Rollercoaster (1977 film)

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Promotional poster of Rollercoaster
Directed byJames Goldstone
Produced byJennings Lang
Written byRichard Levinson
William Link
Story bySanford Sheldon
Richard Levinson
William Link
Tommy Cook
StarringGeorge Segal
Richard Widmark
Timothy Bottoms
Harry Guardino
Susan Strasberg
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • June 10, 1977 (1977-06-10)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$9 million[1][2]
Box office$8,234,000[3]

Rollercoaster is a 1977 American disaster-suspense film starring George Segal, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Timothy Bottoms, and directed by James Goldstone. It was one of the few films to be shown in Sensurround, which used extended-range bass frequencies to give a sense of vibration to the viewers during the coaster rides.


An unnamed man (Timothy Bottoms) (simply called "young man" in the credits) sneaks into Ocean View Amusement Park and places a small radio-controlled bomb on the tracks of the park's wooden roller coaster, The Rocket. The bomb detonates, a coaster train derails, killing and injuring the riders. Safety inspector Harry Calder (George Segal), who initially cleared the ride, is called to the park to investigate. A park worker tells Calder that he saw what he thought was a park maintenance man up on the tracks earlier that day but did not state that the man was someone other than the park had authorized to be there.

In Pittsburgh the bomber causes a fire on a dark ride at another park. Calder suspects the incidents might be linked, and learns that the executives of companies running the largest amusement parks in America are holding a meeting in Chicago. Calder flies to Chicago and intrudes on the meeting. One of the executives plays a tape sent by the bomber, wherein he demands $1 million to stop his activities.

Back home, Calder is visited by FBI Agent Hoyt (Richard Widmark), who says the extortion money is to be delivered by Calder at Kings Dominion. There, Calder is ordered to wait at a telephone and the bomber calls, warning him there is a bomb in the park. He sends Calder a two-way radio so that he can keep contact, then orders Calder to go on various rides in the park such as the Rebel Yell roller coaster. While Calder is riding on the Skyway to the station near the Singing Mushrooms, the bomber tells Calder that the bomb is located in the radio. He warns Calder not to throw it away, because it will explode on impact on the paths below, which are occupied by many of the park's visitors. He orders Calder to falsely signal that he has made the delivery, in order to distract the FBI, then leave the money on a bench. Calder complies and walks away. Later, Hoyt admits that he marked the money (violating the bomber's instructions). Calder demands to be sent home and leaves the bomb radio with the bomb squad.

Back home, Calder gets another call from the bomber. He blames Calder for the marked money, and threatens another attack. Assuming it will be directed at Calder personally, he deduces that the next target will be Revolution at Magic Mountain. The FBI rejects Calder's hypothesis, but decide to investigate anyway because the ride is scheduled to debut on July 4, when park attendance will be at its highest for the season. Agents disguised as park maintenance men eventually find a bomb attached to the tracks and disarm it.

The bomber returns to his car and gets a new bomb just as the Revolution is about to open. In order to get on board, he pays a park guest $100 for his "Gold Ticket", which entitles the holder to be one of the first passengers. He places the bomb under his seat in the rear of the train. Following the inaugural ride, Calder recognizes the bomber's voice during his ride exit interview with a reporter. He chases the bomber, and alerts the agents that he might have placed something in the coaster train. The train leaves the chain lift on its second ride through.

The bomber is eventually cornered and threatens to blow up the ride, holding the detonator in his hand while the agents try to jam the signal. He demands a firearm. Calder takes one from an agent and begins to hand it to him. Agents succeed in jamming the detonator's signal, and alert Calder. Calder retains the gun but in doing so accidentally shoots the bomber, who then runs away. He hops a fence into the area below the Revolution and runs blindly, eventually circling back toward Calder. The bomber climbs onto the track, but sees Calder and freezes. He is hit and killed by the coaster train. The ride re-opens following the accident.



This was the third film to be presented in Sensurround. Special low-frequency bass speakers were used during the roller coaster sequences. Sensurround was employed in only three other films released by Universal: Earthquake (1974), Midway (1976), and the theatrical version of Battlestar Galactica (1978).

"Sensurround is as big a star as there is in movies today," said Sidney Sheinberg, head of MCA, who attributed the better-than-expected success of Earthquake and Midway at the box office to the device.[4]

The film was announced in July 1976. It had the producer and director of Swashbuckler. Director James Goldstone said the film was "not a disaster movie but a Hitchcock like suspense cat and mouse story."[5]


George Segal's casting was announced in August 1976.[6] He called it "simply an action-adventure, something Alfred Hitchcock would do, structured beautifully, and combined with Universal's technology."[7] Goldstone said Segal had "that humanity factor and it does come through. George plays the Everyman character who is repeatedly dumped on but who's never a buffoon... He knows who he is and is therefore free to take chances, to try something new, to expose his vulnerability."[8]

Opposite was Timothy Bottoms. "It's the first time I've ever played the villain," said Bottoms.[9] Helen Hunt, in her first feature film, has a supporting role as Tracy Calder, Harry's teenage daughter. Steve Guttenberg, in his first film role, has an uncredited bit part as a messenger[10] at Magic Mountain who brings the plans for the Revolution to Calder and Hoyt. Craig Wasson, in his second film, appears as a hippie. Radio announcer Charlie Tuna also appears in the film as the MC for the concert and The Revolution coaster launch.

