I am a sucker for the disaster movie. Any movie (good or bad) that the world is destroyed by earthquakes, asteroids, aliens, floods, tidal waves, giant spiders... I will watch. I once sat through an all-night movie feature in a downtown LA theater and watched five movies in a row where Los Angeles was destroyed over and over again. LA's demise was my happiness.
I can trace this disaster obsession back to Arthur Hailey. It was the summer of 1970, my parents took me to a drive-in theater to watch Airport. In my memory, I was wearing great airplane pajamas with feet in them, but that is probably just me trying to be better dressed in memory than in actual life. For a six year old, the movie was incredible -- I did not make a peep through the entire film. Watching Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin and Jacqueline Bisset on screen was one of my earliest memories and it still lives with me today. I watched every Airport movie with Airport 77 (staring my hero Jimmy Stewart) almost surpassing my love for the first movie.
Arthur Hailey's books, including Airport, were recently released as eBooks and to celebrate this great book and movie, I decided to put the best 70s disaster movies in my Netflix queue and spend the next weekend living through the end of the world over and over again. Here are my favorites:
Airport - the classic, it gets no better than this movie. Jacqueline Bisset is the single stewardess, pregnant with the married Dean Martin's baby. Helen Hayes has stowed away on the plane. All this drama and a bomb. It started the big blockbuster disaster genre and we should all be thankful.
Airport 77 - The third movie in the series. It is a little far-fetched, but still a good one. Any movie with Jimmy Stewart is great in my book. Throw in a little Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant and Olivia de Havilland and mix it with sleeping gas, art thieves and an underwater rescue and you have pure disaster movie gold.
Poseidon Adventure - I am not sure you could put more great things in a movie. Tidal waves, overturned cruise ships, ex-hookers married to cops, a hot Gene Hackman as a reverend, fire, floods and Shelley Winters swimming -- it does not get better. I have watched this movie so many times and each time, I still cheer Shelley on and want her to live.
The Towering Inferno - Steve McQueen and Paul Newman working to save Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Fred Astaire and OJ Simpson in the top of a burning building. The only thing to make this movie better would have been if Paul Newman and Steve McQueen had been secret lovers -- that is how I would have written it.
Earthquake - This movie really changed the disaster movie for me. I now realized that you could watch destruction on a grander scale. If that destruction included Ava Gardner, all the better. I could watch the Hollywood sign fall again and again.
The Swarm - I am not sure it fits in the disaster movie genre, but with the all-star cast and general death and destruction, I include it. It was one of the first movies that really scared me. I kept looking for news on African killer bees for years after watching it. I love that the bee invasion coincides with the annual flower festival, what are the chances.
Rollercoaster - The only thing I love more than disaster movies is roller coasters. Combining the two things is a recipe for success. Only today, when reviewing the cast did I realize that Helen Hunt is in it -- her first movie role. I can't wait to watch this one again.
Black Sunday - Ok, this is more of a thriller than a disaster movie, but I still include it as part of my 70s movie education. The Thomas Harris (of Hannibal Lector fame) novel is as good as the movie. It was inspired by the attack at the 1972 Olympics and it seems all too real today.
When Time Ran Out - Considered the last of the big disaster movies, it was a commercial flop, but it has all the things that I like. Great cast, big destruction and corny story lines. I am not sure other people would include it on such a list, but I look at it as a book end to a great decade of films that shaped my movie and TV watching habits for the rest of my life.
Airport is still the best in my mind. Arthur Hailey will always be my first love. Of course, I will only be watching those movies after I see Godzilla this weekend. Sounds like a full weekend of great movies, I hope it is going to rain. Let me know if I should add others to my list.