Airplane! still stands as one of the funniest movies ever made. It is a parody of the airplane disaster movies which were popular for a time. The film follows a flight which is put in danger when a severe bout of food poisoning incapacitates the pilots and many passengers, and the desperate efforts to land it safely. Of course, the movie doesn't take that premise seriously at all, only using it for an excuse to deliver some wild humor.
Part of what makes such a memorable comedy is the incredible amount of jokes they throw at the audience. You are hardly done laughing at one joke before another even funnier one comes along. The movie has become a comedy classic and features some of the funniest, most memorable lines in movie history. Here are the most hilarious quotes from Airplane!
10 "Wait a minute. I know you. You're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."
One of the most recognizable faces in Airplane! is someone not usually known for acting. Kareem Adbul-Jabbar was a famous basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers at the time and he had a supporting role in the film as one of the pilots of the doomed flight.
Seeing Kareem pop up is a thrill for the audience, but it gets even better when he gets called out. While Kareem is trying his best to do the scene, someone recognizes him as the famous athlete. He tries to deny it at first, but when they start talking trash, he break character. It's a hilarious moment of breaking the fourth wall.
9 "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now."
So much of the humor of the film relies on silly misunderstandings. The rapid pace of the film and the absurd amount of jokes might make you miss some of them, like this subtle but hilarious moment.
After Dr. Rumack assesses the situation with the sick passengers, he tells the stewardess that they need to land and get these people to a hospital. Concerned, she says "A hospital? What is it?" So, a straight-faced Rumack explains what a hospital is. Perfect dumb humor.
8 "I just want to tell you both, good luck. We’re all counting on you."
Recurring gags are something that makes Airplane! so much fun. While a line or moment might not seem funny at first, the more it repeats itself or comes back into the story again and again, the funnier it gets. Pretty soon, you're laughing hysterically.
As Ted and Elaine attempt to land the plane, Rumack pokes his head into he cockpit and gives them some simple words of encouragement, "I just want to tell you both, good luck. We're all counting on you". As the plane begins to lose control, he sticks his head in and repeats the same line. Finally, once the plane is safely landed, he sticks his head in again and says the same thing. It's random, bizarre and hilarious.
7 "By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?"
Airplane! really did pick the perfect sub-genre of films to parody. All the tension of those airplane disaster movies is replaced by the movie pointing out how silly the premises are.
With all the pilots taken out by food poisoning, the remaining crew try to figure how to land the plane safely while keeping everyone calm. Elaine addresses the passengers with a calm and reassuring announcement before asking for any pilots present, which turns the whole plane into a panic.
6 "Calm down! Get a hold of yourself."
The film does a great job of taking small, recognizable moments from films like these and twisting them into absurdity. For instance, disaster movies like this always seem to have that one character who can't deal with the situation and begins to freak out. That person usually gets a slap in the face as a way to calm them down.
That's probably not the best method of calming someone and Airplane! seizes on that ridiculous idea. As one passenger begins to lose it, characters take their turns delivering the rough calming method, shaking her and slapping her. It goes on to reveal everyone on the plane is lined up with various weapons, waiting for their turn.
5 "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."
Lloyd Bridges is an acting legend with so many classic roles in his career. However, he is probably most known for his scene-stealing work here as the gruff and stressed tower control supervisor, McCroskey. As he deals with the increasingly difficult situation of the doomed airplane, there is a running gag about his many bad habits.
McCroskey starts off by saying, "looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking," a pretty clichéd line. Later he remarks about quitting drinking as well. Then it's pills. By the time the joke lands on sniffing glue, McCroskey is high as a kite.
4 "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"
Sometimes it's hard to even imagine how the writers of this movie came up with these lines. And the ones that seem the most outlandish are among the funniest. When a young boy comes to the airplane cockpit early in the flight, Captain Oveur tries to give the kid a friendly welcome, then proceeds to ask him a series of very inappropriate questions.
The exchange starts innocent enough, with the captain asking the boy, "you ever been in a cockpit before?" From there, the direction he takes the conversation is hilariously unexpected. The line about gladiator movies is so random in an already very strange scene, it's impossible not to laugh.
3 "And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem."
As classic as some of the lines are on their own, many of them serve as the perfect set up for an incredible sight gag. Few movies have featured as many visual jokes as Airplane! or done them so well.
One of the best gags is when the film's hero, Ted, is explaining his dark past. His experience in the air force left him haunted and, like many brooding movie heroes, he explains that he developed a drinking problem. Ted then takes a drink and completely misses his mouth, spilling the drink all over his head. It's another silly joke that works so well.
2 "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Leslie Nielsen once made a career with small supporting roles in dramas, but Airplane! changed everything. As Dr. Rumack, Nielsen plays the part completely seriously, which only makes the whole thing that much funnier. Every line is delivered with a straight face, no matter how ridiculous it might be.
One of the movie's most famous lines comes as Rumack asks Ted is he can fly the plane. Shocked, Ted says "surely you can't be serious," to which Rumack responds with the iconic "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley." While the line is certainly funny, Nielsen's stone-faced delivery makes it a classic.
1 "Well, I'll give him another twenty minutes, but that's it!"
Post-credit scenes are all the rage these days, but Airplane! perfected the use of them back before it was cool. Near the beginning of the film, Ted is working as a cab driver and heads to the airport to try to talk to Elaine. As he does, he leaves his customer in the backseat with the meter running.
Ted unexpectedly boards the plane and the adventure unfolds. And the film periodically cuts back to the poor man still waiting in the cab. After the credits roll, the movie sneaks in one more joke as we see the man still waiting and beginning to suspect his driver might not return. It's a forgotten gag that gets one of the biggest laughs.