Template:Infobox film Earthquake is a 1974 American disaster film that achieved huge box-office success, continuing the disaster film genre of the 1970s where recognizable all-star casts attempt to survive life or death situations. The plot concerns the struggle for survival after a catastrophic earthquake destroys most of the city of Los Angeles, California.[1][2] Directed by Mark Robson and with a screenplay by George Fox and Mario Puzo, the film starred 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 (credited as "Walter Matuschanskayasky").[3]


The film opens on Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) jogging underneath the Hollywood sign. Back home, as he finishes his workout on a resistance machine, his wife Remy Royce-Graff (Ava Gardner) starts her morning by picking a fight with him. At the peak of their argument, Stewart says to Remy, "You'd hardly call this a marriage would you?" After he's showered and preparing to leave, Stewart finds Remy unconscious with a bottle of pills nearby. Accustomed to her periodic suicide attempts, Stewart prepares to induce vomiting when a violent tremor shakes the bedroom. Remy bolts out of bed, revealing that she was faking. At the Mulholland Dam, two workers begin a routine inspection of the structure in response to the tremor. One of them is drowned in an elevator shaft which has filled with water after the quake. In downtown Los Angeles, Sgt. Lew Slade (George Kennedy) and his partner Emilio Chavez (Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.) are in pursuit of a suspect. They chase him out of their jurisdiction, finally crashing into the hedges at Zsa Zsa Gabor's house. After a LA County Sherriff yells at Lew for ruining Gabor's hedges, Lew punches him out. When reprimanded, Lew explains to his supervisor that the suspect had stolen the car, gotten stoned, and then driven over a 6-year old Mexican girl without stopping. On his way to work, Stewart visits Denise Marshall (Geneviève Bujold), who is the widow of a friend. He drops off an autographed football for her son and helps Denise run her lines for a scene she is shooting later that day. A junior staffer, Walter Russell(Kip Niven), at the California Seismological Institute has calculated that Los Angeles will suffer a major earthquake in the next day or two. He frantically tries to reach his superior, Dr. Frank Adams, who is busy placing seismic sensors in the field. Another tremor hits as Adams and his assistant are working in a deep trench and they are buried alive. The scientists at the center argue about whether or not to go public with their prediction of a major quake. The acting supervisor, Dr. Willis Stockle(Barry Sullivan), insists that if they are wrong their funding will be jeopardized. He also argues that the panic such a warning would cause could be worse than the earthquake itself. They agree on a compromise to alert the National Guard and police so that they can at least mobilize to help deal with the fallout. While checking out at a grocery store, Rosa Amici (Victoria Principal) realizes she doesn't have enough money to pay for all her items. Jody Joad (Marjoe Gortner), the seemingly kind store manager, insists that she keep the items and make up the deficit the next time she shops. Later, when he hears that the National Guard reserves are being called up on the radio, Jody leaves the store in the middle of his shift, revealing himself to be part of the reserve army. He goes to his run-down boarding house and changes into his NCO uniform, enduring the abuse and harassment of his bullying housemates who accuse him of being homosexual because he's got pictures of bodybuilders on his wall. Blowing off steam at a bar, Lew orders a double bourbon and ignores all the illegal activity he sees. A drunk (Walter Matthau, credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky) periodically wakes up to toast random people like 'Bobby Riggs'. Daredevil motorcyclist Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree) arrives with his partner Sal Amici (Gabriel Dell) and his sister Rosa. A pool shark collects $50 that Miles owes him, leaving him short for the propane tank he needs to do a stunt for a talent scout. Miles convinces Lew to loan him the money by having Rosa reveal a tight-fitting t-shirt he's marketing with his name on