THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE was a key film in establishing the disaster movie genre that was Hollywood’s boxoffice equivalent in the 1970s of today’s superhero movies.
POSEIDON, which premiered in L.A. on Dec. 15, 1972, was directed by Ronald Neame (THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) & produced by Irwin Allen, who was nicknamed the Master of Disaster. Allen, who’d spent many years writing, producing & directing movies and TV series, was the kind of hands-on producer who maintained total control of his projects.
Allen’s biggest movie hits were POSEIDON and 1974’s disaster epic THE TOWERING INFERNO. He also struck gold producing such 1960s sci-fi TV series as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL & LAND OF THE GIANTS.
POSEIDON’s origins were in a 1969 novel by Paul Gallico, who’d taken a 1937 vacation voyage on the Queen Mary. While at breakfast in the dining room, the huge ocean liner was suddenly struck by a tremendous wave that threw people and furniture across the room, nearly capsizing the vessel. Gallico’s novel was acquired by the indie studio Avco Embassy Pictures, with whom Allen made a three-picture deal, starting with POSEIDON. As often happens in Hollywood, Embassy later dropped the project.
It wound up moving to 20th Century Fox, but if it weren’t for Allen, Fox wouldn’t have made it. The studio was swimming in red ink at the time from TV division losses and from a string of musical boxoffice bombs like DOCTOR DOLITTLE, STAR! & HELLO, DOLLY! that failed to follow in the footsteps of Fox’s 1965 musical blockbuster, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. When Fox soured on making POSEIDON, Allen kept the project alive by promising to raise half its sizable (for the time) $5M budget.
He did so simply by going across the street from Fox’s studio on Pico Blvd. in West L.A. to the posh Hillcrest Country Club, where some of his Hollywood pals were playing a high-stakes card game. Allen quickly talked them into putting up money for POSEIDON, which grossed about $85M domestic.
Allen & his investors also profited nicely from ABC paying $1M for the TV rights. That was, at the time, more money than a network had ever spent to broadcast a film. When it aired on Oct. 27, 1974, it got a 39 Nielsen rating & a 62% audience share, making it network TV’s sixth highest-rated movie ever.
Allen followed POSEIDON’s success with 1974’s THE TOWERING INFERNO, which cost $14M and grossed $116M domestically. He’d wanted to film Richard Martin Stern’s novel “The Tower” about a deadly skyscraper fire, but Warner Bros. had already owned the movie rights. Then Allen found a similar novel by Thomas Scortia & Frank Robinson called “The Glass Inferno.”
Instead of making two competing movies, Fox & WB co-produced one film with elements of both stories. It was the first time two major studios had teamed up to make a movie.