The release of Force Majeure sees a welcome return to that most reliable of film genres – the natural disaster movie. This got us thinking about the “classics” of this peculiar cinematic niche. Not many of the films that follow have caused an Academy member to pause for thought ahead of their selections for the year, and yet audiences return time and time again to cinemas to see mankind pit its wits against the wrath of Mother Nature. Here are our favourites:
10. Earthquake (1974)
Who do you need when the big one finally hits Los Angeles? That’s right, Charlton Heston. The premise of Earthquake, as you might well expect, is a simple one: a big earthquake occurs and people have to find a way to survive. This film was never going to, er, shake the world, but it provides a decent slice of easy entertainment on a Sunday afternoon. Dwayne Johnson will return to this fertile narrative territory in San Andreas, due for release in May.
9. Dante’s Peak (1997)
If you like your disaster movies formulaic and riddled with mindless clichés, then Dante’s Peak is the film for you. A volcanologist (played here by Irish James Bond) rocks up at an idyllic town which sits on the site of a long dormant volcano. Oh dear. Before long, our hero’s spidey-sense starts a-tinglin’ and, together with the mayor of the town (Linda Hamilton), faces a race against time to get everyone out before things get seismic.
8. Armageddon (1998)
No list of disastrous films would be complete without the Grim Reaper himself, Mr. Michael Bay. In fairness to the man, Armageddon is by no means his most heinous work. With just 18 days on humanity’s clock, Earth’s mightiest hero, Bruce Willis, leads a bunch of misfit oil drillers and geologists on a death-defying mission to destroy an asteroid the size of Texas. Quite how an object of that size managed to elude NASA until 18 days from impact is rather mysterious, but one thing’s for sure, cinema was the winner – eh folks? Re-watching this again will give you a newfound appreciation for how far Ben Affleck has come. Proud of you buddy.
7. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Bring together the combined forces of global warming and Roland Emmerich and what do you get? A BAFTA for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, that’s what. Despite this triumph, The Day After Tomorrow, which sees the Earth laid to waste by a new Ice Age, was met with what can only be described as an, ahem, frosty reception. Dennis Quaid plays an uber-scientist who journeys across the frozen tundra of North America to rescue his son, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is trapped in New York. At one point, Gyllenhaal and chums are mercilessly pursued down a corridor by an insidious frost. There is no higher form of narrative excellence.
6. 2012 (2009)
Roland Emmerich just can’t get enough of global catastrophes. The tagline proclaims “We were warned” – how true those words were, Roland. No BAFTA to show for his efforts on this occasion, but you gotta hand it to the man, he knows how to deliver a visual spectacle. Sadly, despite the best efforts of John Cusack and Thandie Newton, he’s rather less adept at keeping an audience enthralled for the 158 minute running time. Roll on Independence Day 2 and 3.
5. Deep Impact (1998)
The tagline for the first of 1998’s apocalyptic tales of large space objects hurtling towards Earth reads: “Oceans rise. Cities fall. Hope survives.” Whilst the inevitable shots of New York being rent apart by an enormous tidal wave are well executed, unlike Michael Bay’s Armageddon, Deep Impact takes an altogether more serious and less bombastic approach. As the impact approaches, 800,000 US citizens under the age of 50 are randomly selected to go into underground shelters until it’s safe to come out. The resulting pandemonium allows the film to address what humanity will do when confronted with extinction.
4. Twister (1996)
From poor little Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939) to the hapless cast of Into the Storm (2014), the pesky tornado is one of mankind’s most persistent natural antagonists. But it met its match in 1996 in the shape of Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, two sexy storm chasers hell-bent on discovering the secrets of the eponymous Twister. With a supporting cast including Cary Elwes and the late and much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, Twister boasted some ground-breaking special effects but left a little to be desired on the plot front.
3. The Core (2003)
Come on, who doesn’t love this film?! Oh… wait. OK, so it’s by no means a classic but The Core, about a team who drill down to the Earth’s core to get it spinning again by setting off nuclear warheads, is fantastic fun. Early on in the proceedings, science whiz Aaron Eckhart demonstrates the impact a faulty core will have to a room of stunned military officials by setting fire to a peach with a makeshift blowtorch. Quite why he does this is not clear, but who cares? Stanley Tucci is fantastic, as is the hilarious B-movie dialogue.
2. The Impossible (2012)
The Impossible tells the story of one family’s experience during and after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on 26th December 2004. Director Juan Antonio Bayona used a mixture of digital effects and slowed-down water surges to authentically bring the tsunami to the screen. The film also earned Naomi Watts a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Maria. By no means the easiest of films to watch, it is no less deserving of your time.
1. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Nope, not the Wolfgang Petersen remake of 2006, this is the 1972 original which has become the touch-point for many of the disaster films which have followed, as well as James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). The Poseidon Adventure follows a group of passengers whose lives are put in deep underwater jeopardy when their ocean liner completely capsizes. With a cast led by Gene Hackman and supported by the likes of Ernest Borgnine and Leslie Nielsen, the film is arguably one of the finest the genre has produced to date.
What do you think of our selection? Are you baffled that we included The Core? Or outraged that we didn’t include Titanic? Let us know below.