Theatrical poster
Directed by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Produced by Jon Davison
Howard W. Koch
Written by Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Julie Hagerty
Leslie Nielsen
Peter Graves
Lloyd Bridges
Robert Stack
Frank Ashmore
Lorna Patterson
Stephen Stucker
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Patrick Kennedy
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) July 2, 1980 (1980-07-02)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,500,000 (est.)
Box office $83,453,539[1]

Airplane! (titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippines) is a 1980 American satirical comedy film directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty and features Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Lorna Patterson. The film is a spoof of the disaster film genre, and a close parody of the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour!.[2] The film is well-noted for its use of absurdist and fast-paced slapstick comedy, including a lot of visual and verbal puns and gags, as well as surrealist comedy.

Airplane! was a financial success, grossing over US$83 million in North America alone, against a budget of just $3.5 million.[1] The film's creators received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Comedy, and nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay.[3]

In the years since its release, Airplane!'s reputation has grown substantially. The film was voted the 10th-funniest American comedy on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list in 2000, and ranked 6th on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies. In a major 2007 survey by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, it was judged the second greatest comedy film of all time.[4]

In 2008, Airplane! was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time and in 2010, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.[5][6]



Ex-fighter pilot and taxi driver Ted Striker (Robert Hays) became traumatized during an unnamed war, leading to his fear of flying. As a result, he can't hold a responsible job and his wartime girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), now a stewardess, leaves him. To win her back, Striker overcomes his fear and buys a ticket on a flight she is serving on, from Los Angeles to Chicago, leaving the taxi he was driving behind. However, during the flight, Elaine rebuffs his attempts.

After dinner is served, many of the passengers fall ill, and fellow passenger Dr. Barry Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) quickly realizes that the fish dinner gave some passengers food poisoning. The stewards discover that the cockpit crew, including pilot Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves) and co-pilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), have all come down with food poisoning, leaving no one aboard to fly the plane. Elaine contacts the Chicago control tower for help, and is instructed by tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) to activate the plane's autopilot, a large inflatable doll named "Otto", which will get them to Chicago, but will not be able to land the plane. Dr. Rumack convinces Striker to fly the plane, though he feels unable to handle the pressure and the unfamiliar aircraft.

McCroskey knows that he must get someone else to help talk the plane down and calls Rex Kramer (Robert Stack). Striker and Kramer served together in the war and must overcome their negative history. As the plane nears Chicago, Striker becomes increasingly stressed and can only land the plane after a pep talk from Dr. Rumack. With Kramer's endless stream of advice, Striker is able to overcome his fears and safely land the plane with only minor injuries to some passengers, and damage to the landing gear. Striker's courage rekindles Elaine's love for him, and the two share a kiss while Otto takes off in the evacuated plane after inflating a female companion.



Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (collectively known as ZAZ) wrote Airplane! while they were performing with the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a successful small theatre they had founded in 1971. The ZAZ came to the idea of spoofing airplane disaster films when they accidentally taped the 1957 film Zero Hour!, while they were looking for commercials to spoof.[2] Abrahams later described Zero Hour! as "... the serious version of Airplane!". It was the first film script they wrote, and was originally called The Late Show. The original script contained spoofs of television commercials; however, people who proofread the script for them advised them to shorten the commercials, and, eventually, they removed them. When their script was finished they were unable to sell it.[7]

The trio knew director John Landis, who encouraged them to write a film based on their theatre sketches. They managed to put the film, called The Kentucky Fried Movie, in production in the late 1970s, and entered a movie set for the first time; David Zucker explains: "[...] It was the first time we had ever been on a movie set. We learned a lot. We learned that if you really wanted a movie to come out the way you wanted it to, you had to direct. So on the next movie, Airplane!, we insisted on directing."[7]

Filming took 34 days,[8] mostly during August 1979. The plane used throughout the film was a TWA Boeing 707 model; the plane taking off with "The End" credit is not a 707 (which has four engines), but a Boeing 727 tri-jet. The ambient noise of the plane is not that of a jet but a propeller driven plane (possibly piston engines); it was taken from the soundtrack of Zero Hour!, making it the longest running gag in the film.

