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Irwin Allen (June 12, 1916 – November 2, 1991) was a television and film producer nicknamed "The Master of Disaster" for his work in the disaster film genre. He was also notable for creating a number of television series.


Allen was born in New York Citymarker. In 1952, he won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for The Sea Around Us, which was based on Rachel Carson's best-selling book of the same name. Carson was so disappointed with Allen's final version of the script that she never again sold film rights to her work.

Allen's film credits include the 3-D film Dangerous Mission (1954), The Animal World (1956), the critically-panned The Story of Mankind (1957), The Big Circus (1959), The Lost World (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), which later became the basis of his TV series of the same name, and Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962).

In the 1960s, Allen moved into television as a producer and was responsible for series such as: There is also a movie, City Beneath the Sea (1971), intended as a pilot for a new series, using many of the props from Voyage. His final foray into Television was The Return of Captain Nemo miniseries in 1978, starring Jose Ferrer. Allen's science-fiction series became notorious for their inclusion of absurd science and an emphasis on the juvenile 'sci-fi' element.

In the 1970s, Allen returned to cinema screens and was the most popular name associated with the decade's fad for the disaster film genre. Allen produced the hugely successful The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), which he also co-directed. He also produced the made-for-TV disaster movie called Fire! which was not a success. He directed-produced The Swarm (1978), and produced/directed Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) and When Time Ran Out (1980).

In the late 1970s/1980s, Allen sporadically returned to TV with miniseries like The Return of Captain Nemo/The Amazing Captain Nemo (1978) and a star-studded version of Alice in Wonderland (1985). He was planning on making a star studded musical version of Pinocchio, but a decline in health caused an early retirement in 1986 after his last film made.

Allen died from a heart attack in 1991.

In popular culture

  • Killdozer's 1989 song "Man vs. Nature" referred to Allen, calling him "the Master of Realism." The song's three verses mention three prominent disaster films of the 1970s, including The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake (which has nothing to do with Allen, in spite of the song's misattribution), and The Towering Inferno.

  • The "Irwin Allen rock-and-roll" is when the camera is rocked as the on-screen cast rushes from side to side on the set, simulating a ship being tossed around. It is employed in many episodes of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea".

  • In the film Ocean's Thirteen, "Irwin Allen" is a nickname for a con where the mark is manipulated by using the threat of a large natural disaster. In the movie, Brad Pitt assumes the character of a geophysicist who fools the owner of the Bank Hotel into believing his hotel requires an evacuation plan due to ambiguous references made by Pitt regarding seismologic activity in the Las Vegas area. This ruse enables the Ocean crew to carry out their exploitation during a segment of the plot.


  1. Lear, 239-240
  2. The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen (1995) (TV)
  3. BBC - BBC Four Listings - Programmes
  • Lear, Linda. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. New York: Henry Holt, 1997. ISBN 0-8050-3428-5

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