Looks like you picked the right week: ‘Airplane!’ celebrates 35 years

Posted at 8:13 PM, Jul 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-01 20:13:58-04

An anniversary? What’s that?

It’s a yearly commemoration of an important date — and it’s very important right now.

Thirty-five years ago Thursday, “Airplane!” premiered in theaters. It wasn’t the first manic, boisterous comedy, nor was it the first film to parody disaster movies. (Remember “The Big Bus”? Of course you don’t, even though the bowling alley was a nice touch.)

But “Airplane!” caught the zeitgeist in that long-ago “Empire Strikes Back” summer of 1980, grossing $83 million (that’s about $240 million in today’s money) and ranking as the No. 4 film of the year, behind only “Empire,” “9 to 5” and “Stir Crazy.”

In the years since, it has proved endlessly quotable. “Surely, you can’t be serious?” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” “Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.” “I take it black, like my men.” “A hospital? What is it?” “It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.” “You ever seen a grown man naked?”

With its anything-for-a-laugh spirit — undergirded by a deadpan attitude (and lines) straight from the absurdly straight-arrow 1957 drama “Zero Hour!” — “Airplane!” has been notably influential.

Its frenzied pace has been one-upped by “The Simpsons” and “30 Rock”; it allowed for a whole cohort of “serious” actors, such as Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen, to play against type. (Among the performers in “Airplane II: The Sequel”: William Shatner, who hadn’t done much joking around until then … unless you count “The Horror at 37,000 Feet.”)

You can thank writers and directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker for the revolution.

“I’ll tell you right now,” Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary,” “Kingpin”) told The New York Times in 2010. “If the Zuckers didn’t exist, there would be no Farrelly brothers.”

Well, guess the foot’s on the other hand now.