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 Philippines — is a comedic remake of the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour! (itself based on the TV movie Flight Into Danger). 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 flying 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 was in Forbidden Planet!) saying utterly ridiculous lines.
Airplane! was hardly the Trope Maker, but it's often viewed, even today, as a major Trope Codifier of a film Parody. It was followed by a sequel called Airplane II: The Sequel in 1982, which didn't have any involvement from ZAZ.
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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Actor Allusion:
Air Traffic Controller: Captain, maybe we oughtta turn on the search lights now!Kramer: No ... that's just what they'll be expecting us to do ...
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays a pilot mistaken for Kareem 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:
- 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.
- Adam Westing: Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Robert Stack played parodies of their typical roles, in a stilted, hammy fashion. In Bridges and Nielsen's case, this movie led to a career change.
- Adaptational Nationality: Ted and the other Canadian characters from Zero Hour! become American here, which turns Leslie Nielsen into a Fake American.
- Affectionate Parody: Airplane disaster movies and disaster movies in general.
- All Part of the Show: While dancing, a guy is stabbed in the back. His partner confuses his pointing at the knife for dance moves.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees:
- The "I say, Let 'em crash!" Guy was a parody of a now largely forgotten 60 Minutes segment called Point/Counterpoint in which a Conservative (usually James J. Kilpatrick) and Liberal (usually Shana Alexander or Nicholas von Hoffman) 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.
- Many other traits of air travel have changed over the decades and may not be familiar to younger viewers, such as smoking sections on airplanes or allowing people to meet disembarking passengers right at their arrival gate.
- In-flight meals more substantial than a packet of crackers/cookies/nuts and a cup of soda are getting increasingly rare except when a flight is expected to go more than 4-5 hours between stops. Or when it's run by El Al.
- Ambiguous Syntax:
Randy: There's a little problem in the cockpit.
- What's that? 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.
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.
Old Lady: Nervous?
- There are a few other examples that don't use that specific gag, as well:
Old Lady: First time?
Striker: No, I've been nervous lots of times.
- 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 probably be chalked up to Rule of Funny. And the jukebox in his flashback plays 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."
- 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 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 (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...ahh, screw it and enjoy the movie!
- 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 Murdoch, 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.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign/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").
- Aside Comment: Early in the movie after Elaine has rejected Ted, Ted turns to the camera and says "What a pisser."
- Aside Glance
- In the last scene, after Otto the Autopilot gets a female companion he turns to the audience and winks.
- Victor the navigator smiles at the camera when Randy sings "River of Jordan".
- 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.
- Bar Brawl: Between card-playing Girl Scouts, no less. But nobody pays any attention to them.
- Bar Slide: During the Bar Brawl, a Girl Scout is thrown down the bar and crashes headfirst into a jukebox, which starts playing "Staying 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 a radio station "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.
- 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.
- 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, hanging themselves, et cetera....
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: At least two characters do this. Stryker when he 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.
- 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, an Indian 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 when dancing, they always get thrown back at him.
- Butt-Monkey: The hysterical woman, who gets hit by nuns, with nearly everyone on the plane lining up to hit 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 Stryker's taxi.
- Jimmy "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 of them.
- 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 camp 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.
- Casting Gag:
- Like in Zero Hour!, a Real Life Los Angeles-area sports star plays a pilot, but in the earlier film Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch played the captain, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays the co-pilot.
- Ethel Merman, in her final film role no less, plays a lieutenant who's shell-shocked into thinking he's Ethel Merman.
- Lloyd Bridges played the same role in San Francisco International Airport.
- Barbara Billingsley! as the jive lady.
- Robert Stack played the role of the nervous pilot dealing with a midair crisis in 1954's The High and the Mighty, the Ur-Example of the "troubled airliner" Disaster Movie subgenre.
- Celebrity Paradox: Lampshaded and Played for Laughs with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who keeps insisting to a kid 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 angrily mutters) 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.
- Christmas Cake: Randy is worried not only about the imminent plane crash, but also about the fact that she's 26 and unmarried.
- 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.
- Closest Thing We Got: Ted Striker is the only pilot there who isn't sick.
- 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 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, who at the time was considered the handsome leading man prototype.
