Greatest Disaster
Film Scenes

Part 4

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

Two-Minute Warning (1976)

A crime thriller-disaster film, with Charlton Heston as the head of the LA Police Department and John Cassavetes as the leader of the SWAT team, at a major-league football stadium (the LA Coliseum) filled with 91,000 fans during a championship game between Los Angeles and Baltimore, and an anonymous psychotic sniper with a high-powered hunting rifle perched on the top of the stadium's scoreboard. This cliffhanger brought suspense to film-goers and mass panic among the spectators as they stampeded in the film's finale. Nominated for Best Film Editing.

Airport '77 (1977)

The third Airport film - this one featured the maiden flight of a Boeing 747 on a flight from Washington DC to Palm Beach, Florida being hijacked and crashing into the Bermuda Triangle, then sinking about one hundred feet underwater, and resting on a precarious ledge. With Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Brenda Vaccaro, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, George Kennedy and Lee Grant. Nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Black Sunday (1977)

John Frankenheimer's prophetic film was about a former Vietnam POW who aligned with a terrorist group in a plot to kill thousands of people by loading a bomb on the Goodyear Blimp and exploding it over spectators during Miami's Super Bowl.

Rollercoaster (1977)

A suspenseful 'disaster' film with an all-star cast (George Segal, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, and Susan Strasberg) about a crazy terrorizing madman (Timothy Bottoms) who threatened, through extortion, the bombing of additional amusement park rollercoasters in five different locations around the country, if his blackmailing demands for $1 million were not met. It concluded with a tense chase finale at Magic Mountain near Los Angeles. This film was accompanied by the Sensurround effect - to shake the audience in their chairs (it was the third film ever to feature the technological innovation, following Earthquake (1974) and Midway (1976)).

Gray Lady Down (1978)

A surprisingly dull Charlton Heston vehicle about an American nuclear sub, the USS Neptune, that, on its way to the naval base port of Groton, CT, crashed into a Norwegian freighter, sank, and found itself trapped on the floor of the ocean about 1,500 feet down.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

A classic superhero film about the 'Man of Steel' that featured Superman (Christopher Reeve) dealing with various catastrophes, such as a falling Daily Planet helicopter (saving reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in the process) from the roof of the newspaper building, and a lightning-damaged engine on Air Force One carrying the President (saved by Superman flying in its place). In the film's exciting conclusion, there was a cavalcade of disasters following a nuclear explosion of a misdirected rocket missile by evil Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) in the San Andreas Fault in California, including a buckling Golden Gate Bridge with a school bus dangling off the edge (Superman saved it from falling), a collapsing HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles, a potential train derailment (Superman connected the broken track with his own body), and the bursting of Hoover Dam (Superman saved Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) from death). Superman rolled a huge boulder and other rocks into place to save a nearby valley town from a cascade of water. He also resealed the San Andreas Fault by boring underground, pushing plates of land back together, and damming up and redirecting a flow of on-rushing lava. His failure to save Lois from a crevasse that swallowed her car during an aftershock, and suffocated her to death, resulted in him turning back time by circumnavigating the globe at lightspeed, to save her life - ignoring his father Jor-El's (Marlon Brando) cautionary warning about interfering with human history. Nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Score (John Williams).

The Swarm (1978)

A preposterous Irwin Allen film about South American killer bees (originally from Africa) with potent venom that first invaded an American ICBM base, and then a small Texas town and were beginning to infiltrate into major US cities (such as Houston), necessitating containment-suited individuals with flame-throwers to eradicate them. With major stars including Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Fred MacMurray, Katharine Ross - and others ill-used. In one scene, a helicopter was downed by the insects, and then a passenger train evacuating citizens was attacked by the swarm, derailed and rolled down a hillside. The film contained a curious disclaimer in the end credits: "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation."

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)

An unnecessary sequel to the classic disaster film, once again about the S.S. Poseidon that was flipped over by a tidal wave, with two rival salvage teams of adventurers (one good led by Michael Caine - the other evil led by Telly Savalas) searching for gold and plutonium simultaneously; with lots of cheaply-shot, unrealistic footage, and inferior character development.

The China Syndrome (1979)

An exciting, suspenseful doomsday film about the threat of a nuclear reactor accident, made all the more real by the actual Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) incident two weeks after the film's premiere. The near melt-down at the power plant in this anti-nuclear power film was averted by the plant manager (Jack Lemmon), but further conspiracies were brought to light regarding shoddy construction, corporate greed, and media manipulation. The film's title referred to a kind of reactor accident that would melt - theoretically - all the way through the earth to China. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Best Art Direction, and Best Original Screenplay.

City on Fire (1979, Can./US)

A badly-conceived Canadian film - and one of the last big-budget, cavalcade-of-stars disaster films of the 1970's. Corrupt, unnamed Midwestern city mayor William Dudley (Leslie Nielsen) had an oil refinery built right in the center of the town. A vengeful ex-employee Herman Stover (Jonathan Welsh), became a pyromaniac a caused an explosion that created a sweeping, chain-reaction series of fires through the entire area. Henry Fonda was again in this as chief of the fire brigade - his fifth disaster film in just a few years - his previous 'disasters' were in Rollercoaster (1977), Tentacles (1977), The Swarm (1978), and Meteor (also 1979).

