WolfmanOz at the Movies #19

1970s Disaster Movies

I’d imagine a fair percentage of Cats would be Baby Boomers and would probably recall the huge popularity in the 1970s with the disaster movies genre.

Invariably featuring a large cast of Hollywood stalwarts the plot device was mostly a natural disaster with the focus then on the numerous characters’ attempts to escape, cope or avert the disaster.

The genre was supposedly kicked-off with Airport released in 1970 but for me the genre came into prominence with the release in 1972 of The Poseidon Adventure.

As we all probably know this film dealt with an ageing luxury liner where on New Year’s Eve it is overturned by a tsunami with passengers and crew trapped inside, whilst a preacher (played by Gene Hackman) attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

The film epitomises the disaster film genre and made a huge impression on me as a young lad when I first saw it on release in early 1973 as it was the last film the family saw at the cinema before we emigrated from the UK to New Zealand . . . by ocean liner !

The genre reached its peak in 1974 with the release of The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.

The Towering Inferno featured a terrific cast in Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire and so on in which a huge fire engulfs the world’s tallest building during its opening night and the firefighters’ attempts at rescuing the occupants trapped in the top floors. Even today, the film stands as a terrific entertainment of the type that Hollywood no longer seems to make with any skill anymore. In addition, the practical effects are still outstanding and, for me, are still way preferable to the CGI effects we see so often today.

Earthquake depicted a massive earthquake which levels Los Angeles. It also boasted the gimmick of Sensurround where massive sub-woofer speakers were installed in theatres to recreate the vibrating sensation of an earthquake, which proved to be highly effective and quite unsettling.

The genre continued with another airport disaster film in Airport’75, a historical event in The Hindenburg, a mad bomber in Rollercoaster, an avalanche at a ski resort in Avalanche and so on.

Ultimately, the genre tended to burn out by the late 70s with such unforgettably bad films like The Swarm (featuring killer bees) and sequels like Beyond The Poseidon Adventure that eventually saw the genre peter out into self-parody which culminated in the riotous Airplane! released in 1980 which spoofed the entire genre.

What favourites and memories do others have ?

Enjoy.

38 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #19”

  1. What favourites and memories do others have ?

    Heaven’s Gate (1980).

    I think it still holds the record for biggest loss ever.

    Now that’s a disaster movie!


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  2. I watched The Towering Inferno on my hotel’s TV channel during a July 4 1975 weekend in San Francisco. The glass elevators crawling up the wall in the movie looked familiar so I went to the door of my room and looked out and there they were. It was the Hyatt on Embarcadero.


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  3. We also saw Poseidon Adventure at the flicks when it came out. On the big screen it was awesome and quite scary.

    Unfortunately these days disaster movies are politicized. Always it is global warming that will kill us all. There’s an opening for something that is realistic, like a big volcanic eruption, or a reprise of On The Beach. The asteroid movies were quite watchable for that reason, it’s difficult to politicize an asteroid. I’d love to see a movie made of Alas Babylon with modern effects, but it won’t happen since the book is set in knuckle-dragging Florida.


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  4. Not really a movie – 2 part ‘series’ made for cable – but “Goliath Awaits” freaked me out as a kid.

    Cruise liner sunk in WW2, but hundreds of people survive in the overturned hull at the bottom of the sea, develop a highly regulated society and are discovered by divers decades later.

    All star cast including Christopher Lee.

    I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue.


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  5. “The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.”

    Loved both movies. Funny how Earthquake is a dystopian disaster movie about an earthquake hitting Los Angeles, yet given the dystopian and decrepit state of LA and San Fran in 2022, it hasn’t taken an earthquake to make it so, rather it’s been progressive politics!


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  6. The granddad of air disaster movies is The High and Mighty (1954), with John Wayne.
    A DC-4 on a commercial flight from Hawaii to California loses an engine and is losing fuel owing to damage to a wing tank in mid-pacific.


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  7. Saw the beginning of the original Titanic movie when I was a kid, my mate was so scared when the screaming started we had to leave. When we were teenagers I used to slip in conversation with our group “What happened after the beginning of Titanic, how did it end”. Nobody ever knew but him and me. Always got a wry smile.


