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Planes, Trains And Automobiles' 12 Most Hilarious Moments Ranked

In November of 1987, the venerable filmmaker John Hughes wrote and directed a road trip comedy that was destined to not only be a holiday classic but one of the most rewatchable comedy films of all time: "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles." It stars Steve Martin as a successful advertising executive desperately trying to make it home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. Making his endeavor virtually impossible is a shower curtain ring salesman named Del played by the late John Candy. While Del is a nice and good-spirited man with a big heart, his head is full of mostly bad ideas that go catastrophically wrong.

The premise of suffering through terrible conditions to make it across the country is similar to another Hughes-penned road trip comedy classic "National Lampoon's Vacation" (as well as the subplot to "Home Alone"), but it strips away most of the more adult and crude material (minus an expletive ladened tirade in an airport about a rental car) to craft the sweetest and funniest Thanksgiving film ever made. With the exception of some culturally outdated material, most of the comedy still holds up almost four decades later, likely a result of Martin and Candy's incredible chemistry. To honor its legacy, we're ranking the funniest moments the film has to offer.

12. Why do I feel like I'm at summer camp?

After suffering through one of the most intense (and funniest) car accidents you've ever seen, Neal Page is ready to call it quits with his troublesome traveling companion Del Griffith. They find a motel that's willing to provide a room for Neal, but Del has to sleep in the skeleton of the rental car that was practically obliterated in the wreck. Feeling guilty, Neal invites Del into his room where they indulge in tiny bottles of liquor and chips.

This isn't a scene that's so funny it'll cause you to fall out of your seat with howls of laughter, but it's genuine. At this moment, they're just two guys putting aside their differences and having a friendly chat about life and love. It would've been nice if Del decided not to do a Jamaican accent, but it's thankfully quick and doesn't overpower the scene.

The funniest moment is when Del goes to the bathroom. He is suddenly struck with giggles and thinks it's funny to close the door and open it again. If you've ever stayed up too late and had a little too much to drink with a friend, then this scene will strike you as very true to that experience which goes a long way in making it so funny. Plus, it ends with Del getting shocked by a lamp which is an unexpected and funny button to the proceedings.

11. Reverse

Neal and Del resume their hijinks the morning after they bond over alcohol and junk food when it's time to hit the road again. There was enough snowfall during the night to temporarily trap their car husk. Neal tries to give the car a small push to get it out of the ice and snow, but it's too slippery and his feet can't find any traction. Their next tactic is to rock the car back and forth.

Neal makes his way to the front of the car as Del says, "Reverse!" The car reverses without delay and crashes into the entrance of the motel causing a ton of damage. When the glass and splinters settle, a befuddled Del simply says to himself, "Huh," before hauling himself and Neal out of there so they don't have to deal with the consequences. That subtle moment of reflection where Del is moderately surprised by what happened is perfectly timed.

Any other person would be losing their mind with worry. However, Neal and Del have destroyed so much property already that this is barely a drop in the bucket. As funny as that is, it's also just a great indicator that the peace they found the previous night was only temporary, and their trials aren't over yet.

10. 2-hour meeting

The opening of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" tells us almost everything we need to know about the character of Neal Page while using as few words as possible. We see him in a conference room, waiting impatiently as a man considers an ad proposal. He pulls out his plane ticket and tries to silently inform his colleague (played by previous John Hughes collaborator Lyman Ward) that he has to catch this plane.

The awkward silence is relentless. Just when you think it can't possibly go on any longer, it does. That is primarily because of the editing. Typically, in scenes where things are meant to feel awkward, we'll cut to a new angle to break the tension. This scene cuts to new angles a few times and it always feels like someone is about to speak, but they never do.

What this tells us about Neal is that his head and heart are somewhere else. He doesn't want to be in New York. All he wants is to be back in Chicago with his family, but the whims of other people keep getting in the way. So, not only is the scene incredibly funny (with great silent film vibes), it sets up the conflict which will carry through the rest of the film: Neal is in a race against time.

9. I'm Owen

After spending the night in a motel (which resulted in a fight), Del informs Neal that he should be able to get them on a train because some of the station employees are customers of his. Unfortunately, they were robbed in the night, so all they have left are some credit cards. Del puts in a call to someone named Gus who sends his son Owen (played by Dylan Baker) over to pick them up and drive them to the train.

