Friends, it was on this date 40 years ago that my Father and I were sitting in our car at the 62 Drive-In waiting to catch Airplane! – an hour and 28 minutes later and my sides were hurting from laughing so hard. Now to be honest, some of the humor totally went over my head but laughter is absolutely infectious and with my Father cackling beside me throughout the picture – it made for a very memorable night to say the least. And while I also have fond memories of catching Airplane II: The Sequel with my Cousin two years later – seeing Airplane! on it’s opened weekend was pretty magical.
As I have mentioned before on the site and frequently on some of the podcasts – my Father was the reason I became something of a cinephile. After seeing Airplane! at the Drive-In it quickly became a film we would quote to each other all the time and there are so many, many memorable lines from it:
“Joey, have you ever been in a… in a Turkish prison?”
“Shanna, they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ’em crash.”
“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.”
Although the full clip is not in that trailer – the moment where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaks character and goes off on Joey (Rossie Harris) in the cockpit – that has to be in the top ten funniest moments of Airplane!.
When Airplane! was released back on July 2nd of 1980 it did well -very well – raking in 158 million dollars on a budget of 3.5 million dollars. A big part of that was thanks to the casting of the likes of Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, and Lloyd Bridges to name a few – everyone mostly playing their roles with complete seriousness. Granted all of those humorous one-liners and memorable lines were courtesy of Jerry and David Zucker as well as Jim Abrahams. The trio got the idea for the film thanks to their work with the Kentucky Fried Theatre group they co-founded in 1971 – taping late night television for comedy skit ideas based on TV commercials. It has been said they accidentally recorded the 1957 film Zero Hour! and were so struck by it they decided to spoof it – so much so they considered Airplane! to be something of a remake of the movie and obtained the rights to it for $2,500. In addition as they originally wrote the script for their film – Airplane! would have featured commercial breaks but they were eventually removed from the screenplay. An interesting fact that you might now know about the film is that it could have actually starred David Letterman in Robert Hays’ role of Ted Striker – thanks to YouTube you can watch his audition for the part!
So in closing, here is to 40 years of flying the funny skies with Airplane! – a true comedy classic that is managing to entertain new generations of comedy fans.