The Poseidon Adventure (1972 film)

The Poseidon Adventure

Theatrical poster
Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by Irwin Allen
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant
Wendell Mayes
Based on The Poseidon Adventure
by Paul Gallico
Starring Gene Hackman
Ernest Borgnine
Red Buttons
Carol Lynley
Shelley Winters
Roddy McDowall
Stella Stevens
Jack Albertson
Pamela Sue Martin
Arthur O'Connell
Eric Shea
Leslie Nielsen
Music by John Williams
The Song from The Poseidon Adventure:
Joel Hirschhorn
Al Kasha
Cinematography Harold E. Stine
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Kent Productions, Ltd.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 12, 1972 (1972-12-12)
Running time
117 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.7 million[1]
Box office $127.3 million[2]

The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American action-adventure disaster film, directed by Ronald Neame, produced by Irwin Allen, and based on Paul Gallico's novel of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast, including five Academy Award winners: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons. The cast also includes Carol Lynley, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Nielsen, and Pamela Sue Martin. It won a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects and an Academy Award for Best Original Song (for "The Song from The Poseidon Adventure", also known as "The Morning After"). Shelley Winters won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role. It also received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama and for Best Original Score by John Williams.

The plot centers on the SS Poseidon, an aged luxury liner on her final voyage from New York City to Athens before being sent to the scrapyard. On New Year's Eve, she is overturned by a rogue wave. Passengers and crew are trapped inside, and a rebellious preacher attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

Parts of the movie were filmed aboard the RMS Queen Mary. Boxoffice magazine reported The Poseidon Adventure was the #1 Box Office Champ of 1973. By the end of 1974, it ranked among the six most successful features in film history, along with Gone with the Wind (1939), The Godfather (1972), Love Story (1970), Airport (1970), and The Sound of Music (1965). It is in the vein of other all-star disaster films of the 1970s such as Airport and later ones like Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (1974). The Poseidon Adventure was remade twice, first as a television special in 2005 with the same name, and as a theatrical release titled Poseidon in 2006. In 1998, several episodes of the daytime soap Sunset Beach entitled "Shockwave" revolved around an earthquake and tsunami in California and major parts of the episodes take place on a cruise ship, the S.S. Neptune that is capsized by the giant wave. The episode borrowed heavily from the plot line of The Poseidon Adventure and garnered huge audiences and spurring NBC to repeat it several weeks later in prime time.

A 1979 sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, which was also based on a novel by Gallico, was released later with an equally star-studded cast, but was a commercial and critical failure.


The S.S. Poseidon, an ocean liner slated for retirement and scrapping, makes her way across the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea from New York City to Athens. Despite protests from Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen), who fears for the ship's safety, the representative of her new owners, Mr. Linarcos, insists that he should go at full speed26 or so knotstowards Athens to save money, preventing him from taking on additional ballast.

The Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a minister believing God helps those who help themselves, delivers a sermon. Detective Lt. Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and wife Linda (Stella Stevens), a sarcastic former prostitute, deal with her seasickness. Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) and younger brother Robin (Eric Shea) are traveling to meet their parents. Robin is interested in how the ship works and frequently visits the engine room. Retired Jewish hardware store owner Manny Rosen (Jack Albertson) and wife Belle (Shelley Winters) are going to Israel to meet their two-year-old grandson for the first time. Haberdasher James Martin (Red Buttons) is a love-shy, health-conscious bachelor. The ship's singer, Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), rehearses for the New Year's Day celebration with her band.

That evening, passengers gather in the dining room to celebrate. Harrison is called to the bridge in response to a report of an undersea earthquake. He receives word from the lookout that a huge wave is approaching from the direction of Crete, at 60 knots. He issues a mayday distress signal and commands a "hard left" turn, but it is too late. The wave hits the ship and she capsizes.

In the dining room, survivors take stock of their predicament. Acres (Roddy McDowell), an injured waiter, is trapped at the galley door now high above. Scott surmises that the escape route will be found "upwards", at the outer hull, now above water. Robin tells him the hull near the propeller shaft is only one inch (2.54 cm) thick. The Rosens, the Rogos, Susan, Robin, Acres, Nonnie, and Martin agree to go with Scott, using a Christmas tree as a ladder. Scott unsuccessfully tries convincing more passengers to join them. After the group climbs to the galley, there is a series of explosions. As seawater floods the room the survivors rush to the Christmas tree, but the weight of everyone climbing causes the tree to fall. The water fills up the dining room and the Poseidon begins to sink.

