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Airplane! made quite the splash in 1980. It grossed more than $158 million and created a comedy classic with endless quotes for fans to memorize.
1. Graves first said no.
After reading the script, Peter Graves told the Airplane! writers, “This is the most disgusting piece of trash I have ever read in my life.” Their response: “Thank you.” The team was eventually able to talk Graves into it, and he appeared in the film’s sequel as well. “I went into this with great trepidation because I didn’t know whether it was really going to work or not,” he said years later.
2. It parodied a real movie.
Zero Hour! (1957), starring Dana Andrews, was the inspiration for Airplane! Both films feature plots about an ill-equipped man who must fly a plane after the other pilots become ill. In fact, the line “I need somebody back there who not only can fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner” (among many others) appears in both films. Just to be sure they weren’t sued, the writers bought the rights to Zero Hour! for $2,500. Airplane! also pokes fun at the Airport film series from the 1970s.
3. The studio wanted comedians.
Paramount Studios envisioned Bill Murray or Chevy Chase in the film. However, the Airplane! team wanted serious actors delivering the goofy lines. Co-director and screenwriter David Zucker said, “I think the studio most likely green-lit it thinking this was Animal House on an airplane, and it turned out to be totally different from what they imagined.”
4. A Dracula star could have been the doctor.
After hosting Saturday Night Live, Christopher Lee was asked to be in Steven Spielberg’s 1941. It was because of that film that he turned down Airplane! He later said, “That was a big mistake.” The part of Dr. Rumack was also rejected by Dom DeLuise and Jack Webb before it went to Leslie Nielsen.
5. It was Hagerty’s debut film.
Airplane! was the first film that Julie Hagerty did. Shelley Long and Sigourney Weaver also auditioned for the role. After the film’s release, Hagerty was suddenly recognized on the street. She said, “Somebody asked me for my autograph, and that had never happened before. So, I got nervous, and I’m dyslexic, so I signed it, ‘West bishes, Julie Hagerty.’”