it. The tremor cancelled Denise's shoot; so, she heads to Stewart's office, pretending to meet with a friend. When she runs into him, he is headed out for a drink. They go back to Denise's house for the drink and end up making love. He promises to come back later that night and invites her to spend the summer with him in Oregon, where he'll be overseeing a project. Back at the office, his boss Sam Royce (Lorne Greene) offers to hand over the company presidency to Stewart. He asks for some time to consider the idea. Stewart calls Denise and breaks off their plans for later that night. He goes to Sam's office to accept his offer but is stunned to see Remy there. He assumes she has convinced her father, Sam, to offer the promotion to Stewart in order to save their marriage. He storms out and she follows him, accusing him of cheating with Denise. He explains that he never had until that day. When they get outside the building, the main earthquake begins. Sam and most of his employees are trapped on the upper floors of their skyscraper, as the elevators have crashed to the ground. They descend most of the way by the stairs, but the earthquake has sheared off a portion of the building, leaving an impasse of about 2 stories. Sam rigs a fire hose to a chair and lowers his staff down one at a time. When everyone is safe, he suffers a heart attack, and Stewart climbs up to lower him down in the chair. Denise's son was caught on a bridge over a causeway when the quake struck. She spies him unconscious on the concrete and climbs down to save him. Unable to climb back out with her son, she hails Miles and Sal who are passing by in their truck. After saving Denise and her son, they drive in search of help, coming across Lew who is organizing rescue efforts in the street. Lew commandeers their truck to use it as an ambulance. After nibbling on a donut in a ruined diner, Rosa has been arrested by the National Guard for looting. Jody, now a sergeant, picks her out of a group of prisoners. Recognizing him from the grocery store, Rosa assumes he is going to let her go, but he claims that the streets are too unsafe for her to go anywhere and he orders her to stay inside a secluded store. Another group of troops arrive with Jody's housemates as prisoners. Jody executes them in an act of revenge for all the long time bullying he endured from them, terrifying Rosa and his subordinates as they now see his dark psychopathic side. Once Stewart gets everyone from his office safely to a shopping center named Wilson Plaza, which has been converted into a triage center, he goes off in search of Denise and her son. He ends up driving Lew around in search of survivors and they come across Jody and his regiment. Jody threatens to fire on them if they come any closer and Rosa emerges when she sees Lew, begging for his help. Lew and Stewart pretend to comply with Jody by driving off while Sgt. Joad's scared men look for an officer to have him face a court martial and detainment. But Lew sneaks back and gets the jump on Jody, who's enraged at Rosa for betraying and rejecting him and tries to rape her. Lew shoots Jody dead in self-defense when Jody tries to kill him with his rifle and rescues Rosa. As they drive away, they hear that another aftershock has threatened Wilson Plaza. After a quick survey of the building, Stewart realizes there are survivors trapped in an underground garage. He and Lew crawl into the sewer and through some rubble with a jackhammer, which they use to drill through to the garage. Stewart is overjoyed to find that Denise is one of the people trapped inside. As he hugs her, he sees his wife standing just behind her. During the rescue, the Mulholland Dam finally gives way, sending water down the sewers. Lew and Denise make it up the ladder to safety, but as Remy climbs out, a man steps on her hand. She falls back into the water which is sweeping people away. Stewart looks up at Denise, but he cannot bring himself to abandon his wife to death. He sacrifices himself when he swims after her and both of them are swept away. Denise walks away from the manhole in shock and grief. Lew is holding Rosa when a doctor walks up to him and says, "This used to be a helluva town, officer." Lew mumbles, "Yeah" as he tries not to cry. The camera pans back to reveal a completely destroyed Los Angeles.


