If you are still cooped up at home and not depressed enough already, why not watch a movie about countless people dying! Even during these dark times with a pandemic going around a well made disaster film is still fun to watch, especially since the bulk of the genre throughout the years is mostly garbage. But a good one will have you on the edge of your seat. Here are my top 10 disaster movies of all time. I have excluded any post-apocalyptic classics such as a “Mad Max” or “Planet of the Apes”. The disaster must be taking place in the film’s present day.
10. The Impossible (2012):
The first of two movies on this list based on a true story, “The Impossible” is about a family trying to survive and find each other during the Tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004 and decimated the country. Naomi Watts, nominated for an Academy Award, and her husband played by Ewan McGregor are on a Christmas vacation when the wave hits. From there it becomes every person for themselves as the family tries to come back together. The Tsunami scene itself is absolutely on point in showing the chaos that ensues while also using visual effects that, for the most part, come off as realistic. Add in two high caliber actors like Watts and McGregor and you’ve got yourself a movie.
9. Outbreak (1995):
Perhaps the most similar disaster movie to what is going on in the world right now, “Outbreak” is about a deadly viral disease, originating in Africa, that has a high mortality rate. Starting with a monkey coming over from Africa with a sailor, the virus quickly spreads and becomes airborne and the city of Cedar Creek is quickly quarantined from the world by the military and CDC. It is up to a long time military doctor played by Dustin Hoffman to find the source, the monkey, and develop a cure before it spreads beyond the small town. His ex-wife and CDC medical doctor played by Julianne Moore is right there with him to help, as well as a young helicopter pilot played by Cuba Gooding Jr. The top military brass, led by Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland, want to nuke the city and all of its inhabitants off the face of the earth. It becomes a race against time to help save the lives of the citizens both locally as well as potentially globally.
8. Twister (1996):
Perhaps the silliest movie on this list, there is no denying that “Twister” is a lot of fun. Hanging onto a water hose during a level five tornado, using big tin cans filled with Christmas ornaments to analyze tornados, and two rival factions of tornado hunters are just a few of the ridiculous moments in the film. And still, “Twister” never takes itself too seriously. Try not to laugh when the floating cow shot happens. Stars Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton have real chemistry on screen. Plus you have quirky side characters such as a young Phillip Seymour-Hoffman going full on campy. Who knew tornados could be such a thrill ride.
7. Independence Day (1996):
I do not wish death upon any person of course, but if aliens were going to come and blow up the White House, why couldn’t they wait until now? “Independence Day” is no doubt a classic no matter how ridiculous it is looking back on it. Back before Avatar and the MCU movies it was unprecedented for a movie to have a whole 200 visual effects shots. It also launched Will Smith from star to superstar. Who could forget him punching an armored alien in the face and saying “Welcome to Earth!” with a cigar in his mouth. If you nitpick this filmgoing experience you will drive yourself nuts. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
6. The Poseiden Adventure (1972):
Long before the absolute crap fest remake from 2006, the king of boat escape movies (at the time) was made. “The Poseiden Adventure” stars Gene Hackman, a priest currently questioning his faith on a cruise ship. When a tidal wave hits the boat flips over, killing most of the crew and occupants. Nine survivors, led by Hackman, try to make their way out of an upside-down vessel. It doesn’t take long for the action to get going and the practical effects and sets used were exceptional, particularly for the time in which it was released. It is very much a great example of how to make a movie with essentially a one sentence premise intelligently.
5. Godzilla (Take your Pick):
What list of disaster movies would be complete without the one and only Godzilla. Whether it’s the old school Japanese original “Gojira”, the middle section franchise movies like “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla”, or the current reboot big budget Hollywood movies, everyone knows Godzilla. The janky looking original inspired a slew of monster movies for almost a century. He started off as a guy in a costume kicking over cardboard buildings to now stomping out a large metropolitan city. Whatever time period one thing is for sure, don’t mess with the King of the Monsters.
4. Airplane! (1980):
What’s a good disaster without a little humor in your life. An all time classic comedy farce on the slew of disaster movies that sprung up during the 1970’s, “Airplane” holds back no punches and dives straight into the absurd from the start. There are so many great nuances that demand multiple viewings to fully catch all of the ridiculous antics this plane full of crazy characters get into as they try to land safely after the pilots become sick with food poisoning. From an old white woman being the only one who can speak ‘jive’ to the black guys, a literal blow-up autopilot getting a blowjob, and Leslie Nielson’s famous line “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”, this movie has it all. Turn off your brain and let your funny bone do the talking with this one.
3. The Birds (1963):
Following his all time slasher film masterpiece “Psycho”, Alfred Hitchcock had several filmmaking missteps. “The Birds” was not one of them. A beautiful San Francisco socialite chases after a handsome man to a small coastal town in California, hoping to snatch him up. His protective single mother wants no part of this blonde hottie in her son’s life. And then, suddenly, the birds begin to attack any and everyone, causing a panic. The small town citizens don’t know what to do and everything becomes chaos. Many people have a hard time relating to the sheer ridiculousness of “The Birds” concept on the surface, but if you know Hitchcock then you know it is about what is going on underneath. After one scene in which lead actress Jessica Tandy is mauled in a room by birds, many of which were real, she was hospitalized. Watch out for those sneaky little pigeons the next time you walk out the door.
2. World War Z (2013):
This is how you make a zombie movie that could actually happen should the concept ever come to fruition. With modern technology the slowly walking zombies of shows like “The Walking Dead” would never cause a complete destruction of the entire world. These bastards bite you and in ten seconds you’re like a bullet out of a gun looking to bite someone else. They are a horde that does not stop. Brad Pitt, a former upper level U.N. advisor, gets his family out of harms way before being tasked to solve this problem by traveling to multiple countries, finding clues at every step. The action is intense, combining both big level attacks with giant explosions to quiet close quarter combat that builds tension slowly in all of the right ways. There are a few parts that are ridiculous, it is a zombie movie, but “World War Z” is an excellent thrill ride that, for the most part, thinks logically.
1. Titanic (1997):
It’s the king of the world. Everyone thought that “Titanic” was going to be a huge flop when released. A 200 million dollar budget back in 1997 starring two unproven young actors. Welp, turns out it was the biggest movie ever, at the time, and set a record that will never be broken by being the number one movie at the box office 17 weeks in a row. Some are turned off by the first half because it is a sappy love story, but two phenomenal all-time great actors in Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet totally sell it. The second half, however, nobody can argue is one of the most epic and thrilling pieces of cinema ever committed to film. I mean James Cameron literally built half of a freaking boat to tip over in a parking lot. When the you know what hits the fan you feel like it is actually happening, because it is. Multiple famous lines, one of the biggest songs ever by Celine Dion, and the sheer scope of this filmmaking endeavor are just a few parts of what makes this the greatest disaster movie ever made.