The disaster movie is as much a part of cinematic history as science fiction or horror, especially after gaining prominence in the with 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure and 1974’s Earthquake. Ever since those blockbusters, the epidemic of natural disaster-related movies has been as relentless and persistent as a full blown twister. The budgets that go into these movies are very high and show just how bankable these movies can be.
Roland Emmerich has made a career out of destroying America with blockbuster films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Just this year, Dwayne Johnson scored a blockbuster hit with San Andreas.
Here is Screenrant’s Top 10 Most Awe-Inspiring Natural Disasters Ever Put to Film.
This 1997 natural disaster film directed by Mick Jackson has a great cast, including Tommy Lee Jones and Don Cheadle. Jones plays Mike Roark, the head of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management, a man who tries to derail the path of lava from Mount Wilshire, a volcano that has erupted beneath the city. After the eruption triggers an earthquake that wreaks havoc on the city, Roark tries to prevent the lava from flowing into the streets of Los Angeles, but is unsuccessful. The lava eventually flows through the city, melting everything in its path, among which are two poor firefighters. Lives are sacrificed, limbs are burnt, the city turns into magma hell, and people go missing as authorities try to prevent more damage.
The lava the crew used in the film was primarily made of methylcellulose, a thickening agent used in fast-food milkshakes. There’s something comforting in watching a disaster movie that is so convinced of its own importance: In a rather comical epilogue, a title proclaims that Mount Wilshire is still in an active state, as if the film is a warning for what’s coming. Only, Mount Wilshire is fictitious, and Los Angeles is in far more danger of a massive earthquake than a volcanic eruption.
Dante’s Peak (1997)
1997 brought us not one, but two volcano disaster flicks. The titular peak is a dormant volcano located in the Cascades. Pierce Brosnan plays a volcanologist (yes, that is a real job) who discovers that Dante’s Peak can and will erupt any second. His attempt to save the residents of the town, however, is obstructed by the city council and even his own boss, due to the income the town is earning from it’s new found title of second most desirable place to live in America.
Just as the town is put on alert, a series of earthquakes cause the volcano to blow. Since this is a disaster movie, the flow of ash eventually demolishes the entire town, but not before the audience gets to see some amazing visuals of the destruction, as lava pours down the mountain destroying everything in its path.
The Impossible (2012)
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was nothing to laugh about, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries and requiring close to $14 billion in humanitarian aid. The tragic story told in The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, is just one of hundreds of thousands that actually occurred.
This is the true story of a family vacationing at a Thai resort who get swept up by the tsunami. The results are terrifying, as the family members are captured by the water and lose touch with each other, leaving them only with the hope that their loved ones are still alive. Many of the extras in the film were actual survivors of the tsunami, and the scene where the tsunami hits the resort could only be filmed once due to the preposterously high cost of shooting. The actual family who lived through this terrible ordeal were on set every day of the shoot to give the filmmakers and actors insight on the exact details.
the day after tomorrow (2004)
Released the same year as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Roland Emmerich’s bombastic disaster epic is slightly less subtle film about the effects of climate change. By Emmerich’s thinking, or at least by the scientists who populate his film, the warming of the earth’s climate will eventually result in the coming of another ice age.
Having already destroyed a number of American cities with alien attacks in Independence Day, Emmerich decided to give it another go with ~nature~, as the freezing of the climate triggers a series of natural disasters across the world. The most memorable shot of the film arrives when a tsunami ensconces the Statue of Liberty on its way to Manhattan, not unlike a similar scene in Deep Impact, proving that nothing symbolizes the fall of American society like the image of Lady Liberty brought to her knees.
All of the movies on our list concentrate their efforts on one particular natural disaster. 2012, on the other hand, tries to focus on EVERYTHING – which disaster connoisseur Roland Emmerich inevitably sees as the result climate change and the rising temperature of the earth’s core. It plays like The Day After Tomorrow on steroids, throwing everything at the audience in a smorgasbord of intense, gratuitous disaster scenes: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, mega-tsunamis, and many more fill the film’s 158 minute screen-time and bring out some of the best CGI effects seen at the time of the film’s release.
All this of course correlates to the Mayan prediction of a terrible apocalypse that would be coming on the 21st of December, 2012. It clearly didn’t, which makes this the least re-watchable movie on our list.
Hard Rain (1998)
The filmmakers of this 1998 thriller went to great lengths to replicate the worst recorded rainstorm in Midwest history. The natural disaster that occurs in the film’s small Indiana town complicates a heist, as it causes a dam accident that ends up flooding the whole town.
