Planes, Trains and Automobiles Trivia: 10 Surprising Facts

Movies to Watch: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Paramount Pictures

One of the funniest and warmest comedies of all time, 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles sees John Hughes, John Candy and Steve Martin at their very best. Following a flight cancellation, the film follows stern, clockwise marketing executive Neal Page struggle to make it home to Chicago in time to spend thanksgiving with his family. The journey isn’t made any easier when loud, obnoxious but lovable shower curtain salesman Del Griffith tags along for the ride. 

Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the film…

1) The film was inspired by John Hughes’ real journey from hell

John Hughes wrote the script in just 3 days. But he didn’t have to think too hard to come up with the plot for the film. Just like Neil Page, the writer and director was trying to fly from New York to Chicago, but ended up grounded in Wichita, and it took him 5 days to get home. We wonder if he had to team up with a shower curtain ring salesman. 

2) Neil’s tirade of profanity is the only reason the film isn’t a PG 

The film would’ve gotten a PG rating if it wasn’t for one scene in particular. Neil’s tirade of abuse in the rental shop features a whopping 18 ‘f***s’. This pushed the age certificate way up, and drove the film away from being a family flick. As bad language isn’t used anywhere else in the film, it definitely makes Neil’s rageful explosion in this scene all the more powerful! This scene is also one of the deciding factors that made Steve Martin agree to play the part. 

Steve Martin as Neal Page in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Paramount Pictures

3) She’s having a baby 

Kevin Bacon famously has a cameo at the start of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where he races Neal to a cab down a busy New York street. Oddly, though, later on, when Neal is on the phone to his wife, she is laying in bed watching She’s Having A Baby, another film by John Hughes, which didn’t actually come out until a year after Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film stars Kevin Bacon and John Candy has a cameo. That’s a paradox waiting to happen. 

4) Footage was used from Airplane! 

It’s nothing new for studios to save a little money here and there by reusing footage from other films. So if you thought the shot of the plane flying through a storm looked familiar, then it’s probably because it was also used in Airplane! – another comedy from Paramount Pictures.

5) Neal’s house was built from scratch for the film 

The production spent $100,000 constructing the 7 rooms that make up the interior of Neal’s house. The sets took 5 months to build. Paramount Pictures were furious at how much time and money it took; particularly as the sets only feature for a few seconds in the finished film. 

6) Hughes told ‘Owen’ to spit in his hand 

One of the funniest moments in the film comes when Del and Neal are introduced to Owen, an unappealing redneck who is tasked to drive them to Wichita to catch a train. Hughes made them film the introduction several times, but wasn’t happy with Neal and Del’s reactions to Owen. So, Hughes secretly told the actor playing Owen to wipe spit on his palm before shaking Steve Martin’s hand.

Martin is a terrible germophobe and the disgust you see in his face on screen is 100% genuine. After wrapping the scene, he immediately ran off set to sanitise his hand. 

RELATED: Planes, Trains and Automobiles Quiz: How well do you remember the Thanksgiving classic?

7) There’s a secret cut that’s over 3 hours long 

Hughes filmed one hell of a lot of material for the film; resulting in 3 hours and 40 minutes of footage, which was then enormously cut down for the final release. Only one deleted scene – where Del and Neal have a meal on the airplane – has been released. The rest of it is locked away in the Paramount Vault. 

8) They purposefully made the rental car look like the Griswold station wagon 

In yet another nod to a separate John Hughes movie, the rental car that Del secures with Neal’s credit card was designed to look like the famous station wagon from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Another disastrous road trip comedy, 1983’s Vacation starred Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold; a frantic father who stubbornly drives his family cross country to visit the theme park Walleyworld. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch! 

'Those aren't pillows' Neal Page and Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Paramount Pictures

9) Elton John was brought in to write and perform the theme song 

Paramount brought in none other than Elton John to write and perform the film’s theme song. However, they demanded that the rights to the song would become their property. Elton John’s record label wasn’t happy with this, and the singer left the project. This resulted in Paramount going with a cover of Paul Young’s Every Time You Go Away instead. 

Those aren’t pillows!

Neal Page

10) Hughes originally wanted Tom Hanks and John Travolta 

It’s hard to imagine anyone apart from Steve Martin and John Candy filling the roles of Neal Page and Del Griffith. They work together beautifully. However, when John Hughes first considered casting for the film, he had a very different pair of actors in mind.

For sensible, no-nonsense marketing executive Neal Page, he wanted Tom Hanks. But Hanks was too busy filming Big at the time. And for lovable blabbermouth Del Griffith? Hughes wanted John Travolta. However, Paramount Pictures refuses to cast Travolta, calling him ‘box office poison.’ 

There you have it – 10 things you didn’t know about Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles trailer