The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno Poster
One tiny spark becomes a night of blazing suspense.
Directed By
John Guillermin
Screenplay By
Stirling Silliphant
Steve McQueen
Paul Newman
William Holden
Faye Dunaway
Fred Astaire
Susan Blakely
Richard Chamberlain
Jennifer Jones
O. J. Simpson
Produced By
Irwin Allen
Film Editing By
Carl Kress
Harold F. Kress
Cinematography By
Fred J. Koenekamp
Music Composed By
John Williams
20th Century Fox
United States
Release Date
December 14, 1974
165 minutes
Distributed By
20th Century Fox
Warner Bros.
The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and
The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia Frank M. Robinson

The Towering Inferno is an American disaster film directed by John Guillermin and adapted by Stirling Silliphant from a pair of novels, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.

The film stars Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones.


At the opening party of a colossal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it.


Architect Doug Roberts (Newman) returns to San Francisco for the dedication of the Glass Tower, which he designed for owner James Duncan (Holden). At 138 stories (1,800 ft/550 m), it is the world's tallest building. Shortly after his arrival, an electrical short starts an undetected fire on the 81st floor while Roberts accuses the building's electrical engineer, Roger Simmons (Chamberlain), of cutting corners. Simmons insists the building is up to current safety standards.

During the high-profile dedication ceremony, public relations chief Dan Bigelow (Wagner) orders all the tower's lights to be turned on to impress the attending guests and dignitaries. The lighting overloads the electrical system and Roberts orders it shut off. Smoke is seen on the 81st floor and the San Francisco Fire Department is summoned. Roberts and engineer Will Giddings (Norman Burton) go to the 81st floor but fail to prevent a security guard opening a door, leading to a fire flash which burns Giddings, whose injuries later prove fatal. Meanwhile 294 guests are at a celebration dinner upstairs on the 135th floor which is a promenade room.

Roberts reports the fire to a dismissive Duncan, who refuses to order an evacuation. The fire department quickly arrives to tackle the blaze, which quickly escalates to a multiple-alarm fire. SFFD 5th Battalion Chief Michael O'Halloran (McQueen) forces Duncan to evacuate the party guests in the Promenade Room on the 135th floor, directing them to express elevators. A guest, Lisolette Mueller (Jones), who is being wooed by con man Harlee Claiborne (Astaire), rushes to the 87th floor to check on a young family. Simmons admits to Duncan that he cut corners to stay under budget.

By this point, the electrical wiring is causing fires to break out all over the building whilst a full scale evacuation is underway. Duncan, aided by Senator Gary Parker (Vaughn) and Mayor Robert Ramsey (Jack Collins), directs the elevator evacuation from the Promenade Room until the fire spreads and renders the express elevators unsafe. Not heeding Duncan's directions, one last group takes an elevator to the ground, but are killed when it stops on the fire's floor. The fire traps Bigelow and his secretary/mistress Lorrie (Flannery) in his 65th floor office and they die.

Security Chief Harry Jernigan (Simpson) and Roberts rescue Lisolette and the family from 87. Jernigan gets the mother out safely but Roberts, Lisolette and the two children are halted by a collapsed stairwell. They must make a perilous climb down the collapsed stairs but fire forces them up to the Promenade Room. With fire suppression efforts rapidly becoming ineffective, the building loses all electrical power and O'Halloran and his men are forced to rappel down an elevator shaft.

A rooftop rescue results in disaster as guests rush the helicopter, causing it to crash amongst high winds, setting the roof ablaze and rendering further rooftop rescues impossible. Naval rescue teams attach a breeches buoy to the adjacent Peerless Building and rescue a number of guests, including Duncan's daughter, Simmons' wife Patty (Blakely). Roberts rigs a gravity brake on the external scenic elevator allowing twelve people, including the mayor's wife, Roberts' girlfriend Susan Franklin (Dunaway), Lisolette, the children and a fireman, one trip down to street level. An explosion leaves the elevator cab hanging by a single cable at the 110th floor, where Lisolette falls to her death after a glass panel breaks off in the explosion. O'Halloran is despatched in a helicopter with a winch and some cable and heroically saves the rest of the passengers in the elevator.

