The 1980 movie, “Airplane!” remains one of the great comedies of all time. To this day, many people think it was a satire on the “Airport” disaster movies of the 1970s. While there were elements of that, its origin actually goes back further, to 1957’s “Zero Hour.” That movie (starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden) was a mediocre drama about a passenger forced to take control of a flight when the cockpit crew became sick.
For “Airplane,” writer/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker didn’t just write a parody of the original movie. They bought the rights to the screenplay, then used much of its dialogue verbatim, with additional jokes and characters added. Then, most importantly, they told everyone in their cast to play it straight, no matter how silly their lines were. The deadpan performances — by Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Barbara Billingsley — combined with what can only be described as wacky shenanigans did for disaster movies what Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” had done for westerns.
To understand how much “Airplane!” owes to “Zero Hour,” check out this side-by-side comparison edited by Mason Wood (if it doesn’t show up in your browser, watch the video here).
[Hat tip to Reed Martin for the link]