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Film / Airplane!

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Airplane!? What is it?
It's a big metal thing with wings, but that's not important right now.

The film that solidified the team of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker as comedy icons. ZAZ's directorial debut,note  Airplane! (1980) — titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippinesis a comedic remake of the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour! (itself based on the TV movie Flight into Danger written by Arthur Hailey).note  Subplots from Airport (1975) also appear, such as an airline stewardess (or flight attendant) having to keep the plane under control for a while, a singing Nun, and a little girl on-board in need of an organ transplant.

The plot: 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. Hilarity Ensues. 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.

This film started Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack) out on a whole new career starring in silly comedies. In fact, Nielsen's subsequent Leslie Nielsen Syndrome kind of ruined the main joke of his casting, which was to have a deadly serious leading man (he'd been in Forbidden Planet!) saying utterly ridiculous lines. The same happened to Lloyd Bridges (Steve McCrosky), but not Robert Stack (Rex Kramer). In fact, for Stack, the reverse happened — he became the host of Unsolved Mysteries, which required a serious man to say ridiculous lines while remaining dignified.

Airplane! was hardly the Trope Maker, but it's often viewed, even today, as a major Trope Codifier of the parody film. It was followed by a sequel called Airplane II: The Sequel in 1982, which didn't have any involvement from ZAZ, who collectively claim neither to have seen it nor have any interest in seeing it.

"Surely these aren't examples!" "They are examples, and don't call us Shirley.":

  • 10-Minute Retirement: After accidentally overhearing Kramer discussing how hopeless it is for him to land the plane, Ted puts the autopilot back in charge and gives up. Dr. Rumack brings him out of it with the revelation that George Zipp, a deceased member of Striker's squadron during the war, didn't blame him for their failed mission.
  • Abortion Fallout Drama: Played for Laughs. The two P.A. announcers Vernon and Betty arguing over him wanting her to get an abortion.
  • Accidental Dance Craze:
    • Elaine mimics the gestures of a fellow dancer in the tough-guy bar without realizing he's trying to draw attention to the knife in his back.
    • The two girl scouts fighting each other. One of them accidentally goes crashing into a jukebox that starts playing "Stayin' Alive" by The Bee Gees, which gets everyone in the tough-guy bar dancing.
  • Accidental Murder: As Randy sings "River of Jordan", she accidentally knocks out a heart patient's IV. Twice.
  • 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).
    • For that matter, the plane itself takes on the acoustics of a steam engine slowly leaving a train station.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays a pilot mistaken for Abdul-Jabbar who actually is Abdul-Jabbar, and admits as much when criticized for his lack of effort in the NBA by a young passenger. As he is later dragged unconscious from the cockpit, he's wearing Kareem's goggles, Lakers shorts, and sneakers.
    • Robert Stack, forgetting that he's not playing Eliot Ness:
      Air Traffic Controller: Captain, maybe we oughtta turn on the searchlights now!
      Kramer: No... that's just what they'll be expecting us to do...
    • Captain Oveur's gag line, "Joey, have you ever..." appears to be a throwback to the series Fury, in which Peter Graves played Jim Newton, Joey's adoptive father. The line appears word for word in the pilot episode.
    • Lloyd Bridges is basically playing his Jim Conrad character from the short-lived San Francisco International Airport TV series.
    • Lee Bryant plays Mrs Hammen. The scene in which she muses that her husband Jim "never has a second cup of coffee at home" directly alludes to her role in a well-known 1970s Yuban coffee commercial.
  • Adam Westing: Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Robert Stack played parodies of their typical roles, in a stilted, hammy fashion. In the case of Bridges and Nielsen, this movie led to a career change.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Most characters were given totally new names from their counterparts in Zero Hour!, with only a few exceptions:
    • Ted, although the spelling of his surname is changed from Stryker to Striker.
    • Ellen's name is changed to Elaine, and not being the estranged wife of Ted in this adaptation, uses the maiden name Dickinson.
    • Joey Stryker becomes Joey Hammen, as he is made the son of Mr. and Mrs. Hammen since Ted and Ellen/Elaine are younger and unmarried in this version of the story.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Ted and the other Canadian characters from Zero Hour! become American here, which turns Leslie Nielsen into a Fake American.
  • Affectionate Parody: Disaster movies in general and airplane disaster movies in particular.
  • Airstrike Impossible: All tropes are fair game for parody, and Striker's problems all stem from his experiences with a tough mission during "the war."
  • All Part of the Show: While dancing, a guy is stabbed in the back. His partner Elaine confuses his pointing at the knife for dance moves.
  • Ambiguous Syntax:
    • "Ambiguous Syntax? What is it?" "It's a Running Gag that's derived from the confusion between inquiring about a problem with something and asking for its definition, but that's not important right now."
      Randy: There's a little problem in the cockpit.
      Striker: The cockpit! What is it?
      Randy: It's a little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that's not important right now.
    • There are a few other examples that don't use that specific gag, as well:
      Old Lady: Nervous?
      Striker: Yes.
      Old Lady: First time?
      Striker: No, I've been nervous lots of times.
    • Also the double example in this exchange between Rumack and Oveur:
      Dr. Rumack: Captain, how soon can we land?
      Oveur: I can't tell.
      Dr. Rumack: You can tell me, I'm a doctor.
      Oveur: No, I mean I'm not sure.
      Dr. Rumack: Can't you take a guess?
      Oveur: Well...not for another two hours.
      Dr. Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?
  • Anachronism Stew: News reporters apparently still wear fedoras and use press cameras in 1979-1980. The passengers still wear formal clothing, and a pair of nuns is seen in traditional garb. The jet's prop engine effect may fall into this as well. 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 whirligig, but these can be chalked up to Rule of Funny. Furthermore, the jukebox in his flashback plays a sped up "Stayin' Alive" by The Bee Gees.
  • And the Adventure Continues: For whatever reason, Otto and his "girlfriend" relaunch the crashed plane and fly off into the night.
  • And Starring: Parodied in the ending credits: "And introducing Otto [the autopilot] as himself." It's a joke considering he's a balloon but still gets credits with the other actors.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Dr. Rumack, Elaine, Randy and some of the flight crew aboard start to worry about any illness outbreaks when some of the passengers start to become ill after their meals. After careful examination of the passengers and their food intake and symptoms, Dr. Rumack realizes that everyone who has had fish will become violently ill. Then the flight crew becomes ill.
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving: In one of the many non-joke lines taken directly from Zero Hour! and played straight, Rex Kramer tells Stryker at the end that "that was probably the worst landing in the history of this airport" before offering to buy him a drink and shake his hand.
  • Artistic License – Geography: As everything else, played for laughs. Striker says he was stationed off the Barbary coast, but also that the Drambuie bar was populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. The Barbary Coast is on the Mediterranean coast of Africa, while Bombay and Calcutta are on opposite sides of India. Meanwhile, all the bar patrons are white.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Dr. Rumack is about to perform what looks to be a pap smear on a female patient on a very crowded plane.
