Airplane! (1980)

PG | 88 mins | Comedy | 2 July 1980

Full page view
HISTORY

According to Paramount Pictures production notes found in AMPAS Library files, Airplane! was also known as Kentucky Fried Theatre’s Airplane – Flying High. As stated 21 Jun 1979 in DV, Universal Pictures had filed a complaint against Paramount Pictures Corp. in which it argued that the title and concept of the film was too close to Universal’s series of Airport movies (see entry for the 1970 film Airport) and would cause confusion. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was scheduled to review the complaint and issue a ruling. On 26 Jul 1979, DV reported that the MPAA arbitration board had ruled in favor of Universal, meaning that Paramount would have to release the film under another title. As stated in a 23 Jul 1980 Var article, Universal finally relented and allowed Paramount to release the film domestically under the title Airplane! , although no reason was given why Universal gave its permission to Paramount to use the title.
       The writing-producing-directing team of Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker, said that the creative spark for the film came from the movie Zero Hour! (1957, see entry) that they accidentally taped overnight when they were collecting late-night TV commercials to spoof for their Kentucky Fried Theatre, a venue dedicated to original sketch comedy combined with videotape and filmed routines. The friends hadn’t planned to watch the movie but each had the same reaction. The film, a serious drama about landing an airplane full of passengers and crew stricken with food poisoning, would be the perfect material to parody. They came ... More Less

According to Paramount Pictures production notes found in AMPAS Library files, Airplane! was also known as Kentucky Fried Theatre’s Airplane – Flying High. As stated 21 Jun 1979 in DV, Universal Pictures had filed a complaint against Paramount Pictures Corp. in which it argued that the title and concept of the film was too close to Universal’s series of Airport movies (see entry for the 1970 film Airport) and would cause confusion. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was scheduled to review the complaint and issue a ruling. On 26 Jul 1979, DV reported that the MPAA arbitration board had ruled in favor of Universal, meaning that Paramount would have to release the film under another title. As stated in a 23 Jul 1980 Var article, Universal finally relented and allowed Paramount to release the film domestically under the title Airplane! , although no reason was given why Universal gave its permission to Paramount to use the title.
       The writing-producing-directing team of Jim Abrahams, and David and Jerry Zucker, said that the creative spark for the film came from the movie Zero Hour! (1957, see entry) that they accidentally taped overnight when they were collecting late-night TV commercials to spoof for their Kentucky Fried Theatre, a venue dedicated to original sketch comedy combined with videotape and filmed routines. The friends hadn’t planned to watch the movie but each had the same reaction. The film, a serious drama about landing an airplane full of passengers and crew stricken with food poisoning, would be the perfect material to parody. They came up with a script that no one bought. So they wrote a different script, based on Kentucky Fried Theatre routines, raised $35,000, filmed a ten-minute pilot and attracted an investor. The subsequent movie The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977, see entry) became a hit. Afterward, the team returned to the Airplane! script, which was rewritten approximately “thirty times.” The next hurdle was convincing studio executives to give them “total creative control.”
       The 11 Jul 1980 DV article reported that Bob Rehme of Avco-Embassy was sold on the film’s humor but the company could not afford to finance the film. At one point, American International Pictures, a company that shared the same attorney as the three filmmakers, considered setting up financing for the film. The breakthrough came when Susan Baerwald, a script analyst for United Artists (UA), recommended the script to her longtime friend then-Paramount president Michael Eisner after UA rejected her recommendation of the script. When Producer Jon Davison whittled down Paramount’s budget estimate of the film from $7.5 million to $3.2 million, the “project looked viable.” In addition, production notes mentioned that Paramount executives agreed to take the risk when producer Howard W. Koch consented to work with Abrahams and the Zucker brothers. All together, the team calculated that it took five years to get the movie made.
       Prior to the film’s release, a 26 Jul 1979 DV news item reported that the Directors Guild of America (DGA) had ruled that a film could not be helmed by three directors nor could the filmmakers be credited, using the “fictitious name of ‘Abrahams N. Zuckers.’” According to a 3 Sep 1986 Var article, before the director credit dispute was resolved, a DGA representative was present on the set “at all times to make sure only Jerry Zucker spoke to the actors.” A 4 Oct 1979 DV news item stated that a waiver granted by the DGA executive board gave the three filmmakers one-time rights to appear as a triple director credit in the film.
       On 21 Aug 1979, HR reported that Jerry Zucker was situated on set with the cameras, interacting with the actors, while David Zucker and Abrahams would observe the action from “a locked-circuit TV system” on the perimeter of the set. When the shot was done, Jerry would join his co-directors to decide if the scene was “a print.”
