Film: Earthquake

Quintessential Disaster Movie from the outbreak of that genre in the 70s, alongside Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Directed by Mark Robson, and starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Victoria Principal, Monica Lewis and Walter Matthau.

Stewart Graff (Heston) is a construction engineer stuck in a forlorn marriage to Remy Royce-Graff (Gardner). Denise Marshall (Bujold) is the widow of a friend of Stewart's whom he has an affair with. Sgt. Lew Slade (Kennedy) is a disgruntled cop. Miles Quade (Roundtree) is a motorcycle stuntman who is preparing for the biggest stunt of his life with his partner Sal Amici (Gabriel Dell). Rosa Amici (Principal) is Sal's sister. Jody Joad (Gortner) is a soldier with a part-time job as a store clerk who is on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. Amidst all these characters and all this drama, however, the California Seismological Institute has calculated that Los Angeles is going to be hit by a massive earthquake, the worst ever recorded, in the next day or two. Walter Russell (Kip Niven), the amateur staffer of the Institute who discerned this, proposes that the city be evacuated, but his superior insists that the cost of evacuation could be even greater than that of the earthquake itself. Can you guess where this is all heading?

The film was originally written by Mario Puzo, of The Godfather fame. He dropped out from production due to contractual obligations to work on The Godfather: Part II. The script collected dust for a time until Universal Studios thought they could make a buck off of it due to the success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. In order to draw audiences in, screenings of the film used a technique called "Sensurround", in which loud speakers simulated an earthquake within the cinema. Despite lukewarm reviews at best, Universal Studios's predictions were correct and the film was a rollicking financial success, grossing $79 million whereas its budget had been a mere $7 million.


This film provides examples of:

  • AB Negative: A first responder can be heard pleading for a shipment of this by radio at an aid station.
  • Artistic Licence - Geology: You don't get 9.9 on the Richter Scale, because rock lacks the capability to build up that much pressure before it gives to the quake. The greatest quake recorded in history was 9.2 in Chile. The Strike-Slip plates around LA can only hold about an 8.0 (which is 'only' 1000 atom bombs). The Richter Scale is being directly associated with damage.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jody Joad.
  • Big Bad: Jody Joad is the closest to one, considering he's one of the major characters trying to survive an earthquake.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jody Joad. Underneath the guise of the friendly grocery store manager, is a ruthless psychopathic Sociopathic Soldier.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Jody's housemates bullies him to a point he took his revenge by gunning them down after catching them looting.
  • Camera Abuse
  • Developing Doomed Characters: for 49 minutes
  • Disaster Movie
  • Elevator Failure: "Yeah, people drown in elevators every damn day of the week!"
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin
  • Faux Affably Evil: Jody continues to woo for Rosa's affections, despite her witnessing his Ax-Crazy side after he murdered his old housemates out of revenge.
  • Fight to Survive: As usual in disaster movies, the characters are left struggling to stay alive after disaster strikes.
  • Going Postal: Jody.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Remy falls off a ladder trying to escape a flood in the sewer, and Stewart, instead of climbing the ladder to safety (and the waiting arms of his girlfriend Denise), jumps off in a futile effort to save Remy. Both of them are swept away by the rushing torrent.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • The Neidermeyer: Jody, especially when his men tries to look for an officer to have him face court martial out of fear.
  • Scenery Gorn: The ending shot.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Jody Joad.
  • Stepford Smiler: Jody, when he was a grocery store manager and acts friendly towards his regular customer (and target of lust) Rosa and continues to act friendly towards her even after she witnesses him killing his boorish housemates.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Several people during the big earthquake, including people who crowd into an elevator before it falls, and a man running into a house with a broken gas line with a lit cigarette in his mouth.
  • Truth in Television: There's a reason South California is the preferred location for earthquake disaster movies - it's due 'The Big One' any day now.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Jody's reaction to his object of lust Rosa for rejecting him out of fear of his Ax-Crazy side can count, which prompts him to commit an Attempted Rape, in turn leading George Kennedy to pull a Big Damn Heroes moment in time and saving Rosa from the madman.