How is Airplane! NOT one of the top 50 travel movies of all time?

 

The journey your mind can take you on can be more amazing than any plane, train or automobile. I recently saw a pair of twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes outside at New York’s LaGuardia airport.

First, I realized that nearly three decades have passed since smoking was banned on U.S. flights. Then I was reminded of the movie Airplane!, where Ted Striker was handed a ticket that was literally smoldering with smoke after asking for a “smoking” seat. For those of you not old enough or who choose not to remember, Airplane! is the 1980 slapstick comedy of an otherwise disastrous flight between Los Angeles and Chicago.

Airplane!

It’s hard to believe that more than 35 years have passed since Airplane!’s July 2nd, 1980 release date, grossing over $130 million on a budget of just $3.5 million. I assumed it to be “undisputed fact” that Airplane! is one of the top travel movies of all time. My journey continued as I Googled “best travel films”.  The first search result is from Conde Nast titled, ’50 Best Travel Movies of the Past 50 years’ released on January 7th, 2015.  Anything from Conde Nast is generally perceived as credible, but this list has major flaws.

Firstly, there’s no human ownership of this post as it’s written by “CNTraveler.com”…OK. More importantly, how can you have a list of 50 travel movies and not list Airplane! in the top 10 — let alone the top 50? Seriously? Films like Almost Famous, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Tracks all made the cut, but not Airplane! What about The Out of Towners? Both the original 1970 release starring Jack Lemon or the 1999 version starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn failed to make the cut. Are you kidding? Conde Nast puts together a list of the top 50 movies and doesn’t even mention Airplane! or The Out of Towners? It’s hard to believe.

OK, maybe my mind’s playing tricks on me and Airplane! wasn’t the commercial success I thought it was.  After all, it has been 35 years! I went back and checked the budget and box office sales for Airplane! as well as for the three movies that trumped Airplane! on the Conde Nast list. My findings are as follows:

Film Budget Box Office
Airplane $3.5m $130m
Almost Famous $60m $47.3m
The Talented Mr. Ripley $40m $128.7m
Tracks $12m $4.9m

Numbers don’t lie. Airplane! is one of the greatest box office success stories of all time across all genres (not just travel). The filmed grossed $130 million at a time when movie tickets were $3, and not the $8+ found in most theatres in 2016. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I believe Conde Nast got this one wrong.

Another mistake? The Out of Towners didn’t enjoy the same commercial success as Airplane!  but still belongs on the list. It covers almost everything that could go wrong on a trip to New York.

Honorable mention

Though not feature films, two travel themed sitcom episodes are classics and must be mentioned. “The Airport” is a 1992 Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine’s flight to JFK is cancelled, so they’re rebooked to nearby LaGuardia. There are only two seats left, one in first class and one in coach. Jerry explains he can’t fly coach because he’s flown first class before while Elaine hasn’t so she won’t know the difference. If you’re a flyer and haven’t seen this episode, do yourself a favor and watch it. Even 20 years later, it still holds up well.

Before Priceline.com, Hotels.com or Kayak, there was Alex Keaton (played by Michael J. Fox) and Keaton Manor. “4 Rms Ocn Vu” is a 1984 Family Ties episode where Alex, a teenaged aspiring entrepreneur, converts his family home into a hotel to raise fast cash. Alex doesn’t stop with renting his siblings’ rooms, but adds a bellman, valet parking, room service and a gift shop. The episode culminates when his father comes home early to find a kangaroo in the living room and a “billboard on Route 41.”  This episode is worth a watch if you’ve never seen it.

It’s been a while since a new travel comedy was released. (sorry, the most recent Vacation with Ed Helms doesn’t count). As travel continues to become more painful, can someone please give us a reason to smile again and release a new travel themed comedy? I hope Jerry and David Zucker are reading (fingers crossed!). And for the record, Jason Sudeikis was born to be the 21st century Clarke W. Griswald, not Ed Helms.

Lars Condor is the Managing Director of Passport Premiere.

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Comments (1)

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  1. Nick Nomi says:

    Great post! If I see another list of travel films with The Beach and Into the Wild at the top I may well go mad.

    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off did make the top 50 however – and with that I have to agree!

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