       In the early stages of casting, the names of several comedians were attached to the film. A 3 Apr 1979 HR news item announced that Chevy Chase would star in the film. In the 11 Jul 1980 DV, producer Davison stated that Dom DeLuise, Bill Bixby and “almost everyone who had ever been in or even watched ‘Saturday Night Live’" had been considered as casting choices the film.
       As stated in a 14 Jun 1979 DV news item, Helen Reddy was considered to parody her role as a singing nun in Universal Studios’ Airport 1975 (1974, see entry) for Airplane! It hadn’t been decided yet by Universal if playing the same character in a different movie was a form of “plagiarism.” A later 21 Jun 1979 DV article reported that Paramount wanted to avoid additional legal problems with Universal Studios given that the two companies shared overseas distribution through Cinema International Corporation (CIC) and, therefore, Reddy would not “reprise her singing nun role” in Airplane!
       According to a 12 Jul 1979 HR news item, blind singer Jose Feliciano was cast in the movie as a “Polish Airline” pilot, along with actor look-alikes for Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder who were cast as co-pilots, but the Polish-American League protested. However, on 28 Jun 1980, a LAHExam news item stated that footage was shot but discarded when the concept of a blind cockpit was deemed not funny enough for the final film.
       Several actors made their film debuts including Robert Hays as “Ted Striker”, and Julie Hagerty as “Elaine." According to a 21 Aug 1979 HR article, Hays had a costarring role in the television show Angie while filming Airplane! Several times during filming, Hays would juggle both roles and exist on “three hours of sleep.” A 26 Jul 1979 DV news item reported that singer Maureen McGovern was cast as a guitar-carrying nun in the movie, which marked her feature film debut as an actress, and a 7 Jun 1979 DV news item reported that Leslie Nielsen, known as a dramatic actor, would make his comedic debut in the film. A 31 Jul 1979 DV news item reported that the three directors would appear in cameo roles.
       According to an 18 Jun 1979 DV news item, principal photography was scheduled to begin 20 Jun at Culver City Studios in Culver City, CA. As stated in a 10 Jul 1980 NYT article, the film’s budget was $3.5 million and within a week of its release, the film had grossed $7 million in box office receipts. Abrahams noted that at the time the film was in production, Paramount had also approved the $45 million-budgeted Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979, see entry) and the studio directed a larger part of their attention to the more expensive, higher-profile film.
       Production notes stated that most of the principal photography was performed at Culver City Studios, but exteriors were filmed at Los Angeles International Airport and another key sequence was filmed at Paramount Studios. On 21 Jul 1980, Box reported that the film had a thirty-five day-shooting schedule.
       Box stated that a rough cut of the film came in at 115 minutes. The film was previewed at three college campuses and two movie theaters, and the filmmakers trimmed the film to 88 minutes based on audience feedback.
       After its release, a 7 Jul 1980 HR article declared the film “a top grossing picture for the summer.” A 7 Jul 1980 LAHExam article stated that the film had earned $361,000 in its first four days in twenty-one theaters in Los Angeles, while it had pulled in $730,000 in the same time frame in 75 theaters in New York City, establishing new box office records. The first run film also screened in nine Los Angeles-area drive-in theaters, in which the total from Saturday night was $53,683, “an average of $6,000 per drive-in.” LAHExam claimed that this gross topped the average weekly box office gross of most drive-ins. On 8 Jul 1980, HR reported that the film has earned $6,053,514 in its first five days of domestic release, playing in 705 theaters. A 19 Aug 1980 HR article stated that its success at the box office made theater owners hold over the film long past its scheduled end dates. Although considered an acceptable practice for well-performing releases, this created fewer slots for other pictures opening later that summer. On 10 Apr 1981, a DV news item reported Airplane! had earned $130 million worldwide to date.
       The end credit crawl carries the following statement: “Special thanks to Kim Jorgensen, Pat Proft.” The following acknowledgements appear at the end of the film: “The producers gratefully acknowledge: Trans American Freight Lines; Atari, Inc.; Schumacher Animal Rentals; Argon Oil Company; Ron Smith Look-Alikes; Dick Lowry; Laurie Abdo; Sheri Maruno; Paul Turner; Nancy Cocuzzo; Danice Hertz; Dennis Park; Sheila Sullivan; Terry Shagin; Robert Reilly; Richard Raynis; Susan Breslau; Jason Black; Erika Hiller; Chris Ross; Peter Ivers; Karen Rasch.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Jul 1980
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1979.
