Airplane! opens with a spoof of another hugely popular movie of the day: Jaws. The filmmakers use legendary composer John Williams's iconic theme music from the film to set an ominous mood.
But instead of a pectoral fin of great white shark lurking in the ocean, we see the rudder of an airplane sticking up from under cloud cover.
From this opening sequence we know two things. One: this is a disaster movie of sorts. Two, it's a spoof, brimming with pop culture allusions and self-referential humor.
The plane lands in Los Angeles beneath the opening credits, to the tune of composer Elmer Bernstein's dramatic score.
We watch as our cast of characters arrives at the airport—including our protagonists Ted Striker, a cab driver, and Elaine Dickinson, a flight attendant—while overhearing a heated conversation between two sentient automated voices about the purpose of the white and red zones.
From the get-go we're treated to a bevy of memorable sight gags, from prosthetic arms and legs getting caught by the metal detector, to negligent workers on the tarmac, all preparing us for this style of visual jokes and puns that will permeate the film.