Netflix movie of the day: Airport is a star-studded disaster movie that's hard to take seriously

A screenshot of passengers sitting in their seats in 1970 disaster movie Airport
Airport featured an all-star cast upon release in 1970, and it performed okay upon take-off worldwide. (Image credit: Netflix)
Movie of the day

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The 1970s were a golden age for disaster movies. You couldn't pass a theater without seeing posters for movies where planes, trains, cruise ships, or skyscrapers would be stuffed with famous faces and then crashed, set on fire, sunk, or blown up. Of such genre fare, the Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin-starring Airport (out now on Netflix) was one of the best but, in a world where disaster spoof Airplane! ridiculed the very movies it was inspired by, it's exceptionally hard to watch Airport without giggling in the 21st century.

Like many stellar disaster movies, Airport asked a simple question: what if someone had the worst day at work ever, and then it got worse? That person is Burt Lancaster's Mel Bakersfield, the general manager of a Chicagoan airport as his personal life gets messy and a massive snowstorm rolls in. Just when you're thinking "well, at least there isn't a mad bomber threatening to blow up an airliner!", a mad bomber threatens to, well, do just that.

Airport: it felt silly then, and it's even sillier now

Airport is an old movie – it's over 50 years since its initial launch – and it felt old when it was released. Indeed, The New York Times called it "an immensely silly film" at the time, adding: "Here is a film, made in the space age, in which the sight of an elderly nun guzzling an ounce of brandy is meant to bring an indulgent chuckle and in which intellectualism, in the person of a smart aleck, sissy kid is told off by the forces of common sense, in the person of Dean Martin. Airport has an interior clock that came to a stop – I'd estimate – about 1939."

Reviewing the film around its release, famous critic Roger Ebert described it as "metaphysically absurd", "ridiculous", and full of stereotypes. Taking aim at the passengers themselves, he hit out at the cliched nature of the cast roster, which included "a priest, two nuns, three doctors, a stowaway, a customs officer's niece, a pregnant stewardess, two black GIs [US soldiers], a loudmouthed kid, a henpecked husband, and Dean Martin." 

It's a template that Airplane! would have tremendous fun with and, unfortunately for Airport, if you've seen that movie, you won't make it through this one without laughing at how unintentionally hilarious it is. Definitely one you won't see added to our best Netflix movies guide but, if you fancy a good laugh, there are few better non-comedy films to giggle and smirk along to on the world's best streaming service.

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.