The Big Bus was nick named Cyclops off screen
The Big Bus was nick named Cyclops off screen

Before Airplane came along and changed the landscape of quick-fire comedy and disaster movie comedy there was a single film (to my knowledge) that came before it doing the same thing and that my friends, is The Big Bus. This 70’s comedy is intriguing as to how closely it parodies the disaster movie genre – but also in how close to the plot of Speed the film was and yet Speed was taken completely seriously 20 years later. If you’ve seen Speed, this may adversely (or conversely!) effect your enjoyment.

Release Date: 1976

Running Time: 88 mins

The Premise

A nuclear powered bus does a non stop trip from New York to Denver but seems to be the target for greedy oil companies whom try to stop the bus any way that they can.

The Disasters Faced

Soap, Earthquakes, brake failures, bombs on board, spinning over a cliff edge, an iron lung and death by cola!

The Execution

The Big Bus does very well at poking fun ¬†at the disaster movie genre. It starts off with a big explosion where the man in charge is then left paralysed on the floor – and doesn’t move from that spot for the rest of the movie as he barks orders. The bad guys are suitably racial stereotypes trapped in an iron lung and comically ponder over which stupid tactic to use next. The romantic plot is hackneyed and silly. The difference between this movie and the Airplane movie is that where Airplane turns up the gags to 11, The Big Bus is more subtle and keeps things at a 5 or 6 and with the advent of SyFy and those terrible straight to TV movies, a lot of the subtle charm of this movie is actually lost. Instead it’s when the jokes are raucous – such as Poison Gas Girl or the cola drowning scene which bring the biggest laughs. However the film is a tightly woven movie, jokes aren’t really recycled much and the bus moves quickly from one peril to another.

The Effects

The bus itself is lavish and well-built. You can tell money was spent on the design and build of the main character. It self washes you know! Also the final scenes where it’s teetering on the edge of a cliff look quite impressive for a comedy! All in, The Big Bus doesn’t scrimp at all and looks good still today. Apparently the bus cost $250,000 to make.

3,2,1 scream and roll peeps!
3,2,1 scream and roll peeps!

Why It’s Worth Watching

The acting is of a high standard and the comic timing is strong. The effects are silly but well done and the film moves at pace. Also the baddies in the movie remind me of some of the foreshadowing we’d see in things like Austin Powers. It’s fascinating to see how that kind of comedy, and pre Airplane/Naked Gun fast paced stuff was handled before they arrived. This was also before Kentucky Fried Movie too so it does feel like a birth of a sub genre in a way.

The Drinking Game

One of my complaints is that it does get a bit lazy with reaction screams in the second half of the movie – you can swig a shot for each of those!

Favourite Character

The piano man! I love how he chimes in with his mini musical numbers such as “Six Months To Live” for the terminally ill guy. It sends up dodgy movie themes perfectly and then Airplane 77 the following year had a piano man there too for extra laughs.

Weirdest Moment

I think the fact that 20 years later Speed also does the bomb-on-the-bus routine and does it seriously is amazing. In fact it does it so seriously it’s one of my all time favourite movies. Also it’s funny that a lot of the visual gags it does with things like bowling alleys and jacuzzi in a bus probably aren’t really as far-fetched as they were then because I’m sure someone out there has these in their bus or motor home already.

Random Trivia

In promotion for the film itself, the bus actually did do a real trip from New York to Denver! I bet there were some stops though!

Narcoleptic at the wheel again!
Narcoleptic at the wheel again!

Goofy Quote

The credits include “Paramount Pictures thanks Trailways for their help and technical assistance in making this impossible picture possible”


The Big Bus is a film caught in an awkward time period. It pioneers a sub comedy genre that was then perfected by later additions. However you cannot deny that whilst it’s not a laugh every twenty seconds, it is a well crafted and very enjoyable film that I have high regard for. One for the comedy and disaster vaults.

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