Greatest Disaster
Film Scenes

Part 3

The Greatest Disaster Film Scenes
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Description of Disaster Film Scene

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961, UK)

This apocalyptic film told about the Earth's orbit shifting when both the USA and the USSR exploded nuclear bombs at the same time, causing the Earth to slowly drift into the Sun.

Panic In Year Zero! (1962)

A film about the degradation of humanity after a nuclear apocalypse, starring Ray Milland.

The Birds (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock's classic, and one of the first "animals attack" disaster films, featuring Oscar-nominated Visual Effects (by Ub Iwerks) for the massive bird attacks on a sleepy northern California seaside town.

Fail-Safe (1964)

Another political doomsday disaster film during the Cold War era (a serious and very bleak version of Kubrick's black comedy Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964)), from director Sidney Lumet, about how World War III could actually happen -- in this hypothetical film, misguided transmissions from Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters erroneously sent a squadron of US bombers with atomic weapons flying towards Moscow to attack. The tense 'race-against-time' was to try to beat the 'fail-safe' position when pilots would no longer have to follow orders.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The first film in the series depicted a post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear futuristic planet (Earth) - revealed in the film's startling conclusion by a half-submerged Statue of Liberty. All of the films told about apes that had evolved into an intelligent society, with advanced make-up techniques that reversed the social positions of intelligent humans and brutal apes to slyly criticize racial stereotypes. The classic films were derived from Pierre Boule's novel Monkey Planet, and also examined the effects of technology upon humankind.

Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)

This disaster film, advertised as "The Incredible Day That SHOOK the Earth to Its Core", was based on the most explosive volcanic eruption in recorded 19th century history - on August 27th, 1883, on the island of Krakatoa. Nominated for one Academy Award: Best Visual Effects. With Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, and Brian Keith.

Marooned (1969)

It was the first astronauts-in-danger film, about astronauts whose rockets refused to ignite to return to Earth. With dwindling oxygen, one of the astronauts named Jim (Richard Crenna) sacrificed his life during a spacewalk so the other two would live. Notable in that it preceded the real-life Apollo 13 incident by a mere 5 months (and the Danish release by only 12 days!). Nominated for three Academy Awards (including Best Cinematograpy and Best Sound), and winning for Best Visual Effects.

Airport (1970)

This was the grandfather of them all - adapted from the novel by Arthur Hailey. This Universal film launched the 1970s-80s craze for many other Hollywood airplane disaster films, filmed on a large-scale with an all-star cast. It followed a series of emergency disasters occurring at a large Midwestern hub airport late one snowy night -- at Chicago's Lincoln International Airport (?). Control tower and airport personnel (Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy) negotiated how to land an ill-fated, badly-crippled Boeing 707 (piloted by Dean Martin) that had departed on an evening flight to Rome during a blizzard, and had a bomb explode onboard. Followed by three sequels in 1974, 1977, and 1979. Nominated for an astounding ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture), with one win for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hayes) as a stowaway.

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Adapted from Michael Crichton's novel, and directed by Robert Wise - a suspenseful science-fiction disaster-related story about a mysterious organism brought from the returned Scoop 7 space probe/satellite that wiped out an entire village in New Mexico. A team of scientists in the top-secret Project Wildfire lab located in Nevada - a massive, high-tech underground lab facility (set to be detonated if the deadly alien virus was not controlled) raced against time to destroy the microscopic space alien, named the Andromeda Strain, before it threatened to wipe out life on Earth. Nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing.

The Omega Man (1971)

In this sci-fi disaster film set in 1978, Charlton Heston starred as Dr. Robert Neville, apparently the sole survivor of biological germ warfare unleashed on Earth in the mid-1970s during a conflict between China and Russia. After taking the antidote, he struggled to survive in the city of LA over-run by nocturnal, sinister, partially-blind, black-hooded, disease-altered, albinoid mutant scavengers (called "The Family"). They were led by a charismatic, cult-leading zealot named Matthais (Anthony Zerbe), who viewed Neville as personifying the technological evil that destroyed the world. The film ended with various Christ-like allusions, with crucifix-posed Neville sacrificing himself in a pool of blood with a spear in his side. The story originated from the 1954 Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend - which was also the title for the blockbuster remake I Am Legend (2007) starring Will Smith. Richard Matheson also wrote the Italian-made adaptation The Last Man on Earth (1964), with Vincent Price.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Noted as the quintessential disaster film by the "Master of Disaster" producer Irwin Allen, combined with a Grand Hotel (1932) cast of characters on New Year's Eve; it included special effects of the ship capsizing due to a giant tidal wave, the overturned dining area, and the creation of the upside-down world inside the ship as ten survivors (cast members Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, and Gene Hackman) all struggled to live and get to the 'top' (actually the bottom) of the submerged liner. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, with one win for Best Song ("The Morning After"). It also was presented with an Honorary Award for Best Visual Effects. Followed by a lesser sequel in 1979 and a critically-panned remake Poseidon (2006) 34 years later.

