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  • And You Thought It Would Fail: This was the first shot at a mainstream movie by the people who made The Kentucky Fried Movie. With its obsession with puns and its throwing of conventional plotline out the window, many believed it had box-office disaster written all over it. It became one of the highest-grossing films of 1980.
  • Awesome Music:
    • The Zuckers and Abrahams were actually disappointed when Airplane! ended up with a genuinely good score, rather than a cheesy one that would add to the parody. They probably shouldn't have hired Elmer Bernstein. Given the overall tone of the film, they're probably the only ones who feel like this. In fairness to Bernstein, he sought advice on how to score a comedy movie and was told that the music would be funnier if it sounded dead earnest (this is exactly how he went about scoring Animal House two years before).
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    • Lorna Patterson's cover of "River of Jordan" is genuinely good.
    • When Rumack (Nielson) tells Striker the end of the "George Zipp" story. Whether or not one's a fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the moment is hilarious.
  • Base-Breaking Character: Johnny the control tower employee is a rather divisive character, due to his comically hammy and eccentric personality being tonally dissonant with the rest of the movie, and his antics are similarly polarizing, especially his For the Funnyz moment with the runway lights. Some viewers think he's one of the funniest things in the movie, while others find him annoying, distracting, and out of place.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment:
    • The naked woman Gainaxing (in a PG film!note ) in front of the camera as the passengers are panicking. Nobody notices this and it is never spoken of again.
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    • Johnny is a walking BLAM of a character. He rarely leaves McCloskey's side and seems to actually work there (as his opinion is asked and he's tasked with talking to reporters) but he seems to live on a different planet, yet no one reacts to his strangeness, even when he physically manhandles them.
      McCloskey: Bad news. The fog's getting thicker.
      Johnny: (leaping up and wrapping his arms around an overweight man from behind) And Leon's getting laaaaaaaarger!
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Several gags, but particularly:
    • The "hysterical woman gets slapped" one, not to mention stewardess Randy's disastrous attempt to cheer up the Littlest Cancer Patient; both are played as Black Comedy.
    • Not to mention the overly long argument between the male and female PA announcers at the beginning, which degenerates into the male announcer pressuring the female announcer to have an abortion.
    • While in the Peace Corps, Ted briefly shows some African tribesmen how to play basketball; within seconds, they're dunking on him and perfectly nailing free throws.
    • The Running Gag with Captain Oveur asking a young boy creepily inappropriate questions like "You ever seen a grown man naked?" - which is the first such question he asks, while the others are just suggestive.
    • The passengers next to Striker are Driven to Suicide by listening to his long, boring life story.
    • The kids dressed up and speaking like well-behaved adults. Cute and all, until the boy asks the girl if she would like some cream for her coffee, she responds with:
      Little Girl: No, thank you. I take them black. Like my men.
    • To elaborate on the "disastrous attempt by Randy" mentioned above: A small child on the verge of death and in need of an emergency transplant? Tragic. Said child's IV being knocked out by a singing, guitar-playing stewardess who remains cheerfully oblivious as the girl spasms and tries to get the tube back in? Hilarious. It gets even better when the girl's mother is so caught up in the song she doesn't even notice the missing tube.
    • When a woman goes hysterical, she gets slapped across the face twice. First she gets slapped twice by Dr. Oveur, but then she gets slapped the face by a nun making it all the more hilarious.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Stephen Stucker as Johnny makes a huge impression with only around two minutes of total screen time.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • The tagline "...and able to hit tall buildings at a single bound", and the plane running into and destroying a radio tower on a building.
    • A Roman Catholic nun reading a Boys' Life magazine.
    • The turban-wearing passenger who douses himself in gasoline and tries to blow himself up to avoid listening to Striker reminiscing. (Though he was probably meant to be Indian rather than Middle-Eastern.)
    • Johnny's remark that a plane about to crash-land in Chicago "looks like a big Tylenol" became rather less funny after the 1982 rash of Tylenol poisonings in that city.
  • Genius Bonus: Manny Mota was the all-time leader in pinch hits - but he never pinch hit for Pedro Borbón. It was most likely Stryker thinking about how cool those names sounded in his head. The real Pedro Borbón was thrilled by the shout out, according to his son.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • It's funny enough on its own, but the moment where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finally breaks down and starts talking basketball is even funnier since Jabbar himself misidentified the line on Celebrity Jeopardy!
