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The Poseidon Adventure
Theatrical poster
Directed byRonald Neame
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Wendell Mayes
Produced byIrwin Allen
StarringGene 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
CinematographyHarold E. Stine
Edited byHarold F. Kress
Music byJohn Williams
The Song from The Poseidon Adventure:
Joel Hirschhorn
Al Kasha
Kent Productions, Ltd.
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 12, 1972 (1972-12-12)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.7 million[1]
Box office$127.3 million[2]

The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American disaster film directed by Ronald Neame, produced by Irwin Allen, and based on Paul Gallico's novel of the same name. It features an ensemble cast, including five Academy Award winners: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons. Parts of the movie were filmed aboard the Template:RMS. 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.

It is in the vein of other all-star disaster films of the early-mid 1970s such as Airport, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. By the end of 1974, it was regarded as a widely successful film. The film won two Academy Awards,[3] a Golden Globe Award, a British Academy Film Award, and a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.[4] A 1979 sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, was also based on a novel by Gallico, but was a commercial and critical failure.


Template:Plot 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 speed—26 or so knots—towards 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.


  • Gene Hackman as the Reverend Frank Scott
  • Ernest Borgnine as Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo
  • Red Buttons as James Martin
  • Carol Lynley as Nonnie Parry
  • Roddy McDowall as Acres
  • Stella Stevens as Linda Rogo
  • Shelley Winters as Belle Rosen
  • Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen
  • Pamela Sue Martin as Susan Shelby
  • Arthur O'Connell as Chaplain John
  • Eric Shea as Robin Shelby
  • Leslie Nielsen as Captain Harrison
  • Fred Sadoff as Linarcos
  • Byron Webster as Purser
  • Jan Arvan as Dr. Caravello
  • Sheila Mathews as Nurse
  • John Crawford as Chief Engineer
  • Bob Hastings as M.C.
  • Erik Nelson as Tinkham


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.[5]

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, an up-and-coming composer whom Irwin Allen had worked with on television shows in the 1960s.



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.[7] 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 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.[8]

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 film earned estimated rentals of $40 million in North America in 1973.[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] 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.[11] The Poseidon Adventure has become a cult film, particularly among gay audiences.[12] It has been released on DVD and Blu-ray.


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.

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


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. 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.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.

See also[]

  • List of American films of 1972
  • The Last Voyage (1960)
  • Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films


  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. "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-28.
  4. "NY Times: The Poseidon Adventure". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
  5. La-La Land Records Special Edition soundtrack liner notes
  6. "The Poseidon Adventure (Stereo): Limited Edition". La-La Land Records. Retrieved October 19, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  7. The Poseidon Adventure at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
  9. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  10. [1][dead link]
  11. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 805. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  12. Vinciguerra, Thomas (2006-05-07). "Underwater, and Over the Top in 1972". The New York Times.

External links[]

Template:Ronald Neame Template:Irwin Allen Template:The Poseidon Adventure