Big Bus, The (1976)

“The aerodynamics work — we’re breaking wind at 90!”

Big Bus Poster

A blacklisted driver (Joseph Bologna) is recruited by his former flame (Stockard Channing) to drive a nuclear-powered bus nonstop from New York to Denver; along the way, he must deal with a neurotic and narcoleptic co-driver (John Beck), a host of wacky passengers, and a bomb planted by the henchman (Stuart Margolin) of an iron-lung-bound oil magnate (Jose Ferrer).


Primarily known today as a precursor to the Zucker brothers’ much better known Airplane! (1980), The Big Bus is beloved by those who have fond memories of watching it on television growing up, and claim it’s just as funny as Airplane! — yet the sad truth is that it never delivers on its rich comedic potential. While all the right ingredients are certainly there — including an all-star cast, wacky characterizations, and plenty of disaster-prone scenarios — the jokes fall flat again and again; and while it may be mildly amusing for film fanatics to keep track of all the different films being spoofed (they range from Lucille Ball’s attempt to cook in a moving trailer in The Long, Long Trailer, to more generic big-budget disaster flicks such as Airport), the film as a whole never gels. Comedy is a fickle beast, and others may heartily disagree, but I find little here to recommend, and consider this film worth a look exclusively for its historical relevance — nothing more.

P.S. My husband’s primary memory from watching The Big Bus as a boy is the scene in which a tire is replaced while the bus is still moving; he wondered then — and wonders now — where this spare tire could have come from, given that window seats are seen directly above the wheels. With that said, he remains distinctly impressed by the fact that the filmmakers actually built such a massive vehicular beast…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Mulligan and Sally Kellerman as an about-to-be-divorced couple still madly in love with each other
    Big Bus Mulligan Kellerman

Must See?
No. While it’s beloved by many — and perhaps could be considered a minor cult film — I can’t in good conscience recommend this as “must see” viewing.


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