Home Entertainment Top List Thursday – 10 Best disaster movies

Top List Thursday – 10 Best disaster movies

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With Roland Emmerich back to his monument destroying ways over in White House Down as well as revealing plans for two sequels to Independence Day, it seems apt that this week we take a look at our favourite films that specialize in wanton mayhem and destruction.

War of the Worlds

Despite an ending that goes full retard (you never go full retard!) and a young starlet who insists that all her dialogue should be replaced by the electronic scream of 56k modems, Stephen Spielberg’s 2005 remake of the HG Wells classic is quite an effective one. Like most good disaster films, it mixes up the spectacle with some personal drama, but what Spielberg does differently (and very cleverly) is for a lot of the time, we actually don’t really get to see that spectacle. Instead the camera stays locked onto stars and we rather see their reactions to what’s happening around them, which makes for serious intense moments.

Deep Impact

Whereas it’s similarly released rival, Michael Bay’s Armageddon, was all about the Aerosmith songs and “”Murica. F@#k yeah!” sentiments, Deep Impact decided to take a more scientifically plausible and level headed approach to the story of a meteorite Extinction Level Event. It also had Morgan Freeman as the US President. Both of these things combined to form an entertaining but also very human story about how even God couldn’t stop an act of God.

28 Days Later

Zombie apocalypses are all the rage lately. You can’t take a walk down the street without somebody trying to eat your brains. But the modern and most recent zombie craze arguably started with this film from British auteur Danny Boyle. It made an international star out of Cillian Murphy, and proved to be such a huge critical and commercial success that millions of English fans are still reenacting scenes from it every day. It’s just that instead of being covered in blood and viscera and wanting your brains, they’re now covered in hoodies and want your wallets and iPhones.


It’s pretty common knowledge that Los Angeles is one really bad shake-up on the San Andreas fault line away from violently and geographically seceding from the United States of America. As such it was the perfect setting, blending well known fact with fiction, for this 1974 flick starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, making like Elvis as the earth shook around them.

The Impossible

The most recent entry on this list, and also the only one based on true events, Juan Antonio Bayona’s harrowing tale of one family’s plight during the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that claimed approximately 280 000 lives is… well, here let me see how Noelle described it in her review:

“The film is frequently a tough watch (for it’s unflinching depiction of human trauma), but it is very effective in plunging the viewer into a nightmarish situation, forcing you to contemplate how you would have handled it and its chaotic aftermath. Zombie movies have nothing on this.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself… because I’m too lazy to try.

The Birds

When you think natural disaster, you mostly think of old Gaia bitch slapping us puny humans with earthquakes, floods, etc. But as anybody who suffers from orniphobia can attest, birds can be right scary buggers (and not just for anybody who’s just washed their car). Especially when they’re in the hands of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. To achieve a real sense of terror, he famously had live birds sewn onto star Tippo Hedren’s clothes for dramatic effect. Think about that. Live birds. Sewn onto your clothes.

Now that’s terror!


If there was ever an era for disaster movies, the 1970’s would be it, and this was where it all began. Featuring a star studded ensemble cast the likes of which had never before been assembled on screen, Airport had multiple storylines all converging on one, well, airport, as a bomber threatens to blow up a Boeing 707 during the worst blizzard in decades. It had everything from intense drama to romantic comedy, and deservedly racked up the awards.

The Poseidon Adventure

Following in the Airport mold of throwing a top drawer ensemble cast against an immense natural disaster and then sitting back and watching the awards and box office receipts roll in, The Poseidon Adventure was an instant classic that took the story of the Titanic for its inspiration and then turned it on its head. Quite literally actually, as it shows how a freak tidal wave causes a luxury cruise liner to completely capsize forcing its passengers to fend off watery death in an upside down world.

There was a 2005 remake of the film starring Kurt Russell, but it was more wet blanket than aquatic disaster film.

Independence Day

If Airport was the progenitor for the classic disaster movie, then Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day is the explosive blue print that all modern, big budget disaster films would follow. We had the gung ho military man who can left hook any threat, the inexplicable computer jargon and random bashing of keyboards that supposedly equates to hacking, the US president that is too damn good to ever exist for real, and of course national monuments around the world being reduced to sawdust and kindling.

Breathlessly exciting to watch, with (at the time) unmatched visuals, a catch-phrase producing hero and one of the most famed explosions ever caught on film, Independence Day is a modern classic.

The Towering Inferno

When it comes to disaster movies, there’s one that that clearly – pardon the pun – towers over the rest. John Giullermin and Irwin Allen’s Oscar nominated 1974 film about a group of people trapped in the world’s tallest building as it burns down around their ears, was not only a massive critical success, it also became the highest grossing film of that year. It was the first film to ever be produced by a partnership through two of the big studios, Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox, and features an all star ensemble cast, the collective caliber of which was probably never seen again until Steven Soderbergh started flashing his checkbook around for Oceans’s Eleven. Just look at this list of names: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner , Gregory Sierra and Dabney Coleman. Hell, even O.J. Simpson showed up!

It had intense edge of your seat tension, with “where the hell did my stomach just drop off to?” thrills and a seriously dramatic story that gave all the actors some thespian meat to chew on. And backing that up was absolutely stellar, cutting edge (for its time) special effects, and not to mention a rousing score by legendary composer John Williams.

The Towering Inferno had and did it all, even inspiring a classic disco song. What more could you possibly want from a movie?

Last Updated: March 28, 2013

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