"Surely you can't be serious!"
Airplane! is a 1980 comedic remake of an old disaster film, Zero Hour!, where Ted Striker ("Stryker" in Zero Hour), an ex-military pilot, has to get over his personal traumas to pilot a commercial plane after the crew is stricken by food poisoning, and reconcile with his estranged girlfriend at the same time. Take that basic plot, and have a silly joke every three seconds (or less). 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.
It was followed by a sequel called Airplane II: The Sequel.
- Acceptable Targets: In-universe:
- "It was filled with every lowlife from Bombay to Calcutta... it was worse than Detroit."
- The various religions and charitable causes being pitched in the airport, especially when Kramer starts charging through them all.
- "WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever!" [plane smashes through radio tower and takes out the antenna]
- Accidental Dance Craze: When Elaine is dancing in the tough-guy bar, and the man with the knife in his back points at his back, trying to get someone to help him. See All Part of the Show, below.
- 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).
- Adam Westing: Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Robert Stack. In Bridges and Nielsen's case, this movie led to a career change.
- 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.
- Anachronism Stew/Two Decades Behind: News reporters still wear fedoras in 1979-1980, and a pair of nuns are seen in traditional garb. Most jarringly, Striker's flashbacks to what would logically be the Vietnam War include shots of World War I triplanes and even a pre-Wright-Brothers whirlygig. Justified by the Rule of Funny (and, perhaps, by the somewhat elderly median age of this movie's cast). Despite that, the jukebox in his flashback plays the Bee Gees.
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?
- Artistic License Military: Ted Striker says that he was in the Air Force, but the flashback in the Drambuie bar has him wearing a US Navy dress uniform. Of course, had he been wearing the dark blue USAF dress uniform, the subsequent Saturday Night Fever joke wouldn't have worked. He later shows up in an Army hospital, although that could've been justified if he was in WWII, in which he would've been part of the US Army Air Corps, but he's too young, and they didn't have disco back then...ahh, screw it and enjoy the movie!
- As Himself: Otto, the auto pilot.
- Aside Glance:
- Early in the movie after Elaine has rejected Ted, Ted turns to the camera and says "What a pisser."
- In the last scene, after Otto the Autopilot gets a female companion he turns to the audience 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!"
- Bad Guy Bar: The Magumba bar in Drambuie, featuring fighting Girl Scouts and disco dancing.
- Bar Brawl: Between card-playing Girl Scouts, no less.
- Bar Slide: During the Bar Brawl, a Girl Scout is thrown down the bar and crashes headfirst into a jukebox.
- Beat Still My Heart: Played for laughs as a transplant heart hops off of a table.
- Bedmate Reveal: Captain Oveur's wife... with a horse.
- Billions of Buttons: A slow pan across a literally endless array of buttons, knobs and switches, which is a control panel from a real four-engine airliner.
- 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.
- Blatant Lies: While Dr. Rumack is talking to the passengers, he lies so blatantly that his nose grows, 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."
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: See Aside Glance, above.
- 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, much to their misfortune.
- When Kramer is driving to the airport, the green screen behind him changes from a road to a group of charging Native Americans on horses. A few scenes later, Kramer is talking to Lloyd Bridges' character, when a spear pins itself to the wall behind him.
- The Cameo: The directors (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker), Barbara Billingsley, Ethel Merman, Howard Jarvis, and Jimmy "JJ" Walker as the window washer at the beginning of the film. According to the director's commentary, he was only "comedy cameo" they accepted. Paramount wanted many of them.
- Camera Abuse: During the girl scout fight.
- Camp Gay: Johnny.
- Celebrity Paradox: The co-pilot is recognized as being basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but insists he isn't. Until the kid criticizes Jabbar's recent games.
- Character as Himself: Otto the Autopilot.
- 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.
- Closest Thing We Got: Ted Striker, resulting in Falling Into the Cockpit.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Johnny, who always has a... different... take on the action than the people around him.
- The Coconut Effect: Ted Striker's echoing Inner Monologue.
Pinch-hitting for Pedro Borbon, Manny Mota!
- The Comically Serious: The key to the movie's charm. David Zucker made a conscious decision to give the comedic roles to actors known for playing serious, tough-guy characters: Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and, believe it or not, Leslie Nielsen.
- Companion Cube: Otto the automatic pilot, who's a blow-up inflatable doll.
- Completely Different Title:
- In Finnish, it's "Hey, We're Flying!". This led to a whole series of imported American comedies being titled Hey, We're [X]!
- In Polish it's "Is there a pilot with us?".
- In Brazilian Portuguese, "Fasten Your Seatbealts, the Pilot has Disappeared!"
- In Italian, it's "The Craziest Airplane In The World".
- German has "The incredible voyage in a crazy Airplane".
- Australia has 'Flying High!'.
