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Film / The Poseidon Adventure

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From heaven to llǝɥ in an instant.

Linda Rogo: So that's the cat this ship is named after, huh?
Captain Harrison: That's right, Mrs. Rogo. The Greek god Poseidon. God of storms, tempests, earthquakes and other miscellaneous natural disasters. Quite an ill-tempered fellow.

A 1969 novel by Paul Gallico, The Poseidon Adventure is better known for its 1972 film adaptation produced and co-directed by Irwin Allen and starring an All-Star Cast (and the Queen Mary). It's one of the key entries in the Disaster Movie genre of The '70s.

On New Year's Eve, the passengers and crew aboard the aging ocean liner SS Poseidon party without a care in the world as the ship, which is on her final voyage en route to the scrapyard, sails on across the Mediterranean Sea. Already behind schedule, the new owner's representative overrides the objections of the captain and refuses to let the ship slow to take on ballast to help her ride out some bad weather. Meanwhile, an undersea earthquake strikes near Crete and creates a massive rogue wave. When the wave hits the Poseidon, she capsizes. Now, one lone preacher, Rev. Scott, must get a group of survivors up to the bottom. But will they make it?


A sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, was made in 1979. Meanwhile, the original story was remade twice within the course of six months around 2005–06, first as a Made-for-TV Movie on NBC and then as the feature film Poseidon; the latter production featured the Queen Mary II.

Gene Hackman plays Rev. Scott in the 1972 version (though he doesn't even say Mass).

