My Favorite Disaster Movies That Were Books First

Inspired by the recent Facebook update of a friend, I got to thinking of my favorite disaster movies. I was brought up during the 70s when disaster movies seemed to reign: Airport, Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Rollercoaster, to name a few. These movies terrified me, yet I was strangely attracted to them. I loved all the cameo appearances by film movie legends (Fred Astaire, Shelly Winters, Charleston Heston, Lloyd Nolan, Jennifer Jones, and the list could go on and on)! I especially remember my mom taking me to the theater to see Earthquake. I actually could feel the vibrations. Little did I know at the time but it was this movie’s sound effects that caused the sensation of feeling an earthquake (perhaps not a good idea to take a small impressionable child)! This movie terrified me! I even remember eating a Hershey bar with almonds. I don’t eat them to this day.

Each one of these movies changed how I viewed the simple act of getting into an elevator, taking a cruise, visiting an amusement park, or traveling to the top of a skyscraper for a bird’s eye view of the city.

Perhaps these movies shaped some of my literary interests as well. It might explain why I’m attracted to the subject of the Holocaust, one of the greatest disasters in human history.

Not to dwell on real unpleasantness, but I thought it would be fun instead to list the disaster movie and its literary counterpart, maybe there’s one here you haven’t discovered!

  1. The Towering Inferno (1974). Starred Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire and O.J. Simpson. This movie is based on the combination of two books: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (1973) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (1974).
  2. Airport(1970) This one set off sequels Airport 75, Airport 77 and The Concorde or Airport 79. I saw them all.  Starred Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Barbara Hale, Helen Hayes. The book Airport was written by Arthur Hailey (1968).
  3. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Starred Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell, Arthur O’Connell. Also the book The Poseidon Adventure was written by Paul Gallico (1971).
  4. Rollercoaster (1977) Starred Henry Fonda (!), Richard Widmark, George Segal, and a very young Helen Hunt. Utopia by Lincoln Child (2003) is the closest I could find about an amusement park with a disaster theme. Excellent book!
  5. Meteor (1979). While not a book it may be inspired by an MIT report in 1967 Project Icarus.
  6. The Hindenburg (1975). This starred George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, Gig Young, and Burgess Meredith. I remember vividly going to see this film when I was a little girl. It was one of the rare times my father ever went to the movies. I only remember there was a dog on the Hindenburg and I was very concerned for it. The book, titled The Hindenburg was written by Michael MacDonald Mooney (1972) He hypothesized there was a bomber and perhaps a German/Nazi connection. Did Hitler order the bombing of the Hindenburg in retaliation over anti-Nazi opinions? I believe this is loosely based on facts. Historians disagree in a sabotage theory. Well, either way, it made for a great disaster movie.

Did I miss any? What disaster movie was your favorite. Did it start out as a book, or a screenplay? Let me know!


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