Acres and Scott find the galley, and the survivors make their way to a staircase. Scott climbs its underside, then he and Rogo use a fire hose to pull the others up, with the water quickly rising behind them. Scott leads the group to an access tunnel. While climbing a ladder inside a funnel, the ship rocks from another series of explosions. Acres falls and is lost.

Climbing out of the shaft, the group meets a large band of survivors led by the ship's medic, heading towards the bow. Scott is certain they are heading for their doom, but Rogo wants to follow them and gives Scott 15 minutes to find the engine room. Although he takes longer than allowed, Scott is successful.

The group discovers the engine room is on the other side of a flooded corridor; someone must swim through with a line to help the others. Belle, who reveals herself to be a former competitive swimmer, tries to volunteer, but Scott refuses her and dives in. Halfway through, a panel collapses on him. The survivors notice something is wrong and without any choice, Belle dives in. She frees Scott and they make it to the other side. While Scott secures the lifeline, Belle suffers a heart attack. Before dying she tells Scott to give her "Chai" pendant, representing the Hebrew sign for life, to Rosen, who in turn will give it to their grandson.

Rogo swims over to make sure Belle and Scott are all right, then leads the rest over. When Rosen finds Belle's dead body he is unwilling to go on, but Scott gives him her pendant, reminding him that he has a reason to live.

Scott leads the survivors to the propeller shaft room's watertight door, but there is another series of explosions, and one of them causes Linda to fall to her death. An infuriated and heartbroken Rogo blames her death on Scott. One of the explosions rupture a pipe that releases steam, blocking their escape. Scott rants at God for the survivors' deaths. He leaps and grabs onto the burning-hot valve wheel to shut off the steam, then tells Rogo to lead the group before letting go of it, sacrificing himself to the fiery waters.

Rogo leads the remaining survivors—Rosen, Martin, Nonnie, Susan, and Robin—through the watertight doors and into the propeller shaft tunnel. They hear a noise from outside and bang on the hull to attract the rescuers' attention. The rescuers cut a hole through the hull. It is revealed that none of the passengers that headed toward the bow were rescued. The rescue crew assist the group out of the ship, and the six survivors are flown to safety by helicopter.



Irwin Allen had been an extremely successful television producer during the 1960s but had a hard time making the break into feature films. Upon coming across the book, Allen immediately secured the rights and financing from 20th Century Fox to produce and distribute the film version. Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes co-wrote the screenplay, removing some of the novel's more unsavory scenes, including one where Pamela Sue Martin's character Susan is raped in the aftermath of the capsizing, the sweeping away and loss of her brother Robin in a panicked crew rush (his fate is never known) and the seductive behavior of Linda Rogo toward the Reverend Scott. The writers concentrated on just a few characters, making them more sympathetic. In the novel almost all the characters were deeply flawed and in most cases unlikeable.

A budget of $4.7 million was set, but on the eve of production the studio removed production support, the reasoning being that audiences were moving away from big-budget extravaganzas in favor of gritty, realistic, and cynical fare. Fox was also heavily in debt as a result of having produced several huge musical productions, most of which failed at the box office. Allen managed to get two wealthy friends to guarantee half the funding with their own money. The studio still had one stipulation, that the director be of its selection. Veteran British director Ronald Neame, who had directed the critically acclaimed The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie and Scrooge, was then selected.

The film was shot mostly in sequence to give the cast the feeling of actually going through the adversity of the characters. The cast reportedly got along very well. The two main characters, Scott and Rogo, were portrayed to the hilt by Hackman and Borgnine. In an interview many years later, Neame would comment that he let them loose a bit too much and they both "really chewed the scenery", a theatrical term which denotes overly dramatic acting. Shelley Winters gave one of her very best performances as Mrs. Rosen, a role that would bring her great praise. She even performed her own underwater stunts swimming for extended periods.

