At some point in your life, you develop an obsession with the end of the world. Stick with me on this, but everyone one of us wonders, eventually, what it would be like for all life on earth to be doomed by some impending threat. All manner of religions and cultural narratives address the end of the world, the wiping out of almost all life, or a cycle of death and rebirth on a universal scale. From the diluvian mythos of the biblical flood to the recreation of the world through fire and death, the imprint of divine justice and a reboot to this fallen world is in us all.
Movies have become a cultural rallying point for the fascination and reimagining of the apocalyptic annihilation of humanity. It could be Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or Armageddon, or even the potential for human extermination in recent Avengers movies or the rebirth of an exterminated populace in Mad Max. The imagination surrounding our end has led to fabulous successes and miserable failures.
A fertile breeding ground for both successes and failures was the explosion of disaster movies made in the mid to late 1990’s. Hollywood even managed to turn out two movies that featured the same death by disaster in 1998 when Armageddon and Deep Impact put crater-sized holes in box office sales.
As both a hat tip to those movies and it’s ilk, as well as this weekend’s release of the new disaster movie, San Andreas, starring Dwayne Johnson, we humbly submit the Top 5 Disaster Movies spanning everything from floods, to alien invasions and fire…so much fire. Oh yeah, and don’t forget explosions. SO. MANY. EXPLOSIONS!
It would not be summertime without a viewing of Hollywood’s most patriotic film about Will Smith blowing up aliens, Independence Day. Filled with iconic moments and that amazing speech from Bill Pullman as President Whitmore, Roland Emmerich’s 1996 box office smash has become a classic 90’s film that my generation loves. It was America kicking alien butt and as 12 year-old kid I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The movie is not spectacularly shot and isn’t ground-breaking in anyway, however, it boasts some incredible effects and an attention grabbing performance from Will Smith. Released only a couple months after the finale of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this was Smith’s breakout performance and it would propel him to the top of Hollywood’s A-list and lead to a long string of successful blockbusters stretching well into the 2000’s. If an alien invasion like this ever happens, we can only hope it follows the crazy plot of this movie. Only with more Will Smith rap songs.
One of the original star-studded, action/adventure blockbusters, it was also the first ever movie to be a joint venture between two studios (20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.). Starring big time Hollywood names Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, it also had big names like Fred Astaire, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, and Susan Blakely. A success at the box office and earned a total of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, The Towering Inferno was incredibly well received critically, as well. While it did not get a Universal Studios ride like Earthquake, another disaster movie that is not nearly as good but came out the same year, it is highly regarded to this day for its thriller-like, and scary, cinematography and high caliber acting. If you haven’t seen it, it is a cinematic classic that has aged quite well.
Remember when Bill Paxton was cool? And so was Helen Hunt? Twister was more so a product of the 90’s than Independence Day, but both included 90’s TV stars (Smith and Hunt) and second tier movie stars in co-starring roles (Paxton and Jeff Goldblum). One of the better disaster movies to come out of the mid to late 90’s, Twister is fun, exciting, and plays perfectly on every fear we could possibly have about tornadoes. In fact, two years previous to this movie coming out, my wife’s hometown was half destroyed by an F5 tornado that I remember seeing on the news (I didn’t know her yet, however). I must have seen this movie at least half a dozen times growing up, being a particular favorite of my dad’s. The sound design of a tornado, as well as still using practical effects, make the movie terrifying and realistic and fun, since its a movie and not a REAL tornado. Super cool and a movie I want to return to after writing all this.
The mother of all modern disaster movies, The Poseidon Adventure was ground-breaking for its special effects and a smash-hit and a cultural icon. It featured well known actors Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, and many more. It also featured an Academy Award nominated musical score from an up-and-coming composer by the name of John Williams, perhaps you have heard of him.
In 1972, when it debuted, it ended it’s box office run as one of the most successful movies of all-time. It was such a huge smash, that it has become a cult classic as of late. It’s plain fun and has its silly moments, but it is a really great movie and well worth your time if you have never seen it before.
The original, the classic, one of the classics. If The Poseidon Adventure is the mother of all modern disaster movies, Gojira is the grandmother. Full of destruction, screaming, fire, and menacing score, the giant lizard Godzilla stomped into our collective imagination in 1954. A thinly veiled metaphor for the nuclear fears of the Japanese people post-World War II, the story Ishiro Honda tells is complex, but it is told through the images on screen and less through exposition of the characters. What makes this movie so great is the language barrier that allows the cinematography and what is captured, and even what is not captured, to be the main narrative element. Watch the American update of this movie and the original Japanese movie and you can immediately see and hear that. The Japanese version carries weight through images, while the American version is slightly annoying because of the added Raymond Burr character. All in all, this movie is a cinematic landmark of disaster movies, and you need to watch this. Not the American dubbed version, but the original Japanese version.