Juggernaut was a kind of sardonic attitude dramedy mixed with subtle, built-in suspense along with a “catch the bad guy” sideplot. It was driven by impending disaster (i.e., bombs aboard a cruise ship), and was therefore first, last and always a disaster film. The difference was that Juggernaut wasn’t aimed at your typical disaster flick audience but film sophisticates who had loved Lester’s The Three Musketeers, Petulia and A Hard Day’s Night.
After the commercial opening Lester was quoted saying that Juggernaut was hurt by people thinking it was a disaster movie “when that wasn’t what it was at all.” Due respect but it was a disaster film. It just happened to be a really good one.
Pauline Kael: “The only disaster picture that has redeemed the genre is Richard Lester’s Juggernaut, which kidded the threadbare pants off the same clichés that the other pictures still try to make work.”
The Juggernaut Wiki page describes it as a “British crime suspense film” — bullshit. The film’s late producer David Picker, with whom I spoke three or four years ago, explicitly recalled that it was greenlit because of the popularity of the disaster cycle.
Excerpt: “Original screenwriter Richard Alan Simmons would have produced and Bryan Forbes was to direct with Richard Harris starring [and the] film starting in January 1974.
“Forbes left the project, however, as did his replacement, Don Medford. Picker then turned to Lester, with whom he had made a number of films at United Artists. Lester was finishing work on the Musketeers films in Spain when he got a call from Denis O’Dell saying “We just fired our second director and I’ve got a Russian ship and we’ve got to leave on 18 February. Will you take it on?”
“Lester completely rewrote the script with writer Alan Plater. With Harris, Omar Sharif and David Hemmings already cast, Lester cast the rest. He wound up filming three weeks after his original call.
“‘I think if I’d sat carefully and thought about it I wouldn’t have done it,’ said Lester later. ‘It was very exciting. And I think that energy of getting it right carried it through. It was a wonderful experience, great fun.’
“Simmons was so unhappy with the reworked script that he had himself credited as Richard DeKoker on the finished film.”
Juggernaut opened on 9.25.74. It wasn’t a commercial disaster but it under-performed ($3.4 million gross) by disaster movie standards. Average audiences looked at the trailers and read the reviews and said, “Not schlocky enough!”