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  8. I don’t know that I’ve seem many of these, perhaps Towering Inferno at a double feature with that disaster spoof on an aeroplane.
    And The Day After Tomorrow while travelling on an overnight ferry Stockholm to Helsinki.
    Bad decision.


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  9. I saw The Poseidon Adventure in the theater at the age of 10. A few years later I saw Jaws, which is arguably another disaster movie, perhaps the GOAT. I haven’t been to the theater in decades as I’m not a fan of comic books. Fun fact: Leslie Nielsen played the role of the captain of the USS Poseidon, and also starred in Airplane!


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  10. I suppose that these fillums were the offspring of the 1950s/60s ones where disaster was merely threatened – by aliens from Space, nuclear weapons, chemical/germ warfare and so on. The plot was about preventing it from happening.

    In the 70s it happened, and the plot was about dealing with it.

    And …


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  11. eb says:
    May 5, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    Talking about flight disaster movies, what about “The Flight of the Phoenix”?

    I prefer The Flight of the Conchords.


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  12. Loved “On the Beach”, especially the Australian Grand Prix scene where many drivers kill themselves attempting crazy manoeuvres because there is nothing else to live for.


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  13. Loved “On the Beach”,

    I did too, up to the point where everyone’s out in the bush getting pissed (so far so good) and singing Waltzing Matilda over and over and over and over … which made me grind my teeth in discomfort and embarrassment.


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  14. eb says:
    May 5, 2022 at 5:38 pm
    Talking about flight disaster movies, what about “The Flight of the Phoenix”?

    I assume you mean the James Stewart version ?

    Good film.


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  15. I didn’t mind The Swarm, classic 1970’s Michael Caine. I also vividly recall having nightmares after watching a flick on the teev about giant ants from South America getting into the US – might have been a B&W repeat.


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  16. Towering Inferno was big when it came out. I read that Steve McQueen wanted to be top dog on the screen up against Paul Newman. They both played their parts well. Loved it when the dummies fall from the building Thunderbird style. It has certainly dated but is an enjoyable watch.

    I’m not sue if Wolfman has covered this previously but animals gone rogue is a whole genre. Starting with a large gorilla who climbed up a building to see if he could find his house, then sharks, bears, pigs, crocs, spiders, ill tempered sea bass….


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  17. Enjoyed Earthquake and Poseidon Adventure, but Airplane gave me so many laughs that are still strong in my memory. No sure that it would be filmed in todays climate.


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  18. Towering Inferno was big when it came out. I read that Steve McQueen wanted to be top dog on the screen up against Paul Newman.

    McQueen apparently had a huge ego, and was difficult to get along with on the sets of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.
    He tried to upstage and did annoy Yul Brynner on the former, even though Brynner was the star.


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  19. Sometimes when those Hollywood stars clash over top billing, they put one name in the upper right corner and one name in the lower left corner – so reading from top down, X gets top billing, but from left to right, Y gets top billing.

    I have never seen INFERNO (I will watch it now on your recommendation), but I have heard that happened with the credits there.


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  20. Bruce O’Newk:

    I’d love to see a movie made of Alas Babylon with modern effects, but it won’t happen since the book is set in knuckle-dragging Florida.

    Fabulous book. I might just have my copy here… somewhere.
    Preppers who buy multiple containers of ice cream and store it with the frozen steaks.
    Fill all the bathtubs with drinking water and then find out the leetle girl (She’s always been so fastidious) has poured it down the dunny because they have no mains water to flush with.
    Then realises their orange grove has artesian water after a couple of weeks…
    Good story, but I doubt Hollywood could do it. Not without turning it into two dykes living off grid, fighting off rapist men who demand they make sammitches, but they manage to kill them off with nicotine contaminated beer … etc etc.


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  21. vlad redux says:
    May 6, 2022 at 8:14 pm
    Sometimes when those Hollywood stars clash over top billing, they put one name in the upper right corner and one name in the lower left corner – so reading from top down, X gets top billing, but from left to right, Y gets top billing.

    I have never seen INFERNO (I will watch it now on your recommendation), but I have heard that happened with the credits there.

    I believe the film was the first to do this re the top billing credits between McQueen and Newman which was repeated in the end credits as well.


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