Airport 1975 (1974)

The second of the Airport films - this one about the flight of a Columbia Boeing 747 on a flight bound for L.A. that was rerouted to Salt Lake City and then suffered an in-flight collision with a light private plane piloted by Dana Andrews - and had to be flown by Chief stewardess Karen Black. An air-to-air rescue attempt was undertaken from a jet-powered helicopter. One of the subplots featured Linda Blair as a heart transplant patient, and other passengers/stars included Myrna Loy, Sid Caesar, George Kennedy and Gloria Swanson (in her last film).

Earthquake (1974)

The scenes of the crumbling destruction of Los Angeles by a powerful earthquake were accompanied by the first use of low-frequency bass rumbling Sensurround ("You'll FEEL it as well as see it!") (responsible for the film's only competitive Academy Award Oscar win: Best Sound) and quite impressive special effects. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It also won a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects.

The Universal film employed hundreds of stunt extras for the massive crowd scenes, and effectively used front projection, as well as matte drawings to depict the panoramic LA area suffering from a 9.9 level earthquake. It also included 'model' skyscrapers that collapsed, Styrofoam 'concrete,' and a 'miniature' to depict the crumbling Hollywood Dam.

The film included cameos and vignettes with many stars, including Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Genevieve Bujold, Debra Scott, Walter Matthau, and more.

Juggernaut (1974, UK)

An action 'race-against-time' thriller about seven bombs planted on the Britannic - a luxury cruise liner (captained by Omar Sharif) halfway across the Atlantic with 1,200 passengers - that were due to be detonated by dawn, unless a large sum of money ($1.5 million) was paid by the British government in exchange for defusing instructions to dismantle the complex bombs - Richard Harris starred as the leader of the anti-bomb squad. The film's title was the pseudonym for the blackmailing mad bomber (Freddie Jones) himself. Directed by Beatles' film-maker Richard Lester.

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Irwin Allen's most popular and spectacular life-and-death epic disaster film with innovative stunts and a big-name ensemble cast that garnered eight Oscar nominations, including oddly enough, Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nod for Fred Astaire. Winner of three Oscars - Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Song: "We May Never Love Like This Again." With spectacular fire sequences that were filmed in an oversized, blazing skyscraper of 138 stories (with an all-star cast among 300 party guests situated near the top floor while a fire burned below them on the 85th floor) - including the descent of an outside elevator along the face of the burning building, and Steve McQueen as the rescuing firefighter.

The Hindenburg (1975)

A docu-dramatization, with lots of sub-plots and melodrama by director Robert Wise, of the explosion of the famous pioneering, but ill-fated lighter-than-air passenger airship-zeppelin. The film followed the ship's last voyage from Frankfurt, Germany to Lakehurst (New Jersey) Naval Air Station, where it crashed and burst into flames while landing in rough weather in May of 1937. The film included the actual newsreel footage of the airship's explosion and fire, with the unforgettable eye-witness 'you-are-there' account of the disaster by news reporter Herbert Morrison. The film won Special Achievement Oscars for its Sound and Visual Effects. With George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft.

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

A West German/Italian co-produced disaster thriller about a virus-infected man (harboring a deadly pneumonic plague) aboard the Transcontinental Express train with 1,000 passengers, from Geneva enroute to Basel, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Along the way, the train was quarantined, welded shut, and diverted to Poland via the old and condemned steel Kaslindrliv Bridge, or Cassandra Crossing. With Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Martin Sheen, and O.J. Simpson.

The Food of the Gods (1976) (aka H.G. Wells' The Food of the Gods)

An infamously silly B-movie, and one of the last films by Bert I. Gordon, about an island populated by giant rats, chickens, and wasps.

Greatest Disaster Film Scenes
(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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