The film features an appearance by the band Sparks for the roller coaster's opening concert, playing the songs "Fill 'Er Up" and "Big Boy" from their 1976 album Big Beat. Sparks later cited their appearance in the film when asked about the biggest regret of their career.[11]


Filming started 13 September 1976.[12]

Several real amusement parks were used in the film for the various park and roller coaster scenes. Ocean View Park in Norfolk, Virginia was used for the first park in the film.[13] Although the park was located on the Chesapeake Bay, it was described as a west coast park in the film. Goldstone chose the park because of its old fashioned feeling. The park's major wooden roller coaster, The Skyrocket, was renamed simply "The Rocket" for the film. Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, also appeared in the film. Some of the rides featured in the film, such as the Shenandoah Lumber Company and Rebel Yell wooden roller coaster, still exist today. The final park used was Magic Mountain (now called Six Flags Magic Mountain) in Valencia, California. The park's Great American Revolution roller coaster was featured prominently in the film's climax.

Originally, Kennywood was one of the locations to be used in the opening "crash" segment of the film. But after the park's owners declined their participation, the producers of the film ended up shooting the "Wonder World" segment at Kings Dominion instead.

According to Goldstone, the three parks that appeared in the final film were chosen from over 20 candidates.

Additionally, parts of the movie were filmed at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.


The film's musical score was written by composer Lalo Schifrin.


Box Office[edit]

Despite having been released in the late spring of 1977, and being overshadowed by the smash hit Star Wars, it went on to be a moderate success at the box office. However it was considered a financial disappointment and Universal lost enthusiasm for Sensurround films.[3]


Reviews were mixed. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "effective pop entertainment that, like an amusement-park ride, deals in the sensation of suspense for the foolish fun of it."[14]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and called it "a traffic accident masquerading as a movie" with "one of the dullest villains imaginable."[15]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote in a positive review that the film "is not so much a disaster story as an unexpectedly articulate and well-polished piece of cat-and-mouse suspense whose derivation is more from Hitchcock than, say, Irwin Allen."[16]

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that "[t]he Sensurround process, fundamentally unnecessary as it is, supplements the subjective visual thrills effectively." He added, "There's such a disparity of interest between the locations themselves and the melodramatic motions the actors are required to go through that one could easily believe Universal had a greater stake in the amusement park business than the movie business."[17]

Variety said that, 'The rollercoaster rides are the picture’s highlights and they are fabulous.'[18] Time Out London felt that 'the results should have been sensational,' but that, 'ultimately the film-makers botched the job. Many of the best runs are interrupted by close-ups, and the filler plot is dumb in the extreme.'[19]

The film holds an approval rating of 53% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes as of October 2020, based on 15 reviews.[20]


  1. ^ The New Tycoons of Hollywood By Robert Lindsey. New York Times 7 Aug 1977: SM4.
  2. ^ $9-Million Revolutionary Ride Los Angeles Times 22 May 1977: x13.
  3. ^ a b Industry Byron, Stuart. Film Comment; New York Vol. 14, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1978): 72-75.
  4. ^ Movies: Universal hopes to ride 'Rollercoaster' all the way to bank Aljean Harmetz. Chicago Tribune 24 Apr 1977: e18.
  5. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: An Oldie but Goodie at Palomino Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 19 July 1976: oc_a8.
  6. ^ FILM CLIPS: A Convoy of CB Movies Readied Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times18 Aug 1976: g10.
  7. ^ A 'Rollercoaster' Ride for Segal Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 6 Dec 1976: f12.
  8. ^ George Segal practicing what he preaches: Take life easy, be a clown, but never a fool Huddy, John. Chicago Tribune 9 July 1977: s13.
  9. ^ Lee, Grant (June 6, 1977). "Villain's Role a 1st for Bottoms". Los Angeles Times. p. F9.
  10. ^ Harris, Will (July 25, 2015). "Steve Guttenberg on 'Police Academy', 'Party Down', and turning down 'Sharknado"". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on September 20, 2017. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  11. ^ Black, Johnny (September 2006). "Sparks Interview". Mojo. 154.
  12. ^ 'Rollercoaster' in Production Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 1976: g5
  13. ^ 'Thrill Ride' a Film Star The Washington Post 7 Sep 1976: B7.
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 11, 1977). "Screen: 'Rollercoaster' on Track". The New York Times. 12.
  15. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 13, 1977). "'Rollercoaster' is a disaster of a disaster". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 7.
  16. ^ Charles, Champlin (June 10, 1977). "'Rollercoaster' a Rousing Ride". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  17. ^ Arnold, Gary (June 10, 1977). "'Rollercoaster': A Good Ride For the Amusement Parks". The Washington Post. B7.
  18. ^ "Rollercoaster". Variety. December 31, 1976. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  19. ^ "Rollercoaster | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes, movie release date | Time Out London". Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  20. ^ "Rollercoaster (1977)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 4, 2019.

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