Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Airplane! is an American comedy film, first released on July 2, 1980, produced by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, and starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty , Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It is the second of a number of movies produced and directed by the trio (the first being The Kentucky Fried Movie).
In some foreign releases (including Australia), Airplane! was entitled Flying High.
The film is regularly shown on television, with many devotees repeatedly rewatching the film, in the process catching other gags that they didn't notice earlier due to the sheer number of sight, sound and dialogue gags (often overlapping).
Airplane II: The Sequel, first released on December 10, 1982, attempted to tackle the science fiction film genre. Although most of the cast reunited for the sequel, the two films have no writers in common.
The plot of Airplane! is a well-travelled one. The story of an in-flight medical emergency, caused by food poisoning, started as the CBC TV movie Flight Into Danger , then became the 1957 Paramount Pictures movie Zero Hour!. Thus Airplane! is the fourth remake of the Arthur Hailey novel Runway Zero-Eight.
Airplane! is very close to Zero Hour!, following it virtually scene for scene, and lifting its major characters and most of its story line. Indeed, many of the best known lines are repeated verbatim. (For example, "Can you face some unpleasant facts?" and "I guess I picked the wrong week to quit smoking," which becomes a running gag. As the plot escalates, so does the potency of the drug ("I guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.") Even the odd sports cameo remains intact. In Zero Hour!, the cameo is by Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch. In Airplane!, it is basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Airplane! also has elements based on films in the Airport series, specifically Airport '75, which was also based on novels written by Arthur Hailey. The elements that the film lifted from Airport '75 included the guitar playing nun (played by Maureen McGovern in Airplane! and Helen Reddy in Airport '75) and the sick little girl that the nun's guitar is played for (played by Linda Blair in Airport '75 and Jill Whelan in Airplane!).
When the pilots of a commercial airliner get sick, an ex-fighter pilot, Ted Striker (Robert Hays) must conquer his fear of flying and fly the plane to its destination. Striker's ex-girlfriend (Julie Hagerty ) is a flight attendant. Nielsen portrays a doctor on board. His catchphrase in the film became famous worldwide. In response to the question from a passenger "Surely you can't be serious?" Nielsen's character would respond: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley". ...and don't call me Shirley has entered the language as an all-purpose, nonplussed response.
Some critics have claimed that the movie's most important achievement was in bringing to an end the Airport series of movies, which could no longer be taken seriously.
Airplane! is one of the most famous and acclaimed examples of a genre of similar gag-based comedies that defy logic, reason, and the "fourth wall" to produce laughter in any way possible, with comic references to other famous 'straight' disaster films such as Airport.
When this type of comedy works, it is exceptional (the animated cartoons of Tex Avery were a great influence), though it can be difficult for filmmakers to achieve success when working on a movie that often denies characterization and even plot development. Other successful movies of this type include Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles and the "Road movies" of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. More recent movies of this sort include Hot Shots!, The Naked Gun trilogy, the Austin Powers series, and the Scary Movie series. (A number of other films in this genre were less successful, including Loaded Weapon , The Big Bus, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, and Spy Hard .)
Airplane! was a major hit: The budget was about US$3.5 Million, and the film earned over US$80 Million at the box office, and another US$40 Million in rentals.
Several actors were cast in order to spoof their established images: Stack and Bridges had played many adventurous, no-nonsense tough-guys, while Nielsen had played "more cops, doctors, and attorneys than you could shake a nightstick/stethoscope/law book at."  Barbara Billingsley, the archetypal suburban mother on Leave It To Beaver, has an especially funny appearance when she offers to translate for a pair of hip African American passengers whose jive talking is incomprehensible to stewardesses. Ethel Merman has a memorable cameo as a shell-shocked fighter pilot who thinks he's Ethel Merman.
Nielsen saw a major boost to his career, and since Airplane! has specialized in playing clueless, deadpan bumblers. Bridges and Stack saw similar shifts in their public image, though to lesser degrees.
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