The 1970s was the height of the ‘Disaster Film’.
The template for the disaster film was simple. It would generally go something like this.
A normal day is taking place. Perhaps there’s a celebratory event or special occasion being marked. Or it could be an excursion of elegant 1970s travel being the focal point. State of the art technology and computers are ensuring that everything will run smoothly.
Whatever the situation might be, there’s a logical reason where a collection of diverse characters have gathered all together.
Despite the seemingly innocuous setting and all the confidence in all the safeguards in place, there are signs that a potential danger is lurking. Usually there’s a character who has become aware of this and sets out to warn the higher ups of the risks that are clearly apparent to the unknowing public.
Meanwhile, this assembled cast of characters come in all forms all with their own personal dramas, unknowing a life altering dramatic event will soon be upon them.
Canceling this event is completely out of the questions. There’s either money or pride or perhaps both at stake. The character in charge can’t jeopardize their reputation and looking foolish if they told everyone to go home. Money would be lost. There would be public embarrassment. They would look silly after all their boasting and now admitting there is a problem brewing.
So, despite all the warnings staring straight at them and the pleas by the more sensible character, the higher up character ignores it all and the event proceeds as planned. What a big mistake!
That’s when the disaster hits.
The characters will all come together with the same common goal of trying to save their lives and their loved ones. There will be conflict, romance and sacrifice. Movie special effects audiences hadn’t seen before will dazzle them making the disaster scenario as real as its ever been presented.
On top of the cutting edge special effects, the huge cast is filled with some of Hollywood’s most popular actors. The supporting parts are also played by recognizable character actors. There’s enough room in the cast for older Hollywood Golden Age actors to score a supporting role (and in one case win an Oscar for it).
That’s a rough generic blueprint of 1970s disaster film and throughout the decade it entertained audiences and would be one of the most popular and profitable genres. Sure, were exceptions to it, but with all the scenarios and premises, the majority stuck fairly close to that ‘Disaster Blueprint’.
There were ‘disaster films’ long before the genre hit its peak in the 1970s. Maybe it was because of the turbulent era with Watergate, the Vietnam Wars and assassinations that had taken place, audiences were ready to watch the drama of characters trapped in life threatening predicaments and try to escape the clutches of death.
There would be the box office juggernauts of Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno that cemented the popularity of disaster films. But the disaster film wasn’t just limited to big-budget movie theater spectacles, it also would venture into the television movie arena.
Less glossy and smaller budgets with recognizable B-List actors and less impressive special effects, even a cheaper disaster film on the ABC Sunday Night Movie would guarantee some ratings for a network.
These forgotten, more obscure disaster movies from the era of TV movies I find incredibly fascinating. Sure, everyone remembers and knows Poseidon, Inferno and the Airport series, but not many remember Flood, Elevator, SST Disaster In The Sky and Smash Up On Interstate 5.
The disaster film started out huge with Airport in 1970. Subsequent disaster films generated enthusiasm from audiences and made whole lot of money. They dominated the decade. It made producer/director Irwin Allen a household name as he earned the nickname ‘The Master of Disaster’, thanks to Poseidon and Inferno. If you can think of some kind of disaster scenario, it’s likely it was used.
As premises got more and more over-the-top, the casts got less impressive and the special effects became more subpar, audiences got burned out with the disaster film.
By the end of the decade the genre was still trying to scrap by with films like Avalanche and Meteor. Allen’s golden touch withered aways with the mediocre The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. The absurd The Concorde…Airport ’79 put an end to the Airport series after four films.
Allen had one final disaster film left in him, 1980s When Time Ran Out. But by then the disaster blueprint had been completely exhausted and audiences had moved on. The film was a box office bomb and the 1970s disaster film era had run its course. The only left for it was to be spoofed, which 1980s Airplane! did quite effectively.
It is with this wide range of 1970s productions of the disaster film, I made this compilation entitled The 1970s Recipe For Disaster!
Featuring the most popular and successful disaster films with the biggest stars, along with the more buried TV movies that have fallen deep into the cracks of the 1970s disaster genre. It follows the ‘Disaster Blueprint’ that so many disaster films followed. The template, tropes, clichés and stars from the era that made the Disaster Film a quintessential part of 1970s entertainment.