Widely regarded as one of the funniest movies of all time, 1980’s Airplane! was the first in a long line of “Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker” (ZAZ) projects (though, of course, the trio wrote Kentucky Fried Movie) and launched the careers of some of the most notable names in comedy. Loosely based on the disaster film Zero Hour!, Airplane! went on to gross over $83 million — incredible considering their budget was only around $3 million. It’s not easy to widdle the best quotes down to the top 10, considering almost anything said in the film is pure quotable comedy gold, but we are triers of things!
“It was a rough place – the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It’s worse than Detroit.” – Ted Striker
It says things that are not great about Detroit and that joke still feels relevant.
“It was at that moment that I first realized Elaine had doubts about our relationship. And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem.” – Ted Striker
Is this the best sight gag in the film that doesn’t include fellatio and a blow up auto pilot?
“Surely you can’t be serious” – Ted Striker
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley” – Rumack
The brilliance of this line, as is the case with all of Nielson’s ZAZ work, is his serious tone. There isn’t an inch of give that he’s in a spoof movie. Run far and fast if they ever reboot this film (or The Naked Gun films) and they try to sell the public on a comic actor. Maybe just run far and fast if they ever try to reboot this movie in general. How would that even work at this point?
“You ever seen a grown man naked?” – Captain OveurSticking with that point, Peter Graves is another serious actor who cashed in on the public’s perception of him as a straight man to do this film (same with Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges), and it’s really Graves who goes the furthest over the line as the former Mission Impossible star plays an undercover pederast and gladiator movie enthusiast. He also stood in beside Kareem while he kept looking off camera while telling Billy about the stress of battling Walton and Lanier, so that earns him even more respect.
“Shanna, they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ’em crash.” – Jack Kirkpatrick
I almost wish Jack Kirkpatrick were an actual pundit from the late ’70s, but he is not. William Tregoe was actually a character actor whose most notable work came in bit parts like this one, a role in Kentucky Fried Movie, and an appearance in The Gong Show Movie., which was actually co-written by Robert Downey Jr.’s father.
“Oh, stewardess! I speak jive.” – Jive Lady
In this scene, an elderly woman (June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver) assists the stewardess in translating for two black passengers in “jive talk.” It’s strange to think that one of the most classic moments from the film might not make the cut nowadays due to PC concerns but that is, of course, the case with a lot of comedies due to shifting views on what is and isn’t appropriate.
“Johnny, what do you make out of this?” – Steve McCroskey
“This? Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl…” – Johnny
Johnny was just trying to show off his artistic and creative talents, Steve.
In all seriousness, in a film that barely stops with the sight gags and the machine gun humor, it’s amazing that one actor can stand out as someone who stole the thing, but Stephen Stucker managed to pull that off as Johnny. That Stucker (who died at just 38 in 1986) really didn’t find another right vehicle after this is another amazing, albeit sad, thing.
“I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you.” – Rumack
No pressure or anything, though.
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking” – Steve McCroskey
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking” – Steve McCroskey
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines” – Steve McCroskey
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue” – Steve McCroskey
You get the picture, right?