I Want a Film that Begins with an Earthquake and Works Up to a Climax

Samuel Goldwyn? William Pine? William Thomas? Louis B. Mayer? Apocryphal?

goldwyn07Dear Quote Investigator: Some recent Hollywood action movies begin with an explosion and follow with a series of frenetic semi-coherent set pieces. The script writers seem to be channeling the late movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn’s funny advice for creating a blockbuster:

We need a story that starts with an earthquake and works up to a climax.

Is this suggestion an authentic Goldwynism, or is it apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a theatrical review by Rupert Hart-Davis printed in the London periodical “The Spectator” in 1938. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

There is a legend about a film magnate telling his scenario-writer that he wants a story beginning with an earthquake and working up to a climax.

The “film magnate” was unnamed and the word “legend” signaled that the story was probably exaggerated or fictional. Nevertheless, the comical phrase was widely disseminated, and by 1941 Goldwyn’s name was attached to an instance in the “Chicago Tribune”. Other movie producers such as William Pine, William Thomas, and Louis B. Mayer have also been linked to the statement.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Want a Film that Begins with an Earthquake and Works Up to a Climax


  1. 1938 March 4, The Spectator, Volume 160, Stage and Screen: The Theatre by Rupert Hart-Davis, (Review of a play based on the novel “Dodsworth”), Quote Page 359, Column 1, London, England. (Verified on paper)