The 1972 film features examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Some of women were wearing long gowns for the party, and have to remove them to climb out of the ballroom.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Scott is much more ruthless in the novel, basically abandoning anyone who isn't fit during the attempt to reach the hull. This was drastically toned down in the film, in order to make him a leader audiences could root for.
  • Adapted Out: Characters who were dropped from the novel include passengers Miss Kinsale, Hubie Mueller, The Beamer and his companion, Pamela; and Susan and Robin's parents, Richard and Jane Shelby. Also, there was a second steward, named Peters, and Acres was known as Acre. A final member was Kemal, part of the ship's engineering crew.
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  • Air-Vent Passageway
  • An Aesop: Scott repeatedly makes the point that God helps those who help themselves, and this philosophy drives his actions through the plot. At times it reaches the point that the Aesop seems to be "doing anything at all is always better than waiting for outside help".
  • And Starring: "and Leslie Nielsen as The Captain".
  • Anyone Can Die: Of the ten people who make the journey, Acres, Belle Rosen, Linda Rogo and Reverend Scott all die.
  • The Ark: Oddly enough, despite this being the least seaworthy vessel, not averted. Much of the story revolves of an attempt to escape an area about to be flooded, despite most of the passengers calling them crazy and staying until the end. As if to drive the point home, the means of rescue from the ballroom is a Christmas tree.
  • Award-Bait Song: "There's got to be a morning after..."note 
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Rogo and Linda.
  • Badass Preacher: Rev. Scott, arguably. His sermon about getting off one's knees and saving oneself is basically the sermon for surviving a zombie apocalypse. And then he starts practicing what he preaches by giving his life to help people save themselves.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Discussed, but rejected as a way of climbing out of the ballroom.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Susan towards Robin.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Six people survive, but they're only six out of what had to be hundreds of passengers, two of the survivors lost wives they loved dearly and their fearless leader didn't make it either.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Earlier in the movie, Mrs. Rosen proudly boasts that in her youth, she was a champion swimmer.
  • Church of Saint Genericus: We're never told exactly what denomination Rev. Scott belongs to. Or, for that matter, his friend the ship's chaplain.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The wave hits immediately after the stroke of midnight ushers in the New Year. (This was a change from the novel, in which the ship capsizes on the day after Christmas.)
  • Creator In-Joke: Robin jokes about almost dying in the bathroom, and Susan jokes it would be a silly way to die. In the novel, Robin is last heard of when he's going to the bathroom.
  • Death by Adaptation: The movie makes it clear that only the six survive, but the novel ends with others being rescued from other points of the ship.
  • Decomposite Character: Several characters are combined with those omitted from the novel. Mueller's arc, the man who protects Nonnie in the book, was transferred to the character of James Martin. Miss Kinsale's attraction to Rev. Frank Scott was transferred to Susan Shelby. Peters and Acre were combined to the Acres character.
  • Doomed Contrarian: Played deadly (and immediately) straight with the purser and the people who stay with him. Conspicuously averted with Rogo, the most contrary member of the main group and one of the few survivors.
    • The first one is actually subverted in the novel, where the people who stayed in the ballroom are the first to be rescued.
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: Acres' hurt leg pretty much means he's a goner the minute the injury becomes apparent. Unsurprisingly, he ends up falling to his death down a shaft.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Since he's the strongest survivor, Rogo is frequently asked (well, more like ordered) to lift/move something or help someone, and he tends to be irritated by Rev. Scott never even saying "thank you". He finally snaps after Scott blames him for Acres falling to his death, even though Rogo tried to save him. He actually has to be held back by the others from punching the reverend.
  • Dwindling Party: We begin with all the survivors in the Ball Room plus the main cast, who decide to reach the hull before the ship sinks. The ball room is flooded, leaving all the red shirts to die. Acres is lost when he falls to his death during the climb in the air shaft. Next, Belle frees a trapped Rev. Scott underwater, but dies of a heart attack immediately after. Linda falls to her death from a catwalk when explosions rock the ship. Finally, Rev. Scott sacrifices himself to shut off a steam valve, leaving only six survivors.
  • Enclosed Space: The ship itself, but particularly the underwater passage.
  • Fanservice: Dagnabbit, those long skirts worn by Pamela Sue Martin and Stella Stevens are way too inconvenient for them to climb out of the ballroom in. Guess they'd better take them off. (Conveniently enough, the older and heftier Shelley Winters is not required to strip at all, though in fairness her dress was not as tight as theirs.)
  • Fight to Survive: A very basic story in which the passengers struggle to stay alive and make it out after the ship flips over.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The intro blurb at the start of the film reveals that the ship is lost with only a few survivors.
  • Foreshadowing: The lyrics of the song Nonnie sings at the New Year's party are very on-the-nose considering what's about to transpire.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: The fact that Linda is wearing "just panties" underneath her gown is discussed as if she were Going Commando, with her husband saying she's got "nothing on under it".
    • Well, she wasn't supposed to have a bra on, but the straps are visible in some shots.
  • Gallows Humor: While waiting for the Reverend to scout the kitchen, Mr. Martin asks Rogo what the other survivors should do. Rogo snarkily suggests they get out their hymnals and sing "Nearer My God to Thee". That what was supposedly the last song played by the ship's band of the RMS Titanic when she sank.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom:
    Lookout: I never saw anything like it. An enormous wall of water coming at us.
    Captain: (sees it) Oh, my God.
  • Good Shepherd: Reverend Scott.
  • Gravity Screw: A "Rotating Castle" variant, albeit one that flips 180 degrees and then stops. This makes things like stairwells a nightmare to traverse.
  • Heroic BSoD: Martin finds Nonnie in the middle of one due to her brother's death. Rogo later has one after Linda's death, followed in quick succession by Rev. Scott's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Belle Rosen, who turns out to be a former WSA champ, saves a trapped Rev. Scott, but dies of a heart attack once they make it to the engine room. Rev. Scott himself dies trying to shut off a steam valve so the rest of the group can reach the propeller shaft.
  • Hidden Depths: Rogo is usually the buffoonish clown of the group... but after Mrs. Rosen dies of a heart attack while saving Reverend Scott, Rogo looks at her dead body, sighs tiredly, and says, "You had a lot of guts, lady. A lot of guts." And here the viewer is reminded that Rogo, for all his bluster, is a cop from New York City, and he's seen this sort of thing way too many times.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Linda Rogo was a hooker before her husband kept arresting her to keep her off the street. Though you have to look really hard to find that heart of gold, she really does love her husband, agrees to go with Rev. Scott almost immediately, and despite making fun of her weight earlier, visibly mourns Belle Rosen's death.
  • Hope Spot: Said by Mr. Rogo after his wife dies in front of him. He'd actually started to believe Scott that they were going to survive.