During filming, Leslie Nielsen used a fart toy to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that "He played that thing like a maestro."[9]


David Zucker explained that "the trick was to cast actors like Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges. These were people who, up to that time, had never done comedy. We thought they were much funnier than the comedians of that time were." David Zucker felt Stack was the most important actor to be cast, since he was the "linchpin" of the film's plot.[7] Stack initially played his role in a way that was different from what the directors had in mind. They showed him a tape of impressionist John Byner impersonating Robert Stack. According to the producers, Stack was "doing an impression of John Byner doing an impression of Stack."[2] Stack was not initially interested in the part, but was persuaded by ZAZ. Bridges was advised by his children to take the part.[7] Graves' agent rejected the script at first, "His agent got him the script, and he was totally turned off by it. He thought it was tasteless trash." This caused Abrahams to interject, "I don’t understand. What did he think was tasteless about pedophilia?” [9] They cast a relatively unknown Robert Hays, who was a co-star of Angie, and Julie Hagerty to round out the cast.

The film's writers and directors, as well as members of their family, showed up in cameo appearances. David and Jerry appear as two ground crew members who accidentally direct a 747 to taxi through a terminal window. Abrahams is one of many religious zealots scattered throughout the film. Charlotte Zucker (David and Jerry's mother) is the woman attempting to apply makeup in the plane as it violently shifts. Their sister Susan Breslau is the second ticket agent at the airport. Jim Abrahams' mother is the woman initially sitting next to Dr. Rumack.

Several other cameos add to the humor by casting actors against type. Barbara Billingsley, best known as June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver, makes an appearance as a woman who announces she "speaks jive" and can translate for two African-American passengers who speak jive. Maureen McGovern appears as Sister Angelina, a spoof of the nun in Airport 1975, and a poke at her involvement as the singer of the Oscar-winning songs for the disaster films The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Jimmie Walker cameos as the man opening the hood of the plane and checking the oil before takeoff; Walker also had a minor role in the air disaster film, The Concorde ... Airport '79. Howard Jarvis, the property tax rebel and author of California Proposition 13, plays the taxi passenger who is left at the curb with the meter running in the film's opening and closing scene. Ethel Merman, in her last film appearance, plays a shell-shocked male soldier who is convinced he is Ethel Merman. Finally, NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar plays co-pilot Murdock, who is later revealed in dialogue to actually be Abdul-Jabbar living a secret double life. In the DVD commentary the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams revealed that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's role of co-pilot Roger Murdock was originally intended for baseball star Pete Rose. Due to Rose's schedule and his commitment to baseball, he had to decline the role.


In 1980, an LP soundtrack for the film was released by Regency Records, and included dialog and songs from the film. It was also narrated by Shadoe Stevens, and only featured one score track, the "Love Theme from Airplane" composed by Elmer Bernstein. The soundtrack was altered for the European 'Flying High' release, with several of the featured tracks swapped for pieces original to the LP.

On April 28, 2009, La-La Land Records announced that they would release the first official score album for Airplane!, containing Bernstein's complete score.[10]


Prior to its release, the directors had been apprehensive due to a mediocre response at one of the pre-screenings. However, the film made back its entire budget of about $3.5 million in its first weekend of release. Overall, it earned more than $83 million at the box office and another $40 million in rentals,[1] making it the fourth highest grossing film of 1980.[11]


"Airplane! emerged in 1980 as a sharply perceptive parody of the big-budget disaster films that dominated Hollywood during the 1970s [and] introduced a much-needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic".

Airplane! received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1980.[12][13][14][15] The film maintains a 98% "Certified Fresh" rating at the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 48 reviews.[16] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote "Airplane! is sophomoric, obvious, predictable, corny, and quite often very funny. And the reason it's funny is frequently because it's sophomoric, predictable, corny, etc".[17] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote "Airplane! is more than a pleasant surprise... As a remedy for the bloated self-importance of too many other current efforts, it's just what the doctor ordered".[18] In 2008, Airplane! was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[19] It was also placed on a similar list by The New York Times, a list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.[20] In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen in the cockpit. The autopilot "Otto" on the left is typical of the film's sense of humor, as is Nielsen repeatedly popping in to the cockpit at inopportune moments with good luck wishes. named the airplane crash in Airplane! number four on its list of "Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes."[21] Leslie Nielsen's line (in response to 'surely you can't be serious'), "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley," was 79th on AFI's list of the best 100 movie quotes. In 2000, the American Film Institute listed Airplane! as number ten on its list of the 100 funniest American films. In the same year, readers of Total Film voted it the second greatest comedy film of all time. It also came second in the British 50 Greatest Comedy Films poll on Channel 4, beaten by Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Entertainment Weekly voted the film the "Funniest movie on video" in their list of the 100 funniest movies on video.[22]

Several actors were cast to spoof their established images: Nielsen, Stack, and Bridges were known for adventurous, no-nonsense tough-guy characters. Stack's role as the captain who loses his nerve in one of the earliest airline "disaster" films, The High and the Mighty (1954), is spoofed in Airplane!, as is Lloyd Bridges' 1970–1971 television role as airport manager Jim Conrad in San Francisco International Airport. Peter Graves was in the made-for-TV-movie SST: Death Flight, in which an SST was unable to land due to an emergency.

