Airplane! (1980)


“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

PoolMan’s rating: Sign me up for that Turkish prisonish thingee!

PoolMan’s review: This goes into my big book of movies I saw as a kid and liked, then saw as an adult and loved! It’s not unlike Bugs Bunny, in a sense. Kids see it and laugh at the sight gags, and pretty much don’t comprehend anything. An adult watches the same show and catches the more adult themes, and the subtler nuances that cruise easily over the kiddies’ heads. Thank goodness I was a lot shorter as a child…

I’m not going to go on and on about this very funny movie. Suffice it to say, this is the kind of movie that started (or was around for) the trend of movies that are purposefully made to be silly, like The Naked Gun, Hot Shots!, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. You know, being silly for the sake of being silly, and making fun of pop culture left, right, and center, especially when it comes to other movies. The drawback (if you see it that way) is that it’s horribly dated now (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball player, folks, not a football player trying to run a cheezy scam), but the gags are constant, and the cast is great.

Kyle’s rating: Always eat the chicken!

Kyle’s review: Like so many others my age, I watched this film as a child and thought it was pretty funny, then came back to it as an adult and thought it was incredibly hilarious. It was thanks to this movie confusing me as a kid that I would ask my parents weird questions and found out early in life all about heart transplants, abortions, airplanes, and Turkish prisons.

All you need to know going into this movie that it is an airplane disaster movie that makes fun of airplane disaster movies, among other things. This movie is really highlighted if you’ve seen those mundane Airport movies, but there is enough crazy stuff in this film to get you laughing more than once. There’s toilet humor for the ADD kids in your care, and there are plenty of adult sight gags and throwaway puns to amuse even the most serious stuck-up intellectual next to you. It’s a perfect combination of spoof and flat-out humor and though it has inspired countless movies since, I’ve yet to see one that lives up to Airplane!‘s high standard of farce. So see the film that set the bar high, but realize you’ll probably have to see it twice just to get everything. And trust me: you’ll never want to fly again.

Justin’s rating: What kind of frequent flier miles do I get for this?

Justin’s review: It’s almost a solid rule of thumb that the first of a major trend is often the best. Modern prime-time animation sitcoms (The Simpsons), morphing robots (Voltron), morphing critters (Pokémon), pop culture horror satire (Scream), or film genre parodies (this review’s Airplane!). While there have been many decent and worthy successors (and endless horrid ripoffs), the crew of the doomed Little Plane That Couldn’t still stands out as pure gold.

How could anyone not like at least some part of Airplane!? Even though the pop culture references are dated by some 20 years, the other jokes are fresh and fast paced to overcome the earth-toned sets. In fact, the genre that Airplane! parodies isn’t one that most of us new mutants on the block remember: the Airport disaster flicks.

It’s amusing that this movie has gained the widespread likability that it has to this day. For me, it’s the duality of the jokes. For the baser of us, there’s the slapstick comedy, such as savage beatings of religious airport patrons and crap literally hitting the fan. But Zuckers/Abraham/Zuckers crafted a long-lasting work by including that second level that works for the intellectual (hey, where was that in Scary Movie?). Fast-paced dialogue that gets the joke out and gone before you realize it. Running gags that are presented so straight-faced that it just makes them work. Subtitled slang talk (“Yes, I speak Jive”). And the Oscar-worthy presence of Johnny.

Johnny, the man-child. Oh Johnny, how you have inspired me to laugh in the face of disaster! How you make everyone else seem as serious as the Pope! How you taught us origami! Years come and years go, yet no actor has ever reached the intensity of the primordial force known as Johnny. Long live King Johnny of Insane Flapping of the Arms!

Ahem. Sorry. When I stop to think about it (and I do, often in the middle of busy intersections), Airplane! manages to take offensive subjects and make them both inoffensive and classic comedy in a heartbeat. Racism is always a big issue, but who ever brings up the touching scene where a little white boy offers a little white girl coffee, and she says, “I take it black. Like my men?” Nobody, that’s who! It’s a great film with smart silliness, and I just can’t dissect it justice.

I suppose Airplane!‘s greatest testament is the sequel (Airplane II), which rehashed just the slapstick nature of Airplane! and with the help of William Shatner, managed to crash and burn on the runway. Airplane! wasn’t just some “formula” that could be copied to make a smash hit; there needed to be true inspiration and talent to boot.

Sue’s rating: The rubber chicken of the disaster movie genre.

Sue’s review: God bless ’em, my kids are growing up. As of this writing, SoM2 is about to turn an amazing fourteen, and SoM1, hang onto your hats, is just about to trip over his overlarge feet, into the ranks of the legally old enough to drive.

(Y’know this “Sue is ancient” schtick is getting less funny every year!)

In any case, we’ve finally reached the point where I’ve almost — almost — stopped twitching spasmodically whenever they watch a movie with me that doesn’t feature plucky little lion cubs or singing muppets. In a way, this makes me sort of sad and snurfly, because my cuddly little girl has replaced the word “Mommy!” with “what-ev!” and my bright and affectionate little boy (who is taller than his mother) has a voice that sounds like a tractor stuck between gears. My babies are all grown up and wanting to borrow my credit card! Waaaaaaaah!