- In Spanish, the film was released as "So where is the pilot?" in Latin America and "Land [as well] as you can" in Spain. From then on, almost every movie that had Leslie Nielsen in its cast was released as "So where is X?" and "X as you can".
- Continuity Nod: The Counter Point guy  is John Fitzsimmons, introduced in the AM Today segment of The Kentucky Fried Movie.
- 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!
- 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.
- Credits Gag
- 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.
- Dawn of Flight Failures Montage: Several of the best known bits from this montage are incorporated into Ted's PTSD-fueled flashbacks after he runs out of WWII and WWI footage.
- 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: The whole movie.
- Disaster Movie: It's a parody of the genre, but is heavily based on one that plays it straight.
- 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.
- Driven to Suicide: Three people commit suicide rather than listen to Ted Striker's reminiscing. Double subverted with the third case; the man drenches himself in gasoline and lights a match, then blows it out in relief when Ted leaves his seat, only to explode anyway.
- Driving a Desk: Rex Kramer's drive to the airport. Parodied viciously as he runs over a bicyclist and passes everything from traffic accidents to raiding Indians on horseback, with only his terrified passenger reacting to what's notionally going on. During another portion, the background shows fast-motion footage of a drive down a winding, hilly road, while Kramer holds the wheel completely straight and still the whole time.
- Droste Image: McCroskey stands in front of a framed photograph of himself, striking the exact same pose as in the photograph, which itself contains the same framed photograph in its background. They took it one step further in the sequel.
- Even the Girls Want Her: An old lady comments on Elaine to Ted.
No wonder you're so upset. She's lovely! Such a great 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.
- Exact Words: Ted Striker has a drinking problem: He always misses his mouth.
- Excited Show Title!
- Facecam: Elaine and Ted Striker during the dance scene in the bar.
- Falling Into the Cockpit: Ted Striker must pilot a multi-engine jet airliner even though he has only flown single engine fighters.
- Fanservice Extra: The buxom Francesca "Kitten" Natividad pulls uncredited double-duty here as both the jiggling passenger in the white T-shirt and the naked woman who appears directly in front of the camera from out of nowhere for no reason while the rest of the plane is panicking. She makes another blink-and-you'll-miss-it uncredited appearance as the jiggling woman in the "Moral Majority" T-shirt in Airplane II.
- Flash Back: Ted and Elaine (meeting in the bar, in the Peace Corps, in the hospital, rolling on the beach), Ted's war memories.
- Flashback Stares
- Foe-Tossing Charge: Kramer's brutal beatdown of the donation-seekers at the airport.
- Follow the Leader: So many films after this, it rivals Jaws and Star Wars for getting ripped off.
- For the Evulz: When the runway lights abruptly go out.
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.
- From the Mouths of Babes: "I take [my coffee] black. Like my men."
- Funny Background Event: In spades.
- 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 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 the doctor at the Mayo Clinic, you'll see an entire wall filled with jars of mayonnaise.
- The technician changing the oil under the airplane's hood, then falls off trying to shut the hood, as the pilots are discussing the weather in the cockpit.
- A funny foreground event-wherein the doctor describing the symptoms of the food poisoning caused by tainted fish is in the background, while its latest victim is in the foreground, suffering from each symptom that the doctor describes as he's describing it.
- An accidental one, but still funny: When Dr. Rumack is removing eggs from the woman's mouth and cracks one open to release a bird, the bird nearly hits a passenger in the face as it flies off.
- Gainaxing: Bouncy, bouncy Kitten Natividad.
- Genre Savvy: When Kramer casually tosses a match out of the window, McCroskey immediately covers his ears expecting an explosion, despite there being no logical reason for one.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When everyone lines up to slap/punch/hit/shoot a hysterical woman, with increasingly lethal implements of mayhem.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Fellatio, cunnilingus, bestiality, pedophilia, topless women (see Fanservice Extra above), a young girl who takes her coffee black (like her men), pornographic magazines (see Funny Background Event), and repeated drug use, and it gets a PG rating? (Granted, PG-13 didn't exist back then...) Looks like the censors picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue! In an interview on Later With Bob Costas, Robert Stack was amazed A) that ZAZ got away with the 'Shit hits the fan' joke and B) that it made him laugh a lot.
- Girl Scouts Are Evil: During the Bar Brawl, which is humorous because while it's happening, nobody else seems to care about it.
- Giving Them the Strip: As Ted Striker 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.
- Glasses Pull: Captain Rex Kramer and his sunglasses. Two pairs.
- Hurricane of Puns: The entire film.
- Hypocritical Humor: A prim old lady refuses whiskey when offered ("Certainly not!"), and proceeds to snort cocaine to remain calm.
- Hysterical Woman: Everyone lines up to slap some sense into her.
- I Like My X Like I Like My Y: The young girl and her coffee.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking" (and drinking, and amphetamines, and sniffing glue).
- I Was Just Joking: Johnny temporarily unplugging 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."
