With the Original ‘Airport’ Turning 50, Take a Look Back at Who’s Who in the First ‘Disaster Movie’

Remember so-called disaster movies from their heyday of the 1970s? If you do, odds are that the films that come to mind are things like The Poseidon Adventure (a cruise ship is capsized and survivors have to make their way to the bottom of the ship before it sinks), The Towering Inferno (world’s tallest skyscraper is on fire; who can survive a … er … towering inferno?) and Earthquake (Los Angeles is screwed, but you’ll feel it as well as see it …. in Sensurround). But what about the one that started it all, Airport, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary?

The formula was certainly there: gather a variety of characters from different walks of life (played largely by recognizable celebrities, in this case people like Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin and Helen Hayes), and once we’ve gotten to know them a bit, throw them into chaos to see how they respond and whether or not they can work together to overcome the threat. While admittedly many of these elements have become a cliche, they certainly weren’t at the time, with Airport going on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), with Helen taking home the gold as Best Supporting Actress.

airport-movie-poster
Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

It started with the 1968 novel of the same name written by Arthur Hailey, which deals largely with the operation of fictional Chicago airport, Lincoln International, during a severe winter storm. On top of that, a plane has to make an emergency landing there due to the detonation of a bomb smuggled aboard that has resulted in a loss of its structural integrity. All of which happens in a single night, the novel’s focus largely on how the various components of a large airport work in conjunction with each other. The movie version, released two years later, follows much of this, though there is a greater emphasis on the interaction of the crew and passengers. In the end, Airport was a huge hit, flying by Spartacus to become Universal Pictures’ biggest hit ever up until that time.

To commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the cast, providing a guide to who’s who (as well as a quick look at the film’s various sequels).

Please scroll down for more.