“The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”
The nominal plot of the 1980 movie, Airplane! recounts the efforts of a stalwart flight crew trying to land a commercial airliner after spoiled fish incapacitates most of the crew and passengers.
I first saw the movie Airplane at the drive-inn on the edge of Brantford, Ontario (that’s in Canada) when it came out in 1980.
I thought it was stupid.
But that’s because I was more interested in the blond next to me.
When I saw Airplane again, I thought it was hilarious.
I’ve seen the movie so many times, I can better recite the lines from Airplane than nerds who do Monty Python sketches. And Leslie Neilson, good Canadian that he is, stole the show (he’s from Saskatchewan; that’s in Canada, his brother was deputy Prime Minister of Canada for awhile in the 1980s).
As reported in the N.Y. Times today, within months of its release in July 1980, Airplane! became the highest-grossing comedy in box office history, a distinction that held until “Ghostbusters” came along in 1984. And it remains one of the most influential. Its anything-goes slapstick and furious pop culture riffs can be seen in the 20-gags-a-minute relentlessness of “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Family Guy” and grab-bag big-screen parodies like “Epic Movie, “Date Movie” and the “Scary Movie” franchise.
Back in 1979, when “Airplane!” was being shot on Universal’s back lot in Los Angeles, it didn’t seem like a potential blockbuster. The three Wisconsin-born filmmakers were rather amazed that anybody would give them a budget — and $3.5 million at that — to make such a lark, one that had no big stars. A follow-up to their 1977 cult film “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” which they had written, this was an extended riff on “Zero Hour!,” a glum thriller from 1957 about an imperiled aircraft that set the template for the next half-century’s worth of disaster pictures.
Food poisoning can be awesome.