There’s something about the disaster movie that gets folks going. Watching normal people thrust into a horrible situation thanks to nature going wild is compelling, as it could happen to almost anyone. The plethora of real-life disasters shows that as Hollywood has loved this genre for decades.
It’s tricky to narrow it down, but a few stand tall, not just for the spectacle of cities destroyed but also for the human element involved. With the upcoming Twisters movie being planned, here’s a quick look at ten of the best natural disaster movies to check out and show why the genre will never die as long as nature is set to keep shaking people up.
It may be a bit wild, but this 1996 smash hit remains a fun adventure. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are exes who reunite amid a hunt for tornadoes hitting the Midwest. While the FX may seem cheesy today, they were state of the art in 1996 and that helps the great race.
The sequence of a tornado trashing a drive-in theater is so spectacular that Universal Studios made a theme park attraction of it. The upcoming reboot shows there’s still some potential in the concept of enjoying this hit film.
The Poseidon Adventure
The granddaddy of all modern disaster movies, Irwin Allen’s smash hit boasts a terrific all-star cast as guests on an ocean liner flipped upside down by a tidal wave. A band of survivors have to climb to the bottom of the upturned ship to escape it before it sinks.
With Gene Hackman, Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, and more, the stunt work is terrific, and the thrills never stop. It set the template every other disaster movie has followed, as the 2006 remake tried but failed to capture the original’s thrills.
There are a lot of movies revolving around earthquakes, but this 1974 film remains tops. It’s aided by a great cast, with Charlton Heston as an architect caught in the middle of a massive quake hitting Los Angeles. The scenes of destruction are well done with classic models and stunt work selling the chaos.
It’s a good supporting cast of Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene and George Kennedy, mixing together various plots. The thrilling climax of a bursting dam flooding the city caps off a classic of the disaster genre.
You can do an entire list of nothing but Roland Emmerich movies, as he specializes in epic disaster films (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Moonfall). To narrow it down to just one, this 2009 movie built around the idea the world would end in 2012 is probably his best when it comes to mass destruction.
Tidal waves the size of mountains crush cities, California falls into the sea, and Yellowstone erupts in a huge volcano. It’s a race to survive the disasters with spectacle only Emmerich can provide to make this his all-time biggest disaster extravaganza.
This underrated 1997 film actually got volcano science right a lot better than other films. Instead of a huge famous city, it’s set in a small mountain town with Pierce Brosnan as the scientist trying to warn mayor Linda Hamilton of the coming danger.
This was one of the last movies to rely on old-school models rather than CGI, and the eruption scene is excellent. There are cliches like rescuing kids, but it captures how the true damage of a volcano isn’t lava, it’s the smoke, ash, and winds capable of wiping out towns and makes this a gem to watch.
Dismissed in 2014, this Paul W.S. Anderson film has attained a cult following as well as being praised by scientists for its surprising accuracy. It starts like a different film with Kit Harington as a slave turned gladiator falling in love with a noblewoman while Keifer Sutherland hams it up as a Roman general.
It shifts gears when Mount Vesuvius erupts, and the destruction of Pompeii is as spectacular as it is horrifying. Between the waves smashing apart boats, the fireballs and ash, it’s gripping and the final scene is surprisingly realistic to close out one of the better films of this famous disaster.
This 2004 film is more notable as it’s based on a real event. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are a couple vacationing in Thailand at Christmas 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami hits, nearly wiping out the island resort and separating them.
The tidal wave scene is chilling, but it also captures the more destructive aftermath of people trying to survive. Watts earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, as the fact that this was a real disaster gives this more power than so many other films on this list.
The Wave/The Quake
Two of Norway’s biggest box office hits, these films showed the Norwegians could pull off disaster films as well as Americans. The first shows an avalanche causing a tsunami smashing apart a Norwegian town and a geologist trying to save his family. The special effects for the wave itself are a marvel, matching anything from a Hollywood studio.
The sequel has the same geologist in Oslo when it’s hit by a cataclysmic earthquake, and he once more has to save his family. Both movies put the family drama first but don’t skimp on the action of cities ravaged by disaster, and each is a worthy entry into the genre.
In 1998, Deep Impact and Armageddon battled it out for “box office hit about a killer asteroid” supremacy. While Armageddon won that, Deep Impact is really the better film. Tea Leoni is a reporter who stumbles onto how the government is preparing for a massive comet to hit Earth. The movie works on multiple plots, from a pack of astronauts trying to stop the comet to the creation of “arks” to save humanity.
The slow build makes it good, with Morgan Freeman a standout as the President. Thankfully, it doesn’t hold back on the epic finale of tidal waves wiping out New York as the comet gets closer. It’s not as bombastic as Armageddon, but still a terrific disaster film hit.
Over 25 years later, James Cameron’s epic remains one of the biggest hits ever but underrated as a disaster movie. It’s a classic setup of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s lovers meeting on the doomed cruise ship, with Cameron slowly notching it up as it goes.
When it comes to the actual sinking, Cameron’s work is stunning, showing the terror of everyone stuck on the ship and the effects of it coming apart remain marvelous. It comes together bringing the legendary event to life like never before and little wonder it’s remained a beloved hit for a quarter of a century.