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet
- 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 Ten-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 good thing he doesn't know how much I hate his 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!"
- Jerkass: The "Counterpoint" anchorman.
"Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!"
- Jiggle Show: See Fanservice Extra -- 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!"
- Just Plane Wrong: The jet airliner has the sound of prop-driven engines. Of course, this was done on purpose for the Rule of Funny.
- Late to the Punchline: So, so many jokes hiding in plain sight. Try watching it as a kid and then later as an adult.
- 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 inadvertently knocks out her IV. Twice.
- Logic Bomb
Murdock: You want me to check the weather, Clarence?
- Mad Libs Catchphrase: Steve McCroskey:
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit [habit]!
- Market-Based Title: it was titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippines.
- 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.
- Mirror Routine: Sort of. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag has Rex Kramer dressing in front of a mirror. In the next shot we see him seemingly step out of the reflection; between shots the mirror was switched with a doorway and Robert Stack switched positions.
- Mixed Metaphor: "I guess the foot's on the other hand now!"
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Parodied, as it's Dr. Rumack who's misunderstanding. "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley." This was considered one of the more memorable movie quotes in history.
- Mythology Gag: The name "Rex Kramer" was first used in The Kentucky Fried Movie.
- 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!
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Hilariously averted with Lieutenant Horwitz, who still thinks he's Ethel Merman.
- N-Word Privileges: There are quite a few Jewish jokes.
- 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.
- Oh Crap: When Ted and Elaine saw the runway lights being turned off.
- Orbital Kiss: Ted and Elaine at the end, accompanied by an Ethereal Choir that goes way out of tune.
- Parental Bonus: One of the greatest things about this movie is that kids and parents can both watch it, but they laugh in, shall we say, different places. Of course, as noted under Getting Crap Past the Radar, many of the jokes are not really appropriate for pre-teens.
- Pet Homosexual: Stephen Stucker as "Johnny."
- Pinch Me: Ted Striker to a sailor in the Magumba Bar, when he first met Elaine.
- Prison Rape: Captain Oveur has apparently had some unusual experiences.
Oveur: "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?"
- Proportional Article Importance: "There's a sale at Penney's!"
- 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."
- The Remake: The plot and much of the "straight" dialogue were taken from Zero Hour!. 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.
- 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 Three: "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you."
- Running Gag: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, Ted's suicidal Flash Back confidants, "but that's not important right now", "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."
- The Seventies: Released in 1980, this was probably the first film to spoof Saturday Night Fever (and the disco subculture in general).
- Sexy Stewardess: Elaine and Randy.
- Shell Shocked Senior: Ted Striker's experiences during the war.
- Smoking Hot Sex: Elaine and Otto, the inflatable copilot.
- 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 is desperately trying 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).
- Spinning Paper
- Spit Take: In the hospital Flash Back.
- 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.
- 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 Phrases
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Rex Kramer
- Stock Sound Effects:
- Castle Thunder when lightning flashes.
- The jet airliner sounds like a prop-driven plane. Accounts differ as to whether this was deliberate or a result of Executive Meddling.
- Straight Man: Every actor (except for Johnny) acts as they are not speaking hilarious lines, which is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. One of the reasons for avoiding "comedy cameos", according to the directors, was to keep everything seeming serious.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: At first. Roger Murdoch denies he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as though he doesn't even know who Kareem is.
- Take That: "WZAZ, where disco lives forever!" [Plane immediately flies overhead and slices the radio antenna clean off, stopping the signal]
McCroskey: [to Capt. Oveur's wife] Your husband is alive, but unconscious.
- Take a Third Option: Invoked by Dr. Rumack, who must have brought his own food.
Rumack: "What did the passengers have for dinner?'
- Ten-Minute Retirement: Ted Striker comes out of it after a Rousing Speech provides Epiphany Therapy.
- That Russian Squat Dance: During the disco-dance flashback.
- This Is No Time to Panic: As the unconscious pilot and co-pilot are dragged down the aisle, and when Elaine asks if there's anyone on board who can fly a plane.
- Train Station Goodbye: Parodied as the plane takes off, complete with an "All aboard!" call. It does double-duty as a parody of war movies where the heroic soldier gets a sendoff from his girl.
- Transparent Closet: Capt. Oveur likes to read "Modern Sperm" and hit on young boys. His wife is cheating (with a horse) probably because she already knows about him.
- 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
- Visual Pun: "The shit's going to hit the fan," "Okay, boys, let's take some pictures," "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.
- What's a Henway?: "Surely you can't be serious" and countless others.
- Who's on First?: The flight crew's names.
Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
- World's Shortest Book: Famous Jewish Sports Legends is just a pamphlet.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: The page quote, Ted's drinking problem, smoking section tickets, etc.
- You! Get Me Coffee!
McCroskey: "How 'bout some coffee, Johnny?"
- 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.
- It's a big white thing with wings, but that's not important right now.
- I say, let 'em crash!