Airplane! (1980)

airplane poster 1980 movie
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

The perfect spoof

Some of the dating of the movie might not translate to modern viewers

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Airplane!

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Comedy

Release Date(s):  July 2, 1980

MPAA Rating:  PG


What’s your vector, Victor?

Ted Striker (Robert Hays) has learned that his girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) is leaving him due to his inability to forget the war and what it did to him as a pilot.  When Ted follows Elaine on her flight, he finds himself forced into the role of pilot when half of the crew of the airplane is poisoned by fish.  With a storm raging outside, Ted and Elaine must fly the plane with the help of Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) if they hope to save the passengers on board.  The skies have never been more dangerous, and Ted might just crack under the pressure!


Stayin’ Alive!

Written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, Airplane! was a spoof film of the popular airplane disaster films which really came to life in ’70s in films like Airport (though the story is based on Zero Hour! from 1957).  Called Flying High! in some overseas markets, the film was praised by critics and a box office success and gained a cult following over the years.  The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

I grew up with Airplane! and it did help shape my sense of comedy.  The spoof style of film has become overused but going back and watching Airplane!, it is fun to see more originality and just how many lines have stood the test of time.


I speak jive!

Honestly, a lot of Airplane! couldn’t exist in today’s climate or would be dumbed down for the audience.  The movie is rated PG, but this is 1980 PG and still featured lots of gratuitous topless nudity.  The story is a smart combination of adult jokes sometimes topical and sometimes off-color that would offend some of the younger generation.  You look at something like Airplane! that was incredibly edgy and you wonder how the spoof genre fell.

The cast is great and their comic timing helps make the lines from Airplane! memorable.  The entire cast plays the deadpanned humor except the intentionally overt-the-top Air Traffic Controller Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs played by Stephen Stucker.  The movie helped Leslie Nielsen rebrand himself as a comedy actor and featured tons of cameo appearances from everyone from Ethel Merman, Jimmie Walker, Maureen McGovern, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the jive-talking Mrs. Cleaver Barbara Billingsley…leading to comic genius.


We’re all counting on you…and don’t call me Shirley

The movie played a lot with visual jokes and it is the type of movie you can watch multiple times to see new jokes.  The strength of Airplane! is in the writing, but the movie does feature some great sight-gags.  Some of them are a bit dated like Jaws and Saturday Night Fever, but most viewers will still get the references despite not being as topical.

Airplane! continues to be a movie I can watch over and over again like I did as a kid.  As an adult, I see jokes I definitely didn’t understand at ten, and it almost makes it more watchable.  Airplane! was followed by Airplane II:  The Sequel which was less critically praised (but I still can enjoy since the two blend together).

Related Links:

Airplane II:  The Sequel (1982)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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