Study Guide

Airplane! Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Ted Striker is a retired fighter pilot who hasn't been able to get his life back on track after experiencing trauma during the war. His romantic interest, Elaine, has fallen out of love with him due in part to his inability to adjust back to normal life and take responsibility for his own well-being.

Call To Adventure

When Elaine, a flight attendant, boards a plane to Chicago, Ted must find enough courage to purchase a ticket and follow her on board in an attempt to win her back despite his terror of flying.

Refusal Of The Call

After the plane's pilots fall ill, Ted becomes the only healthy person left who could potentially land the plane. But due to his anxiety, he's paralyzed by fear and reluctant to help.

Meeting The Mentor

Dr. Rumack is called into duty first to look after the sick passengers. A seasoned veteran of crises far and wide, he's the only person on board who can remain cool under fire. He offers his calm, unwavering assistance to Ted.

Crossing The Threshold

With the pilots unconscious, and no other options remaining, Ted finally agrees to step up and land the plane. From here on out, it's literally do or die.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

We meet Steve McCroskey and Rex Kramer, who provide their flight expertise in the hopes of helping Ted get the plane down. Dr. Rumack, too, offers his assistance and moral support.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

With Elaine by his side in the cockpit and Kramer in his ear, Ted now has the support he needs to do whatever it takes to land the plane.


As the weather outside gets worse and the situation deteriorates, Ted's able to disengage the autopilot and start the manual descent.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Ted, winning back Elaine's love and respect, has the confidence he needs to tackle this seemingly impossible mission.

The Road Back

The plane's descent is tumultuous; everyone's lives depend on Ted's ability to perform in this one moment.


Against all odds, Ted gets the plane safely on the ground, successful in crossing the final threshold back to home.

Return With The Elixir

Upon landing the plane safely and saving the day, Ted of course gets the girl; presumably they live happily ever after.

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