The Best Lines From Airplane! The Movie That People Still Use Today

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

The comedy trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker have collaborated on some of the best slapstick and parody comedy movies of the last several decades. These include the “Naked Gun” series, the “Hot Shots” duology, and the last three entries in the “Scary Movie” franchise. Their most recognizable work is the 1980 comedy “Airplane!” a parody of similar airplane-themed disaster films, particularly the “Airport” series from the 1970s which focuses on a man afraid of flying who must land a plane after a series of outrageous events forces him into action, made even worse by some rowdy passengers and unhelpful plane staff.

Since “Airplane!” is a spoof film, none of what happens on the screen should be taken seriously. And while some of the film’s jokes and references can feel dated, there is no shortage of memorable lines and quotes throughout all 90 minutes of this hilarious comedy. Some of these lines are so good that you might even catch one of your friends and family quoting them to this day.

Here is a rundown of some of the best lines that the movie “Airplane!” has to offer. They’ree not only funny, but still instantly recognizable in today’s culture.

Surely, you can’t be serious? I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

We’ll start things off with what is easily the best line in the entire movie. After food poisoning grips both of the pilots and they are unable to land the plane, there is no choice but to let Ted Striker (Robert Hays) take the wheel in the hopes of getting everyone on board to safety. Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), the man who helped deduce the food poisoning on the plane, has but only one thing to ask Ted: “Can you fly this plane and land it?” A shocked Ted replies, “Surely, you can’t be serious?” And in the most serious tone possible, Rumack replies, “I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”

Leslie Nielsen, a frequent cast member of the “Naked Gun” films, deserves a lot of credit for delivering the line in such a straightforward manner to make it as funny as possible. This is just one of many instances in “Airplane!” where characters take something so literally and answer back with a straight response thinking it’s the right thing to say.

To make it even better, this joke is repeated later when Rumack tells Ted they’re running out of time. Ted asks, “Surely, there must be something you can do?” But Rumack has had enough and tells Ted, “I’m doing everything I can … and stop calling me Shirley.”

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

While Ted is up in the air trying to get over his fear of flying, air traffic control is struggling to keep everything together down below, and it’s not going well. Tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) comes in later in the film to assist Ted as much as he can, but even he can’t seem to handle all the chaos that being in the airport control tower has to offer. It becomes so much that Steve exclaims, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking.”

It’s a funny line on its own, but it’s made even better when Steve continuously bemoans how he shouldn’t have given up one bad habit after another thanks to the stress of trying to help the plane land. First, it starts with quitting drinking, then it morphs into quitting smoking, then it transforms into amphetamines, and then it escalates to not being able to sniff glue.

That last one is the true kicker that makes this one of the best recurring jokes in the whole film, but each line is made better when Steve does each one of these things every time he says the line, and yes, that includes sniffing glue. Perhaps Steve shouldn’t be the one helping land the plane if he is high on glue, but then again, it’s not like anybody else in the movie is good at their job.

But that’s not important right now

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

With so many people in “Airplane!” taking everything so literally, it’s surprising that they were able to land the plane safely in the first place. Dr. Rumack and flight attendant Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty), the object of Ted’s desire and the reason he boarded the plane in the first place, are great examples of this. In one of their first interactions together, Rumack is explaining the food poisoning situation to Elaine before it escalates into something serious. He tells Elaine that the plane must land as soon as possible and that some of the passengers need to be taken to a hospital. Elaine asks, “A hospital? What is it?” Rumack responds by saying, “It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

It’s nice to know that Dr. Rumack knows what a hospital is, but telling Elaine what the passengers were suffering from would have been much more helpful. Elaine isn’t immune to these intellectual blubs, either. In one of the film’s many flashbacks to Ted and Elaine’s time in the war, Elaine informs Ted that he got a letter from headquarters. When Ted asks what it is, Elaine tells him that it is “a big building where generals meet, but that’s not important right now.” Another flight attendant also does it when she directs Ted to the cockpit, telling him what it is rather than why he must go there.

I’ve been nervous lots of times

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

Ted Striker’s fear of flying didn’t stop him from getting on the plane, but his fears do tend to manifest in painful flashbacks of his time at war. When Ted first boards the plane, he is seated next to a cheerful elderly woman. Seeing that he is not in a good state, the woman asks if Ted is nervous, to which he replies “Yes.” When asking him if it’s because this is his first time flying in a plane, he misinterprets this and tells her that “he’s been nervous lots of times.” Misunderstandings like this are frequent in “Airplane!” and lead to some of the film’s best recurring gags.

The elderly woman Ted sits next to is just one of the many passengers to whom Ted tells his life story while on the plane. Unfortunately for Ted, his story is so boring that everyone he talks to ends up killing themselves in increasingly outrageous ways. The elderly woman is the first to go, hanging herself just as the first part of Ted’s story ends. Joking about suicide is never easy, but “Airplane!” does have a way of making some of the most controversial topics very humorous.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

The airport control tower in “Airplane!” is an absolute mess, almost as messy as the actual plane trying to land. When Steve McCroskey isn’t sniffing glue while on the job, nonsensical employee Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs (Stephen Stucker) isn’t making things better with all of his random comments. Sometimes he might be making random comments about how Gerald Ford is both “alive and dead” or about how they serve hot hors d’oeuvres at the Russian New Year, or he might be messing around in the office by unplugging the cord that connects to the railway lights. Or maybe he’s just so mesmerized by how the plane is so big and round and red that it reminds him of a “big Tylenol.”