  • Artistic License – Military: Ted Striker says that he was in the Air Force, but the flashback in the Magumba bar in Drambuie has him wearing a US Navy dress uniform (and soldiers aren't supposed to wear their dress uniforms in bars anyway). 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 , and they didn't have disco back then...
  • Artistic License – Physics: More Rule of Funny, with the in-flight plane casually knocking over WZAZ's transmission tower without any damage to itself.
  • As Himself:
    • Otto the autopilot is credited as himself.
    • One of the weirdest ones put to film, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is actually playing co-pilot Roger Murdock, but the boy touring the cockpit recognizes him, leading to his Suspiciously Specific Denial.
    • A soldier is suffering psychotic episodes because "he" thinks he's Ethel Merman, even to getting out of bed and bursting into the song "Everything's Coming Up Roses." The soldier is played by Ethel Merman (in her last film role before her death).
  • Aside Comment: Early in the movie after Elaine has rejected Ted, Ted turns to the camera and says "What a pisser."
  • Aside Glance
    • Victor the navigator smiles at the camera when Randy sings "River of Jordan".
    • In the last scene, Otto the Autopilot turns his head to face the audience and salutes. A short time later, after he gets an inflatable female companion he turns his head to the audience again and winks.
  • 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!"
  • Autocannibalism: The Spinning Newspaper segment includes the gag headline "Boy Trapped in Refrigerator Eats Own Foot".
  • Bad Guy Bar: The Magumba bar in Drambuie, featuring fighting Girl Scouts and disco dancing. Ted only gets a dance with his one true love because the schmuck she'd been dancing with gets knifed.
  • Bar Brawl: Between card-playing Girl Scouts, no less...but nobody pays them any attention.
  • Bar Slide: During the Bar Brawl, a Girl Scout is thrown down the bar and crashes headfirst into a jukebox, which starts playing "Stayin' Alive".
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Played for laughs as a transplant heart hops off a table while Dr. Brody is calling from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Captain Oveur's wife...with a horse.
  • Belly-Scraping Flight: Coming into Chicago, the airliner slices off the rooftop aerial of radio station WZAZ, "Where disco lives forever!"
  • Berserk Button: Whatever you do, don't tell Karee—uh, sorry, Roger Murdock—that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn't play his best in every game.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Mrs. Oveur cheats on her husband...with a horse.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: The reveal that Mrs. Oveur is cheating on her husband with a horse.
  • Billions of Buttons: A slow pan across an endless array of buttons, knobs and switches, which is a control panel from a real four-engine jet.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • Trans American Airlines isn't TWA. Nope. Nothing like it at all. It doesn't have a W in its name for a start! Nor is it AA.
    • In one flashback, Elaine demonstrates "Supperware" to some African villagers.
  • Blatant Lies: Dr. Rumack's "reassurances" to the passengers about the health of the pilots.
  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: When he first meets Elaine in the Magumba Bar, he's so lovestruck that he asks the longshoreman next to him to pinch him. The longshoreman became visibly uncomfortable and slides away.
  • The Bore: Ted Striker. Whenever he comes out of one of the Flashbacks into his past, the person he's sitting next to is dousing themselves in gasoline, committing harakiri, or hanging themselves.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At least two characters do this: Stryker turns to the camera and says "What a pisser," and later in the film, Johnny laughs at the audience after he jokingly unplugs the runway lights.
  • Bloodless Carnage: A few people die humorously, but there's no blood or gory detail.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Three newspapers about the plane in trouble are shown spinning. The last one reads "Boy Trapped In Refrigerator Eats Own Foot".
  • Brick Joke:
    • 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.
    • As McCrosky and Kramer are speaking after Kramer first arrives, a Native spear hits the wall next to him, from the ones who were chasing him earlier.
    • The Girl Scouts are still fighting long after the disco bar has closed.
    • When Ted throws off his clothes while dancing, they keep getting thrown back at him.
  • Butt-Monkey: The hysterical woman who gets hit by nuns, with nearly everyone on the plane lining up to knock some sense into her.
  • The Cameo:
    • Ethel Merman as the Shell-Shocked Veteran who thinks he's Ethel Merman. It was Merman's final film appearance.
    • Howard Jarvis, the California anti-tax activist who spearheaded the passage of property-tax limiting Proposition 13 in 1978, is the passenger in Ted Striker's taxi.
    • Jimmie "JJ" Walker of Good Times fame is the window washer. According to the director's commentary, Walker was the only "comedy cameo" they accepted; Paramount wanted many more. It may have helped Walker's chances that he was in a straightforward airplane disaster movie the previous year (The Concorde: Airport '79) as one of several comic relief characters.
    • Abrahams' mother, Louise Abrahams Yaffe, plays the passenger who introduces Elaine to Dr Rumack.
    • The Zuckers' mother is the woman attempting to put on lipstick during the crash landing.
  • Camera Abuse: During the girl scout fight, one of the girls is slammed into the camera.
  • Camp Gay: Johnny is exaggeratedly campy in mannerisms and speech, Played for Laughs because nobody else seems to notice. Actor Stephen Stucker, who played Johnny, was actually like that in real life. He once described himself as being "so flamingly gay" that one could light cigarettes off of him.
  • Captain Obvious:
    • When Elaine asks Dr. Rumack if he's a doctor, the camera cuts to him answering her while wearing a stethoscope, with the ear tubes in place as though he's listening to the plane's headphones.
    • One passenger begins to suspect something is wrong with her husband when he starts vomiting.
      Woman: [thinking] Jim never vomits at home.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • Lampshaded and Played for Laughs with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who keeps insisting to Joey that he's not Jabbar. He's Roger Murdock. Until...
      Joey: I think you're the greatest, but my dad says you don't work hard enough on defense. And he says that lots of times, you don't even run down court. And that you don't really try... except during the playoffs.
      Roger Murdock: The hell I don't! [pulls Joey close and seethes] Listen, kid, I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night! Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!
    • Topped off by his wearing Lakers shorts, sneakers, and goggles when being dragged out of the cockpit.
  • Character as Himself: Otto the Autopilot.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: George Zipp. He is first mentioned during the flashback when Striker was in the hospital after he screwed up in the mission, when Elaine corrects Striker by telling him Zipp just died. Later, it turns out that Dr. Rumack was the doctor attending Zipp when he died and heard his last words praising Striker's call, which gives Striker an Epiphany Therapy.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Steve McCroskey, ground support, picked the wrong week to quit smoking (which he says as he lights up a butt)...and also the wrong week to quit drinking, taking amphetamines, and sniffing glue.
  • Circling Vultures: They're not circling, but a bunch of vultures perches over the heroes as they prepare to crashland.
