8 Decades of The Hollywood Reporter

2012-39 END Airplane Set H

Clockwise from bottom left: Co-writers/co-directors David and Jerry Zucker, producers Howard Koch and Jon Davison and co-writer/ co-director Jim Abrahams on "Airplane!’s" set in 1980.

The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.

Decades before Paramount had Denzel Washington in Flight, the studio made a $3.5 million parody of highflying action films that The Hollywood Reporter said "will undoubtedly soar into the stratosphere of the year's big moneymakers." THR was right. Airplane! went on to gross $83 million ($200 million today) in North America alone, was 1980's fourth-highest-grossing film and spawned one sequel. THR said the film, starring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Leslie Nielsen, had "inspired silliness" (activating the autopilot meant an inflatable doll named Otto Pilot popped up) and "sends up almost every other airplane drama, disaster epic and turgid melodrama ever made." Co-writer/co-director David Zucker tells THR today that the script had been around for nearly five years when it was recommended to Paramount's then-president Michael Eisner while he was having dinner with an old friend who had a part-time job reading scripts. He bought it immediately. "I don't know what motivated me except that at the time everyone was making airplane movies," says Eisner now. "Films like Airport, based on the Arthur Hailey book, were as ubiquitous as superhero movies are today. And they kind of always worked." Zucker says that as first-time filmmakers, he and his collaborators Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams (who later did the Police Squad! series and Naked Gun movies together) "didn't have an especially good deal," but they did quite well on the film, joking "the studio couldn't hide the money fast enough."