Owen arrives and he is incredibly bizarre. He's so weird and unsanitary it's like he stepped out of an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." His cheek is full of chewing tobacco and consistently snorts in this exaggerated way that distorts his face and makes it look like he's about to scream. He even shakes Neal's hand with a palm slick with chew spit.

On top of that, he has a silent woman with him who is apparently so tough (despite her size) that her first baby "came out sideways" and she didn't even cry. The whole scene is uncomfortable and gross and pretty hysterical. Owen isn't even mean or antagonistic in any way, he's just so darn odd that it makes you cringe with nervousness.

8. Bad night's sleep

By the time Neal and Del are first forced to share a motel room together, Del had already "stolen" Neal's taxi, annoyed him on their flight, and left a bunch of soggy clothes and towels on the bathroom floor for Neal to step in. Anyone would have reached their breaking point hours before, but Neal manages to keep it together until Del's nighttime routine drives him up the wall.

Just think of every annoying thing someone could possibly do to keep you from falling asleep and that's what Del Griffith does. The bed is soaked in beer because they exploded after sitting on a vibrating mattress, he got to use a better pillow, and he makes every annoying sound known to man. Just like the meeting at the start of the film, all of Del's annoying tics and habits go on for so much longer than you'd expect and they only get worse the longer he goes. It's no wonder Neal loses it.

The fight that follows is actually pretty powerful stuff with some great acting from Candy, but part of the reason that portion of the scene works so well is because of Del's ludicrously obnoxious behavior prior.

7. Go with the flow

After ditching Del, Neal tries to get a taxi from Saint Louis to Chicago but decides to give the cab dispatcher (played by John Randolph Jones) a hard time by insulting the size of his anatomy. After getting punched in the nose for the insult, Neal falls to the ground where a car driven by none other than Del Griffith screeches to a halt.

Del tells the dispatcher he'll move the car if he agrees to help Neal up off the ground. The dispatcher does so by first stomping on Neal's groin with a loud crunch. The film cuts to some shots of Del driving while Neal nurses his nose. Del asks him, "Do you have any idea how glad I am I didn't kill you?"

Neal responds in a hilariously augmented voice that sounds completely unnatural. It's a play on the old gag of having characters speak with a high-pitched voice after being struck in a very personal area and it works because it's so unexpected. Had it sounded higher, it would've come off as weak and unoriginal. The fact that it sounds like he sucked down a bunch of helium before speaking into a crummy voice recorder is just different enough to make this well-worn joke hysterical.

6. You stole my cab

Following the two-hour meeting, Neal races to a taxi in rush hour against some guy played by Kevin Bacon (who also worked with Hughes on "She's Having a Baby"). He loses that contest but manages to pay a lawyer to let him have his cab for $75.00. While he negotiates the price, another party (Del) sneaks into the cab. Neal locks eyes with this startled intruder before the cab speeds away.

Later, after the flight has been delayed, Neal sits at the airport across from Del (who is reading a trashy novel called "The Canadian Mounted" in a public place) and recognizes him. It takes a second, but he eventually realizes who he is and the moment he figures it out is like something out of a cartoon. Instead of cutting to a flashback of Del in the cab, they recreate the moment right there in the airport.

From Neal's point of view, we see a disembodied taxi door floating in the air, and behind it is Del: sitting as if he's in a cab. He turns and is startled just like when Neal startled him earlier. It's a surreal and bizarre moment that sort of comes out of nowhere. We're expecting a flashback, but what we get is so much better.

5. Good luck returning the car

After driving between two humungous trucks on the highway Neal and Del pry their hands off of the dash and the steering wheel and retrieve the dropped luggage from the road. At first, Neal doesn't want to help, but Del makes such a childish show over how much his back hurts that Neal lends a hand.

They decide to catch their breath on his trunk just as the car bursts into flames thanks to the lit cigarette Del left in the backseat. Again, you expect Neal to fly off the handle and rip Del a new one, but he laughs instead. Since Del's the one who rented the car, this is one mess Neal doesn't have to pay for. Unfortunately, Del used Neal's credit card to rent the car.