---
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
10 Apr 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Apr 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1980
p. 2, 26.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jul 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 1980.
---
LAHExam
28 Jun 1980.
---
LAHExam
7 Jul 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Jul 1980
Section IV, p. 1, 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
9 Jul 1980
p. 9.
New York Times
2 Jul 1980
p. 17.
New York Times
10 Jul 1980.
---
New York Times
24 Aug 1980
p. 69.
Rolling Stone
2 Oct 1980
p. 31.
Time
14 Jul 1980
p. 71.
Variety
2 Jul 1980
p. 18.
Variety
2 Jul 1980
p. 36.
Variety
23 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
3 Sep 1986.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And Introducing
as
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Howard W. Koch Production
Paramount Pictures Presents
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Gripology
Asst cam person
Asst cam person
Elec dept
Elec dept
Stills
Elec lamp op
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Prop master
Asst prop master
Leadperson
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus ed
La Da Productions
SOUND
Rec mixer
Sd ed, Sound FX Inc.
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom person
VISUAL EFFECTS
Dir of photog spec eff
Miniature spec eff
Spec eff
Process supv
Effs unit grip
Effs unit gaffer
Title des
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Supv of prod admin
Generally in charge of a lot of things
Airport arrangements
Scr supv
Magic consultant
DGA trainee
Transportation
Transportation
Unit pub
Wrangler
Wrangler
Craft service
First aid
Vocal eff adv
Author of "A Tale of Two Cities"
Auditor
Secy to Howard W. Koch
Secy to Howard W. Koch
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
“Stayin’ Alive,” written and performed by The Bee Gees, courtesy of RSO Records, published by Stigwood Music, Inc.
“Theme from Jaws , ” by John Williams
“Notre Dame Victory March,” by Michael J. Shea, J. H. O’Donnell, & John F. Shea
+
SONGS
“Stayin’ Alive,” written and performed by The Bee Gees, courtesy of RSO Records, published by Stigwood Music, Inc.
“Theme from Jaws , ” by John Williams
“Notre Dame Victory March,” by Michael J. Shea, J. H. O’Donnell, & John F. Shea
“River of Jordan,” by Peter Yarrow
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” by Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne
“Respect,” by Otis Redding.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Flying High
Release Date:
2 July 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 2 July 1980
Production Date:
began 20 June 1979 at Culver City Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
4 September 1980
Copyright Number:
PA87531
Physical Properties:
Color
Metrocolor®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
88
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25740
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

When stewardess Elaine Dickinson gets to the airport to board her flight, boyfriend Ted Striker meets her on her way to the gate to salvage their broken relationship. Ted expects to see Elaine when she returns, but she has requested a transfer to Chicago, Illinois, and won’t be back. On the spur of the moment, Ted buys an airplane ticket and boards Elaine’s flight despite wrestling with some flashbacks as a wartime pilot. Before takeoff, Elaine tends to a young female heart transplant patient on a gurney. As Elaine hands out magazines to passengers, she is upset to see Ted, who returns to his seat and reminisces about meeting Elaine with an older woman seated next to him. According to Ted, he was struck by a thunderbolt when he saw Elaine on the dance floor of a seedy bar during the war. It was a scene out of Saturday Night Fever in which the jukebox played “Stayin' Alive” as their bodies gyrated in unison to the disco beat. When Ted returns to the present, the older woman in the next seat has hanged herself after listening to him drone on. Meanwhile, Elaine takes dinner orders from the passengers. When a boy, Joey Hammen, asks if he can see the cockpit, Elaine says she’ll get permission from the captain. In the galley kitchen, Elaine remembers when she and Ted kissed on the beach as the waves broke over them. Soon, Joey visits the cockpit and recognizes that the co-pilot Roger Murdock is really professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Murdock denies his celebrity status while Capt. Clarence Oveur makes inappropriate remarks during ... +


