Airport, the aviation movie that started a trend

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The film became a reference point for many other airline flicks



Its lead actor Burt Lancaster called the movie a “piece of junk” but that didn’t stop the 1970-release Airport, which was made for $10 million, to go on to gross $100 million, equivalent of $558 million in 2010.

The “junk”-turned-iconic movie, based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, was a landmark. It was credited to have invented the modern disaster film genre. Within a decade, Airport spawned three sequels. Other producers followed up with similar kind of ‘disaster' movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno.



First glimpse

What set Airport apart even more was its portrayal of the aviation sector on the silver screen. By 1970, many aviation-related movies had been made and among the earliest one was Wings, which won the Oscar for the best picture in 1929. But Airport was among the first successful ones to give a glimpse of how the aviation sector functioned.

From the manager and the ground crew at the airport, to the airhostesses and action in the cockpit, the movie brought the sector alive to its viewers, especially for the many that hadn’t travelled by air yet.

Recent movies like Flightplan and even the scarcely believable Snakes on the Plane are slicker. And today’s customer is a seasoned traveller. But back then, Airport became a reference point for many of the aviation-related productions that came in later.

The plot

Directed by George Seaton, the movie is about the manager of a fictional Lincoln Airport. He is battling issues on several fronts including a major snow storm at the airport. One particular day, he is informed by the ground staff that an aircraft is stuck in snow in the runway of the airport.

As he tries to use his meagre resources to get the aircraft out of the runway, he is handed another piece of bad news. One of the passengers on another aircraft, a Boeing 707 operated by Trans Global Airways that had just taken off from the airport, was carrying a bomb in his attaché case.

The passenger, who was deep in debt and had picked up insurance worth $225,000, planned to blow himself to leave his wife the insurance money.

The movie never loses pace throughout its 130-odd minutes and makes up for whatever it lacks in terms of suspense. And one gets a peek into the lives of those who work in an airport and how nerve-wrecking it can be.

Bureaucracy was cumbersome and, as it is today, unruly and angry customers were a part of life for the ground crew even then. While the movie had a predictable climax, the same couldn’t be said for the aircraft that was used in it.

Universal Pictures, which had produced Airport, had leased a Boeing 707 to be used in the movie. The jet was later sold to a Brazilian airline. In 1989, the aircraft was involved a real life air disaster resulting in the death of 25 people.

Published on December 16, 2014

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