch with each other.
Genre Savvy: When Kramer casually tosses a match out of the window, McCroskey immediately covers his ears expecting an explosion, despite there being no logical reason for one.
Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When everyone lines up to slap/punch/club/shoot a hysterical woman, with increasingly lethal weapons as the camera pans down the line.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, paedophilia, topless women (see Fanservice Extra above), a young girl who takes her coffee black (like her men), pornographic magazines (see Funny Background Event), and repeated drug use, and it gets a PG rating? (Granted, PG-13 didn't exist back then...) Looks like the censors picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue! In an interview on Later With Bob Costas, Robert Stack was amazed A) that ZAZ got away with the 'Shit hits the fan' joke and B) that it made him laugh a lot.
Murdock: You want me to check the weather, Clarence?
Oveur: No, why don't you take care of it?
Mirror Routine: Sort of. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag has Rex Kramer dressing in front of a mirror. In the next shot we see him seemingly step out of the reflection; between shots the mirror was switched with a doorway and Robert Stack switched positions.
Captain Oveur, listening to Dr. Rumack explain that everyone on the plane who ate fish is going to become violently ill, glances down at his plate which has a fish skeleton on it, then in the background, Dr. Rumack starts describing the symptoms... which Oveur begins to suffer as they are being described.
Ted and Elaine exchange a horrified look when the runway lights go out.
Parental Bonus: One of the greatest things about this movie is that kids and parents can both watch it, but they laugh in, shall we say, different places. Of course, as noted under Getting Crap Past the Radar, many of the jokes are not really appropriate for pre-teens.
Pinch Me: Ted Striker to a sailor in the Magumba Bar, when he first met Elaine.
Playing Against Type: Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Peter Graves (all serious dramatic actors), doing comedy. In the case of Nielsen, this role redefined his career, and would become his default shtick for the rest of his life. Bridges also briefly became a comedic actor before his death in 1998.
Prison Rape: Captain Oveur has apparently had some... unusual experiences.
Oveur: "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?"
Rule of Funny: A watermelon falling from the ceiling in a flight control office? Table lamps being unloaded by a dumptruck onto a runway? A string bass among the emergency supplies in the cockpit, in case the crew were on instruments? Would never happen in real life. But it doesn't matter, because it was funny.
Rule of Three: "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." The third time comes after the plane has come to a full stop.
Running Gag: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, Ted's suicidal Flashback confidants, "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit (drinking, smoking, sniffing glue, amphetamines)," "The red/white zone is for the loading and unloading...". There are so many threads of repeating gag loops, fading in and out throughout the film, that it's like a comedy movie written as techno music. "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you."
Sequential Symptom Syndrome: Dr. Rumack describes the effects of the food poisoning in exhaustive detail in the background, while Captain Oveur suffers from them in the foreground in the precise sequence listed. Nobody notices, however, until the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering, wasted piece of jelly.
Dr. Rumack: Extremely serious. It starts with a slight fever and dryness of the throat. [Oveur starts suffering from these] When the virus penetrates the red blood cells, the victim becomes dizzy, begins to experience an itchy rash...
[Oveur starts becoming dizzy and starts scratching his arm]
Dr. Rumack: ....then the poison goes to work on the central nervous system, severe muscle spasms followed by the inevitable drooling....
[Oveur begins to have spasms in his right shoulder and then spits something out of his mouth]
Dr. Rumack: At this point, the entire digestive system collapses accompanied by uncontrollable flatulence....
[Oveur begins to fart noisily]
Dr. Rumack: ...until finally, the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly. [Oveur collapses at the controls]
Sorry to Interrupt: During the autopilot reinflation scene, the doctor opens the door, sees what's going on and turns right around.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Randy belting out "River of Jordan" while the heart transplant patient frantically tries to plug her own IV back in. May qualify as Adult Fear, although the ambulance scene at the end implies she survived (at least until we heard it crash and saw a hubcap roll by).
Jet engines sound no different from propellers despite their different mechanical structures.
Ever hear a real airplane go "chuff...chuff...chuff...chuff" like a steam locomotive while taxiing?
Straight Man: Every actor (except for Johnny) acts as if they are not speaking hilarious lines, which is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. One of the reasons for avoiding "comedy cameos", according to the directors, was to keep everything seeming serious.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: At first. Roger Murdoch denies he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as though he doesn't even know who Kareem is. Then he breaks character when Joey starts to criticize several of his recent games.
Take That: "WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever!" [Plane immediately flies overhead and slices the radio antenna clean off, stopping the signal]
McCroskey:[to Capt. Oveur's wife] Your husband is alive, but unconscious.
This Is No Time to Panic: As the unconscious pilot and co-pilot are dragged down the aisle, and when Elaine asks if there's anyone on board who can fly a plane.
Train-Station Goodbye: Parodied as the plane takes off, complete with an "All aboard!" call and the sound of a steam train. It does double-duty as a parody of war movies where the heroic soldier gets a sendoff from his girl — specifically, the Trope Maker, Since You Went Away.
Transparent Closet: Capt. Oveur likes to read "Modern Sperm" and hits on young boys while his wife is cheating (with a horse); sexual deviancy may be the one thing they have in common.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Girl Scouts brawling in a bar (only Ted seems to be concerned by this), a man being stabbed and killed in a bar (Elaine likewise is the only one who notices), the plane's pilots being dragged down the aisle by the stewardesses, McCroskey jumping out a window... the list goes on.
Visual Pun: "The shit's going to hit the fan," "Okay, boys, let's take some pictures," "Steve, I want every light you can get poured onto that field," "They're on instruments," and "We'll get him down safe," among others. The "check the radar range" pun hasn't aged well, though — although Amana still makes RadarRange microwave ovens, it's no longer the best-known brand.
Wacky Sound Effect: The jetliner takes off and sounds like a steam train, then sounds like a propeller plane in flight.
Wham Line: "Every passenger on this plane who had fish for dinner will become violently ill in the next half hour". (Capt. Oveur ate fish).
McCroskey: "How 'bout some coffee, Johnny?" Johnny: "No thanks!' (in a later scene) Steve McCroskey: "Johnny, how 'bout some more coffee?" Johnny: "No, thanks!"
You Never Did That for Me: Played for Laughs. When her husband has a second cup of coffee, we hear the thoughts of the wife (listed in the credits as "Mrs. Hammen") echoing in her head: "Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home." Later, when he's sick and hurling into the barf bag, she thinks, "Jim never vomits at home..." This was a parody of a Yuban coffee commercial from the late 1970s.