Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a timeless 80s comedy


Photo Credit: Photo via Paramount Pictures under creative commons license

Although rated R, Trains, Planes and Automobiles is relevant to viewers today despite being created in 1987.

By: Dylan Miller

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a 1987 Thanksgiving classic directed by John Hughes. It stars comedians Steve Martin and John Candy.


Neal Page is a somewhat uptight advertising executive who is trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving. When his scheduled flight gets rerouted to Wichita, he reluctantly pairs with Del Griffith, a talkative, yet lovable salesman. Throughout the film, they face unfortunate, yet hilarious mishaps throughout the film such as their cash being stolen, their train braking down, getting pulled over and unforgettable rental car issues.


Famous Comedians John Candy and Steve Martin. Martin has starred in many notable films, receiving 13 prime time Emmy award nominations. He won in 1969 for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He earned 5 Grammy Awards, 2 for Best Comedy Album(Let’s Get Small) in 1978 and A Wild Crazy Night(1979), for Best Country Instrumental Performance for Foggy Mountain Breakdown(2001), Best Bluegrass Album for The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo (2009), and for Best American Roots Song for Love Has Come for You (2013). He’s also been nominated for 6 Golden Globes for his leading roles. Martin’s co-star, John Candy was also nominated for a number of Emmy awards, receiving 9 nominations and 2 wins. Candy also earned a nomination for an American Comedy Award for this film. Unfortunately, Candy passed away from a heart attack in 1994.


It took 85 days to film Planes, Trains And Automobiles mainly in Batavia, New York and South Dayton, New York. One scene takes place in St. Louis and was filmed at Lambert International Airport and a scene in Illinois that is filmed at the Sun Motel. Hughes made a few rewrites during filming that made the amount of footage much larger than the original screenplay required. The first cut of the film was 3 hours and 45 minutes long. They cut a sub plot about Neal’s wife not believing him and thinking he’s with another woman.


The film’s soundtrack includes a mix of country and pop. The musical score by Ira Newborn includes extensive use of the song “Red  River Valley” including a cover of Johnny and the Hurricanes’ “Red River Rock.” A special instrumental version of “Power to Believe” by The Dream Academy was recorded at Hughes request. The instrumental is used as Del Griffith’s unofficial theme. A cover of “Every time You Go Away” is played over the end credits. Hughes originally planned to use Paul Young’s hit version but was declined by the record company.

Box Office

Planes, Trains And Automobiles opened in American theaters on November 25, 1987(one day before Thanksgiving that year), and finished 3rd for the weekend, grossing $7,009,482. The film reached 10,131,242 after 5 days and held a top ten spot for seven weeks. When it finished its 12 week run, it finished at $49,530,280 and the production budget was 15 million dollars.

Critics Opinions 

The film was greeted with critical acclaim upon its release,often considered a holiday classic. The film was featured in Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” collection. Eberts wrote “it is 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.”

Leonard Maltin called the movie a “bittersweet farce,” arguing that while the film was “hurt by an awful music score”, Hughes “refuses to make either one (Martin or Candy) a caricature—which keeps this amiable film teetering between slapstick shenanigans and compassionate comedy.” It received a 92% rating from Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews form 65 critics, with an average score of 7.9/10.

My Opinion 

Planes, Trains And Automobiles is directed, written and produced by John Hughes. Steve Martin’s Neal Page experiences a very unpleasant trip home for Thanksgiving. This all produces comedic gold for its viewers. Martin and Candy make a phenomenal comedic dynamic that is very fun to watch. For an unknown reason there aren’t many movies that focus on Thanksgiving.

This film is the opposite of that, the whole movie is about Neal getting home to enjoy the holiday with his family. The movie gets more and more crazy as it goes on. It starts out with a man desperately trying to leave New York. When he gets out of his pointless meeting, he has to compete with a man who remains nameless for a taxi during rush hour to get to the airport. When he nearly gets a cab, it’s taken by someone else, who he later sees at the airport. The man in the cab turns out to be Candy’s character, Del Griffith.

Del and Neal go on a journey and have their patience tested more than once, they nearly die on the road and in the pre-internet era, they’re forced to use their wits in the middle of the country without any money after they are robbed. It’s ending is very heartwarming and well executed. Neal finally in getting home, but just as he finally reaches his goal, he thinks of Del Griffith, a man less fortunate than him. He thinks of a new friend and brings him home for dinner.

Planes, Trains And Automobiles is a great film because it all builds up to something, at its core it sends a great message, beyond all the humor and craziness in the film it’s about understanding the troubles of those around you and having empathy. This movie is worth the watch.