  • 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.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Ted Striker is the only pilot on the plane who isn't sick, even though he a) only ever learned to fly a single-engine fighter jet, which is "an entirely different type of flying altogether!" note  and b) hasn't flown in years.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Johnny, who always has a... different... take on the action than the people around him. He's the only character who seems to realize that he's in a comedy.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
  • The Comically Serious:
    • The key to the movie's charm. David Zucker has said that the basic concept of the movie was "a comedy without comedians," so they cast two non-stars in the lead roles (it was ex-model Julie Hagerty's film debut, while Robert Hays was best known as the handsome love interest on the sitcom Angie), and gave supporting roles to actors famous for playing serious, tough-guy characters: Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and, believe it or not, Leslie Nielsen, who at the time was considered the handsome, leading man prototype. Then they had them all play as though they were in a serious Disaster Movie.
    • Similarly, Elmer Bernstein approached the score as though he wasn't in on the joke and thought he was writing music for a straightfaced (albeit corny and overwrought) Melodrama.
  • Coming in Hot: Twice. In the opening, when the plane crashes through an airport glass window and causes people to scream and run away, and towards the end, when Ted and Elaine attempt to carefully land their out-of-control airplane.
  • Companion Cube: Otto the automatic pilot, who's a (sapient) inflatable blow-up doll.
  • Conjoined Twins: Stan and Terry, who McCrosky tells to go upstairs to the tower to retrieve a map and check on the emergency equipment on the field, respectively.
  • Contamination Situation: The mysterious sickness gets both the pilot and copilot, as well as everyone else who ate fish for dinner on the flight.
    • In real life, it's for this reason that many airlines require that a plane's pilot and copilot be served different meals.
  • Cool Old Lady: The "I speak jive" lady. Made even cooler by the fact she's played by Barbara Billingsley — AKA June Cleaver.
  • Covert Pervert: Captain Oveur's wife Mrs. Oveur can't resist feeling up Kramer as he gives the orders to lower the plane for its emergency landing. That's not even to mention her secret interspecies affair.
    • Not to mention Captain Oveur's increasingly less stealthy questions to Joey.
  • Crash Course Landing: Even though Ted is a pilot, he's a fighter pilot, so he still needs help with a commercial airliner.
    Ted: It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether!
    Dr. Rumack and Randy: [in unison] It's an entirely different kind of flying!
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison:
    • 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 crude, child-like 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Two of the directors, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker as the ground crewmen who crash a plane into the terminal. Jim Abrahams is one of the solicitors that attempts to harass Kramer when he enters the airport.
  • Credits Gag: Many:
    • Pete Papanickolas did the "gripology".
    • Charles Dickens is the author of A Tale of Two Cities.
    • Mike Fennell was "Generally in charge of a lot of things".
    • "This motion picture is protected under the laws of the United States and other countries. Unauthorized duplication, distribution, or exhibition may result in civil liability or criminal prosecution. So there."
    • After the legitimate credit for Best Boy is a credit for Worst Boy, Adolf Hitler.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: A comedic version of the inflatable "Otto" pilot doll, although the face of an inflatable doll receiving a blowjob is still fairly creepy.
  • Crew of One: Ted Striker flies (and lands) a modern jet airliner by himself, with radio support.
  • Crosscast Role:
    • The surfing nun on the cover of Nun's Life was actually Jim Zucker.
    • The two girl scouts at the bar fighting from the flashback of Striker are actually two men.
    • Lieutenant Hurwitz, the soldier who thinks he's Ethel Merman is played by Ethel Merman in her final film role.
  • Cultural Translation: Foreign language dubs often gave the Jive speakers a thick local regional dialect, which was subtitled as the formal national language (like Bavarian subtitled as standard German).
  • Condemned by History: Invoked. The plane symbolically kills off the entire genre of disco by crashing through a Chicago radio tower (hilariously, right after the deejay has just boasted that disco will live forever).
  • Deconstruction: Of a sort; the Zuckers stated that they found the dead-serious disaster movies they had grown up with (and made fun of) deeply pretentious, and set about to make a film that played most of the cliches absurdly straight and pointing out how bizarre they really were — Zero Hour!'s plot of fish poisoning the passengers is turned into an absurdist joke, for example.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Airplane! put an end to the genre of disaster movies for several years.note 
  • Deconstructed Trope: Somehow, this movie still manages to have an example Played for Drama. Ted may be the closest thing to a pilot that they have, but even without taking his PTSD into account, Ted’s only ever flown a single engine plane before and hasn't flown anything in years. So, even though he was a pilot in the war, he still has to be talked down by a pilot who’s actually experienced with a multi-engine plane, and even with all possible help it’s still a close call.
  • Deleted Scenes: Comparing the shooting script with the film as released reveals a number of scenes or subplots were trimmed or outright cut.
    • Milton ("Milt Ettenhenim. But my friends call me 'Bubbles'"), the eight-year-old boy wearing a conservative coat and tie, and Bernice, the seven-year-old girl who likes her coffee (and her men) black, were meant to have a number of scenes together and strike up a relationship together. Most of their scenes were cut.
    • Mrs Schiff, the jive-talking lady, was meant to have several scenes in which she literally nurses a soft drink.
    • Randy's song was meant to be longer, finishing with Mrs. Davis being knocked out by the guitar.
    • When examining Shirley, Rumack was supposed to pull on her tongue until it became obviously too long, then produce multi-colored magician's scarves, a bouquet of flowers, and a white dove. Only the dove was retained.
    • Captain Oveur's reassuring announcement to the passengers ("we're just now passing over the Hoover Dam...") was meant to be followed by a scene showing the passengers panicking.
    • The panic scene following Elaine's query, "Is there anyone on ­board who knows how to fly a plane?" was meant to end with a Spanish-speaking lady waiting for her husband to translate the announcement before panicking.
    • Kramer versus the religious enthusiasts at the airport: the scene was meant to end with him shooting the last zealot twenty feet away with a .44 Magnum.
    • Mrs Hammen was meant to have an additional short hysterical scene, in which she mistakenly thinks Jack has died.
    • A dispatcher at Chicago Airport was meant to have a running gag in which he struggles with his typewriter.
    • A long cut scene would have featured McCrosky and Kramer discussing covering the runway with foam, to allow the plane to land without using its wheels.
    • A scene from the landing, in which Randy offers to arrange hotel accommodation and car rental for a passenger, was cut.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film enjoys playing with how social conventions had changed since Zero Hour! had been filmed.
  • Dirty Old Man: Captain Oveur's inappropriate questions to Joey. "You ever been in a cockpit before?" "You ever seen a grown man naked?" "Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?" "Do you like movies about gladiators?".
  • Dirty Old Woman:
    • One scene shows a nun reading a Boy's Life magazine.
    • Mrs. Oveur briefly gropes Kramer while he gives the orders for the plane to land.
  • Disaster Movie: It's a parody of the genre with elements of the Airport movies, but it's heavily based on Zero Hour!, which plays it straight (and which was also written by the creator of Airport.)