There are many great Johnny moments, but his best gag is also one of the most simple. When Steve is looking at a map containing the weather briefing, Steve asks Johnny what he can make of this. Seeing the massive piece of paper in front of him, Johnny starts listing off all of the things he can “make” with this. “Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl,” Johnny says.

It’s a nice thought, but Johnny should focus less on making paper hats and more on trying to save the passengers on the airplane.

No, thank you, I take it black … like my men

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

Watching a little child saying an extremely inappropriate, and somewhat sexual, joke in an adult movie is always funny. Early in the movie, a child is handing out coffee to other passengers when he happens upon a little girl. When he offers her some coffee, he also offers her some cream to go along with her drink. Her response leaves both the little boy and presumably everyone who originally watched the scene in complete disbelief: “No, thank you, I take it black … like my men.”

It’s one of the greatest lines in the whole movie, but it’s best to just enjoy the comedic value that this line has to offer and not think about this joke a little too much. After all, it wouldn’t be wise to try and think about just how this little girl knows so much about Black men that she would be able to make a statement like this in such a calm and confident manner. Also, you just can’t help but wonder where this little girl’s parents are. Perhaps they may have had some influence on why she said this. Maybe she overheard it in a conversation, and if so, then the parents have some explaining to do.

Roger, Roger. What’s your vector, Victor?

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” is one of the most iconic comedy routines of all time. As two men discuss the players who are currently playing a game, one of them is unaware that each of the players’ names are words that you use to form questions. So whenever one of them asks the name of a player, such as which player is on first place, they are unaware that the player’s name is Who, leading to a series of repetitive questions that never get answered and escalating tensions between the two men.

There have been several variations of this routine over the years, and “Airplane!” features its own spin. As the plane begins to take off, Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), and Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore) are communicating with tower control. Unfortunately, Clarence can’t help but respond whenever someone says “Over,” Roger gets confused whenever a conversation ends with “Roger,” and Victor is constantly being asked about the vector.

“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?” We have clearance, Clarence.” “That’s Clarence Oveur, Over.” These are just some of the quotes that make this short sequence one of the funniest in the whole movie.

Alright, give me a Hamm on five, hold the mayo

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

As we’ve already discussed, “Airplane!” loves to play around with people’s names in order to get a quick laugh. Early in the film, Captain Clarence Oveur is on the phone with the Mayo Clinic telling him that they have a girl boarding the plane that is in need of a heart transplant and must be watched over and calmed down so that when the plane lands the girl will be able to receive the heart. Of course, since this is “Airplane!” we’re talking about, the office of the doctor on the other end of the call is filled with mayonnaise jars and the heart the little girl needs is right on his desk beating and bouncing around.

The visual gag comes to a close when the airport tells Clarence that he has an emergency call on the other line from a Mr. Hamm. Clarence responds the only way he knows how, by telling the operator to “Give me Hamm on five, hold the mayo.” Since this is one of the first gags in the film, it’s a perfect way to set up just how ridiculous the rest of the proceedings are going to be.

You ever been in a cockpit before? You ever seen a grown man naked?

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

There’s another instance in “Airplane!” where a small child gets caught in a very adult joke, but this one is even raunchier and goes on several more times. Little Joey has made his way up into the cockpit and is causing trouble for the pilots. In addition to getting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to break character from pilot Roger Murdock, Captain Oveur begins asking Joey some very strange questions. While asking Joey if he’s ever been in a cockpit before is standard, and Joey’s response that he’s never been on a plane before is standard, Oveur’s next question is a bit stranger: “You ever seen a grown man naked?”

You just can’t help but cringe and laugh at the same time with this joke, but it gets even worse when the questions keep coming. Oveur follows this up by asking Joey if he “likes gladiator movies” or has “ever been in a Turkish prison before” or if he “hangs around a gymnasium.” Poor little Joey didn’t know how to answer those questions, but it’s best that he doesn’t pick up on what Captain Oveur might have been implying.

And all of this happened while Murdock/Abdul-Jabbar was sitting right next to them, still seething over Joey’s comments about his basketball career.

By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

Elaine might not be the sharpest tool in the shed (nobody in the movie really is), but at least she means it when she wants to help. But even she had to admit that saying something like this was a bad idea. When both of the pilots wind up with food poisoning and the plane experiences some tough turbulence, many of the passengers are starting to get restless. Elaine eventually goes on the mic and tries to calm the audience by assuring them that air pockets are the reason for the turbulence.

But Elaine ends her speech by asking the passengers if there is anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane. Everyone freaks out, and the peace is quickly ended. The freakout is funny on its own, but it’s made even better by the strange number of passengers on board. From eccentric nuns to barely intelligible jive performers, the people aboard this Trans American flight are not the type of people you see every day and are just as ill-equipped to handle the high-stress situation of a plane incident just like Elaine is.

And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem

the best lines from airplane! the movie that people still use today
Paramount Pictures

Ted went through a lot of hardships before the events of the film, much of them happening during his time in the war. The end of his relationship with Elaine, driven by her desire to return home and make a quiet life for the two of them, is what really drove Ted into the state he is in. The moment that Ted realizes that he might lose the love of his life, as he recalls in one of his many flashbacks, is when he can trace the root of his drinking problem. “And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem.”

But his isn’t a typical drinking problem where he consumes too much alcohol: It instead results in Ted taking whatever drink he has in his hand and splashing it all over his face. Ted does this several times throughout the film, with anything but actual alcohol. Such a simple joke that ends up being so funny. And after failing such a basic concept so many times, it’s no wonder that Elaine decided to leave him.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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