When the passengers and the pilots get food poisoning, there’s only one person who can land the plane – an ex-fighter pilot traumatized from his failure during a military mission. The perfect formula for a disaster movie.
A hit parody released in 1980, Airplane! (directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker) is considered a cult classic and named consistently on lists of the best comedies of all time. War vet and ex-pilot Ted Striker tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Elaine Dickinson, a flight attendant of airline Trans American. He hops aboard her flight from Los Angeles and Chicago, where the passengers and pilots fall ill and finds that he is the only one that can save everyone.
The Jaws theme song plays in the opening scene as the airplane fin propels through the clouds, kicking off the film’s ridiculous sense of humor. When the autopilot activates a blow up doll, the inflated toy is somehow able to navigate the plane. As Ted reminisces about his days in the military, we realize his “drinking” problem has nothing to do with alcoholism, but just his inability to put drinks in his mouth, throwing the liquid just on the side of his cheek.
The plot hysterically follows the airplane disaster film rulebook – oblivious passengers don’t notice unconscious pilots being dragged into a closet, a woman chases her loved one on the tarmac while hitting infrastructure, and the control tower supervisor can’t quit his vices (smoking, drinking, snorting coke, and sniffing glue). When passengers are asked,“Is there a doctor on the plane?” the doctor is found sitting deliberately with stethoscope in his ears.
The pilots’ names are Roger, Oveur, and Victor, which build a great setup for a hilarious intercom conversation as they confuse pilot-speak. The film also satirizes typical airport experiences. Computerized announcers get into spouse fights. Passengers sprint through the airport as their gate changes several times.
More than 30 years later, the comedy is still relevant with today’s disaster flicks Non-Stop (2014) featuring Liam Neeson as an air marshal and action thriller Snakes on a Plane (2006). If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud film while scrolling through Netflix, you can’t go wrong with Airplane!