In the wake of the tremendous success of the disaster-suspense film Airport (1970), Universal Studios began working with executive producer Jennings Lang to come up with a new idea that would work within the same "disaster-suspense" genre. The genesis of the idea literally "came to them" as a direct result of the San Fernando Earthquake which shook the Los Angeles area during the early morning hours of February 9, 1971. Director Mark Robson and Lang were intrigued by the idea of creating a disaster on film that would not be confined to an airliner, but rather take place over a large area.[4]


Lang scored a major coup when he was able to sign on legendary screenwriter Mario Puzo to pen the first draft during the summer of 1972. Puzo, fresh from the success of his novel and film, The Godfather, delivered the script in August. Much like his Godfather films, the characters and situations in his Earthquake script were intricate, and showed a similar attention to detail. However, Puzo's detailed script necessitated a much larger production budget (as the action and characters were spread over a vast geographical area in the city of Los Angeles), and Universal was faced with either cutting the script down, or increasing the film's projected budget. Puzo's involvement with Earthquake was short-lived, however, as Paramount Pictures was anxious to begin development with the followup to The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II. Since Puzo's services were contractually obligated to the sequel, he felt he would be unable to continue work on two projects of such a large scale, so he opted out of continuing any further work on Earthquake. The Earthquake script languished at Universal Studios for a short period of time, but was brought back to life by the huge success of the 20th Century Fox hit, The Poseidon Adventure, released in December, 1972. Fueled by the enormous box office receipts of that film, Universal Studios put pre-production on Earthquake back into high gear, hiring writer George Fox to continue work with Puzo's first draft. Director Mark Robson worked with Fox (who was more of a magazine writer - this was his first screenplay) to narrow the scope of the script down to fit into the budgetary constraints. After 11 drafts, Earthquake went before the cameras in February, 1974.[4][5]


Budgeted at $7,000,000 USD, Earthquake immediately found itself in a race against the clock with the bigger-budgeted disaster film, The Towering Inferno, which was being financed by two movie studios (20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, a motion picture first) and produced by Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure). While that film featured a larger "all star" cast (in fact, Universal had approached several, including Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, to star in Earthquake - but they had already been signed for Inferno), Universal was able to land Charlton Heston in the lead role, along with Ava Gardner (who signed at the proverbial "11th hour" simply because she wanted to spend the summer in Los Angeles), George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold (who agreed to a part in the film to head off an impending lawsuit by Universal over a prior project), Richard Roundtree (riding a wave of success from the Shaft film series), former evangelical Marjoe Gortner as an antagonist, and fresh-faced newcomer Victoria Principal.[1][6] Production necessitated the complete destruction of the Universal Studios backlot in order to simulate the catastrophic earthquake of the title (as doing the same on Los Angeles streets would not have been possible). Along with a clever use of miniatures of actual buildings, matte paintings, and full-scale sets, Earthquake combined decades old special effects techniques with those developed especially for the film (including a revolutionary "Shaker Mount" camera system, which mimicked the effects of an earthquake by moving the entire camera body several inches side to side, versus merely shaking the camera lens). Extensive use of highly trained stunt artists for the most dangerous scenes involving high falls, dodging falling debris, and flood sequences, set a Hollywood record for the most stunt artists involved in any film production up until that time: 141. Major stunt sequences in the film required careful choreography between the stunt artists and behind the scenes stunt technicians who were responsible for triggering full scale effects, such as falling debris. Timing was critical, since some rigged effects involved dropping six ton chunks of reinforced concrete in order to flatten cars, with stunt performers only a few feet away. In other scenarios, some stunt artists were required to fall sixty feet onto large air bags - for which they were paid the sum of $500.[7]


Universal Studios and Jennings Lang wanted Earthquake to be an "Event Film" - something that would draw audiences in to the theatre multiple times. After several ideas were tossed about (which included bouncing styrofoam faux "debris" over audience members' heads), Universal's sound department came up with a process called "Sensurround" - a series of large speakers and a 1,500 watt amplifier, that would pump in sub-audible "infra bass" sound waves at 120 decibels (equivalent to a jet airplane at takeoff), giving the viewer the sensation of an earthquake. The process was tested in several theatres around the United States prior to the film's release, yielding various results. A famous example is Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California, where the "Sensurround" cracked the plaster in the ceiling. Ironically, the same theatre premiered Earthquake three months later – with a newly-installed net over the audience to catch any falling debris – to tremendous success.[1] The "Sensurround" process proved to be a large audience draw, but not without generating a fair share of controversy. There were documented cases of nosebleeds generated by the sound waves. When the film premiered in Chicago, Illinois, the head of the building and safety department demanded the system be turned down, as he was afraid it would cause structural damage. In Billings, Montana, a knick-knack shop next door to a theatre using the system lost part of its inventory when items from several shelves were thrown to the floor when the system was cued during the quake scenes. Sensurround was used again for the films Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977) and Battlestar Galactica (1979).[8] The 2006 Universal Home Video DVD release features the original "Sensurround" 3.1 audio track, duplicating the original theatrical "Sensurround" track, which generated low frequency, high-power sound waves which "shook" the theatre. In addition, the film's original soundtrack was remixed in Surround Sound 5.1 (a different arrangement than "Sensurround)."