The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979)

The last and worst of the Airport series - and almost a precursor to the next year's Airplane! (1980) - this one about a long-running plot to shoot down the Concorde with missiles as it flew to Paris - and causing it to fly upside down and then land without brakes. In another segment of the film, the Concorde continued onto the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when rapid decompression forced it to make an emergency landing in the Alps - where it then burst into flames. George Kennedy (appearing as the co-pilot) was the only well-known actor to appear in all four segments of the Airport series. This film also starred Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, Mercedes McCambridge (as the coach of the Soviet women's gymnastics team), John Davidson and Sylvia Kristel.

Mad Max (1979, Aust.)

A post-apocalyptic, nihilistic trilogy from Australia's George Miller contained both film noir and western genre elements in its sci-fi tale. The films were dark, desolate and grim in nature and set in a scorched-earth Australia with scarce supplies of water and gasoline. The first of the trio was the low-budget, independent original film Mad Max (1979) that introduced Max (Mel Gibson) as a vigilante after the killing of his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and child by a brutal gang of marauding motorcycle punks. The two sequels were: the action-packed, thrilling The Road Warrior (1981) (aka Mad Max 2) with Gibson defending himself and a colony of pioneers beset by roving gangs of Mohawked outlaws, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) set 15 years after the previous installment in a post-nuclear apocalyptic wasteland with Tina Turner as the villainous queen overlord of Bartertown.

Meteor (1979)

A big-budget doomsday disaster film from American International Pictures (AIP) and director Ronald Neame (noted for The Poseidon Adventure (1972)), about a massive 5-mile wide meteor (named Orpheus) that was due to strike New York City, thereby causing an earthquake and massive underground and surface flooding. Its tagline was: "It's five miles's coming at 30,000 mph...and there's no place on Earth to hide!" The film also featured a meteorite fragment destroying the World Trade Center (albeit poorly done), adding a disturbing subtext due to the 9/11 tragedy 22 years later. Launched US warheads eventually reached the meteor in outer space and destroyed it. The film starred Sean Connery and Natalie Wood (with a sliced romantic sub-plot), and Henry Fonda as the President. With one Academy Award nominaton for Best Sound.

Airplane! (1980)

This tongue-in-cheek movie was probably the best disaster film spoof ever made, and one of the surprise comedy hits of all-time by The Kentucky Fried Movie trio of writers: David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams. [In that 1977 film, they lampooned the entire Irwin Allen genre with a hilarious preview trailer for the disaster film That's Armageddon.] This low-brow effort filled with rapid-fire quips, sight gags, and double entendres parodied both Zero Hour! (1957) (from which it took plot and characters) and the various subplots from the Airport films of the previous decade (most notably Airport '75 (1974)'s girl-needing-heart transplant subplot). This film not only launched Leslie Nielsen's comic deadpan career and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films, but destroyed the Irwin Allen-styled, big-budget disaster film genre for many years. High-octane action films with macho male stars and other superheroes would take their place.

When Time Ran Out... (1980)

This was notable as producer Irwin Allen's final disaster feature film - the end of the 70s cycle of this sub-genre. It was a routine effort that plagiarized actors and plots from earlier works such as The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). It told of a dormant volcano ready to blow on a tropical island, inhabited by such stars in the locale's luxury resort as William Holden, Jacqueline Bisset, Ernest Borgnine, and others. Paul Newman starred as the hero who saved some of the stars, amidst a volcanic explosion, rumblings, giant fireballs, a tidal wave, and a precarious crossing of a bridge above hot lava. Nominated in Best Costume Design category.

Das Boot (1981, W. Ger.) (aka The Boat)

One of the greatest war films of all-time - this was set on a claustrophobic, disaster-plagued German U-Boat during World War II. Nominated for six Academy Awards, none of which won.

The Day After (1983) (TV)

One of the better made-for-TV movies, and one of the best-known, most-uncompromising nuclear holocaust films ever made - an ABC-TV program that drew 100 million viewers in the US - the second largest TV audience ever for a dramatic program. About the survivors living in a Midwestern city of a nuclear exchange of missiles between the US and Russia, and the subsequent approaching nuclear winter.

The Terminator (1984)

This action sci-fi, the first in a long-running franchise series, opened in the year 2029 in a dark, ruined post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, a scene of devastation where machines ruled the world ("The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present").

Runaway Train (1985)

A taut action film and a precursor to Speed (1994) -- based on a screenplay by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa; with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as escaped inmates from an Alaskan maximum-security prison, who board a runaway train speeding along at high velocity with no brakes (and an engineer who died of a heart attack) - on a collision course down wintry tracks in the Alaskan wilderness. Nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor (Voight) and Best Supporting Actor (Roberts).

Miracle Mile (1988)

Steve De Jarnatt's nihilistic noir thriller starred Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham at the start of World War III. It ended with mass rioting in the streets of Los Angeles when word leaked of an impending nuclear apocalypse.

The Abyss (1989)

James Cameron's big budget science-fiction spectacle about a nuclear submarine scarily submerged 25,000 feet down, with rescue attempts by an oil-rig crew and Navy SEALS, and featuring the appearance of aquatic aliens, and a famous tidal-wave finale in the restored Director's Cut of the film. This film was nominated for four Academy Awards, and won one for Best Visual Effects.

Greatest Disaster Film Scenes

(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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