The opinions expressed are the author’s own.
Have you ever heard your fellow pilot colleague saying: “We have our clearance, Clarence, what’s our vector, Victor?” Has a cabin crew ever asked you whether you would like chicken or fish, and subsequently tell you you should never eat the fish? Or, have you ever had your captain telling you, “Good luck, we are all counting on you” as you assume manual control of the airplane before landing, As if you had no idea what they were talking about, you have some homework to do! These lines were all from the famous movie “Airplane!”
There are very few movies that hold a special place in aviation folklore. Airplane! is one of them, amongst the likes of “Top Gun”, “Catch me if you can!” or the more recent ABC series “Pan Am”. These movies and TV series occupy a special place in the heart of aviators and aviation enthusiasts because they take place in settings that are very familiar to all of us, namely our workplace – the airplane.
Airplane! is surely (don’t call me Shirley!) the best parody of aviation to date and if you are a pilot and haven’t watched it, you will probably miss several jokes from the crew you’re flying with! You’d also miss out on a movie that is considered by many as one of the funniest films of all time. It’s weird and absurd, full of puns, double-entendres, random silliness and foreground as well as background dynamics. Most amazing of all, it is as funny now as it was back in 1980 when it was released! Yes, you read correctly, Airplane! just turned 40 but unlike you, it hasn’t aged!
Here are some funny facts about the movie that you probably didn’t know:
1. Leslie Nielsen was hired to be serious!
Leslie Nielsen, who played the doctor on board the aircraft, was hired because he wasn’t funny! Before Airplane!, he had only played serious roles in movies. Directors Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams hired him for the movie because they wanted a serious and stoic actor on board. They understood that for a good comedy to work, the main character had to be a straight-serious man; and they found one in Leslie Nielsen. Funny enough, after the movie Airplane!, Leslie actually became a legend of the spoof-movie genre, staring in many other comedies such as “Naked Gun” and “Dracula Dead and Loving It”. Many people don’t even know that he ever got to play serious roles! He was considered a ""closet comedian"" on set and pranked his fellow actors between shoots. During filming, he used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played co-pilot “Roger Murdoch”, actually got to fly a real airliner for a brief moment!
After the movie came out, a crew of a European airline realized Kareem was on board during a flight. They asked him to sit at the controls just so that the flight crew could say they had flown for real with Roger Murdoch! Also, he was deliberately cast as a reference to ex-professional footballer Elroy Hirsch who was cast as a pilot in the serious airplane disaster film, Zero Hour!
By the way, did you know that Kareem is still to date the highest-scoring NBA basketball player of all time with 38,387 points?
3. Kareem accepted the role against the purchase of an Oriental Rug!
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s agent didn’t accept the initial offer of $30000 for Kareem’s role in Airplane! He asked for $35000 because that was the price of an oriental rug that Kareem wanted to buy back then! And, he got it.
4. Airplane! lacks political correctness at times, and was banned from most airlines’ in-flight entertainment.
It’s not surprising that airlines did not really want Airplane! on their list of films for their in-flight entertainment. In fact, Aeromexico was the one airline that did purchase the film and dared to show it on its flights.
5. The directors appear in the film!
The three directors of Airplane! made several appearances in the movie, along with several of their family members. For example, the Zucker brothers appeared towards the beginning of the film as the incapable ground crew whose incompetence lead to an airplane crashing in the terminal. Mom Charlotte Zucker is the passenger trying in vain to apply her makeup. The Zuckers' sister, Susan Breslau, plays a ticket agent. Jim Abrahams is one of the religious fanatics Rex Kramer knocks over. And his mother is the woman initially sitting next to Dr. Rumack.
6. RIP Otto the Autopilot!
Otto, the large inflatable autopilot, got the plane to Chicago but was not able to land it. Sadly, Otto passed away and was deflated in director Jerry Zucker’s garage. He now has his own thumb in the garden. Still, he is popular. Case in point, Otto the autopilot has a Facebook page dedicated to him.
By now you probably understand that Airplane! is completely over the top, with a different gag happening every 10 seconds! Although 40 years have passed since its release, it is still one of aviation’s favorite movies and it will still get you rolling on the ground! Released by Paramount
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