‘Airplane!’ Creators Reminisce About the Hilarious Film in a New Book

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Airplane! is one of those iconic and beloved comedies that surely wouldn’t be made in today’s culture. Released in 1980, Airplane! is a movie full of silly antics and satire and starred Leslie Nielsen, among many other stars. Now, the film’s writers and directors, David Zucker, his brother Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams (known together as ZAZ) are giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film in a new book called “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of ‘Airplane!’”

Abrahams spoke about why the trio decided to write the book now, 43 years after the film was released in theaters. He said, “The movie keeps going on and on. And it never kind of lost its audience and its audience has continued to grow. And I think each of us wanted to document what had happened, so that our kids and their kids and their kids, if they’re curious, can figure out what went on back in the ‘70s.” He added that they had the idea for the book over 10 years ago and have been working on it ever since.

AIRPLANE!, Julie Hagerty, Robert Hays, 1980

Paramount/Everett Collection

Airplane! is a parody of the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour! For fans of the comedy, the book takes a look at how the trio had the idea for the film as well as the setbacks and successes that eventually made it a hit. David Zucker said, “We just were totally committed to the concept of doing a comedy with all these great actors and no comedians, and making it look like a B movie. And so we had that vision, that goal in mind, and everything had to align with that — sets, costume, casting, the whole thing. And, fortunately, as we say in the book, we landed at Paramount and they were OK with it.”

AIRPLANE!, Leslie Nielsen, 1980

Everett Collection

Of course, times were different over 40 years ago and pop culture has changed drastically. A few years ago, David Zucker wrote an op-ed about how it is unlikely that Airplane! would be made in today’s world. There are several sketches that some have deemed offensive including the one where Leave It to Beaver star Barbara Billingsley translates two Black men speaking jive. Despite the newfound sensitivity, Airplane! remains one of those classic comedies that people love to rewatch over and over.

AIRPLANE!, (clockwise from bottom left) David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Howard Koch, Robert K. Weiss, Jim Abrahams, on set, 1980

Paramount/Everett Collection

The trio has not written a movie together since the first Naked Gun film in 1988. After writing their book, out now, they said they would love to collaborate once again on a new movie. Jerry Zucker concluded, “One of the great things I think for all of us about doing this book was being in a room together working on something, creating together, which we love. It’s like a drug. We just so enjoyed it.” Click here to purchase the book on Amazon. Let us know your favorite scene in Airplane! in the comments.

 Oh What A Year: 1980
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Oh What A Year: 1980

January 2020

Take a look back at our retrospect of the year 1980 where we celebrate the hottest in movies, music and TV.

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