- Companion Cube: Otto the automatic pilot, who's a blow-up inflatable 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.
- Cool Old Lady: The "I speak jive" lady. Made even cooler by the fact she's played by Barbara Billingsley AKA June Cleaver.
- Corpsing: A variant. When Captain Ovure picks up the red phone and the operator says "No, the white phone," you can hear the camera operator chuckling.
- Crash Course Landing: Even though Ted was a pilot, it was as a fighter pilot, so he still needed help with a commercial airliner.Ted: It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether!
Dr. Rumack and Randy, all together: 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 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.
- Creator Cameo: The directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker) as the ground crewmen who crash a plane into the terminal.
- Credits Gag: Many:
- Adolf Hitler is credited as the Worst Boy.
- Charles Dickens is the author of A Tale of Two Cities.
- Millard Filmore is the 13th president of the United States.
- Pete Papanickolas did the "gripology".
- "Foreez ... A Jolly Good Fellow".
- Mike Fennell was "Generally in charge of a lot of things".
- Southwest corner of basement is a good place in case of tornado.
- "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."
- Creepy Changing Painting: A comedic version in 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.
- Crosscast Role:
- The surfing nun on the cover of "Nun's Life" was actually Jim Zucker.
- The two girlscouts at the bar fighting from the flashback of Striker are actually two men.
- 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).
- Deader Than Disco: Invoked. The plane symbolically kills off the entire genre by crashing through a Chicago radio tower (hilariously, right after the deejay has just boasted that disco will live forever).
- Deconstructor Fleet: Airplane! put an end to the genre of disaster movies for several years.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film enjoys playing with how social conventions had changed since Zero Hour! had been filmed.
- Disaster Movie: It's a parody of the genre, with elements of the Airport movies, but is heavily based on Zero Hour!, which plays it straight (and which was also written by the creator of Airport.)
- 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." And Subverted once 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. 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.
- 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.
- Even the Girls Want Her: As Ted reminisces about his relationship with Elaine to an old lady, she gets rather intimate in her appraisal.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: 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.
- 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."
- Excited Show Title!: Airplane! Only fitting since Zero Hour! had one as well.
- Face Cam: Elaine and Ted Striker during the dance scene in the bar.
- Falling into the Cockpit: Striker is the only person on board with flying experience after the crew is incapacitated, and so he has no choice but to attempt to land the airliner.
- 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 isn't her.
- Fanservice: During the panic scene, there comes, out of nowhere, a random topless woman who gets *really* close to the camera and disappears.
- Fate Worse than Death: Listening to Ted's exposition flashbacks about his guilt and failed relationship with Elaine drives three different passengers to commit suicide.
- 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 the ripples lead into the flashback.
- Foe-Tossing Charge: When Kramer arrives at the airport, he's accosted by donation-seekers, much like Ted and Elaine confronted earlier. He proceeds to beat the crap out of every single one of them.
- 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]
- 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 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.
- Behind Dr. Brody, you'll notice that there is an entire wall filled with jars of mayonnaise.
- 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 was 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:
Jive Dude: I say hey, sky—subba say I wan' see—pray to J I did the same-ol', same-ol'!
- The scene with the two jive dudes helpfully "translates" their conversation into English:
[Subtitle: I KNEW A MAN IN A SIMILAR PREDICAMENT, AND HE ENDED UP BEING SORRY]
- 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.
- 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.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, paedophilia, 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.
- Girl Scouts Are Evil: During the Bar Brawl, 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, "shit" gets translated as "golly".
- Gratuitous Disco Sequence: During the bar flashback, the fighting girl scouts crash into a jukebox, it starts playing "Staying Alive", and everyone gets on the floor.
- Great Offscreen War: The war that Ted Striker was involved in, which is very vague.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Identity Denial: Roger Murdock (played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) spends much of a scene denying that he's actually Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — until a young fan repeats some insulting things that his father said, at which point Roger/Kareem drops the act.
- I Like My X Like I Like My Y: The young girl likes her coffee black...like her men.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Plane full of sick people and out of commission pilots? Looks like McCroskey picked the wrong week to quit smoking. And drinking. And amphetamines. And sniffing glue. *sniff*
- I Was Just Joking: Johnny temporarily unplugs the runway lights as the plane is beginning to land.
