Disaster movies are timeless. It doesn’t matter if you’re escaping the Titanic in 1953 or 1997; the prospect is always terrifying. That makes the genre ideal to revisit decades later, and generations of families can enjoy white-knuckling through the peril shown in movies like Earthquake or The Towering Inferno.
But one movie, streaming on HBO Max until April 30, sets itself apart from the others by including a thoughtful, semi-religious message about humanity’s will for survival that’s resonant even 50 years later. Here’s why you should stream it before it’s too late.
The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 thriller directed by Ronald Neame that stars Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott, a preacher who gives a passionate speech as part of a church service onboard the Poseidon, a ship on her last voyage from New York to Athens before it heads to the scrapyard.
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Scott preaches the message that “God loves those who love themselves,” arguing that while God helps those who believe in Him, He’s a busy guy and “God loves tryers.” Basically, you can’t depend on divine intervention to save your life. You’ve got to fight for it.
This message becomes eerily prescient moments after midnight on New Year’s Eve, when a tsunami hits the side of the ship and flips it over. Most passengers choose to stay in the ship’s ballroom and wait for assistance, but Scott quite literally practices what he preaches and offers to lead any passengers who want to try to escape to the engine room. Only nine people take him up on his offer, and what follows is a treacherous fight for survival that not everyone will win.
The Poseidon Adventure is anchored by the enchanting performance of Gene Hackman, but the entire ensemble is packed with big names, from Ernest Borgnine and a pre-comedy Leslie Nielsen to Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
As the group encounters obstacle after obstacle, their will to survive — and Scott’s faith — are tested. In most disaster movies the stock religious character is usually the one who does nothing, entrusting their life to God even as catastrophe creeps closer. But The Poseidon Adventure subverts that cliché by arguing that the best way to show your appreciation for this life is to do whatever you can to live it. As Scott says, “Resolve to fight for yourselves, and for others, for those you love. And that part of God within you will be fighting with you all the way.”
Though it turns 50 years old this December, the themes of The Poseidon Adventure remain just as relevant, even if the fashions don’t. It will have you on the edge of your seat as you root for these characters, and you’ll mourn those who don’t make it. It’s a truly unique movie experience, and well worth checking out before it sinks beneath the streaming waves.
The Poseidon Adventure is streaming on HBO Max until April 30.