  • Disco Sucks: A radio announcer triumphantly proclaims that WZAZ is "where disco lives forever!" just before the plane knocks down its rooftop transmitting antenna. This film came out in 1980, so the joke was extremely timely—the creators note on the DVD commentary that they witnessed this joke being met with applause in theaters.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The look on Otto the Autopilot's face as he's being "re-inflated". (And the head bob.)
    • Followed by Elaine and Otto smoking cigarettes afterwards.
  • Doctor, Doctor, Doctor: Spoofed:
    Tower referee: 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...
  • Door Focus: Leslie Nielsen's famous Running Gag of sticking his head into the cockpit repeatedly and declaring "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." Subverted once as well with a Not What It Looks Like moment late in the film.
  • 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. note 
    • 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.
  • Drugs Are Bad: McCroskey saying "he's picked the wrong week to quit smoking/taking amphetamines/sniffing glue".
  • Driven to Suicide: Three people choose to commit suicide rather than continue to listen to Ted Striker's rambling reminiscing.
  • 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.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ted having a "drinking problem" — the only difference is none of the liquids can ever hit his mouth.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: As Ted reminisces about his relationship with Elaine to an old lady, she gets rather intimate in her appraisal.
    Old Woman: No wonder you're so upset. She's lovely! And a darling figure. Supple pouting breasts. Firm thighs. It's a shame you don't get along.
  • Epiphany Therapy: A rare case of a typically dramatic trope not being parodied in a film that otherwise parodies every dramatic trope it can. Ted Striker is cured of his fear of flying and saves the day after a Rousing Speech by Dr. Rumack, absolving him of his guilt over his failed Air Force mission during the war.
  • Escalating Punchline: The parody of Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!.
  • Exact Words:
    • Ted Striker has a drinking problem: he always misses his mouth.
    • Also his exchange with a fellow passenger: "Nervous?" "Yes." "First time?" "No, I've been nervous lots of times."
    • "That's impossible, they're on instruments!" Cut to everyone in the cockpit jamming a jazz tune on musical instruments.
    • One of the reporters tells his colleagues, "Alright boys, let's take some pictures." The reporters then proceed to literally take the pictures off of the walls.
    • Rex Kramer says he wants every light they have on that runway, McCrosky says it's being done. Cut to a shot of a dump truck pouring lamps onto it.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over less than six hours, from flight pre-boarding in Los Angeles to just after landing in Chicago, though there are also several flashbacks.
  • Face Cam: Elaine and Ted Striker during the dance scene in the bar.
  • Failed a Spot Check: As Captain Oveur is explaining that the plane is flying over the Hoover Dam, none of the passengers see two stewardesses dragging the unconscious Roger and Victor through the cabin. Later on, Randy is able to drag Captain Oveur through in much the same way and, once again, no one notices.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Striker is the only person on board with flying experience after the crew is incapacitated, so he has no choice but to attempt to land the airliner.
  • Fanservice: During the panic scene there comes, out of nowhere, a random topless woman who gets *really* close to the camera and disappears.
  • Fanservice Extra:
    • The buxom Francesca "Kitten" Natividad pulls uncredited duty here as the jiggling passenger in the white T-shirt.
    • Then the topless lady who bounds into the camera frame in a similar way. Long thought to also be Kitten Natividad, but she later said that it isn't her.
  • Fantastic Racism: During the mass plane panic, a nun and a Buddhist can be seen fighting each other.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles: The German title is Die unglaubliche Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug (The Incredible Journey on a Crazy Airplane).
  • Fate Worse than Death: Listening to Ted's exposition flashbacks about his guilt and failed relationship with Elaine drives two different passengers to commit suicide and one to attempt it before stopping; he fails to stop it and succeeds in dying anyway.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Striker and Kramer.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: One can already determine that Striker's "drinking problem" isn't anything alcohol related by the fact that in the flashback where it began, Ted was pouring himself a glass of Gatorade.
  • Flashback: Ted and Elaine (meeting in the bar, rolling on the beach, in the hospital, in the Peace Corps), Ted's war memories.
  • Flashback Stares: Characters just stare straight ahead as ripples lead into the flashbacks.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: When Kramer arrives at the airport he's accosted by donation-seekers, much like Ted and Elaine confront earlier. He proceeds to beat the crap out of every single one of them.
  • Food and Body Comparison: As the plane flies through a patch of rough turbulence, there's a shot of a gelatin dessert jiggling wildly from the plane's movements. Then the camera pans over to a busty woman, whose chest is bouncing and jiggling just as much.]
  • For the Evulz: The runway lights abruptly go out during the landing attempt. It turns out to be Johnny messing with the equipment.
    Johnny: Just kidding! [plugs cord back in, followed by Evil Laugh]
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: A brief close-up shot of a naked woman's jiggling boobs when the passengers go into a panic.
  • Free Wheel: Played for laughs when we see a hubcap rolling across the tarmac after an ambulance crashes off-screen.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: When a well-dressed young girl and boy strike up a well-mannered, adult conversation in their seats, it seems charming, until we learn that she's... been around.
    Girl: I take [my coffee] black. Like my men.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • After Ted introduces basketball to Africans, they're pulling off Harlem Globetrotter tricks in the background when he's talking to Elaine.
    • The white zone/red zone argument over the PA, coupled with that baggage behind the cars that nobody actually gives a damn about. Yeah, many jokes are really that hard to catch.
    • Shortly after that, Ted runs into the airport and through security. It's on-screen for maybe three-tenths of a second: the security X-ray screen shows a chest X-ray.
    • At the beginning of the movie, a magazine rack is labeled "whacking material." Oveur picks up from it the latest edition of Modern Sperm.
    • The beating heart at the Mayo Clinic, which jumps off the desk and goes hopping around the table while Dr. Brody talks to Oveur.
    • 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. For those too young to remember, the payment transaction plays out exactly the way a full-service gas station transaction would have played out at the time, with the attendant handing the old-style credit card imprinter to the driver through the window (this was before magnetic stripes and swiping your card were possible).
    • 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, an ice cream truck, a tractor, and a Budweiser truck. They are possibly meant to be part of the "civilian equipment" that was asked to be driven to the airport.
    • During the This Is No Time to Panic moment, the nun and the Hare Krishna are trying to strangle each other.
    • In the radar room, someone is briefly seen unloading or loading a washing machine which resembles a radar.
  • Fun with Subtitles:
    • The scene with the two jive dudes helpfully "translates" their conversation into English:
    Jive Dude: I say hey, sky — subba say I wan' see — pray to J I did the same-ol', same-ol'!
    • 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.
  • Gambling Brawl: Parodied (of course). During Striker's first flashback, there's a close-up of two people playing poker, with only their hands visible. Suddenly one of them pulls out a knife and they start fighting. The camera pulls back to reveal that the players are Girl Scouts.