    • The film itself has inevitably had this effect on Zero Hour, the major inspiration for its plot and many of its lines. It's downright surreal watching that film now and seeing lines like "I picked the wrong week to quit smoking" played completely straight.
    • The film opens with a Jaws parody, with the wing of a plane doubling as a shark fin. Years later, Robert Hays would cameo in a film where sharks actually attack a plane.
    • Julie Hagerty plays Claus von Bulow's lover in Reversal of Fortune. Listening to her testify in court, you're all too ready to hear her say "And I used to sit on [his] face and wiggle..."
    • The guy in the "Point/Counterpoint" gag, obviously meant to represent the conservative side, vaguely resembles liberal activist and political commentator Al Sharpton.
    • Oveur's line "Roger, Roger" was already pretty funny cause of the pun but after The Phantom Menace featured the droids all saying "roger roger" to the point of Memetic Mutation it's even funnier.
  • Les Yay:
    • The old woman describing Elaine in such erotic detail.
    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.
    • One of the women worrying over her husband in the hospital— said husband happens to be played by Ethel Merman.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Surely you can't be serious." "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
    • "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you."
    • "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking/drinking/amphetamines/sniffing glue."
    • "A [place]? What is it?" "It's a [description of the place], but that's not important."
  • Misaimed Fandom: As with any popular work, Airplane! isn't free of being misunderstood for what was funny. Following parody movies that took after its manic style, including those by ZAZ themselves, seem to believe that the cartoony slapstick was the main reason why it was hilarious. They tend to forget that other aspects, such as random background gags and deadpan dedication to the insanity, were big parts of why it was so funny. As a result, the slapstick and literal humor is there, but falls flat due to more reaction shots and Lampshade Hanging.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Hiring non-comedic actors in a broad comedy. At the time, the entire joke with Leslie Nielsen's character was seeing a serious actor bringing every bit of his usual gravitas to such ridiculous material. Nielsen proceeded to make this kind of material his bread and butter (and with progressively less gravitas), so that viewers these days will likely just be surprised that he's not playing the lead role. So many other dramatic actors have done it since that it's impossible to cast anyone in this kind of movie without them being in on the joke.
  • Special Effect Failure:
    • During Oveure's phone call with the Mayo Clinic, it's hard to watch the jumping heart in the foreground without noticing the wire holding it up.
    • The wires holding up Ted when he does That Russian Squat Dance are also visible in HD.
    • In the scene where the man opens the vent to give his wife air resulting in hurricane-force winds, note the man with the fake beard behind them. The beard was supposed to come off in the wind (you can tell the guy is waiting for the beard to come off), but they couldn't get it to work - they left the scene in anyway.
    • When the man dancing with Elaine in the "Stayin' Alive" scene get stabbed in the back, you can see the pad in his back and the actor doing the stabbing pausing to aim for the target.
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: The "River of Jordan" scene uses this to set up the punchline with the IV.
  • This Is Your Premise on Drugs:
  • Tough Act to Follow: While the Zucker-Abrahms-Zucker team had marginal success together and as solo filmmakers, making comedy films with variations on the same themes as this one, only The Naked Gun movies came close to matching its success in terms of popularity while the others have become cult classics or completely forgotten at worst (it didn't help that David Zucker eventually tried to combine Rapid-Fire Comedy, parody and Author Tract with An American Carol, to little success). In a broader sense, it's still held as the best example of a feature-length parody film to date and is often brought up to unfavorably compare newer ones to it.
  • Values Dissonance: Randy worrying about being unmarried at only 26. For a woman these days, the age of 26 is, if anything, very slightly on the young side for getting married. Arguably the film was invoking this as part of its wholesale parody of old fashioned Hollywood values, since even in 1980, 26 would still have been a bit young for a woman to consider herself an Old Maid (though the concern would have been a bit more legitimate at the time Zero Hour! was set).
    • Smoking or Non Smoking. Although it is a joke, it wouldn’t make that much sense if the film was made today, since smoking has been banned on all flights since 2000 in The United States.
    • Ted teaching the African tribe to play basketball has the punchline that black people are naturally good basketball players to the point that they barely need instruction. Needless to say, such sentiments are dated.
  • "Weird Al" Effect:
    • Zero Hour!, the movie it was based on. In fact it's technically a remake, not just a parody.
    • The film also parodies many of the subplots from the Airport film series.
    • Most people under a certain age only know about religious recruiters at airports from this film. The actual practice has long since faced bans or fallen out of favor.


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