Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read this: How Ben Stiller’s abandoned disaster movie spoof was resurrected

Ben Thee Stiller
Ben Thee Stiller
Photo: Tommaso Boddi / Stringer (Getty Images)

Yes, yes, another story about a movie that’s not being made—but in this case, it’s not a production shutdown or delay due to a pandemic! In this case, it’s a movie that’s been not being made since it was written in the early ’90s. And it’s still not being made, but this weekend, it will be introduced to audiences all the same, and for a good cause.

On Saturday, July 25 at 8 p.m. ET, Ben Stiller, David Cross, and Robert Cohen’s The Towering Disaster—a spoof of ’70s disaster epics like The Poseidon Adventure—will finally see the light of day thanks to a digital live reading with a starry cast. Pretty much everything about The Towering Disaster sounds bonkers, and Stiller acknowledges as much in this fun interview with Vanity Fair about the project:

“[F]or whatever reason, it never got made,” Stiller said of the project, which was set up at the now defunct Hollywood Pictures, a former subsidiary of Disney. “It was probably just too insane.”

He’s not necessarily wrong. The screenplay sets its action inside a high-rise hotel built in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on top of an active undersea volcano. As one might expect from its 1970s forebears, calamity is quick to ensue. Stiller plays a radical preacher in the script, a role that on paper sounds similar to the part Gene Hackman played in The Poseidon Adventure. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about; it’s a purely original character,” Stiller joked when the comparison was made.)


The reading, made possible by pulling the script from a floppy disk, is scheduled to feature both Cross and Stiller as well as Michael Cera, Don Cheadle, John Ennis, Will Forte, Regina Hall, David Koechner, Jack McBrayer, Michael McKean, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig, and Henry Winkler. There’s also a surprise guest Stiller hints at by teasing, “There’s one bit of casting that literally no one else in the world could play.”

But it’s at this point that your Great Job Internet correspondent must admit that she has buried the lede, because the VF interview contains a terrific Gene Hackman anecdote, and there are few purer joys in the world than a really good Gene Hackman anecdote. Here’s Stiller:

“When I had the opportunity to work with Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, it was a dream come true for me. The whole shoot, I was waiting to get up the nerve—because he’s an intimidating guy—to tell him how much Poseidon Adventure meant to me. So, two days before the shoot was over, finally, there’s this quiet moment. I said, ‘Gene, I just want to say it’s just been amazing working with you—and I didn’t say this before, but really for me, Poseidon Adventure is probably one of the most important movies for me, ever, because it really made me want to be a filmmaker, to be in movies, and I saw it multiple times and it just really, really changed my life.’”

Hackman, Stiller recalled, took a moment, looked at him, and said, “Oh yeah. Money job.”

“Then he got up and he walked away,” Stiller said, as Cohen expressed delighted surprise at the story. “My world was shattered. So this is my chance to, somehow... I don’t know, I have to live it out somehow. I have to make it right. It’s not a money job for me.”

Besides, he concluded, “Even if it was a money job for Hackman, it was the most incredible money-job performance I’ve ever seen.”

You can watch Stiller and company do the exact opposite of a money-job (a charity-job?) on Saturday here; the stream will remain active for 48 hours after its conclusion. Tickets, which will set you back $12.50, benefit the Equal Justice Initiative and Direct Relief.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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