- Inner Monologue: "Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon — Manny Mota!" Also, "Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home."
- 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?:
Ted: It's a damn good thing he doesn't know how much I hate his guts.
- 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.
Elaine: (into microphone) It's a damn good thing you don't know how much he hates your guts.
Kramer: Municipal bonds, Ted. Triple-A rating, best investment in the book!
- 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?"
- Jerk Ass: The "Counterpoint" anchorman."Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!"
- Jiggle Show: The film includes a "cameo" from a pair of ridiculously bouncy breasts.
- 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.
- Literal Metaphor: Stryker'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 are 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.
- Made of Explodium: Two instances:
- While Ted is telling another one of his lethally boring stories, the man next to him drenches himself in gasoline and lights a match. He blows the match out when Ted leaves his seat, only to explode anyway.
- On the ground, Kramer throws a cigar out of the window next to him. McCroskey covers his ears as it explodes for no apparent reason.
- 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 was switched with a doorway and Robert Stack switched positions.
- Misplaced Wildlife: An Asian elephant in the Africa flashback.
- Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: A sort of strange example, as MissionControl's strangeness is a result of him going back on his meds.
- Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: A few people die humorously, but there's no blood or gory detail.
- Narm: 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 succumbing to food poisoning.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hilariously averted with Lieutenant Horwitz, who still thinks he's Ethel Merman. Of course, it actually IS Ethel Merman.
- 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. Another, 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' 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 seem 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 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.
- Old Maid: Randy is worried about her age and not being married just yet."I'm 26 years old and I'm not married!"
- One-Word Title: Also Excited Show Title!.
- Orbital Kiss: Ted and Elaine at the end, accompanied by an Ethereal Choir that goes way out of tune.
- 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 sweat.
- Pinch Me: Ted Striker to a sailor in the Magumba Bar, when he first met Elaine.
- 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 about the plight and publish newspapers
- 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 25ish years old already), but it IS an actual plot.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: While the little boy visiting the cockpit exclaims that he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Murdock is insistent that he's really just Captain Roger Murdock. Then the boy says that his father thinks Kareem doesn't work hard enough on defense and only tries during playoffs.Murdock: The hell I don't! 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.
- 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.
- 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 were 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.
- 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, 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]
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Parodied with the two black passengers, whose otherwise-incomprehensible Jive Turkey speech is subtitled as overly formal and impersonal, antiquated English.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Ted Striker's experiences during the war left him emotionally distant, without personal confidence, and with a drinking problem. (slosh!)
- Shout-Out: A self-referential one. The name "Rex Kramer" was first used in The Kentucky Fried Movie, as was the "Worse than Detroit" gag.
- The opening shot is a parody of the film Jaws, complete with John Williams' iconic theme.
- AUNTIE EM! UNCLE HENRY! TOTO! IT'S A TWISTER! IT'S A TWISTER!
- Smashed Eggs Hatching: Dr. Rumack pulls eggs from a sick lady's mouth, cracks them open and a bird flies out.
- Smoking Hot Sex: Elaine and Otto, the inflatable copilot, after she inflates him (since the tube is on his waist, and she was blowing... air back in).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 flashbackElaine: Seven. Lieutenant Zipp died this morning.
- 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.
- 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 was 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 seeming serious.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: 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 his supposed lack of effort on the court.
- Sustained Misunderstanding: The conversation between Doctor Rumack and Captain Oveur, persisting 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!:
McCroskey: Your husband is alive, but unconscious.Johnny: Just like Gerald Ford.
- 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 is said to Capt. Oveur's wife:
- "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 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, 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.
- That Russian Squat Dance: During the disco-dance flashback, Ted ends up dancing the kazatzsky.
- 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.
- 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, however in no time the press is aware of the debacle and newspaper stories are published 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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," 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).
- Wacky Sound Effect: The jetliner takes off and sounds like a steam train, then sounds like a propeller plane in flight.
- Watch Out for That Tree!: A woman is chasing after her fiancé is going into the military, and he is standing in the doorway of the moving plane. As she chases it the 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.
- 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, and don't call me Shirley".
- 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.
- You, Get Me CoffeeMcCroskey: 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.