Although 1970s cinema has become known as one of the richest eras of the medium in terms of quality and creative risk, it's also synonymous with a particular genre of movie---the disaster film. The basic formula was to round up a shitload of Hollywood stars, from the sexy ingenue up to the past-his-prime icon, spend a ton of money on then-groundbreaking special effects, not worry too much about the script, and just make a goddamn spectacle about stars-in-peril that let audiences forget about Vietnam and Dick Nixon for a couple of hours. Oh---and rake in a shitload of money because it is Hollywood after all.
Critics were often split while audiences predictably ate them up. A few of the early (better) disaster movies racked up Oscar noms including a few Best Picture nods. AIRPORT kicked things off in 1970 and, it could be argued, ended them with its third sequel THE CONCORDE...AIRPORT '79. Like many things in the '70s, it was taken to excess and no longer fun.
But in between, crowds flocked to THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, EARTHQUAKE (the Chuck Heston-starrer that was famously made into a Disney attraction), AIRPORT '75, and, in particular, THE TOWERING INFERNO.
I mean, look at this fucking cast.
That's one definite muderer and possibly two. A legendary dancer in his swan song. And two of the biggest man rockets in Hollywood at the time. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen famously bickered over whose name was going where and when and they both had points. McQueen was the wild man of Hollywood, probably the coolest guy in town. He was full of swagger and had a prvoen track record. But Newman had been on a heater since COOL HAND LUKE and was the better actor.
Clean-up, aisle me.
Either way, here were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood starring in an absolute spectacle of moviemaking in an era where seeing a movie in a theater was the only option (unless you waited for the edited Sunday Night Movie on network TV four years later or could afford a $700 VCR in 1979). And crowds flocked as the movied raked in $116M which is an outrageous amount for 1974 (against a $14M budget).
What's crazy about that clip is how you'd never see anything like that today (unless it's Tom Cruise). They had Newman, McQueen, Fred Astaire, and Billy Holden feet from those huge explosions and glass and shit breaking everywhere. Then the water comes chugging in. And these guys are tied down with rope. I mean Danny McBride from TROPIC THUNDER must've been in charge because that was some shit.
After the monster success of INFERNO, the California land condors flocked and eventually ran the genre into the ground. But not before giving us a few more memorable flicks. BLACK SUNDAY seemed like a stretch in 1977 but it feels eerie today. What's insane about that flick is that the NFL gave filmmakers permission TO FILM SCENES FOR A MOVIE ABOUT A TERRORIST ACT AT A SUPER BOWL DURING SUPER BOWL X (Steeers beat Cowboys 21-17). It's absolutely wild to watch the movie today. Quint from JAWS just milling about behind the players on the sideline as the Super Bowl is actually being played.
The death knell for the genre ironically was a essentially a new genre, the spoof film, as AIRPLANE!'s send-ep of disaster flicks of the previous decade was a hilarious hit and remains among the five funniest U.S. films ever made. One of the stars was Leslie Nielsen, who played the captain in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. The thing had come full circle.
A few years later, Nielsen's deadpan Frank Drebin slayed in THE NAKED GUN. His co-stars? George Kennedy, the only actor to appear in all four AIRPORT movies and O.J. Simpson, who was in THE TOWERING INFERNO.
If you watch these disaster movies today, they can look cheesy and/or dated, particularly when compared to the "when you can do everything, nothing impresses anymore" CGI era. But then you see that clip and say, "holy shit!" and realize that they're a relevant chapter in film history as well as important on the CVs of each of the actors and crew members who made them. For without them, we don't get the CGI-fueled revival that brought us INDEPENDENCE DAY and TITANIC.