When stewardess Elaine Dickinson gets to the airport to board her flight, boyfriend Ted Striker meets her on her way to the gate to salvage their broken relationship. Ted expects to see Elaine when she returns, but she has requested a transfer to Chicago, Illinois, and won’t be back. On the spur of the moment, Ted buys an airplane ticket and boards Elaine’s flight despite wrestling with some flashbacks as a wartime pilot. Before takeoff, Elaine tends to a young female heart transplant patient on a gurney. As Elaine hands out magazines to passengers, she is upset to see Ted, who returns to his seat and reminisces about meeting Elaine with an older woman seated next to him. According to Ted, he was struck by a thunderbolt when he saw Elaine on the dance floor of a seedy bar during the war. It was a scene out of Saturday Night Fever in which the jukebox played “Stayin' Alive” as their bodies gyrated in unison to the disco beat. When Ted returns to the present, the older woman in the next seat has hanged herself after listening to him drone on. Meanwhile, Elaine takes dinner orders from the passengers. When a boy, Joey Hammen, asks if he can see the cockpit, Elaine says she’ll get permission from the captain. In the galley kitchen, Elaine remembers when she and Ted kissed on the beach as the waves broke over them. Soon, Joey visits the cockpit and recognizes that the co-pilot Roger Murdock is really professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Murdock denies his celebrity status while Capt. Clarence Oveur makes inappropriate remarks during small talk with Joey. While Ted does his best to convince Elaine to resume their relationship, she points out that nothing will change as long as he lives in the past and Ted has a sudden flash back of when he was recovering from his wounds at an army hospital. Soon, stewardess Randy borrows a guitar from one of the passengers, a nun, and serenades the heart transplant passenger. While Randy sings, she accidentally unplugs the patient’s intravenous line twice and the little girl goes into distress until her mother comes to her aid. Then, several of the passengers become ill and the captain tells Elaine to discreetly find a doctor among the passengers. When Dr. Rumack examines a woman, he pulls three hard boiled eggs from her mouth and tells Elaine that the pilot has to land the plane as soon as possible. In the cockpit, Victor Basta collapses from the mysterious illness followed by Murdock. The captain grabs the controls and rights the plane as it goes into a spin. The doctor observes that all the passengers who ate the fish for dinner are sick. As he describes classic food poisoning symptoms to Elaine, the captain becomes ill and collapses and Elaine inflates the plastic automatic pilot, Otto. While Elaine speaks on the radio to the air traffic control in Chicago, Otto deflates and she must manually inflate it. The doctor informs Elaine that if the sick passengers can’t get to a hospital, they will die. When Elaine asks if anyone on board can fly a plane, panic breaks out. Meanwhile, in Chicago, air traffic dispatcher McCroskey summons Capt. Rex Kramer to the airport to help with the crisis. Ted is the only one on the airplane with any flying experience. However, he pushes the wrong button in the cockpit and sends the plane into a nosedive. When a woman passenger becomes hysterical as a result, passengers hold bats, boxing gloves and guns waiting their turn in the aisle to put her out of her misery. McCroskey tells Kramer it is up to him to guide Ted to land the plane. However, Kramer and Ted were fellow fighter pilots during the war and a grudge exists between them. When Kramer tells Ted to disengage Otto, turbulence rocks the airplane. Otto wraps around Elaine’s chest until she breaks free. Kramer asks Elaine to take over the copilot seat and work the radio. In the cabin, the passengers demand answers. When Dr. Rumack tells them only one pilot is slightly ill while the other two pilots are at the controls, his nose grows like Pinocchio. On the ground, the press surrounds McCroskey and pumps him with questions. McCroskey tells them that a passenger, who is an experienced air force pilot, will land the plane. However, Ted has another war flashback that unnerves him. With his confidence gone, Ted places Otto in the pilot’s seat and leaves the cockpit. Dr. Rumack cheers up Ted with a story about a mortally wounded fighter pilot under his care named George Zip who, in his dying breath, talked about the importance of determination and perseverance even when the odds were bleak. George was a friend of Ted’s and Rumack’s story gives Ted the courage to land the plane. Ted goes back to the cockpit and tells Kramer there’s no time to waste. Elaine tells air traffic control the crew is preparing for their descent. McCroskey instructs all emergency vehicles to go to runway nine. Fire engines, cement trucks and a Budweiser beer delivery truck race across the tarmac. Elaine admires Ted’s sudden take-charge attitude and tells him how proud she is of him. As the plane descends, Kramer tells Ted to watch his speed, he is going too fast. The plane bounces up and down and side-to-side as it approaches the runway, Ted wrestles with the controls, as Kramer instructs him by radio. Ted pulls the brake out of the dashboard and throws it aside. The landing gear squeals against the runway while sweat pours down Ted’s face. Finally, the landing gear breaks off and the plane skids to a stop. The sick passengers are transported to the hospital by ambulance. As Elaine and Ted embrace, Otto winks at Ted and Elaine as he taxis down the runway. Otto takes off in the plane with an inflatable female autopilot at his side. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.