Airplane! (1980). All aboard for a 1* flight but 5* laughs in this airborne disaster movie spoof

image film airplane passengers

Film review by Jason Day of Airplane! (1980) the spoof of 1970’s aeroplane set disaster movies. A plane’s flight crew are stricken with food poisoning and a former pilot who is terrified of flying must take the controls. Starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty.


Image of 5 stars for an excellent film genius a classic movie



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Former pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) has been jilted by his airline stewardess fiancee Elaine (Julie Hagerty) who has had enough of him refusing treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, after a disastrous flight during the Vietnam War.

Ted sets about getting her back, but must overcome his fear of flying by joining her next flight as a passenger.

Disaster is on the horizon when food poisoning sets in for passengers, disabling the entire flight crew.

But can Ted, as the only person with flight experience on the plane, conquer his nerves and save the day to win back his girl? He has help and hindrance as a group of crazed individuals  at tower control on the ground gather to ‘assist’ him.

Review, by @Reelreviewerimage film poster airplane

This deliriously funny, deliberately dopey and riotously silly send-up of the glut of airborne disaster drama during the 1970’s (most notably Airport 1975, 1974) justly deserves a place in anyone’s list of top movie comedies.

Combining slapstick, surrealism and screwball, the jokes in Airplane!, whether visual or verbal, fly so thick and fast that you literally cannot take your eyes off the screen or attend to any other noise whilst watching it. Truly, it commands your attention.

The film wins because of this relentless onslaught of clever visual gags, one-liners and commendably straight faced playing from the whole cast.

Hays and Hagerty make a cute leading couple, with Hagerty particularly impressive as the stereotypical, ditzy trolley dolly with a high-pitched voice and air of the airline-bimbo, who goes all misty eyed as she reminisces about her obviously enjoyable love life with Ted: “I remember how I used to sit on your face and wriggle…”

The best performances come from the veteran, B-movie actors in support some of whom appeared in this type of daft, half-serious movie in their earlier careers.

Leslie Nielsen (the captain in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972), experienced a career renaissance as the perfect, straight-faced comic leading man, here playing an un-empathetic doctor (“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley”). He would re-team with this movie’s writer/directors for the massively successful Naked Gun films (1988, 1991, 1994).

Robert Stack as Hays’ former mentor turned nemesis proves to have more life in him than when he turned in more wooden performances during his 1950’s heyday.

Perfect turns are given by Lloyd Bridges as the airport controller who battles a series of increasingly serious addictions throughout the film (“I picked the wrong week to quit smoking…drinking…taking amphetamines…sniffing glue…”) and Stephen Stucker as his seriously silly assistant who turns off the runway lights as the stricken plan tries to land: “Just kidding!”

image film airplane lloyd bridges glue

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue…” Lloyd Bridges enjoys the high-side of disaster in Airplane! (1980).

40 years later, the film repays countless re-views because of the quantity and quality of the gags and their timeless, a-political nature – it’s still as fresh and funny as when it premiered.

Don’t forget the backroom boys, too such as Elmer Bernstein’s hysterical and frenetic, strings-led score.

The cheap and tacky, beige camerawork comes from master Joe Biroc (also the cinematographer on disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno,1974) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, 1979) lend this film creditable disaster movie kudos, making the comedy appear expected, almost required.

Cast & credits

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker. 1hr 28mins (88mins). Howard W. Koch Productions/Paramount. (12a)

Producer: Jon Davison.
Writers: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker.
Camera: Joseph Biroc.
Music: Elmer Bernstein.
Sets: Ward Preston.

Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lorna Paterson, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stephen Stucker, Ethel Merman, Maureen McGovern.


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