  • Idiot Ball: The Captain seems to be firmly holding on to one, as many of his actions leading up to the wave hitting the ship simply don't make any sense for an experienced sea captain. He sees the wave on the radar screen and he's clearly disturbed. He immediately asks if the ship is all battened down, (i.e. that all watertight doors are closed) asks the radio operator to check to see if there has been any recent seismic activity in the area, and orders the lookout in the crow's nest to keep a sharp lookout in the direction of the radar signal. He clearly suspects that a rogue wave is heading towards the ship. However, upon learning this, he doesn't tell the company representative who's been urging him to go too fast and not take on ballast to go fuck himself, which would have been perfectly justified. The proper course of action for him to have taken upon seeing all the evidence would have been to order the Poseidon to immediately turn towards the wave and begin taking on ballast, tell all passengers to prepare for an emergency, and order a distress signal sent. If he'd lived through the capsizing, he in all probability would have found himself on trial for criminal negligence.
  • Infant Immortality: Although Susan and Robin survive, there's no way they were the only children on the ship...
  • Inspired by...: The author was on the RMS Queen Mary during World War II, when it was hit by a rogue wave and was a degree or so from being capsized. Naturally, he was inspired by what might've happened if she DID flip.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both Mr. and Mrs. Rogo who bitch and moan pretty much the whole journey, but quietly comfort the other survivors and keep them moving.
  • The Lancer: Rogo, who naturally comes into conflict with The Hero Rev. Scott.
  • Lighter and Softer: Relatively speaking, of course — this is still a disaster story we're talking about — but the movie prunes away a lot of the more unpleasant elements of the original novel.
  • The Load: Mrs. Rosen is convinced she's going to be this, but winds up as (you should pardon the expression) a huge aversion.
    • Nonnie is a somewhat of a straight example; her cowardice almost gets her killed several times and she spends a good portion frightened out of her mind. Given that she saw her brother die during the capsizing and will definitely have PTSD, it's a bit understandable but not always excusable. She also turns out to be unable to swim.
    • Much of Nonnie's clueless nature is down to the timing. This is a movie made in the seventies and Nonnie is the epitome of the desperately naive, gentle hippy flower child of the time period, floating through life with an older brother to take care of her. Until he dies, she's probably never been required to make a decision for herself in her entire life. So her confusion and hopeless participation in a crisis is possibly understandable.
  • Lovable Coward: Nonnie. However, this is quite subjective, as her cowardice almost gets her killed a few times.
  • Manly Tears: Reverend Scott weeps over the death of Belle and Mr. Rogo cries when Linda bites it. They also weep Tears of Joy (albeit bittersweet ones) at the ending when the group is rescued).
  • Modesty Shorts: Susan
  • Mood Whiplash: Mrs. Rosen, despite being an overweight woman in her fifties, gets a triumphant moment wherein she manages to swim a great distance underwater to rescue Rev. Scott — then she suffers a fatal heart attack.
    • The movie itself starts out as a kind of ensemble comedy, and then the wave hits...
  • Ms. Fanservice: Linda Rogo. "Just panties, what else do I need?"
    • Nonnie and Susan don tight-fitting hot pants through most of the film.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: Martin has to "motivate" Rogo to continue after Rev. Scott dies, especially since it's right after Linda's death.
    Martin: Are you quitting, Mr. Rogo? Are you going out with a whimper, on your belly?
    Rogo: All right, you. That's enough!
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Martin towards Nonnie. They both survive.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Rogo, repeatedly, despite Robin having a comprehensive knowledge of the ship's construction.
  • Not So Different: Reverend Scott pointedly tells Rogo they don't get along because Rogo sees a reflection of himself in Scott and he doesn't like what he sees.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Linarcos, who gets a well-deserved Karmic Death when the wave first hits the ship.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Captain's reaction when he spots the wave heading directly at his ship.
  • Olympic Swimmer: Averted-Belle *was* a champion swimmer, but that was when she was young; it's too much for her heart when she tries to swim through an underwater area on the ship. She saves Scott, but dies after.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Roddy McDowall was supposed to be playing a Scotsman but had severe problems keeping up the accent. If you listen carefully his accent changes from Scottish to Irish to his usual transatlantic English/American one.
  • Panty Shot: Linda Rogo many times, as she spends a majority of the film wearing only a man's button-down shirt over panties, which get soaking wet. Averted with Susan, who had shorts on under her skirt.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Reverend Scott has a yelling-at-God moment just before his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The ending was supposed to show rescue boats surrounding the sinking ship but the budget ran out. The shot of the helicopter lifting off the hull with the six survivors was done on the studio lot. The fact that you never actually see the ship sink inspired Irwin Allen to make a sequel about a rescue team going in for more survivors, which wasn't nearly as well received.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The reason Rev. Scott is aboard the Poseidon; as punishment for his unorthodox preaching, his church is sending him to be a missionary in "some new country" in Africa... which is actually just what he was hoping for.
  • Retirony: Is it any coincidence that the SS Poseidon sinks on her last voyage?
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: As if the situation weren't bad enough, the survivors have to contend with the water flooding every deck behind them.
  • Say My Name: Rogo yells out Linda's name about eight times after she falls to her death.
  • Sexy Priest: Susan, at least, is clearly very attracted to Rev. Scott. Of course, part of that is Rescue Romance.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: May be seen as the template for film portrayals of the scenario for decades to follow.
  • Skyward Scream: Or rather, Floorward Scream, from Susan after Rev. Scott's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • The Smart Guy: Robin and Acres (who is a waiter) are both very knowledgeable about the ship. Martin also counts, as it was his idea to even try to make it to the hull in the first place.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!: Rev. Scott, just before his death.
  • Tagalong Kid: Robin's somewhat a mixture of this and (from his sister's standpoint, at least) Bratty Half-Pint. Somewhat averted in that he arguably is the one who knows the most about the ship.
  • Tears of Fear: Nonnie, though it's somewhat understandable given the situation.
  • Tears of Joy: Everyone when they're rescued at the end, albeit bittersweet ones considering the ones they lost and that they're the only survivors overall.
  • Tempting Fate: They think they can get an aging ocean liner across the Atlantic — on her final voyage, no less — without a hitch? Not in Hollywood.
    • The 2006 remake inverts the situation but still plays the trope straight — the ship is brand new and is taking her maiden voyage.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Pretty much all the other survivors besides the main group. First the people in the dining room refuse to even try and escape and decide to wait for rescue even after Reverend Scott points out the obvious: that the ship has capsized and is definitely going to sink. Then they later meet another group of survivors being lead by the ship's doctor towards the bow of the ship. Again, Scott points out the obvious: the ship is sinking bow first. Neither group listens and they drown as a result.
  • Twice Shy: James Martin and Nonnie Parry. They both survive and it is implied they get together afterwards.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Mike and Linda Rogo.
  • Vehicle Title: "Poseidon" is the name of the ocean liner that capsizes.
  • Widow Woman: Gender-flipped with Rogo and Manny, who both lose their wives in the span of about 20 minutes.