  • Gasoline Dousing: One of the people Ted tells his story to does this, then lights a match just before Ted is called away. He sighs in relief, blows out the match...and explodes anyway.
  • Gender-Blender Name: One of the stewardesses is named Randy.
  • Genre Savvy: Stephen Stucker's 'Johnny' is the only character who realizes he's in a whacky comedy rather than a serious drama and acts accordingly.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: An Exaggerated Trope. Everyone lines up to slap/punch/club/shoot a hysterical woman, with increasingly lethal weapons as the camera pans down the line.
  • Girl Scouts Are Evil: During the Bar Brawl two girl scouts fight each other, which nobody else seems to care about.
  • Giving Them the Strip: As Ted Stryker is going through the airport, he's accosted by a religious donation seeker. He slips out of his jacket and continues on, leaving his jacket in the guy's hand.
  • Glad I Thought of It: Oveur makes Murdock's idea his own.
    Murdock: You want me to check the weather, Clarence?
    Oveur: No, why don't you take care of it?
  • Glasses Pull: Captain Rex Kramer and his sunglasses. Two pairs, that is.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In the jive subtitles, "sheeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiit" gets translated as "golly."
  • Gratuitous Disco Sequence: During the bar flashback, the fighting girl scouts crash into a jukebox, it starts playing "Stayin' Alive," and everyone gets on the floor.
  • Great Offscreen War: The war that Ted Striker was involved in, which is very vague. It's some weird mashup of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam, and is played for laughs when Ted winds up talking to an annoyed Japanese soldier.
  • Hash House Lingo: The film goes a long way just to get this kind of joke.
    Operator: [on the phone with the Mayo Clinic] Excuse me, Captain Oveur, but I have an emergency call on line five from a Mr. Hamm.
    Oveur: Alright, give me a Hamm on five, hold the Mayo.
  • Hollywood Natives: Invoked twice.
    • In one of his flashbacks, Ted talks about working with the Malombo tribe in the Peace Corps. Everyone is dark-skinned and wear cloth wraps and beads, and the men brandish spears and wear feathered headdresses and face paint.
    • One appears briefly during the "news bulletin" montage, wearing a necklace of beads and horns while using Jungle Drums to deliver a news report.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The entire film.
    • The most famous example: "Surely you can't be serious!" "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
    • "Smoking or nonsmoking?" "Smoking, please," He's then handed a ticket that literally has smoke coming off of it.
    • Ted: "It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether!" Dr. Rumack and Randy, all together: "It's an entirely different kind of flying!"
    • "Boys, let's take some pictures!" The reporters then take photographs off of the wall.
    • Roger Murdock: "You got clearance, Clarence." Clarance Oveur: "Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?"
  • Hypocrite: An old lady rejects a man's offer of whiskey, then snorts cocaine afterwards.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • A prim old lady is aghast when a fellow passenger offers her whiskey to keep calm ("Certainly not!"). She then immediately proceeds to snort cocaine.
    • Elaine's oblivious complaints about Ted (not laying down roots in place, living in the past) all seem to apply to her as well, as her job requires her to always be traveling, and she fondly reminiscences about the first time she and Ted met and when they were deeply in love.
  • Hysterical Woman: One of the passengers starts to freak out. A guy tries slapping sense into her, but she still panics. This results in a line of people to slap her, which then becomes a line of people waiting to injure her with sequentially more severe weaponry.
  • Identity Denial: Roger Murdock (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) spends much of a scene denying that he's actually Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — until Joey repeats some insulting things that his father said about his basketball playing, at which point Roger/Kareem drops the act.
  • I Like My X Like I Like My Y: The young girl likes her coffee her men.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
  • I Was Just Joking: Johnny temporarily unplugs the runway lights as the plane is beginning to land.
  • Inner Monologue: "Pinch hitting for Pedro BorbónManny Mota!" Also, "Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home." Later mocked when Ted realizes how echo-y his own monologue sounds.
  • Is There a Doctor in the House?: Randy goes looking for one among the passengers and finds Dr. Rumack — whom she can instantly identify as a doctor because he's wearing a stethoscope.
  • Is This Thing Still On?:
    • Rex Kramer launches into a rant about how poorly suited Striker is to fly the plane, not realizing that his microphone button is pressed. This causes Ted to go into his 10-Minute Retirement.
    • Elaine, pressed into service to handle the microphone while Ted flies, relays a statement that Ted didn't really intend her to.
      Ted: It's a damn good thing he doesn't know how much I hate his guts.
      Elaine: [into microphone] It's a damn good thing you don't know how much he hates your guts.
    • Kramer continues rambling to Ted long after the crash is over and everyone's left the plane — less of a "Is this still on?" and more of a "Is anyone still listening to me?"
      Kramer: Municipal bonds, Ted. Triple-A rating, best investment in the book!
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: While awaiting the Trans American airlines flight to make its emergency landing, McCrosky and Kramer say "it's quiet, too quiet."
  • Jerkass: The "Counterpoint" anchorman.
    • Played with with the role of Rex Kramer, who is familiar with Striker's war history and is belittling of Ted at first, culminating with him accidentally suggesting they should just crash the plane somewhere remotely so Ted doesn't kill anyone on the ground. They become Fire-Forged Friends by the end.
    "Counterpoint" anchorman: Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!
  • Jive Turkey: The two black men and the white woman (Barbara Billingsley!) who interprets for them. "Cut me some slack, Jack!"
  • Jungle Drums: During a newscasters montage, African drum signals are used to convey all the news.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • On purpose, the jet airliner has the sound of prop engines.
    • When it comes to flight protocol, normally pilots are not allowed to eat the same food (in the film all three pilots ate fish) to prevent the possibility of everyone getting sick. Though like the above example, it's played for laughs.
  • Just the Introduction to the Opposites: A nun is shown reading a Boy's Life magazine, cut to a boy reading a Nun's Life magazine.
  • Jump Physics: During the dance sequence, Ted throws Elaine up into the air. She stays airborne for far too long before landing sideways, much to everyone's confusion.
  • Left the Background Music On: Ted has a flashback to his time in the Air Force when he used to hang out in a seedy bar. The scene has sleazy trombone music playing over it as Ted sits at the bar and is looking at the legs of a table dancer; the camera then pans up to reveal said table dancer being the one playing the trombone.
  • Literal-Minded: A constant source of humor, including the film's Running Gag of "X? What is it?" "It's <literal description of X>, but that's not important right now."
  • Literal Metaphor: Striker's drinking problem doesn't involve alcohol. He literally has problems getting liquid into his mouth.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: The little girl who needs a heart transplant. A horrific moment of Black Comedy (not to mention Soundtrack Dissonance) occurs when Randy sings "River of Jordan" to cheer her up and knocks out her IV with her guitar. Twice. The first time, everyone including her mother is so wrapped up in singing that she nearly flatlines, but she manages to pop the IV back in herself. The second time, her mother actually notices and frantically goes to her daughter's aid.
