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Two-Minute Warning (1976) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • A psychotic sniper plans a massive killing spree in a Los Angeles football stadium during a major championship game. The police, led by Captain Peter Holly (Charlton Heston) and SWAT commander Sergeant Button (John Cassavetes), learn of the plot and rush to the scene. Still, they may be too late, as an all-star cast finds itself lined up in the sights of a gun-toting madman.

  • A group of art thieves plan to steal a priceless collection of paintings. Part of their plan involves hiring a sniper to start taking pot shots into the crowd who are attending a championship football game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which is next door to the museum. Now the police must stop the sniper as well as the heist before innocent people are killed.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In Los Angeles, California, a sniper (Warren Miller) fires a rifle from the window of his hotel room, killing a middle-aged man bicycling with his wife.

    At Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Paul (Brock Peters), a security officer, leads a pair of watchdogs into the scoreboard tower before locking all entryways.

    Meanwhile, the sniper leaves the hotel and drives toward the stadium, where a championship football game is to be played that afternoon between the Los Angeles and Baltimore, Maryland, teams. Football fans from Baltimore arrive at Los Angeles International Airport, including Steve (David Janssen), a short-tempered car salesman, and Janet (Gene Rowlands), his live-in girl friend.

    After a gambler named Mr. Sandman (Jack Klugman) places a large bet on the Los Angeles team, he is summoned to the hotel suite of Mr. Green (Alan Miller), a gangster to whom Sandman owes $28,000. Green demands the money at the conclusion of the game, or Sandman will be killed.

    Outside the Coliseum, Mike and Peggy Ramsay (Beau Bridges and Pamela Bellwood) have a picnic on the lawn outside the stadium with their two young sons, along with several other families.

    Meanwhile, the sniper enters the scoreboard tower undetected, then distracts the dogs with a piece of meat, and breaks the lock to the upper level, which overlooks the interior of the Coliseum.

    A telephone conversation between police captain Pete Holly (Charlton Heston) and Coliseum manager Sam McKeever (Martin Balsam) reveals that the governors of Maryland and California, the mayor of Los Angeles, and the president of the U.S. will be in attendance. A television crew prepares to broadcast the game from their control room, with several cameras placed around the stadium, including one in the blimp hovering overhead. The game gets underway and Baltimore quickly accumulates an eleven-point lead over Los Angeles.

    A Catholic priest (Mitchell Ryan) takes a seat next to Sandman, who fears for his life and requests a prayer for the Los Angeles team.

    Elsewhere in the crowd, Mike Ramsay scans the stadium through his binoculars, and is distracted by an indiscernible presence above the scoreboard. Moments later, the blimp camera detects the sniper. Sam informs the Secret Service of the security breach and deters the president's visit, then calls in Pete Holly.

    Later, Paul becomes indignant when Sam and Holly question his competence in the performance of his duties, and while they discuss their options in dealing with the crisis, Paul climbs the 60-foot ladder to the top of the tower. Before the two men are able to stop him, Paul reaches the top and is struck by the sniper's rifle stock, causing him to fall his death.

    Holly orders in the police department's Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) team, as well as three fully staffed ambulances. When the S.W.A.T. team arrives, Holly apprises its leader, Sgt. Chris Button (John Cassavetes), of the situation, and assures him that both governors and the mayor will be evacuated, reducing the chances of a shooting. Button, however, believes everyone in the stadium to be a "probable target." The sergeant deploys his men, placing two in each light tower overlooking the scoreboard, two in the control room to monitor the sniper, and others in and around the scoreboard, none of which are noticed by the more than 90,000 people in attendance.

    Holly hopes to foil the sniper without incident, and will only turn the operation over to Button after the two-minute warning is sounded, which signals the final moments of the game.

    In the stands, the priest tries to comfort Sandman, who has admitted that his life depends on the game's outcome.

    Mike goes to the lobby to tell the police about his discovery of the sniper, but the police take him away for interrogation.

    Meanwhile, in the control room, the camera signal from the blimp is lost and a police helicopter is called to monitor the sniper.

    As the Los Angeles team takes the lead, the two-minute warning is signaled with a pistol shot, and Holly orders the S.W.A.T. team into action.

    Steve and Janet end a bitter argument in the hallway with the decision to get married, but as they return to their seats, the sniper shoots and kills Steve... and then all hell breaks loose. The sniper finally opens fire on the crowd and kills two S.W.A.T. team members and several spectators, including Sandman. Peggy Ramsey is wounded by a bullet to her shoulder as she runs out of the stadium with her two young sons. Mike manages to get away from the police and runs through the panicking crowing trying to find his wife.

    At the same time, the S.W.A.T. team fires back, but the sniper is undaunted and shoots into the panicked crowd as it stampedes out of the stadium. Holly and Button climb the ladder to the scoreboard, while gunfire from the police helicopter causes the sniper to retreat into the tower. The police follow him inside, and the sniper continues to fire on them from a narrow shaft above the tower. Holly shoots six bullets into the shaft, and the sniper falls. The captain tries to interrogate the dying man but gets no response. The sniper's wallet identifies him as Carl Cook, "a transient from out of state."

    Elsewhere around the Coliseum, emergency crews treat the injured and identify the dead. Mike is returned to his family as his injured wife is placed in an ambulance. The priest remains in his seat, cradling Sandman's dead body. Later, as Cook's body is lowered from the tower, Button speculates on the killer's posthumous celebrity, and on how the police will likely be criticized for using excessive force.

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