Hollywood’s Most Memorable Disaster Movies

Oh the calamities…Disasters from the exhilarating highs of airborne disaster movies to the dramatic sea depths and everything in between.

In those halcyon years of the 1970s, those masters – and mistresses – of disaster in the days of yore took us to disasters of all kinds. In those years and beyond, it seemed it was just when we thought it was safe to take a flight or a cruise, picnic near a beehive, or book a hotel near an active volcano, that disaster-themed movies of all kinds showed us those possible dangers. It was then reinforced that as mere mortals we were more likely to fatefully succumb to these disasters of all kinds than those Hollywood all-star casts. And even if we were in the all-star cast, there was usually inevitably more chance to live if we were a Hollywood A-lister.

Here are just some of those movies where all-star casts – and us – faced disasters of the retro kind…

Airport 80 (1980) / Airport 79… The Concorde (1980) and those airborne disasters…

The Airport film franchise which had by now taken us to the depths of the Bermuda Triangle in Airport 77 (1977) now took us to supersonic heights with the double disaster film that featured Concorde, The Concorde.. Airport 79 (1979). Our Pilot for this flight, Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) was at the flight controls with a partly French crew as a dastardly Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner) fumed and plotted to kill his mistress, a journalist with a story to tell – with a drone as she took this apparently doomed flight…

Throw in a few random Olympics-bound characters, Alain Delon in a pilot’s uniform, Sylvia Kristel as an air hostess and Eddie Albert as Joe’s old Nam buddy, and their subplots aren’t enough to distract you from this Concorde commercial. Aeroplane disaster film plots were never this so bad it’s good, unless you include Airport 75 (1974) where Karen Black’s air hostess had to fly the plane, before 1970s manly men took over. Or the time Charlton Heston’s pilot averted an airborne hijacking, while simultaneously smoking his pipe and remembering those romantic days with his mistress – and air hostess on this flight – by flashbacks in Skyjacked (1972).

When Time Ran Out (1980) and as volcanoes erupted…

Long before a slow-motion Tommy Lee Jones jumped the lava flow in Volcano (1997), an evil hotel owner James Franciscus ignored those warnings about the active volcano situated near his jazzy hotel. Inevitably disaster strikes. Yup, he was warned about that volcano situated right next to his hotel by Paul Newman, here as a scientist. But like those scientific warnings in what seemed like every disaster film since.. ignored meaning the death of many an extra, and an all-star cast including a few Academy Award winners in peril.

Active volcanoes were revisited with the scientist guy played by a pre-musical, and one-time James Bond, Pierce Brosnan in Dante’s Peak (1997) alongside Linda Hamilton. This film comes with a Wilhelm Scream and his girlfriend (Hamilton) and fellow protagonist’s pesky kids adding to the drama. This as they decide in their wisdom to return to the site of this erupting volcano to save Granny… But as all-star casts facing a volcano adversity go When Time Ran Out wins for the sheer all-star ensemble alone and a role for Irwin Allen’s wife where like The Towering Inferno proved, you could survive if you had the right connection.

Those Towering Inferno (1974) and other man-made disasters.

The perils of super high buildings are relayed by Steve McQueen – in full fireman regalia – this time to architect Paul Newman. This is after a fire threatens the opening of this new building. Needless to say, this fire happens on the grand opening night, and there are more soap opera subplots than your average episode of Dallas (1978-91).

This film had many stars from those disaster movies to come. Cue When Time Ran Out’s Paul Newman, William Holden, and Sheila Allen (Irwin’s wife) – and Airport 79 – The Concorde’s Robert Wagner and even Fred Astaire. So you can easily play Disaster film bingo as to who of the all-star cast will survive.

More importantly, it answers the question of what film heralded the beginnings of those songs in disaster movies. Other man-made disasters including The Cassandra Crossing (1976) came with another song in the face of adversity, this time in a train containing a lab-infected carrier of a killer flu. But as Martin Sheen found in this film, there was still time to do a handstand on the bed, in just your undies for your lady love.

The sounds and sights of the Sea. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and others.

After an underwater earthquake causes a tidal wave, disaster strikes at midnight, as a New Year begins with an upturned cruise boat. With a priestly Gene Hackman and his band of acting talents making their way to safety and a cast including Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens, and Ernest Borgnine there was arguably no way back. Until we went Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) with Sally Field, a shouty Michael Caine, and Telly Savalas.

Sights of the sea also led to when nature attacks in Amity Island as a shark in Jaws (1975) struck for the first time and three needed a bigger boat. And a Mayor is happy to close all the beaches. Meanwhile, actor Richard Harris returned to helm another disaster movie. This was in the now prescient when nature attacks movie, in Orca (1977) as this sea creature out for revenge.

Honorable mentions include a shouty Rock Hudson in Avalanche (1978) when his ski and winter sports complex is threatened by a deluge of the white stuff. Also The Swarm (1978) where a literal swarm of killer bees leads to a bee expert, Michael Caine warning about those bees, with a natty tell-all slide show. Caine gives what should have been an Oscar-winning Best Actor monologue to go with his Oscar-winning safari suit.

These all paved the way for the disaster movies pertaining to very important dates including Independence Day (1996) and 2012 (2009). These themed disaster movies not to be confused with those contrived, all-star rom-coms New Year’s Eve (2011) and Valentine’s Day (2011). Despite those all-star casts and soapy plots, these were romantic comedies and on-screen tales of love and romantic disasters of the heart. And that’s another on-screen story.

About Gill Jacob

Gill Jacob is a wee (5 ft.) Scottish lass living in Finland with the love of her life, Darlin Husband, her Dallas TV soap boxsets, and more. Prone to gittering (i.e. rambling on purpose) about films,TV, books, and all things entertainment on Realweegiemidget Reviews Films, TV, Books and more… You can visit my blog HERE and click to follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Mastodon.

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