The benefit to all of this, of course, is that I am no longer a solitary warrior in my household mutantly movie-lovin’ pursuits. SoM1 has re-established my ‘cool’ cred in his mind because we watched 300 together. SoM2 can quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail almost verbatim (I’m just so…*sniff*…proud!) and the Die Hard series has supplanted Lilo and Stitch as her personal pinnacle of cinematic brilliance. (This doesn’t mean that I’m ever letting them watch Trainspotting though. A mom has her limits.)

Which brings us meanderingly back to Airplane!, the reason for this review, and a rite of passage met and conquered. Kind of like the Klingon Age Of Ascension, but with Lloyd Bridges instead of pain sticks.

Airplane! is dumb. It’s every bad (I mean really bad) joke you’ve ever heard. It’s crazy old Uncle Charlie’s groan-worthy collection of puns that you’ve been subjected to every Thanksgiving and Christmas until you’ve grown up and discovered to your horror that his moldy old repertoire is now your own! It’s like finding out that Darth Vader is your father and then finding out that Darth Vader used to yell things like “Yippee!” as a kid and had pick-up lines that could gag a Hutt. It’s bad and dumb and horrible and awful.

And yet… and yet… it’s funny. It’s brilliantly funny. If you try not to laugh, you’re going to rupture something. There’s no fighting it, so don’t even try. If the deadpan one-liners don’t get you, the sight-gags will. If you dodge the sight-gags, you will fall victim to Johnny. Don’t ever try to get past Johnny.

In fact, even though I’ve seen Airplane! a bazillion times, starting all the way back in the dark ages of 1980, I still can’t read the groovy quotes section of this review page without sniggering. I’m willing to bet, neither can my kids. Neither can you, if you’ve seen the movie. And if you haven’t? Rent it. Just do yourself a favor and stay away from the carbonated beverages. Snarf safely! That’s my motto.

What’s a motto with you?

See what I mean?


  • McCroskey picked the wrong week to quit smoking, drinking, taking amphetamines, and glue sniffing. That’s a tough week for anyone!
  • There are a smattering of jokes within the end credits, followed by a short end clip revealing the fate of the taxi passenger.

Groovy Quotes

Elaine: You got a letter from headquarters this morning.
Ted: What is it?
Elaine: It’s a big building where generals meet, but that’s not important.

Ted: Mayday! Mayday!
McCroskey: What the heck is that?
Johnny: Why, that’s the Russian New Year! We can have a parade and serve hot hors d’oeuvres!

Ted: It was a rough place — the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It’s worse than Detroit.

Johnny: The tower, the tower! Rapunzel! Rapunzel!

Old Lady: Nervous?
Ted: Yes.
Old Lady: First time?
Ted: No. I’ve been nervous lots of times.

10-year-old boy: Cream?
10-year-old girl: No thank you. I take it black. Like my men.

Oveur: You ever been up in a cockpit before, Joey?
Joey: No sir, I’ve never been in an airplane before.
Oveur: You ever seen a grown man naked before?

Oveur: Joey, do you spend a lot of time in the locker room at school?

Oveur: Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?

Oveur: Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

Sick Lady: Oh, I can’t stand it! I haven’t felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film.

Ted: Surely you can’t be serious!
Dr. Rumack: I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

McCrosky: This fog is getting thicker!
Johnny: And Leon is getting laaaaarrrrrger!

Dr. Rumack: Elaine, you’re a member of this crew. Can you face some unpleasant facts?
Elaine: No.

Ted: [thinking to himself] I’ve got to concentrate… [his thoughts echo] concentrate… concentrate… I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate… concentrate… Hello?… hello… hello… Echo… echo… echo… Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon… Manny Mota… Mota… Mota…

Johnny: Well, it’s a big pretty white plane with a red stripe, curtains at the windows, wheels, and it just looks like a big Tylenol!

Kramer: Striker, listen, and you listen close- flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.

McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!

Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Oveur: Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?
Tower voice: Tower’s radio clearance, over!
Oveur: That’s Clarence Oveur! Over.
Tower voice: Roger.
Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: Roger, over.
Murdock: Huh?
Oveur: Huh?

Elaine: There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

McCroskey: Johnny, what can you make out of this? [Hands him the weather briefing]
Johnny: This? Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl…

Dr. Rumack: Yes, he looked at me and said, “Doc,” he said, “Sometime, when the crew is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell ’em to get out there and give it all they’ve got. And win just one for the Zipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Doc,” he said. “But I won’t smell too good, that’s for sure.”

Ted: I flew single engine fighters in the Air Force, but this plane has four engines. It’s an entirely different kind of flying altogether!
Everyone: It’s an entirely different kind of flying!

Joey: Wait a minute, I know you! You’re Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you play basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers!
Murdock: Sorry, I think you have me confused with someone else. My name’s Roger Murdock. I’m the co-pilot.
Joey: You are Kareem! I’ve seen you play. My dad’s got season tickets.
Murdock: You should go back to your seat now, right Clarence?
Oveur: No, he’s not bothering anyone. Let him stay here.
Murdock: All right, but just remember, my name is Roger Murdock. I’m an airline pilot.
Joey: I think you’re the greatest, but my dad says you don’t work hard enough on defense. And he says lots of times you don’t even run downcourt. And you don’t try, except 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!

Old Lady: No wonder you’re upset. She’s lovely. And a darling figure. Supple, pouting breasts… firm thighs. It’s a shame you two don’t get along.

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