The 1979 sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure provides examples of:

The 2005 TV movie of the same name features examples of:

  • And Starring: Peter Weller.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most of Schmidt's group are rescued, but as Harrison points out, it's hard to celebrate saving nine people when thousands have died.
  • Death by Adaptation: Manny Rosen died of old age before the film begins, leaving Belle a widow.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Rogo, in both roles. He initially is harsh towards Badawi, then promises to help him see his family if he cooperates.
  • Good Shepherd: Reverend Schmidt, who is much calmer and even-tempered then Reverend Scott in the original film.
  • In the Back: Captain Gallico dies this way.
  • Jerkass: The cruise director, who babbles about Rogo's job as Sea Marshal, does his utmost to keep everyone in the dining room when the ship is obviously sinking, and hordes painkillers for himself when they could be used on other survivors. He also yanks a woman off the christmas tree as he tries to escape the flooding dining room.
  • Karma Houdini: The cruise director. While he does die with everyone else in the dining room, we don't get to see it.
  • Large Ham: Acre, in his role as a vampire in Dylan's movie.
  • The Load: Averted with Ballard. Despite having a broken arm, he's able to keep up with the survivors, and manages to survive the sinking.
  • No Name Given: The surviving crewman with the rope (the credits list him as Kemal), and the surviving terrorist (Badawi).
  • Random Smoking Scene: Schmidt and Rogo share a cigar after getting out of the air ducts.
  • Red Shirt: Kemal.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Once again, Belle suffers a heart attack after getting a guide-rope through a flooded hallway...except there was no reason for her to go in the first place, as the corridor wasn't completely flooded; anyone on the party could have done so just fine.
  • Shout-Out: Captain Paul Gallico is named after the author of the original novel.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Reverend Schmidt (while he's technically not Reverend Scott, he does fufill the same role and purpose).
  • Super Cell Reception: Rachel is able to send out a wireless e-mail from the ship's internet lounge after it's been capsized.
  • Take That!!: During the scene in the sewage treatment plant Dylan makes a jab at Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • Taking You with Me: Badawi tries this near the end of the film. It doesn't work.
  • Tempting Fate: Mrs. Rosen mentions to Martin as they climb the ladder in the air shaft that if they come out of it together, she'll be eternally grateful to him. Guess who dies just moments later when Martin steps in front of an open vent and is met with a faceful of rushing water, causing him to crash into the opposite wall and plunge to his death at the bottom of the shaft.
  • The Voiceless: Kemal, who never says a single word.
  • Token Minority: Kemal, the only non-white member of the survivors, along with the terrorist.

