Disaster movies are the ultimate “leave your brain at the door” fodder. You don’t need to think, you just need to watch the world implode (or explode). Whether it is alien invaders, city-sized asteroids or Mother Nature herself, there are numerous ways to watch the world burn. The actual story or any emotional input seldom seems to matter much, while trailers give away that money shot of a famous landmark being blown to smithereens (think the White House going Kaboom! in Independence Day), audiences can be treated to a visual feast of the world going to hell.
In honour of Geostorm adding, presumably, to that lexicon from this weekend, we thought we’d revisit some of the best blockbuster disaster films. Buckle up!
Independence Day (1996)
Probably one of the best alien invasion films to ever grace the silver screen – these’s slimy monsters do not come in peace. The visual extravaganza starts with the aforementioned destruction of the White House and does not stop from there. The invaders from space want to lay waste to humanity and they want to do it as messily as possible. With a career best performance from the former Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and the infamous 4th of July speech from Bill Pullman’s President, rallying humanity to stand together, Independence Day is still one of the best invasion films.
Ignore the pseudo science and definitely ignore the sequel, sit back and enjoy the sheer madness and if you do not feel an emotional connection to Boomer the dog, then you clearly have no soul.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Another from Roland Emmerich. The global warming horror story that sees Mother Nature finally get pissed off at mankind and plunges North America into another ice age. Dennis Quaid plays the “I told you so” scientist trying to save his son in the now frozen New York. The biggest set piece here sees the ocean rise and wipe out New York with a mega tsunami – a staple scene in the subgenre.
While not as engaging as some of the other films that appear in this list, and perhaps even slightly short on the disaster we all crave, it is no doubt a timely film, relevant still as the world faces the global warming crisis; it hopes to provide a cautionary tale of the absolute worst we can expect if we do not start to look after our planet.
More pseudo science! Probably just as much as a staple in these films as landmarks being decimated. This time it involves the Earth’s core and overheated neutrinos to explain the Mayan -predicted end of the world. This one has it all. Earthquakes, erupting super volcanoes, several tidal waves and John Cusack driving his car through a collapsing building as everything around him goes to absolute hell. There’s a ‘father trying to make amends’ story going on in the middle of the apocalypse and a subplot about Arks (as in Noah’s), but really everyone is watching for scenes such as Danny Glover’s President getting squashed by a ship.
The ending is a schmaltzy as you can get, the human story not that interesting (are they ever?) and far too numerous. But the effects are stunning (and are they not the most important part?) Yet another from ‘Master of Disaster’, Roland Emmerich, who also directed 1998’s Godzilla and White House Down.
San Andreas (2015)
Another family in turmoil subplot, but this time starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, so it gains back anything it loses right there. The San Andreas fault triggers a massive magnitude 9 earthquake (the biggest ever recorded was 9.4 in 1960, while the earthquake that caused the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was 9.1). Johnson is a Los Angeles Fire Department search and rescue pilot which not only gives him a feasible reason to be right in the heart of the disaster, but allows for some excellent set pieces including rescues from on top of collapsing buildings and Johnson’s nifty survival skills saving him from a city falling in on itself.
As Johnson ventures into the crumbling city in an attempt to save his family, his sheer badassery sees him surf up and over a megatsunami that takes out the Golden Gate Bridge itself.
Deep Impact (1998)
Destruction comes from above in 1998’s other asteroid film (the other being Michael Bay’s Armageddon). A seven mile wide asteroid is hurtling towards earth and is likely to trigger an Extinction-Level Event. Panic ensues, underground shelters are built and astronauts fail in their attempt to destroy the fiery rock of death. Every major city is destroyed either from the hell of the asteroid fragments or by the 3500 foot tidal wave that the impact triggers. Unlike most other films, disaster is not really averted and the human race must find a new way to survive.
Of course, despite near disaster, humankind finds a way to carry on, as it always does. Elijah Wood stars as the young astronomer who first discovers the space rock, while Morgan Freeman serves as President. Deep Impact is ranked number one here simply for the fact that something like this could actually happen, according to NASA as recently as June this year, it is not a matter of if an asteroid could hit the Earth, but when. Let that thought keep you awake at night.
Geostorm is released across the UK tomorrow. What is your favourite disaster movie?