Simmons arrogantly tells Duncan that he and the others will use the breeches buoy next, and Duncan punches him, saying the rest will draw numbers but he and his son-in-law will be the last two to leave. Fire reaches the Promenade Room and Simmons forces his way onto the buoy, leading to a struggle. Parker is pushed to his death by Simmons, who is then killed by an explosion as the breeches buoy comes undone.

A SFFD Deputy Chief (Coleman) summons O'Halloran with a plan to explode the million-gallon water tanks atop the building in an effort to extinguish the fire. Knowing it could result in his death, O'Halloran meets with Roberts and they set C-4 on the six water tanks on the 138th floor. They return to the Promenade Room, where the remaining guests tie themselves to heavy objects. O'Halloran, Roberts, Duncan, Claiborne and several party-goers survive as thousands of gallons of water rush through the building, eventually extinguishing the flames. Some, including the mayor, perish.

On the ground, Claiborne learns that Lisolette died and he is heartbroken. Jernigan gives him her pet cat. Duncan consoles Patty over her husband's death but does not disclose the cowardly way in which he died. Roberts tells Susan that he does not know what will become of the building, and perhaps it should be left in its fire-damaged state as "a kind of shrine to all the bullshit in the world". Informing Roberts that the final casualty toll numbered less than 200, O'Halloran says they were lucky because it could have been much worse. O'Halloran gives Roberts a new mission: he agrees to consult with fire officials in the future when such buildings are designed. O'Halloran drives away, exhausted.

List of DisastersEdit

  • Fire


  • Steve McQueen as Michael O’Halloran, San Francisco Fire Department 5th Battalion Chief
  • Paul Newman as Doug Roberts, the Architect
  • William Holden as James Duncan, the Builder
  • Faye Dunaway as Susan Franklin, Doug Roberts' fiancée
  • Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne, the Con-Man who flirts with Mrs. Mueller
  • Susan Blakely as Patty Duncan Simmons, James Duncan's daughter
  • Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons, the Electrical Engineer
  • Jennifer Jones as Lisolette Mueller
  • O. J. Simpson as Harry Jernigan, the Chief Security Officer
  • Robert Vaughn as U.S. Senator Gary Parker
  • Robert Wagner as Dan Bigelow, the Public Relations Officer
  • Susan Flannery as Lorrie
  • Sheila Matthews as Paula Ramsay


McQueen and NewmanEdit

McQueen, Newman, and William Holden all wanted top billing. Holden was refused, his long term standing as a box office draw having been eclipsed by both McQueen and Newman. To provide dual top billing, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen lower left and Newman upper right. Thus, each appeared to have "first" billing depending on whether the credit was read left-to-right or top-to-bottom,[3] the first of countless times in which billing would be displayed this way in films. McQueen is mentioned first in the film's trailers. In the cast list rolling from top to bottom at the film's end, however, McQueen and Newman's names were arranged diagonally as at the beginning; as a consequence, Newman's name is fully visible first there.   McQueen and Newman were promised the same pay and number of lines, which meant that one had to shoot additional scenes to equalize the dialog.


The Towering Inferno Soundtrack redirects here.


Critical receptionEdit

Overall the film received positive reviews.


The film won 9 awards all together. 5 at the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The other four awards were won at the BAFTA Awards and Global Globe Awards where Fred Astaire won best actor.


  • Paul Newman later regretted his decision to co-star with 'Steve McQueen' because of the rivalry between the two, created by Steve.
  • Principal photography was completed on Sept. 11th 1974.
  • Many bit players from The Poseidon Adventure (1972) also appear in this film.
  • Only feature film to co-star father and son Paul Newman and Scott Newman.
  • Paul Newman did most of his own stunts, including climbing up and down the bent stairwell railing.
  • In The climax Fred Astaire was not acting when the explosions happen he was very scared indeed.
  • Steve McQueen was married to actress Ali MacGraw at the time. Right before filming the dangerous and climactic scene in the Promenade Room, he told everyone, "If anything happens to me, Ali gets my pickup truck."