Paul Gallico's 1969 novel, on which the above films are based, provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Several characters in the novel are omitted from the movie: Richard and Jane Shelby, Tony Bates, Pamela Reid, Hubie Muller (who is made into a Composite Character with James Martin), Miss Kinsale, Kemal, etc.
  • The Alcoholic: Tony "The Beamer" Bates, and to a slightly lesser extent Pamela Reid.
  • Belated Backstory: As the novel progresses, many of the survivors begin to discover Reverend Scott in a new light (most of which is based on their own assumptions) involving Scott's former career as a football star and what drove him to become a minister.
  • Composite Character:
    • James Martin, the meek haberdasher, and Hubert Muller, the San Francisco bachelor searching for love, are combined into one character for the movie, so that Martin ends up with Nonnie (as Muller does in the novel).
    • Peters and Acre, the two stewards, become simply "Acres" in the 1972 movie. Same for the 2005 movie, except the steward's name has returned to "Acre." Apparently it was decided to drop the character Peters; like Acre in the novel, both composite stewards suffer a leg injury during the capsizing of the ship.
  • Gratuitous Rape: of Susan Shelby.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Reverend Scott. Belle Rosen does get her chance to swim, of course, but only has a heart attack later on AFTER Reverend Scott perishes.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Linda Rogo.
  • Irony:
    • Belle Rosen dies of a heart attack just as rescuers are cutting through the hull to reach the survivors.
    • After being rescued, the characters discover a different, larger group of survivors who apparently had a far easier time making their way to safety by taking a route other than the one Reverend Scott pushed. This is averted in the film, where the remaining members of Scott's group learn they're the only survivors.
      • Or maybe not quite averted; the sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure does involve another group of survivors, albeit ones with no connection to the first group. They didn't have that easy of a time getting out, either.
  • Jerkass: Some characters in the novel (in fact, most of them) are a lot less sympathetic than in the movies.
  • Mauve Shirt: Peters and Acre.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The reaction of the young deckhand Herbert, after learning the girl he raped (Susan) was a passenger, rather than a stewardess (which, in yet another example of the Values Dissonance in that scene, would have apparently been perfectly okay).
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Averted with Robin Shelby (who disappears without a trace after going off to relieve himself), the Beamer (who drinks himself to unconsciousness), and Pamela (who refuses to leave the Beamer's side). The latter two end up making it out anyway on their own.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jane Shelby gives her husband one of these after Robin's disappearance.
  • Red Shirt: Kreynos, the third engineer.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Robin Shelby.
  • Spinster: Miss Kinsale.
  • Those Two Guys: Peters and Acre, the friendly stewards.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Virtually anyone that chooses to stay in the Ball Room. Shockingly, however, it is revealed at the end of the novel that all those people SURVIVED. Also Mr. Kreynos, the third engineer who, moments after the ship capsizes, rambles on about taking his position in the Engine Room to investigate the cause behind the accident. He blindly stumbles into a pool of oil that has formed beneath the Grand Staircase and drowns in the mess.
    • And then comes the sad case of Linda Rogo, who tries to find her own way during the climb through "Mount Poseidon" in the Engine Room. In the darkness, she loses her balance and falls to her death on a piece of steel below, impaling her through the chest.
  • The Unreveal: Robin's ultimate fate is never learned, although he was presumably killed in a stampede of panicked survivors after the ship's lights went out.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Mike Rogo backhands Linda across the face after she unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse on him early in the novel, then follows up with this.

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