Have you ever watched the hilarious holiday classic “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”? Starring Steve Martin and John Candy, this 1987 movie has kept audiences chuckling over the winter months for 35 years. The film remains a timeless classic thanks to its honest depiction of holiday travel and interpersonal challenges; its acclaim spans decades. Let’s discuss how the movie was made and it stayed influential for over three decades.
“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” follows Neal Page (portrayed by Martin) and Del Griffith (portrayed by Candy) on a three-day odyssey before Thanksgiving. Page is a temperamental marketing executive who’s trying to return to his family in Chicago so they can celebrate Thanksgiving together. Griffith is a nice, yet annoying shower curtain ring salesman traveling across the country. The two have completely different personalities, yet work through their differences in an attempt to get Page home for Thanksgiving.
The movie is one of the many successful projects directed by John Hughes, the king of 1980s and ‘90s comedies. Unsurprisingly, the story is based on events from Hughes’s life. Before his career took off, he worked in a similar business to Page as a “marketing wiz.” Hughes faced a similarly unfortunate traveling experience during which he got stuck in multiple states across the country. It didn’t require much effort for Hughes to broaden his horizons, as it only took him three days to write a screenplay for “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” The film was originally planned to be directed by Howard Deutch of “Pretty in Pink,” but Hughes decided to direct it himself once he learned that Martin had signed onto the project.
Filming took place over 85 days, the comedy was shot in New York as there was no snow in Chicago at the time. According to the film’s editor, Hughes was constantly making rewrites to the screenplay, resulting in an original runtime of three hours and 45 minutes. Eventually, the movie was cut down to a rough standard of 92 minutes after abandoning a scene where Page’s wife accuses him of cheating amid the traveling distress.
Interestingly, Martin disliked the length of the script, as he had written his own screenplays throughout his career. He thought that the script was way too long for a comedy; nevertheless, when he asked Hughes which parts would be cut during shooting, Hughes was confused by the question. Despite previous claims, Martin later stated that the film’s first cut was actually four and a half hours long.
Even with the numerous edits, the film has its fair share of iconic moments. One outstanding scene features Page getting deserted at the airport parking lot after attempting to rent a car. He is utterly frustrated by the gruesome amount of walking required to reach the desk of the rental company. This mounting rage culminates in Page cursing out the receptionist for his struggles with getting a new car. If the film did not include this scene, it would have received a “PG-13” rating at the time of release.
Another tense scene shows Page and Griffith driving on the highway at night. A driver going in the same direction is yells out that the two are going the wrong way. Believing that the other driver is drunk and clueless, they ignore the obvious warning. However, they soon realize their mistake as Page and Griffith find themselves wedged between two semi-trucks. In the hilarity and chaos, the camera cuts from shots of Page as a “skeleton” and Griffith as the “devil.” Miraculously, they both survive, despite their car getting scratched and their luggage getting catapulted into the night.
While these scenes don’t seem inherently funny on their own, understanding them in context makes the film incredibly hilarious. The movie explores the struggles and challenges that come with holiday travel and brilliantly showcases those trials through two clashing personalities. Argen Ulgen summarized the film best, “the nostalgic beauty of Planes, Trains and Automobiles — aside from a delicious ’80s synth score — is its fleshy, alive representation of different economic classes having to deal with one another absent easy technological escapes.”
“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” became a critical success upon release. With a reported budget of $15 million, the movie grossed over $49 million at the box office. Notable film critic Roger Ebert praised the film for being “perfectly cast and soundly constructed, and all else flows naturally. Steve Martin and John Candy don’t play characters; they embody themselves. That’s why the comedy, which begins securely planted in the twin genres of the road movie and the buddy picture, is able to reveal so much heart and truth.” Martin and Candy have also cited “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” as their favorite film.
In 2020, Paramount announced a remake of the movie. Will Smith and Kevin Hart are set to play Page and Griffith, respectively, and Ayesha Carr of “Brooklyn 99” will write the script. As of 2022, no further details have been announced in regard to the remake.
The world of comedy would be unrecognizable without Hughes’ influence, and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” has to be one of his best works. The film is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that leaves its audience equally stressed and delighted as they chuckle over Page and Griffith’s mishaps. Page’s struggle to embrace a blundering oaf of a man is an incredible emotional rollercoaster; it’s well worth watching over the holidays.
Since this year marks the 35th anniversary of the film’s release, Paramount has confirmed that a 4K Ultra HD version will be released on Blu-Ray. This remaster will include over an hour of never-before-seen footage that was previously believed to have been lost to time. If that doesn’t sound worthwhile, take the time to watch the original version and see how the heartwarming hilarity of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” is the perfect way to start off the holiday season.