  • Male Gaze:
    • The film includes a "cameo" from a pair of ridiculously bouncy breasts.
    • The older lady who is seated next to Ted understands why he's longing for Elaine, all while describing her in very sexual terms.
  • Made of Explodium: Two instances:
  • Market-Based Title: It was retitled to Flying High in most English-speaking markets outside North America, apparently out of fear that it might get mixed up with The Concorde-Airport '79.
  • Mirror Routine: 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 is switched with a doorway and Robert Stack switches positions.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In the tough guy bar flashback, Ted is awestruck by the sight of Elaine and he asks a tough guy next to him to pinch him (to make sure he's not dreaming). The guy gets freaked out and leaves from this (apparently he got the wrong idea about Ted).
  • Misplaced Wildlife: An Asian elephant in the Africa flashback.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: A sort of strange example, as Mission Control's strangeness is a result of him going back on his meds.
  • Mixed Metaphor: "I guess the foot's on the other hand now!"
  • Narm:invoked The line from Zero Hour!, "We need to find someone who can not only fly this plane but who didn't have fish for dinner," convinced the Zuckers to make Airplane!
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The scene in the trailer showing the nose of a plane crashing through an air terminal's window is not from the climax of the film or some other major scene, and doesn't involve the titular vehicle at all. It is just part of a brief, non-plot-related sight gag that takes place during a 30-second sequence within the first five minutes of the film.
  • No Antagonist: The plot deals with most of the passengers and the entire flight crew succumbing to food poisoning that, at least in the case of the flight crew, renders them unconsious, just like Gerald Ford.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hilariously averted with Lieutenant Horwitz, who still thinks he's Ethel Merman. Of course, it actually IS Ethel Merman.
  • Not What It Looks Like: When Elaine has to re-inflate the deflating autopilot "Otto the Pilot", Dr. Rumack looks in and it looks as if she's "blowing him".
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging:
    • In the hospital flashback, when Ted is struggling with the Survivor's Guilt from getting six men killed on a failed mission:
      Elaine: Seven. Lieutenant Zipp died this morning.
    • Also when Dr. Rumack is talking with Randy, who's worried about being already 26 and still unmarried. A middle-aged woman pops into the cabin to talk with Dr. Rumack and notes that things might look grim on the plane, but "at least I have a husband." Cue Randy bursting into tears.
  • Offhand Backhand: Striker does this to one of the religious donation-seekers in the airport.
  • Offscreen Crash: The stewardess's accident after leaving the cockpit, and the ambulance at the end.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Ted ditches his taxi with a passenger still inside it at the beginning of the movie. Halfway through the movie, we cut back to see the passenger still waiting for him to return. We see him one last time after the end credits, where he vows to give him only twenty more minutes to come back.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • 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 with 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.
    • The oil pressure. Ted forgot to check the oil pressure.
    • Elaine plays with this when Ted begins his 10-Minute Retirement.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Parodied and Played for Laughs twice. Mrs. Hammen notices that her husband Jim orders a second cup of coffee, then he gets ill and vomits, both things he's never done at home.
  • Old Maid: Randy is worried about her age and not being married just yet.
    Randy: I'm 26 years old and I'm not married!
  • One-Word Title: The title of the film is just the word "Airplane".
  • Orbital Kiss: Ted and Elaine at the end, accompanied by an Ethereal Choir that goes way out of tune.
  • Origami Gag: Alluded to when air traffic control officer Steve McCroskey asks Cloudcuckoolander Johnny to interpret a weather report. Johnny grabs the printout and proceeds to excitedly list the various objects he can make with it.
    McCroskey: Johnny, what can you make out of this? [hands him the weather printout]
    Johnny: This? Well, I can make a hat! I can make a brooch! I can make a pterodactyl—
  • Overly-Long Gag: Endlessly. Perhaps the most notable examples:
    • "The (fill-in-the-blank)? What is it?" "It's a (fill-in-the-blank)—but that's not important right now."
    • The "projected-road" images become this as the movie keeps cutting back to the two men in the car.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: Played for Laughs during the landing by having Striker's forehead gushing a literal waterfall of sweat.
  • Parental Abandonment: Though it's a far sight, one woman inside the terminal can be seen tossing her baby straight up in the air while running away as the plane crashes through the terminal windows.
  • Parent Service: Fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, pedophilia, topless women, a young girl who takes her coffee black (like her men), pornographic magazines, suicides, and repeated drug use, and it gets a PG rating? (Granted, PG-13 didn't exist back then...) 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.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Kramer accidentally runs over a bicyclist on his way to the airport, the cyclist can briefly be heard calling him an asshole.
  • Pie in the Face: A stewardess is carrying plates of food along the aisle when the plane hits turbulence, causing her to stumble and smash one plate into a passenger's face.
  • Pinocchio Nose: While Dr. Rumack is talking to the passengers, he lies so blatantly that his nose starts to grow, Pinocchio style.
    Rumack: There is no reason to panic. It's true the pilot is ill. Slightly ill. The others are doing just fine and they are handling the controls, free to live a life of religious fulfillment.
  • Plane Awful Flight: Half the passengers on a plane flight succumb to food poisoning, including the flight crew, forcing a former fighter pilot to take the controls and land the plane.
  • Plot Time: The movie takes place on one night over the few (four or five, tops) hours it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Chicago. However, that amount of time is enough for a pre-Internet world to air TV shows and run newspaper articles about the plight.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Johnny is a parody of the comic relief characters common in Disaster Movies of The '70s. Just as their presence was often jarring and inappropriate in the face of the high-stakes drama unfolding, so too is Johnny, who does absolutely nothing to help resolve the disaster. He even refuses to fetch coffee for his boss! This is also why he's the only character who acts silly and goofy which, in the face of everybody else remaining dead serious, is even funnier.
  • Porn Stash: Played for Laughs in a public airport. Near the stack of pornographic magazines, Captain Oveur picks up and reads one of the boy's magazines titled "Modern Sperm" from the section marked "Whacking material".
  • Prison Rape: Captain Oveur has some rather unusual conversation starters while talking to a little boy.
    Oveur: Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?
    Oveur: Have you ever seen a grown man naked?
  • Proportional Article Importance: When McCroskey and the other air control captains pass around a newspaper reading the negative reports, Johnny reads it and exclaims, "There's a sale at Penney's!"
  • Random Events Plot: Well, there is a plot, but it mostly exists as a framework on which to hang a never-ending stream of ridiculous gags with little or no relation to the plot, characters, or the laws of physics for as long as possible. ZAZ thought that their next film (Top Secret!) suffered from having less of a plot than even Airplane! As they said on the DVD commentary, Airplane!'s plot is a little ancient and boring (as the film it's based on was 23 years old already), but it IS an actual plot.
  • Race for Your Love: Ted boards the airplane Elaine is on in order to stop her from leaving for Chicago and to try to reconcile with her.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: Often summed up by critics with the line "Don't worry if you didn't like the last joke. Another one will be along in thirty seconds."