Nielsen saw a major boost to his career after the release of Airplane!, and the film marked a significant change in his film persona towards a new specialty in deadpan comedy, notably in the three Naked Gun films based on the six-episode television series Police Squad!. This also led to his casting, many years later, in Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Brooks had wanted to make that film for a long time, but put it off because, as he said, "I just could not find the right Dracula." Brooks claimed to have never seen Airplane! until years after its release. When he did, he knew Nielsen would be right for the part. When it was suggested that his role in Airplane! was against type, Nielsen protested that he had "always been cast against type before," and that comedy was what he always really wanted to do.[23] Stack and Bridges saw similar shifts in their public image, though to lesser extents, Bridges going on to play similar comedic self send-ups in Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux along with Mafia!.

Several members of the cast in minor roles went on to better known parts. Gregory Itzin, who appears as one of the religious zealots, played President Charles Logan in the Fox series 24. David Leisure, who played one of the Hare Krishna, went on to fame as Joe Isuzu before appearing as Charlie Dietz in the sitcom Empty Nest. Michael Warren, who is seen as one of the patients in the hospital during Ted's flashback (and had also been a teammate of Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA), would go on to play Bobby Hill on Hill Street Blues.

In 2011, ABC aired a primetime special, Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, that counted down the best movies chosen by fans based on results of a poll conducted by ABC and People. Airplane! was selected as the #1 Best Comedy.


Peter Farrelly said of the film: "I was in Rhode Island the first time I saw Airplane! Seeing it for the first time was like going to a great rock concert, like seeing Led Zeppelin or the Talking Heads. We didn’t realize until later that what we’d seen was a very specific kind of comedy that we now call the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school."[9] Farrelly, along with his writing partner Bennett Yellin, sent a comedy script to David Zucker, who in return gave them their first Hollywood writing job. Farrelly said, "I’ll tell you right now, if the Zuckers didn’t exist, there would be no Farrelly brothers."[9]

Thirty years later, the documentary film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story opened with a scene from the movie.[24][25]

There is a slot machine featuring Otto and casts members in the game. Otto is considered wild in a play line. Elaine Dickenson, Ted Striker and Dr. Barry Rumack are all featured in the game, with their lines from the movie.


Airplane II: The Sequel, first released on December 10, 1982, attempted to tackle the science fiction film genre, though there was still emphasis on the general theme of disaster films. Although most of the cast reunited for the sequel, the writers and directors of Airplane! chose not to be involved.


  1. ^ a b c "Movie Airplane! – Box Office Data, News, Cast Information". The Numbers. July 4, 1980. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Abrahams, Jim; Zucker, David; Zucker, Jerry; Davidson, Jon (2000). Airplane! DVD audio commentary (DVD). Paramount Pictures. 
  3. ^ "Awards for Airplane!". IMDB. 
  4. ^ "Channel 4: 50 Greatest Comedy Films". 
  5. ^ "'Empire Strikes Back' among 25 film registry picks". Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Airplane!' Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry". Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d Emery, Robert J. (2002). "The films of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker". The Directors: Take One. Allworth Communications, Inc.. pp. 337–342. ISBN 978-1-58115-218-0. 
  8. ^ IMDB Trivia
  9. ^ a b c d "Surely It's 30 (Don't Call Me Shirley!)". The New York Times. June 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ "La-La Land Records Announces a Special Mayday Alert!". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  11. ^ Airplane! (1980) – Box Office Mojo
  12. ^ "Greatest Films of 1980". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  13. ^ Ethan Morris,  (June 14, 2007). "The 10 Best Movies of 1980". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Best Movies of 1980 by Rank". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  15. ^ IMDb: Year: 1980
  16. ^ "Airplane! Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Airplane! :: :: Reviews". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  18. ^ Janet Maslin (July 2, 1980). "Airplane! (1980)". The New York Times. Retrieved December 2, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Empire Features". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  20. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  21. ^ Airplane! Clip crash scene from the Maxim website
  22. ^ Brod, Doug (October 16, 1992). "The Kings of Comedy". Entertainment Weekly.,,20162465,00.html. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  23. ^ Andrew Dalton and Bob Thomas, 'Airplane!', 'Forbidden Planet' actor Nielsen dies, Associated Press, Nov 29, 2010, accessed Nov 30, 2010.
  24. ^ Kenneth Turan (November 19, 2010). "Movie review: 'Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  25. ^ "Film". Retrieved December 12, 2010. 

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