On New Year's Eve the top-heavy cruise ship the S.S. Poseidon is sailing through a storm. Then at midnight, just as the passengers are celebrating, the nightmare strikes - a huge tidal wave hits the ship, turning it upside down. Who will survive?
Next to The Towering Inferno, this is probably the best film produced by Irwin Allen, the Master of Disaster in the 1970's. Scripted by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, it was based on the novel by Paul Gallico. There were quite a few disaster movies made in this period which are largely considered campy entetainment, but they can still be surprisingly diverting, The Poseidon Adventure particularly so.
The actors often approach self parody with their broad performances, and you can play the "who's going to die next?" game if you haven't seen it before. But despite the film's lack of subtlety, there is something inspirational in their struggles, and even if the calamities bring more smiles to the face than tears to the eye, it manages to be quite touching on occasion.
Although they had a major comeback in the nineties through to the twenty-first century, disaster movies went out of fashion in the meantime, perhaps because you now could turn on the TV news and see the real thing every hour and they didn't feel quite so escapist any more, although perversely that might be why they regained their popularity. Hackman rails against his God at the end of The Poseidon Adventure, and it's true to say that the deity the characters have to deal with is an Old Testament one who demands sacrifices.
By the end of the 1970's, Airplane had come along and laughed films like this off the screen, although stuff like Airport 79: The Concorde and even Beyond the Poseidon Adventure had pretty much killed the genre by themselves. But there's nothing wrong with star-studded melodrama and over-the-top tragedy if its done right, as it is here. Music by John Williams. Listen for great lines like "Who do you think you are, God Himself?!" and "I need a monkey".