  • Real Men Take It Black: "I like my coffee black. Like my men." Spoken by a six-year-old girl to the boy who sits next to her (for laughs, obviously.)
  • Refuge in Audacity: Basically the absurdity and silliness of the entire movie. This movie knows exactly what it is and doesn't try to disguise that for even a single second, leaving it free to just go all out.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: The experience ultimately brings Ted and Elaine back together.
  • The Remake: The plot, the names of several characters, and much of the "straight" dialogue was taken from Zero Hour!; which the producers officially acquired the rights for. Here's the dialog script, so you can see for yourself. The lines that also appear in Airplane! are in boldface.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Quite why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is posing as the co-pilot is never explained.
  • Right on Queue: The Get A Hold Of Yourself Man scene, with passengers lining up to slap/club/shoot a hysterical woman.
  • Rousing Speech: Played sort of straight, except that it's also a parody of the famous "Win One for the Gipper" speech. (Ronald Reagan was elected the same year the movie was released.)
  • Rule of Funny: Exaggerated to almost cartoonish levels, most commonly in the form of sight gags and double meanings.
  • Rule of Three: Dr. Rumack's repeated comment to Ted and Elaine, "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, amphetamines, sniffing glue)," "The red/white zone is for the loading and unloading..." etc. 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]
    Dr. Rumack: 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]
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Parodied with the two black passengers, whose otherwise-incomprehensible Jive Turkey speech is subtitled as overly formal and impersonal, antiquated English.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Elaine and Randy, who are both attractive and appealing to both the plane passengers and the audience. Elaine gets a heavy lampshade thanks to the lady sitting next to Ted on the plane.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Ted Striker's experiences during the war left him emotionally distant, without personal confidence, and with a "drinking problem." (slosh!)
    • And as already noted, the tragic case of Lt. Hurwitz, played by Ethel Merman, who thinks he's Ethel Merman.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: It's a gag of all of a few seconds, but the Japanese soldier that Ted talks to commits harakiri in the proper fashion: thrust blade into the belly, drag across, then up.
  • Smashed Eggs Hatching: Dr. Rumack pulls eggs from a sick lady's mouth, cracks one open, and a bird flies out of it.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: After the Does This Remind You of Anything? scene of Elaine blowing... air into Otto the autopilot's air tube located on his waist, we next see them resting and smoking cigarettes (with a contented grin on Otto's lips).
  • Something We Forgot: In The Stinger, the guy that Stryker left in the taxi with the meter running is still there, still waiting.
  • Sorry to Interrupt: During the autopilot reinflation scene, Dr. Rumack opens the door, sees what's going on, and turns right around.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Randy belts 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 survives (at least until we hear it crash and see a hubcap roll by).
    • "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees plays as two girl scouts are fighting in the tough guy bar. In the 1940s.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: A lot of the film's humor relies on this. Some of the gags are so eye-rollingly obvious and corny that it crosses back over into hilarious. "Don't call me Shirley" is probably the epitome of the film's usage of this trope.
  • El Spanish "-o": There are two lighted signs in the aircraft where the Spanish is just phonetic English. "Fasten Seatbelt" and "No Smoking" are written in English in one shot. Underneath them are "Putana da Seatbeltz" ("put on the seatbelts") and "El No A You Smoko". Then during a dive, there's "Return to Seat" / "Gobacken Sidonna" ("Go back and sit down"), which is more like a stereotypical Italian accent.
  • Spanner in the Works: A rare positive example. If Ted hadn't gotten a ticket at the last minute to try and reconcile with Elaine, it's likely there wouldn't have been anyone to help her fly the plane and things would've turned out much worse.
  • Spinning Paper: Played straight when two spinning newspapers about the flight appear, then parodied when a third, unrelated spinning newspaper appears, and parodied again with a spinning television showing a newscast about the flight.
  • Spit Take: In the hospital flashback:
    Elaine: Seven. Lieutenant Zipp died this morning.
    Ted: spfffft
  • Spoofed with Their Own Words: It's largely quoted word-for-word directly from the film Zero Hour!, but with the serious deadpan delivery taking place in absurd surroundings.
  • Stalking Is Love: Ted follows Elaine onto the plane she boards, hoping to reconcile with her.
  • The Stinger: The guy left in Ted Striker's cab at the very beginning of the movie says, "I'll give him another twenty minutes... but that's it!" after sitting there for the entire movie (which is probably even longer in-universe).
  • Stock Footage: Ted Striker's memories of "the war" which appears, for Rule of Funny, to be World War II, but goes even further back in time to the turn of the century's strange flying experiments.
  • Stock Sound Effects:
    • Castle Thunder is used when lightning flashes.
    • 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 seemingly serious.
  • Suckiness Is Painful:
    • The lines "I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film" and "I haven't seen anything like this [violent illness] since the Anita Bryant concert" both carry the premise that terrible entertainment induces physical ailments.
    • The shooting script was more plausible, if darker. The lines were, "I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Lina Wertmuller film" and "I haven't seen anything like this since the Lina Wertmuller Film Festival." These are probably references to Wertmuller's divisive 1975 film "Seven Beauties", which was nominated for four Academy Awards, but which shocked audiences through its graphic depiction of Nazi concentration camps.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In the midst of all the wacky hijinks, putting Ted (trained to fly a single engine plane) behind the wheel of a four-engine jumbo jet is played very straight. He accidentally blows out an engine because he isn't watching the oil flow, and while he successfully lands the plane without significantly injuring the passengers, he has to be talked through it over the radio, and he ends up missing the gate by a huge distance and ripping off the landing gear.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Roger Murdock denies he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as though he doesn't even know who Kareem is. He then breaks character when Joey starts to criticize his supposed lack of effort on the court.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: The conversation between Doctor Rumack and Captain Oveur, persists for about a half-minute.
    Rumack: Captain, how soon can you land?
    Oveur: I can't tell.
    Rumack: You can tell me, I'm a doctor.
    Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure.
    Rumack: Can't you take a guess?
    Oveur: Well, not for another two hours.
    Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?
  • Take That!:
    • There is a shot over a radio tower, and we hear "WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever!" The plane immediately flies overhead and slices the radio antenna clean off, stopping the signal. (This apparently got actual applause from audiences when the film was in theaters.)
    • This is said to Capt. Oveur's wife:
      McCroskey: Your husband is alive, but unconscious.
      Johnny: Just like Gerald Ford.
    • "I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film." (Probably even Reagan would have admitted most of his movies were terrible.)
    • "I haven't seen anything like this [all the passengers getting violently ill] since the Anita Bryant concert" note 
  • Take a Third Option: Rumack probably brought his own food on board.
    Rumack: What did the passengers have for dinner?
    Elaine: Well, we had steak or fish.
    Rumack: Yes, I remember. I had lasagna.