That's when Neal loses it. He gets so angry he can barely speak. He repeatedly accuses Del of stealing his card and lightly hits the trunk out of frustration. He then demands Del give it back. When Del explains that he can't, Neal pulls him back and forth by his lapels, incapable of speech. The scene ends with Neal punching Del in the gut and then immediately falling on his face perfectly adding insult to injury.

4. My dogs are barking today

After the delay, Neal is able to board the plane but is furious to discover that he has been bumped back to coach. Not only that but he is forced to sit beside the guy who stole his cab. John Candy really shines in this scene. He embraces his character's annoying quirks, making you simultaneously pitty Neal for having the share an entire flight with this insufferable man while loving everything Del is doing and saying because Candy is just so charismatic.

Things start off fairly harmless with Del oversharing a little bit, but Neal very politely informs him he would prefer to read in silence. Del, of course, continues to talk about how much he hates people who don't know when to shut up with no self-awareness whatsoever. This scene is sort of the opposite of the opening. While that scene had long stretches of awkward silence, this scene is a masterclass in awkward rambling.

Just like all the funniest scenes in the movie, this is all about how the comedy builds. Just when you think Del is finally done running his mouth, he removes his shoes, begins moaning with relief as he massages his feet, and says, "My dogs are barking today." It is such a small and mundane phrase in a terribly uncomfortable situation that you laugh at how clueless Del really is.

3. You're going the wrong way

Neal makes the terrible mistake of allowing Del to drive while he gets some rest in the passenger seat that Del already broke. While he likely didn't want to risk their lives by driving while sleepy, it probably would've turned out better if he'd just forced himself to stay up.

Del is so into the music he's listening to he isn't really paying attention. Then his jacket gets stuck on the seat and he isn't able to remove it. In his attempt to do so, he winds up spinning temporarily out of control and they begin driving on the wrong side of the road. A neighboring car tries to warn them by yelling, "You're going the wrong way," but Del shrugs them off by assuming they have no idea where they're going.

This scene is funny thanks to how things get progressively worse and for Del calling the other drivers drunk. It's also funny to imagine this scene from the point of view of the drivers who see a man obviously driving on the wrong side of the street mocking them for being concerned citizens. The climax of the scene is a chaotic near-death experience that could have killed a bunch of people and features Neal imagining Del as the devil. It's pretty perfect.

2. May I see your rental agreement?

For most people, the scene where Neal drops a million F-bombs on a car rental agent (played by the wonderful Edie McClurg) at the airport is a dream come true. Chances are the majority of audience members have felt slighted by a company in some way. That means, they've probably wanted to lose their temper on anyone working for that company. So seeing Steve Martin furiously berate this innocent employee with a stream of expletives must be akin to wish fulfillment.

However, if you've ever worked as a customer service agent and know the anger and resentment that comes along with having zero power and authority while an endless barrage of customers tell you exactly how they feel about the company you work for (as if you can do anything about it), McClurg's performance is equally satisfying. As funny as it is to hear Steve Martin unload in the scene, McClurg's seething expression is just as hilarious.

When he's done demanding she get him a car right now, she asks him the question, "May I see your rental agreement?" He tells her he threw it away and she relishes getting to tell him just how out of luck he is with a perfectly placed F-bomb of her own.

1. Those aren't pillows

As we've pointed out a few times already, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" builds the comedic tension in its best scenes piece by piece until the absurdity overflows. There is perhaps no better example of this than the scene where Del and Neal wake up cuddling in bed. It isn't funny because two men are cuddling: it's funny because two complete strangers are waking up in such an intimate embrace.

The camera slowly pans over from the side of the bed to reveal Del spooning with Neal. His left hand is affectionately being held by Neal and Del nudges closer, stroking Neal's cheek with the tip of his nose. Then, he very sweetly gives Neal two quick kisses on the ear. They're such cute little smooches that you can imagine Del used to wake up this way with his wife.

Neal wakes up and asks why Del kissed him. Del asks why he's holding his hand. Then Neal asks where Del's right hand is. Del tells him it's between two pillows and Neal exclaims, "Those aren't pillows!" Both men get up and shake off the awkwardness. The scene should have ended there, but there's an unnecessary button where they try to act super masculine as if they're worried about coming off as gay. Sadly, that's a common feature of '80s movies. If you can acknowledge that misstep while still appreciating the rest of the scene, then this is easily the funniest moment in the movie.