A critical bomb when it came out, Hard Rain has now become a guilty pleasure whenever it appears on our television set. The production built the largest aquatic film set in history (that is, until Titanic beat the record a few weeks after filming started). Many of Hard Rain‘s cast and crew ended up with bad cases of hypothermia due to the damp conditions of the set. Star Minnie Driver claimed she hated her experience on the movie due to the conditions.
The Core (2003)
The natural disaster of 2003’s The Core occurs when the Earth’s core has stopped spinning and as a result, a domino effect takes place on Earth: pacemakers quit working, birds go crazy, hurricanes form and thunderstorms ensue. So what does humanity to do when such a situation occurs? They call up a dynamite crew of six Americans, played by Hillary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Aaron Eckhart, Bruce Greenwood, Stanley Tucci, and best of all, a computer hacker played by DJ Qualls.
In a situation where the existence of humanity is at stake, leave it to DJ Qualls to take care of the programming. In all honesty, the movie is entertaining enough to justify its tacky premise, but maybe not the cheesy dialogue uttered by this indelibly classy team of “terranauts.”
Deep Impact (1998)
If 1997 was the year of the volcano, 1998 was the year of the asteroid. A 7-mile-wide comet is set to hit earth and cause mass destruction in this 1998 movie, which oddly enough, came out the same summer as the similarly themed Armageddon. The comet needs to be destroyed or the inhabitants of Earth will be destroyed instead, except, of course, the lucky people who have shelters. They’ll survive.
That is the plot of Deep Impact, an $80 million blockbuster that stormed the box office and even had scientists saying it was the most scientifically accurate asteroid-threatens-to-hit-Earth movie of the year. Take that, Armageddon. Not that any Michael Bay movie really aims to be scientifically accurate, but Deep Impact‘s searing moment comes once the comet hits earth and the Statue of Liberty is swallowed up by the tsunami that ensues (along with the Brooklyn Bridge and all of Manhattan). Lady Liberty later re-appears, sliding down a New York avenue in full force.
You can whine all you want about Sharknado‘s exclusion from this list, but the ultimate tornado movie is still this 1996 thriller directed by Jan de Bont (Speed). Billy (Bill Paxton) and Jo (Helen Hunt) are pair of (questionably happily) married storm chasers, who create a measuring device that can be inserted into the funnel of the tornado.
This plot gives way for some of the most exhilarating disaster sequences of the 1990s. The indelible, iconic image that stands out is that of a cow being picked up by the tornado as the twister hits its peak. The climactic sequence that had audiences holding on to their seats featured Billy and Jo in the thick of the F-5 tornado, fighting for their lives. In reality there is no possible way the main characters could have survived that ordeal, but hey, that’s Hollywood for you.
San Andreas (2015)
A disaster film in 3D, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? We’ll take it! The natural disaster in the film was epic: The San Andreas fault shifts, causing a 9.1 earthquake that thunderously brings California down to its knees. Much of Southern California — especially Los Angeles — is destroyed, with thousands upon thousands of casualties, leading The Rock to hop onto his rescue chopper and try to save whatever is left of humanity. That’s not the end of it. Another earthquake, this one at 9.6, hits San Francisco.
What usually follows a quake? A tsunami of course, which is the icing on the cake as buildings tumble down the ocean and bodies are washed ashore. At one point in the movie, The Rock is asked what the next move should be, and he says, “we rebuild.” After all the disaster that has occurred, that is not an easy task.
The most frightening movie on our list doesn’t have to do with an epic-scaled volcano, tornado, comet, or CGI bonanza coming down on our marbled blue planet. In fact, the scariest movies are the ones that hit you personally and make you realize it could happen in your world. Steven Soberbergh’s Contagion is a natural disaster that has in fact happened many times in history: a spreading, contagious disease that wipes people out as it spreads across the world.
Written after doing much research on the topic, Soderbergh takes a clinical approach to a newly spread virus as he shows the viewer the identification and containment of the disease, the pandemic that ensues, and finally the culmination of a vaccine which stops the spreading of the virus. It’s fascinating and terrifying to watch and parallels some of the true life viruses by which it clearly was inspired, such as SARS and the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, except the disease in Contagion is far deadlier.
Did we miss any other iconic natural disaster movies? Do you have a personal favorite that warrants to get mentioned? Please us know in the comments below!