Both in the book and film, the Poseidon itself was closely based on the Queen Mary and many early scenes were shot aboard the actual ship, permanently moored as a floating tourist attraction in Long Beach. The sets built to simulate the capsized liner were designed as closely to the actual ship's design as possible. For the capsizing sequence, a full-size dining room was designed by Art Director William Creber in such a way that it could be re-dressed to appear upside down. Built on Stage 6 on the Fox lot, it was also designed to be lifted by large forklifts to simulate the ship being drawn into the giant wave. The set would be lifted to a 30-degree incline, allowing a convincing slide for actors and stunt performers. This was enhanced by tilting the camera in the opposite direction to exaggerate the effect. Once filming for the first half of the scene was completed, the set was completely redressed with tables being bolted to the inverted "floor" which had begun as the ceiling. Skylights with special padding for stuntmen to fall through were then built on the inverted "ceiling", which began the scene as the dining salon deck. Other sets like the engine room, kitchen, and barber shop were built inverted.

In order to give the movie a visual feel for being on the open ocean, a special double mount was built for the cameras used, moving up and down and side to side. This was subtly done throughout the film both before and after the capsizing which gave the subliminal effect of rocking back and forth to the audience. For scenes with more action such as the opening sequence on the bridge the actors were coached to lean in the opposite direction of the camera tilt for more effect.

The scene of the tidal wave striking the ship was all done with practical effects with thousands of gallons of water and a large model. In order to convincingly shoot the ship turning over in the ocean Special Effects head L. B. Abbott obtained blue prints for the Queen Mary in 1/48th scale and based on this built a scale model at a cost of $35,000 which was 21 feet long and weighed several tons. The ship had working lights rigged all throughout and was attached to a mechanical mount below the water to control the movements of the ship as it turned on it side, struggled to right itself, then fully capsized.

The scene was shot in one of the largest water tanks available at the time, measuring 32 feet, with two large 1,200-gallon dump tanks built above it. The tanks were then tilted into the main tank creating the wave effect. The cameras filming the scene were run at seven times normal speed to achieve the effect of a huge amount of water hitting the ship. When run at normal speed the slow motion effect simulated a much larger scale to the action. The scene where Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) looks out over the ocean and sees the approaching wave was actually a shot of the high surf at Malibu and also filmed in slow motion. The model was then filmed from below fully capsized for several more scenes showing explosions blowing out of the funnels as the boilers blew and the ship settled deeper into the sea. The sequence still convincingly holds up today even though it was filmed more than 40 years ago and with no digital effects.[3]

The model of the ship was used in several other productions over the years, including a television film produced by Allen entitled "Adventures of the Queen". That film was a pilot for a never picked-up series starring David Hedison, with whom Allen had worked on the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea television series, which allowed him to make use of stock footage from The Poseidon Adventure as well. It was also re-dressed for a Titanic television film before being donated to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro, where it is presently located.


The original score was composed and conducted by John Williams, a young but up-and-coming composer whom Irwin Allen had worked with on television shows in the 1960s such as Lost In Space and Land of the Giants. It would be a hallmark work, opening the door for Williams to become a musical "Master of Disaster" in terms of film scores, leading to films such as Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (1974), also produced by Allen. One of Williams' most soaring and sweeping scores, it garnered the notice of a young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg, with whom he would go on to score almost every film Spielberg has made since, including the Oscar-winning score for Jaws (1975). Williams would become one of the most successful composers in film history, with the scores to Superman (1978) and the entire Star Wars series.

The Poseidon Adventure is a dark, brooding score reflecting the story but with an almost light main theme built on a very nautical sound, harkening back to seagoing adventure films of the past. Some consider it one of his very best, particularly for how early it came in his career and it was nominated for a Golden Globe award. Bootlegs have been circulating for many years and the first official release did not come for some 35 years after the film's release, most unusual for such a highly acclaimed work. The latest and most extensive is from La-La Land Records, utilizing the original six-track masters for a stereo mix. Alternate and additional cues are also included.

