Top 10 Movies: #10 – Airplane!

Starting the list from the bottom, my tenth favorite movie is the purest comedy on the list, and my personal pick for the funniest movie ever, the absurdist 1980 Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker farce Airplane! A broad parody of disaster films, Airplane! follows the misadventures of a hapless former pilot forced to take over the helm of a passenger jet (when a bout of food poisoning takes out the real captain and crew). The plot is besides the point, however, next to the gag-a-minute laughs and endless supply of quotable lines, and while it isn’t quite as over the top crude as the more modern comedies it inspired, it does have plenty in it to offend –and entertain –people of every age, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.

The key, in my opinion, to a good parody, is to take on the strengths of the original source, and add humor. As is well-known, it doesn’t pay to parody a comedy, or source material that is already too exaggerated. The best target is something well-crafted, but self-important and humorless.

Having never seen the original film, Zero Hour! from which Airplane! purloined its central characters and plot, I can’t directly judge how well it met those criteria, but much of what sets Airplane! above the pack is the intrinsic interest of the underlying melodrama, as estranged lovers rekindle their romance against the backdrop of an endangered jumbo jetliner. This minimal grounding in emotional reality gives the otherwise featherlight farce just enough weight to make it feel satisfying and complete.

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