Movie Cycles: Disaster Movies, 1970-1978

The cycle of the new disaster films began with Airport, which paradoxically was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

To be sure, there were always “disaster” films, such as the John Wayne’s 1953 vehicle, The High and the Mighty, or the 1960 The Last Voyage, an MGM adventure about an explosion that sinks a luxury liner, and was nominated for the Special Effects Oscar.

But these efforts were sporadic, if not singular, features, which didn’t have a discernable long-run impact on the industry and thus did not lead to the making of many other, similar pictures.

The new cycle continued with The Poseidon Adventure, in 1972, which was one of the best of its kind, due to the high-caliber of acting.  The ensemble was headed by Gene Hackman, who had just won the 1971 Best Actor Oscar for William Friedkin’s The French Connection.  For that film, Shelley Winters was nominated for her fourth (and third Supporting Actress) Oscar.

Like other film cycles, the “disaster” one lasted about half a decade or so.

It ended with two big commercial flops, The Swarm (1978), directed by Irwin Allen, and Meteor (1979).

Among the artistic highlights of this genre is The Towering Inferno, which was nominated for the 1974 Best Picture Oscar, and paired for the first, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, both at the top of their form.