The ultimate PILOT movie

Movies . . . one profession at a time
By RYAN STEWART  |  March 10, 2006

A HOSPITAL? WHAT IS IT? It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.Whether in the world of commercial airlines, the Air Force, or a futuristic world of intergalactic smuggling, those who fly planes for a living have long been well-represented in the cinema. While many of pilot films fall in the range of good to very good, it was startlingly easy to separate out the best from the rest. So: fasten seatbelts, turn off all electronic devices, and obey the lighted signs as we begin our initial descent by starting with . . . the ultimate PILOT movie:

Airplane! (1980)
    “I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.”
     “I speak jive.”
     “Tell that to George Zip”
     “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?”
    “Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!”

In a way, this is a bit of a ringer: not only do I consider this to be the best movie about a former fighter pilot being forced to land a commercial airliner following a series of calamities; it is also, in my opinion, the funniest and most inventive comedy of all time. Employing the services of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Peter Graves,  and Leslie Nielsen, it may be, further, the best-cast film ever. It wastes not a single opporunity to make a joke. And if you don't appreciate the resulting humor, well, you're an even bigger idiot than I am.

Honorable mentions:

• Top Gun (1986)
     “That's right Iceman! I am dangerous!”

By the way, armchair critics, you don't need to continue pointing out the homoerotic subtext of this film. It has been so often noted that everyone now seems to think homosexuality is part of the plot. Your observation is not original.

• Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
    “She’s fast enough for you, old man.”

Not that it’s in dispute, of course, but Han Solo is the single greatest pilot in cinematic history: super cool, smooth, and a relentless wiseguy. In a pinch, he could kick your ass in an old-fashioned turf-based fistfight, too.

The Right Stuff (1983)
     “I’m a fearless man, but I’m scared to death of you.”

Surely by now someone has postulated how long it would take Chuck Yeager's X-1 to complete the Kessel Run. As for the other astronaut films, they’ll get their due another time.

HM...Perhaps we should have let the Wookie win.Catch-22 (1970)
     “I’ll jump.”

They loaded up the cast to distract from (and compensate for) the fact that there was simply no way the film adaptation could be anywhere near as good as the book. And, for what it’s worth, it almost worked.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
     “Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

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