“Assume the Crash Position”, It’s Airplane!🛫

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The disaster genre has been around long before “The Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen came on the scene in the 1970’s when the genre came into particular prominence with the release of high-profile films such as Airport (1970), followed in quick succession by Irwin Allen’s “The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974) and another Allen hit, “The Towering Inferno” in (1974).

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These films often feature large casts of actors and multiple plotlines, focusing on the characters’ attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath.

Disaster themes are almost as old as the film medium itself. One of the earliest was Fire! (1901) made by James Williamson of England. The silent film portrayed a burning house and the firemen who arrive to quench the flames and rescue the inhabitants.

Screenshot from the film "Fire!" (1901)

Screenshot from the silent film “Fire!” (1901)

Inspired by the end of World War II and the beginning of the Atomic Age, science fiction films of the 1950s, including When Worlds Collide (1953), The War of the Worlds (1953) and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), routinely used world disasters as plot elements.

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Additional precursors to the popular disaster films of the 1970s include The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne and Robert Stack as pilots of a crippled airplane attempting to cross the ocean; Zero Hour! (1957), written by Arthur Hailey (who also penned the 1968 novel Airport) about an airplane crew that succumbs to food poisoning.

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“Zero Hour!” (1957)

And this is where David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams enter the picture. Being influenced by the 1957 disaster film, Zero Hour! the 3 writers crafted ideas for a script as they described the movie as a “perfectly classically structured film” according to Jerry Zucker. Abrahams later described Zero Hour! as “the serious version of Airplane!“. It was the first film script the trio wrote and completed around 1975. The film was originally called The Late Show. (Wikipedia)

In 1980 this classic and definitive homage to the disaster genre was released, “Airplane!”

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Airplane! (titled Flying High! in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the Philippines) is the brilliant satirical parody directed and written by the incredible team of David and Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, (abbreviated ZAZ) and produced by Jon Davison.

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Plot: How do you handle a pilotless airplane full of crazy, food poisoned passengers, one ex-fighter pilot (and the would-be hero) with a drinking problem and a frisky auto-pilot named Otto? These are some of the random problems kinda solved in this totally off the wall, mayhem inspired comedy.

This clip of classic scenes says it all about the madness I love, “Airplane!”

This slap-stick classic stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty. It also features,(in their comedic debut), Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack

The stars, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen had long established careers as dramatic, action characters before “Airplane!” They were hired because the Zucker Brothers wanted to cast the film against type although Leslie Nielsen insisted that he had always been cast against type. He originally wanted to play comedy.

Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen’s line (in response to Hays’ question ‘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. (Wikipedia)

The superstar cameo of the film was Barbara Billingsley. (The Beaver’s reserved mom, June Cleaver, on the 1950’s tv classic “Leave it to Beaver”) Cast against type as well, she makes an appearance as, “Jive Lady”, a woman who announces she speaks jive (slang) and can translate for two black passengers whom no one could quite understand. Miss June don’t play. 😎 Hilarious! Thanks, June.🤗✊🏽

Barbara Billingsley

Barbara Billingsley

“Airplane!” received universal acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1980. Although, before its release, the directors had been apprehensive due to a mediocre response at one of the pre-screenings. But the film earned its entire budget of about $3.5 million in its first weekend of release. Overall, it earned more than $83 million in box office gross for $40 million in rentals, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of 1980.

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Otto, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays

Based on 58 reviews, compiled retrospectively, Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 97% judging it “Certified Fresh.” The consensus on the site reads “Though unabashedly juvenile and silly, Airplane! is nevertheless an uproarious spoof comedy full of quotable lines and slapstick gags that endure to this day.” (Wikipedia)


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The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2000: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs – #10

  • 2005: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes:

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.


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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”.


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If you’re ever feeling stressed, and or depressed, just pop this little gem in the DVD player and laugh your ass off!


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