Hollywood Flashback: 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' Was No Turkey in 1987

Paramount Pictures / Photofest
From left: John Candy, Steve Martin and John Hughes on the set of the Thanksgiving classic 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'

Director John Hughes "was stepping out toward an older audience but in the same comic vein," says Sid Ganis, who back then headed marketing at Paramount.

If ever there was a Hollywood salute to torturous Thanksgiving travel, it was the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

THR was more than willing to accept the John Hughes comedy's premise that getting somewhere on a national long weekend is equivalent to entering a mobile purgatory. "If there are any carefree souls out there who don't yet have the heebie-jeebies about holiday travel," said THR, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles should put them in the same high state of hysteria the rest of us are in."

The setup for the Paramount film that mixed the genres of road trip, buddy comedy and holiday schmaltz had a control-freak marketing exec (Steve Martin, then 42) being forced into a three-day odyssey from New York to Chicago with a shower curtain ring salesman whom THR described as "a bubbling and bulging blabbermouth" (John Candy, then 37). Paramount chairman at the time Frank Mancuso describes the pair as "the ultimate odd couple."

For Hughes, the movie was a step toward a different audience from his earlier work, which included his teenagers trilogy Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. All three had been huge successes between 1984 and 1986.

"John Hughes had become absolutely famous as the spokesperson for that generation's youth," says Sid Ganis, who back then headed marketing at Paramount. "With Planes, he was stepping out toward an older audience but in the same comic vein."

The $30 million production was not the kind of huge hit Hughes had in the early '80s — it grossed $49.5 million domestically, or $110 million today — but is regarded as a classic today. Planes was one of the last films he directed, though he had a megahit writing 1990's Home Alone. He died from a heart attack in 2009 while out walking in uptown Manhattan. (Candy died a similar sudden death in 1994 while on location in Durango, Mexico.) Hughes was 59.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.