After October test screenings in various theatres throughout the United States, Universal opted to cut 30 minutes from the film at the last minute (notably from the pre-quake sequences), at the cost of some of the dramatic flow (including a sub-plot involving an abortion).[1] Released in the United States on November 15, 1974, Earthquake would become the fourth-highest grossing film of the year; its competition, The Towering Inferno, was the highest.[9] The Disaster film trend had reached its zenith in 1974 with the combined releases of Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and Airport 1975 (the first Airport sequel). The films enjoyed staggering success, with The Towering Inferno earning $55 million in rentals, Earthquake $36 million and Airport 1975 $25 million.[10] By 1976, the Disaster film cycle had also left its mark on the list of all-time box office champions, with The Towering Inferno ranked 8th, Airport 14th, The Poseidon Adventure 16th and Earthquake 20th.[10] Such success spawned a flood of similar films throughout the decade. Earthquake would eventually gross nearly $80,000,000 USD ($350,000,000 USD, adjusted for inflation in 2009 dollars).[1]


Earthquake earned significant financial box office success despite generally unenthusiastic critical reviews. Rotten Tomatoes summarizes its critical picture as 27% "Rotten" with an average of 4.4 out 10.


Earthquake was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction (Alexander Golitzen, E. Preston Ames, Frank R. McKelvy) and Best Sound. It won for Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, Melvin M. Metcalfe Sr.) and a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects (Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock).[11] The film was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture - Drama and Best Original Score (John Williams).[12] Williams' music for Earthquake was the second of his trio of scores for large-scale Disaster films, having previously scored The Poseidon Adventure and following with The Towering Inferno (briefly earning him the nickname "King of the Disaster Scores").[13] Williams scored both The Towering Inferno and Earthquake in the summer of 1974, both scores showing similarities to one another (notably Earthquake's theme and The Towering Inferno's love theme sharing the same eight-note melody).

Television premiereEdit

For the film's October, 1976 television premiere on NBC, additional footage was added to expand the running time of the film so it could be shown over two nights. The "sensurround" audio was simulcast on FM stereo in the Los Angeles market. This allowed the home viewer to experience the same effect as in the theater. Contrary to popular belief, this "television version" made no use of material originally left out of the theatrical release (save one brief scene featuring Victoria Principal and Reb Brown), but rather new footage was shot some two years after the original, using some of the stars from the theatrical version. New scenes included a young married couple. The husband seeks a job in with Graff in Los Angeles, while his wife has the eerily accurate ability to see the future with cards. (Debralee Scott and Sam Chew) They are on an airliner attempting to land at Los Angeles International Airport during the earthquake.[14] There is a separate DVD on Ebay which includes the extra footage.

