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Black Sunday is a 1977 American thriller film based on the novel by Thomas Harris. The film was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture in 1978. The inspiration of the story came from the Black September attack on Israelimarker athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics.


Michael Lander (Bruce Dern) is an Americanmarker blimp pilot deranged by years of torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnammarker, a failed marriage, and a bitter court martial. He longs to commit suicide and take as many people as possible with him, so he conspires with Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller), an operative from a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September, to launch a massive suicide bombing on American soil. Lander plans to detonate a flechette-based bomb, housed on the underside of a blimp, over the Miami Orange Bowlmarker during the Super Bowl X between Pittsburgh and Dallas. American and Israeli intelligence agencies, led by Mossad agent David Kabakov (Robert Shaw) and FBImarker agent Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver), race to prevent the catastrophe. To add further intrigue and a pall of doom, the President of the United States attends the game.


The film was a commercial hit when it was released in 1977. Although director John Frankenheimer lamented serious shortcomings in the visual effects of the climax (due to time and budgetary shortfalls), many critics trumpeted the final scene featuring a helicopter/blimp chase over the Orange Bowlmarker as one of the more riveting and unusual in movie history. Black Sunday also features a film score from John Williams.

Behind the scenes

A significant portion of the filming was done during actual Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl in Miamimarker, Floridamarker, on January 18, 1976. In the movie, Kabakov discusses the security arrangements for the game with Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, who plays himself. In the movie, Jimmy Carter is shown as the President of the United States who attends the Super Bowl, although Gerald Ford was President when Super Bowl X took place.


The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company granted use of all three of its U.S.-based blimps for Black Sunday. The landing and hijacking scenes were photographed at the Goodyear airship base in Carsonmarker, Californiamarker with Columbia (N3A); a short scene in the Springmarker, Texasmarker base with the America (N10A), and the Miamimarker, Floridamarker Super Bowl scenes with the Mayflower (N1A), which was then based on Watson Island across the Port of Miamimarker. While Goodyear allowed the use of their airship fleet, they did not allow the "Goodyear Wingfoot" logo (prominently featured on the side of the blimp) to be used in the advertising or movie poster for the film. Thus, the words "Super Bowl" are featured in place of the logo on the blimp in the advertising collateral.

Differences between the novel and the film

  • In the novel, the Aldrich Rubber Company owns the blimp. In the film, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company permitted its blimp to be used. A Goodyear representative noted that it is impossible for two people, alone, to launch the blimp.
  • In the novel, the Super Bowl occurs in New Orleansmarker at Tulane Stadiummarker. Harris wrote his novel before completion of the Louisiana Superdomemarker. In the film, the Super Bowl occurs in Miami at the Orange Bowl Stadiummarker.
  • In the novel, the Washington Redskins play the Miami Dolphins, but in the film, the Dallas Cowboys play the Pittsburgh Steelers (as they did in Super Bowl X). However in Super Bowl IX, the Steelers played the Minnesota Vikings in Tulane Stadium. In both games, Pittsburgh was victorious.
  • In the novel, Kabakov's assistant Mochevsky survives to the end of the story, but Kabakov, the helicopter pilot, and FBI Agent Corley are killed in the blimp explosion over the Mississippi River. In the film, Mochevsky is killed; Kabakov is not.
  • In the novel, Muhammad Fasil, a Palestinian terrorist who assists Lander, survives and is repatriated to Israel to be tried; in the film, Kabakov shoots and kills him during a gun fight in Miami.
  • In the novel, Kabakov has a relationship with a young psychiatrist named Rachel Baumann. The part was originally scripted with either Ali McGraw or Katharine Ross in mind, but due to budgetary issues, the script was revised and the role was deleted.

In popular culture

In Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears, Marvin Russel mentions Black Sunday to the main antagonists when he notes the similarity of their plan to that of the film.

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