7 Greatest Disaster Movies Of The '70s

This week, Total Film’s DVD Club is watching that classic of ‘70s disaster epics, The Towering Inferno.

We thought we’d pay tribute to the movie – and the decade – by taking a look at it and some more great cine-catastrophes.

So grab your tin hat, your emergency blanket and that spare bottle of water and try to survive...

The Movie:
The Towering Inferno (1974)

The world’s biggest skyscraper is being prepared for its big unveiling party, which will be crammed with visiting dignitaries.

Sadly, the chief electrical engineer has cut corners and a fire soon breaks out. You can guess the rest from the title.

Master Of Disaster: John Guillermin, though the action material was shot by producer, and the man who truly earned the master title, Irwin Allen.

Appetite For Destruction:
So many flame-grilled moments to choose from!

But we’re going with the first helicopter rescue attempt as the chopper is blown off course just as two brain-dead socialites make a panicked run towards it.

The aircraft is smashed against the side of the building, goes boom and flaming debris drifts to the ground as the movie’s score has a dramatic string section heart attack.

Next: The Poseidon Adventure


The Movie:
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

One of the few movies to challenge Inferno for the Best Chunk Of ‘70s Chaos Championship.

Another star-studded cast (including Gene Hackman in one of his all-time classic roles as Reverend “Buzz†Scott) are trapped when their ship goes belly up thanks to an undersea earthquake.

Master Of Disaster:
Ronald Neame, though once again, producer Allen’s stamp is all over it.

Appetite For Destruction:
We love the actual capsizing moment – between Captain Leslie Nielsen (who makes it hard not to chuckle given his future disaster-spoof experience) screaming “Hard left!†– shouldn’t that be “port� - as the monster wave hits the ship.

Windows smash, water rushes through the ship and what was a cheery New Year’s party goes all to hell as the ship becomes a tilting nightmare.

Next: Airport


The Movie: Airport (1970)

Airport kicked off the ‘70s golden age of movie madness with its awesome – but somewhat chucklesome in the post-Airplane! age – action-packed plot.

And the movie also helped define some of the gene’s tropes as several stories weaved together against the backdrop of a plane in trouble.

Makes Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opening day look like a beach holiday.

Master Of Disaster:
George Seaton wrote and directed the pic, based on Arthur Hailey’s novel.

Appetite For Destruction: The petty squabbles between the aircrew and an elderly stowaway (Helen Hayes) are quickly – and explosively – shoved aside when a terrified passenger goes through with his bomb plan to claim life insurance for his family.

The sudden decompression sends the cast – including captain Dean Martin, whose smooth charm failed to stop the bomber – scrambling for the oxygen masks.

Remember folks – put your own mask on, then help children. In fact, forget the little blighters – they’re on their own!

Next: Earthquake


The Movie:
Earthquake (1974)

There’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on as a massive underground shockwave hits Los Angeles.

Even Charlton Heston (who had already played Moses by this point) and Ava Gardner can’t stop the place falling to pieces.

Earthquakes are awesome movie fodder because they cause all sorts of other destructive problems – fires, flooding. It’s a one-stop shop for danger!

Master Of Disaster:
Mark Robson was behind the camera, and Godfather novelist/screenwriter Mario Puzo dreamt up the death toll alongside George Fox.

Appetite For Destruction: Best bit? It’s got to be when the quake hits for the first time.

A 9.9 on the Richter scale rumbles through LA, but the scene with cars and trucks careening around the raised section of a freeway is both brilliant and funny as it’s created with some nifty stunt driving and camera wobbling.

It looks a little ridiculous, but then the thing collapses and the truck takes a tumble off the side…

Next: Juggernaut


The Movie:
Juggernaut (1974)

Released across the Atlantic as Terror On The Britannic (a title that stuck for its eventual DVD release), this is definitely, positively not a British attempt to cash in on The Poseidon Adventure.

Still, it’s different enough, and loaded with suspense, featuring a maniac (Freddie Jones) planting bombs on a huge ocean liner and demanding a ransom.

Richard Harris, Ian Holm and David Hemmings are among those racing to track down the explosives before the ship is destroyed.

Master Of Disaster:
Richard Lester took over directing chores after two others dropped out. He has a history of that, doesn’t he?

Appetite For Destruction: Given that it’s more of a tense thriller than a big-budget actioner, it’s lighter on the set pieces than some of the others here.

But Juggernaut setting off one of his devices on the bridge leads to some explody fun and flying crewmembers.

Next: The Hindenburg


The Movie:
The Hindenburg (1975)

Perhaps a lesser-known entry into the ‘70s canon, this is a mash-up of fact and fiction as the zeppelin tragedy is re-imagined as a terrorist act.

George C Scott is Colonel Franz Ritter, assigned to protect the legendary aircraft from threats to destroy it.

Suffice to say, he does a rubbish job.

Master Of Disaster:
Robert Wise directed and produced, working from a book by Michael M. Mooney.

Appetite For Destruction: For our favourite moment, we pick Ritter’s frenzied attempt to stop the bomb (above, in all its glory, since the trailer is nowhere to be found).

In a blast of effects that probably seemed cool at the time, but is more psychedelic and odd now, the explosion is shot with zooms and shot-layering, which then dissolves back into the newsreel footage of the real tragedy.

And yes, they keep the iconic “Oh, the humanity!” line in there. Classy…

Next: The Swarm


The Movie:
The Swarm (1978)

Among the last gasps of the ‘70s destructo-trend, Swarm finds the likes of Michael Caine’s insect expert and Richard Widmark’s general trying to battle a buzzing horde of killer bees.

Now if only they could agree on how to proceed…

Master Of Disaster:
Irwin Allen took charge, directing and producing this one.

Appetite For Destruction: Allen just can’t keep from crashing helicopters.

The scene starts with what looks like a load of raisins being chucked at the cockpit of a chopper, and the pilot’s classic line of “Oh my god… Bees, bees, millions of bees!†(first prize for observation, there).

The stripy bastards clearly get into the engine as it loses power and does a rather fatal nose-dive into a hillside.

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Freelance Journalist

James White is a freelance journalist who has been covering film and TV for over two decades. In that time, James has written for a wide variety of publications including Total Film and SFX. He has also worked for BAFTA and on ODEON's in-cinema magazine.