  • Talk About the Weather: Between Captain Oveur and Clarence as they prepare for takeoff (and Jimmy Walker washes the windows and checks the oil). Not only is their discussion somewhat Truth in Television (weather conditions obviously being of great importance to any aircraft), but when Roger arrives it becomes plot-relevant as he informs them of the bad weather that forces the plane to only be able to land in Chicago.
  • Tempting Fate: "WZAZ in Chicago, where Disco lives forever!"
  • That Russian Squat Dance: During the disco-dance flashback, Ted ends up dancing the kazatzsky.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: As Ted attempts to regain control of the plane, Otto the Autopilot is seen briefly groping Elaine's breasts. And possibly humping her.
  • 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.
  • Too Much Information: Elaine casually going into descriptive details of her past romance with Ted, briefly mentioning how she "used to sit on his face and wriggle".
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Averted and lampshaded. The trailers prominently featured a spectacular moment where the front end of a passenger plane smashes through a terminal window as people scatter. Similar in nature to the climactic finale of the recent movie Silver Streak, the use of this scene in the trailer suggests a similarly epic finale. In fact, the scene takes place within the first few minutes of the film as the payoff to a minor sight gag and is never referenced again.
  • 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.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The plane is on a couple-hour flight, but in no time the press is aware of the debacle and newspaper stories are published and TV shows are aired about it.
  • The Triple:
    • In the newspaper segment, the first two newspaper headlines are related to the flight, but the third one that appears is completely unrelated ("Boy Trapped in Refrigerator Eats Own Foot").
    • The airport staff reading news about the flight:
      Rex Kramer: Passengers certain to die!
      Steve McCroskey: Airline negligent.
      Johnny: There's a sale at Penney's!
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • The little girl who takes her coffee like she takes her men — black.
    • The first time we see the very mature boy reading a serious magazine and checking out the girl passenger.
    • One smash cut shows a little boy reading a Nun's Life magazine.
  • Two Decades Behind: Played for Laughs. News reporters still wear fedoras in 1979-1980, everyone in the plane wears formal clothing, a pair of nuns is seen in traditional (pre-Vatican II, which concluded in 1965) garb, a character tells his wife over the phone to stop having the milkman deliver cheese to their doorstep (milkmen having become scarce since the 1960s, when supermarkets took over American life), and a number of male characters display embarrassingly sexist attitudes that, while undoubtedly still present in the late '70s, were nowhere near as socially appropriate as the movie makes them seem. To top that, in 1980 a commercial flight with that many crew and passengers makes a propeller sound! 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 whirligig. Despite that, the jukebox in his flashback plays The Bee Gees. A lot of this is a result of Airplane! being a pseudo-remake of 1957 Zero Hour! ("the war", while not specified, was obviously World War II). The very outdated script was kept almost intact, with all the hilarity that entailed.
  • Undiscriminating Addict: Steve McCroskey, as revealed in a Running Gag (although at least he's trying to quit):
    Steve McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop smoking.
    McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop taking amphetamines.
    McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
  • Universal Driver's License: Averted. While Ted is a pilot, his only experience is with single-engine fighter planes, which handle very differently from the passenger airliner he's asked to fly in the movie. He does manage to land the craft, but not without help from people on the ground, and even then it's a close call.
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: In Zero Hour!, Joey is Ted and Elaine's son, but not in Airplane!
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Girl Scouts brawling in a bar (only Ted seems to be concerned by this, though given that he identifies the bar as a Wretched Hive, it's probably a routine occurrence), a man being stabbed and killed in a bar (Elaine likewise is the only one who notices, but still can't figure out he's actually been stabbed, and isn't dancing), the plane's pilots being dragged down the aisle by the stewardesses, McCroskey jumping out a window... the list goes on.
  • Video Credits: Video of all the main players over the end credits, finishing with Otto the inflatable automatic pilot As Himself.
  • Visual Pun: "Smoking or non-smoking?", "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," The Air Israel jet having a beard and a Yarmulke, 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 (and most people nowadays don't know that microwaves were originally known as RadarRanges because microwave cooking was an accidental discovery made by people developing radars).
  • Visual Innuendo:
    • The plane warnings depicting "No smoking, no sex" in symbols for about 5 seconds.
    • When the flight crew passes out from illness and the plane goes into turbulence, a shot shows a gelatin dessert (shaped like a breast) wiggling on a tray below a female passenger's jiggling breasts.
    • The literal "Shit hitting the fan".
  • Wacky Sound Effect: The jetliner takes off and sounds like a steam train, then sounds like a propeller plane in flight.
  • Walkie-Talkie Gag, Over: "Over" and "Roger" are the names of Captain Oveur and co-pilot Roger Murdock, causing confusion while requesting their take-off clearance. To make matters worse, the Captain's first name is Clarence, which sounds similar to "clearance". At the same time, navigator Victor is looking for the proper vector.
    Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
    Capt. Clarence Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: A woman is chasing after her fiancé who's going into the military, and he is standing in the doorway of the moving plane. As she chases it the same way someone might follow a train, she keeps crashing into things, like a lamp post, a steel crane, a telephone pole...
  • 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. Dr. Rumack had lasagna.
    • Elaine delivers one to the passengers aboard the plane as the entire flight crew has fallen ill.
      Elaine: Ladies and gentlemen, 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 become 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? [cue panic from the passengers]
  • What's a Henway?: There are several jokes like this. The most common is "Surely you can't be serious," with the reply, "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
  • What the Hell, Costuming Department?: In-Universe when Johnny "consoles" Oveur's wife.
    Johnny: [disgusted] Where did you get that dress, it's awful, and those shoes and that coat, jeeeeez!
  • Who's on First?: The flight crew's names: Captain Clarence Oveur, Co-pilot Roger Murdock, and Navigator Victor Basta.
    Roger Murdock: Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off.
    Capt. Clarence Oveur: Roger!
    Murdock: Huh?
    Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er.
    Oveur: Roger!
    Murdock: Huh?
    Victor Basta: Request vector, over.
    Oveur: What?
    Tower: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324.
    Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
    Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
    Tower: Tower's radio clearance, over!
    Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over.
    Tower: Over.
    Oveur: Roger.
    Murdock: Huh?
    Tower: Roger, over!
    Murdock: What?
    Oveur: Huh?
    Basta: Who?
  • World's Shortest Book: Famous Jewish Sports Legends is just a leaflet.
  • World of Pun: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, smoking section tickets, etc.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: The plane crisis makes headlines internationally, in an era before the 24-hour news cycle. All Played for Laughs, of course.
  • You, Get Me Coffee
    Steve 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 Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!:
    Stryker: Surely you can't be serious.
    Dr. Rumack: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.
  • 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.


Airplane Panicked Crowd

After both pilots become sick, from the mysterious illness that has effected most of the passengers, Elaine tries to calm everyone down, which seems to work...until, she asks if anyone knows how to fly a plane.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / MassOhCrap

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