By Elliot Panek,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Rapid-fire spoof with sexual jokes and cartoon violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Buried beneath the nonstop jokes and goofiness, the film's hero learns that the key to redemption is behaving courageously and putting the past behind him. He manages to shake off old fears and earlier cowardly acts by bravely taking command of a pilotless passenger plane and landing it safely.
Positive Role Models
The two leading characters are magnified heroes: undertaking impossible tasks, looking disaster directly in the eye, and saving lives despite their fear and ineptitude. Much of the humor in this film comes from taking traditionally cliched characters and stereotypes to new heights: a singing nun, a gay airline worker, two jive-talking African-Americans, Girl Scouts in a "brutal" fistfight, a substance abuser, even a sleazy pedophile.
Violence & Scariness
Exaggerated, comic action throughout. Despite the fact that a passenger airplane is in danger of crashing for most of the film, it's never to be taken seriously and there's no real suspense. Other cartoon violence includes: a plane crashing into an airport waiting area, suicides (by hanging, "hari-kari," and setting oneself on fire), treacherous falls, a dog attack, brutal fights, a stabbing, a drug overdose, and pilots becoming ill, vomiting, and passing out. It appears for a few moments that a young female patient may suffocate when her medication is accidentally stopped.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The frequent sexual innuendo, fast-paced sexual references, exaggerated romantic behavior, even brief nudity (bare breasts, a thong), all are meant to be funny and, in many instances, parody sexuality from other movies. A sequence reenacts the iconic shoreline love scene from From Here to Eternity. There are suggestive magazine covers, a silly sexual encounter between a woman and an inflatable vinyl airline pilot, and a brief shot of an obscured gynecological exam, and a slick pedophile makes sly verbal comments to a young boy (including "Have you ever seen a grown man naked, Tommy?").
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Occasional swearing and vulgar language: "ass," "crap," "goddamn," "s--t," "pisser," "hell," "sit on face." A section of a magazine display is labeled "Whacking Material." There are farts and fart jokes, and feces are used as a comic prop.
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Products & Purchases
Trans World Airlines, Coca-Cola, Tupperware, U.S. News & World Report, Tab, Gatorade, Boys' Life magazine.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Substance abuse is parodied throughout. The hero has "a drinking problem"; in his case, the problem is that the liquid misses his mouth when he attempts to drink from a glass. One character continually mentions that he plans to stop smoking, drinking, using amphetamines, and sniffing glue; he gives in to all of them on camera. Drinks are served in a bar and on the plane. A woman openly sniffs cocaine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Airplane! is a fast-paced, comic parody of the very popular disaster movies of the 1970s (Airport, The Poseidon Adventure). For the makers of this film, nothing is to be taken seriously, not even an impending airplane crash. Many of the drug and sexual references may fly over the heads of younger viewers. But absolutely nothing is sacred -- sexuality, violence, racial stereotyping, and substance abuse all are grist for their ingenious silliness. There's brief nudity (breasts), lots of sexual innuendo, and sexual sight gags, including a romantic interlude between a stewardess and an inflatable pilot, and scenes in which a pedophile comes on to a young boy. Characters fall out of windows, commit suicide in a variety of ways, fight, drink alcohol, sniff glue, snort cocaine, and use occasional coarse language ("ass," "s--t," "crap," "pisser," and more).
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Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Based on 43 parent reviews
18+ for Full frontal nudity
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Hillarious move but not for under 13
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What's the Story?
In AIRPLANE! when the passengers and crew aboard Trans American Airlines flight 209 fall ill from food poisoning, passenger and veteran aviator Ted Striker (Robert Hayes) must put his wartime trauma behind him and take the throttle. As fate would have it, his old flame and flight attendant, Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), is on board. Elaine's rekindled love for Stryker revitalizes his confidence, and, with the help of a couple of hilariously gruff air-traffic controllers, he flies the plane to safety.
Is It Any Good?
Without a doubt, this movie reigns as king of all '80s parody films. Leslie Nielsen (in a precursor to his turn as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun series), Robert Stack, and Lloyd Bridges appear to enjoy portraying characters that lampoon their previous dramatic roles. And, although the dialogue and references to films such as From Here to Eternity and Saturday Night Fever will appeal mainly to adults, site gags such as the jive-talking granny (played by Barbara Billingsley of Leave It to Beaver) and exchanges such as, "Surely you can't be serious?" "I am serious ... and don't call me Shirley," will have kids rolling on the floor.
Along the way, Airplane! mixes embarrassingly obvious puns and sight gags with surprisingly quick-witted knocks at everyday airport/airplane situations. Parents should note that most of the jokes featured in this film are at the expense of various religious and ethnic groups. They are not especially mean-spirited, yet some might interpret the film's off-color humor as offensive.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the use of humor in Airplane! and how several jokes are at the expense of women, people of color, war veterans, religious groups, and gays. How does context change the way we interpret comedy?
Parents also can talk about the nature of parody and how much of Airplane! is parodying other movies.
How well do you think the filmmakers succeed at nonstop jokes and silliness?
- In theaters: July 2, 1980
- On DVD or streaming: October 24, 2000
- Cast: Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges
- Directors: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sex and drug references.
- Last updated: December 21, 2022
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