Proposed sequelEdit

A script for a sequel, Earthquake II, was written in 1975 and was to feature the characters played by George Kennedy, Victoria Principal, Richard Roundtree and Gabriel Dell. The script never reached the production stage. The story details the characters, now refugees from the Los Angeles quake of the original film, adjusting to life in San Francisco. Another catastrophic earthquake and tsunami eventually strikes the Bay Area. Production was cancelled in late 1977 as the popularity of disaster films was starting to wane.[1][15]

Theme park attractionsEdit

Main article: Earthquake: The Big One

Earthquake inspired the attraction Earthquake: The Big One at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood. The original attraction in Florida began by having guests enter an exhibit room in San Francisco themed to earthquakes where a guide briefly introduced and discussed the film. They then selected five volunteers from the audience, which they explained would participate in an interactive portion of the pre-show. Guests then entered a screening room, where they watched a brief film that depicted a massive earthquake that destroys Los Angeles. Following the earthquake sequence, actor Charlton Heston appeared and explained how the previous earthquake sequence of the film was created through the use of miniatures. The movie screen then raised to reveal a portion of the destroyed model that was used during the filming of the previous earthquake sequence. Guests were then ushered into a soundstage where the volunteers who were selected from the audience earlier helped recreate various scenes from the Earthquake film. Following this sequence, guests then entered a "Golden Gate Transit" subway station in Oakland where they boarded an open-air subway train that closely resembled the trains used on the Bay Area Rapid Transit in and around the San Francisco bay area. After boarding, the train departed the station and took them beneath the bay to the Embarcadero Station in San Francisco. Once stopped in the station, a violent earthquake would take place, destroying the entire station and climaxed in a massive flash flood. Once the earthquake sequence was complete, the subway train would return to the Oakland Station where guests would disembark the train and exit the attraction. In the fall of 2002, the pre-show was changed to a more generic "magic of making movies" theme, with slight modifications which included mentioning special effects used in other films besides Earthquake. The pre-show sequences were eventually dropped from the attraction in September 2007, with the various pre-show theaters being used as a queue line for the ride portion of the attraction. The attraction officially closed on November 5, 2007 and reopened several months later as "Disaster!: A Major Motion Picture Ride...Starring You!."[16] The current attraction has a similar three part pre-show as the ‘’Earthquake’’ attraction and still utilizes volunteers from the audience. The ride portion of the attraction also remains mostly unchanged, although television monitors were added to the subway train cars to help tie it into the rest of the show. The Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour also contains an Earthquake sequence, which replaced The Tower of London Set in 1986, and features the tour tram entering a San Francisco subway station and experiencing a massive earthquake.

Stock footageEdit

Many scenes from the movie, especially those featuring the destruction of Los Angeles, have appeared in other productions, often those of Universal Studios itself. Some examples include:

  • Quantum Leap: The episode "Disco Inferno" has Sam Beckett leaped in as a movie stuntman. One of his jobs is on the set of Earthquake, where he is the character seen hanging from a piece of debris whom Sam Royce (Lorne Greene's character) attempts to save, but loses his grip and falls.
  • Galactica 1980: In the episode "Galactica Discovers Earth", in a "computer simulation" of a devastating Cylon attack on Los Angeles.
  • Scarface: Tony Montana conducts a botched drug transaction with the Colombian drug dealer Hector, while "Earthquake" is seen playing on a television in the background.
  • V: The Final Battle: Footage from the sequence featuring the collapse of the Hollywood dam was reused during the destruction of the Visitors water pumping station.
  • Barenaked Ladies: Parts of the movie, namely portions of the film when the big earthquake struck, were used in the music video for the song "Another Postcard."
  • Tom Petty music video for the song "You Got Lucky" shows part of the episode "Galactica Discovers Earth", with the "computer simulation" of a devastating Cylon attack on Los Angeles. This is shown briefly on a television Tom Petty turns on.
  • The Incredible Hulk (TV Series) : In the first season episode "Earthquakes Happen," several building collapse scenes, the collapsing freeway overpass scene, the collapsing Spanish bells, the sliding and falling stilt houses, and the collapsing high tension wires and parts of the wooden foot bridge scenes were reused in this episode with slightly zoomed or slightly reoriented focus to keep any association of the original film from being seen. In the Hulk story, the city of St. Thomas is hit by an earthquake. David Banner is posing as a scientist who is visiting a nuclear facility that has had some serious design problems and maintenance issues.

Reference listEdit

External linksEdit


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