July 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the world-renowned Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, which remains one of the most unique and captivating theme park attractions in the world.

While the rich history of the Universal Studios backlot gives the Studio Tour a compelling touch of movie magic in itself, the mini attractions within the roughly 60-minute experience offer guests an idea of what it feels like to be inside the movies and undeniably play a memorable role in the Studio Tour experience, with many of these mini attractions rightfully becoming classics in themselves.

As part of the celebration for the 60th anniversary of the Studio Tour, Earthquake: The Big One has recently undergone a refurbishment updating the attraction so that it can continue to entertain guests for years to come.

Given the popularity of attractions relying on practical effects compared to screen-based attractions in a time where most guests seek an escape from screens while on vacation, Earthquake: The Big One, with its intense simulation mimicking an 8.3 magnitude earthquake, remains one of the highest rated attractions on the Studio Tour.

Located inside Stage 50 on the Universal Backlot – a split-level soundstage show building built specifically for the attraction – Earthquake: The Big One opened in 1989, inspired by the 1974 Universal Studios film titled Earthquake. The attraction runs for a total of 90 seconds and requires only 30 seconds to completely reset in preparation for the next Studio Tour tram coming through.

The story of Earthquake: The Big One ultimately remains the same, beginning with the Studio Tour guide informing guests that they will be getting the chance to see the ‘Hot Set’ of a production themed to look like an underground San Francisco subway station up close, when suddenly, the ground begins to shake and everything inside the soundstage begins to crumble apart, including the second floor itself. Electric power cables threaten guests on one side of the tram while an 18-wheeler truck tumbles to the ground on the other, with seemingly non-stop chaos occurring until a moment of calm, which is quickly disturbed by the rush of 60,000 gallons of recycled water hurdling towards guests at the end of the experience.

Inside Universal was recently invited on a behind-the-scenes tour of Earthquake: The Big One led by Universal Creative Vice President Jon Corfino to get an up-close look at some of the changes and improvements made to the attraction shortly before its reopening. As a disclaimer, the attraction was still under construction at the time of our visit, so the final product may look slightly different from our photos by the time it officially reopens to the public.

“Earthquake has been around for a very long time and is very iconic, and so one of the things we wanted to do is take a refreshed look at it and say, ‘What happens if it were to happen today?’”

While the heart of the experience – or more accurately, the heart-stopping nature of the experience – remains the same, Earthquake: The Big One may at first look shockingly different to fans of the attraction with its updated art direction intended to set the attraction in 2024 rather than in the context of the 1974 film. Gone is the original green and beige stucco look in favor of a more modernized color scheme of blues and whites intended to represent the fictional “Universal Mass Transit” transportation company, paired with new and refreshed tiles, brackets, logos, graphics, and props to truly sell the premise that this stage could be a ‘Hot Set’ Universal Studios would want to showcase to guests today.

Among other new details fans may notice, the production facility props have been upgraded from the film cameras and lighting of the past to more current technology, electric bike plug-in stations were added to mirror those commonly found in subway stations today, a stolen bag of cash sits in front of a prop ticket machine as part of the story of the film supposedly in production in Soundstage 50, the truck that tumbles down from the second floor now is hydrogen-powered, and most notably, numerous new and completely original posters designed by the project team line the walls of the subway station.

It was additionally noted that throughout the attraction – on many of the new posters in particular – there are multiple easter eggs paying homage to the team that built the original Earthquake: The Big One. For example, fans with a close eye may spot a street map with some familiar names from Universal Creative history.

The iconic subway car that crashes near guests has also received an upgrade, with all-new wraps and a refreshed paint job matching the new color scheme of the subway station set.

On top of all of the visual changes made to the attraction, a major part of any themed entertainment offering is undoubtedly the audio, as noted by Corfino who stated that “audio is about 60% of every experience”. While you will need to ride the Studio Tour to notice it yourself, the entire audio system for the attraction has been redone. The original audio tracks will still be used but have been significantly touched up so that the overall experience is much more powerful, especially paired with the refreshed lighting and practical effects in the already claustrophobic environment.

Though it may now look significantly different on the surface as the 60th anniversary of the Studio Tour approaches, the creative team has done an excellent job at achieving a fine balance between honoring the past of Earthquake: The Big One that has made it one of the most successful and popular attractions on the Studio Tour, and making the experience more current for guests after receiving the attention it has needed.

As noted earlier, many of the most popular attractions among guests are those that are the most physically immersive, which comes at little surprise given that experiences such as Earthquake: The Big One tie directly back to Universal Studios Hollywood’s authentic DNA of going behind the scenes of the movies and showing how the filmmaking process really works.

We again thank Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Creative Vice President Jon Corfino for giving us an inside look at the changes made to Earthquake: The Big One, soon to reopen to the public.

Stay tuned to Inside Universal to hear more about how Universal Studios Hollywood plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Studio Tour, the latest news on Universal Parks & Resorts, and follow along on our forums & discussion boards.