The theme song, "The Morning After", was composed by the songwriting team of Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha in one night. They were called on a Thursday, given the script and told they had to have a song by the next day. They wrote lyrics that reflected elements of the story but were generic enough to be believable. After listening to actress Carol Lynley, who portrays Nonnie the singer in the film, a similar-sounding session singer, Renee Armand, was brought in to do a demo, which was used in the film. Lynley's costume for that scene was based on what Armand was wearing when she visited the set. 20th Century Fox had a subsidiary record company and Russ Regan, manager of 20th Century Fox Records, saw an opportunity for promotion. The song was then re-recorded with Maureen McGovern, whose demo reel she had sent to him sometime before, and released almost as a throwaway to promote the film on radio. After the film became a major success, the song was nominated for and won an Academy Award. Radio stations then started to play it in earnest and it became a Gold Record, reaching number one on the pop charts in many parts of the world.

The same singer and songwriting team would win another Academy Award three years later on the next Irwin Allen production,The Towering Inferno, with "We May Never Love Like This Again".

The Poseidon Adventure: Limited Edition[4]
No. Title Length
1. "Main Title"   2:12
2. "Rogo and Linda"   1:34
3. "The Big Wave"/"The Aftermath"   4:02
4. "Raising the Christmas Tree"   1:28
5. "Nonnie and Red"/"Up the Tree"   1:59
6. "Death's Door"/"The Upturned Galley"   2:01
7. "Through the Galley"   1:13
8. "The Other Survivors"   1:37
9. "Search for the Engine Room"   2:51
10. "Barber Shoppe Scene"   1:46
11. "Saving Robin"   1:24
12. "The Death of Belle"   3:25
13. "Hold Your Breath"   3:08
14. "The Red Wheel"   1:25
15. "Rogo Takes Command"   1:38
16. "End Title (The Rescue)"   3:36
17. "Main Title (Alternate #1)"   1:58
18. "New Year's Party (Version 1)"   0:58
19. "To Love"   3:12
20. "New Year's Party (Version 2)"   2:11
21. "Main Title (Alternate #2)"   1:59
22. "The Morning After (Version 1)"   2:10
23. "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing"   2:19
24. "Give Me The Simple Life"/"A Certain Smile"   1:49
25. "The Morning After (Instrumental)"   2:09
26. "Auld Lang Syne"   1:34
27. "The Morning After (Version 2)"   2:10
28. "End Title (Alternate)"   2:38


The film earned estimated rentals of $40 million in North America in 1973.[5]

The Poseidon Adventure has received largely positive reviews, with review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reporting 79% of 24 critics gave the film a positive review, with an above average score of 6.8/10.[6]

When the film made its network television premiere on ABC on October 27, 1974, it earned a 39.0 household share, making it the sixth highest film to ever air on network television.[7]

The Poseidon Adventure has become a cult film, particularly among gay audiences.[8] It has been released on DVD and Blu-ray.

The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book, The Official Razzie Movie Guide, as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.[9]

Mad's September 1973 edition satirized the movie as "The Poopsidedown Adventure". It became the best selling issue in the magazine's history.[10]


The film won two Academy Awards,[11] a Golden Globe Award, a British Academy Film Award, and a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.[12]

Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Supporting Actress Shelley Winters Nominated
Best Production Design William J. Creber Nominated
Raphael Bretton Nominated
Best Original Song ("The Morning After") Al Kasha Won
Joel Hirschhorn Won
Best Visual Effects

(Special Achievement Award/non-competitive)

L. B. Abbott Won
A. D. Flowers Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Best Costume Design Paul Zastupnevich Nominated
Best Sound Theodore Soderberg Nominated
Herman Lewis Nominated
Best Cinematography Harold E. Stine Nominated
Best Film Editing Harold F. Kress Nominated
ACE Eddie Best Editing Nominated
BAFTA Award Best Actor Gene Hackman Won
Best Supporting Actress Shelley Winters Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Best Original Song ("The Morning After") Al Kasha Nominated
Joel Hirschhorn Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Irwin Allen Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors Award Best Sound Editing N/A Nominated
Satellite Award Best DVD Extras Nominated

See also


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p256
  2. "The Poseidon Adventure, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  3. La-La Land Records Special Edition soundtrack liner notes
  4. "The Poseidon Adventure (Stereo): Limited Edition". La-La Land Records. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
  5. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  6. The Poseidon Adventure at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 805. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  8. Vinciguerra, Thomas (2006-05-07). "Underwater, and Over the Top in 1972". The New York Times.
  9. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  11. "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-28.
  12. "NY Times: The Poseidon Adventure". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28.

External links

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