So it turns out that the Leslie Nielsen classic Airplane! was actually a satirical remake of the 1957 aeronautical drama Zero Hour!. As seen in this video comparison, many of the lines in Airplane! were lifted wholesale from Zero Hour! (and made funny).

But how weird/fantastic is it that Airplane! stands on its own as one of the best comedies ever made, when by my calculations 93% of the people who’ve seen it have never seen the source material? That the only reason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shows up as the copilot in Airplane! is that in Zero Hour! the corresponding part was played, equally inexplicably, by football star Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch — but Airplane!’s writing is so good none of that even matters? Has this happened before?

Wikipedia says:

Sometimes the reputation of a parody outlasts the reputation of what is being parodied. For example, Don Quixote, which mocks the traditional knight errant tales, is much better known than the novel that inspired it, Amadis de Gaula (although Amadis is mentioned in the book). Another notable case is the novel Shamela by Henry Fielding (1742), which was a parody of the gloomy epistolary novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson. Many of Lewis Carroll’s parodies of Victorian didactic verse for children, such as “You Are Old, Father William”, are much better known than the (largely forgotten) originals. Stella Gibbons’s comic novel Cold Comfort Farm has eclipsed the pastoral novels of Mary Webb which largely inspired it. In more recent times, the television sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo! is perhaps better known than the drama Secret Army of which it is a parody (although a full appreciation of the humour largely depends on a knowledge of the earlier work).

I kind of fell asleep in the middle of reading that, and when I woke up, Jimmy Wales was licking my face. But it appears the answer is yes: this kind of thing happens all the time.

The important thing, though, is that it’s impossible to talk about Airplane! without sounding really excited! Airplane!!!

Ok, this is just the best thing I have ever seen. Watch and enjoy.

Interesting Note: The actor playing the pilot who talks Stryker down in Zero Hour! (the part later spoofed by Robert Stack) is Sterling Hayden - who played Brigadier Gen. Jack Ripper in another great film, Dr. Strangelove (which itself parodied the film Fail Safe).