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The best disaster movies of all time, ranked

Jul 10, 2023Jul 10, 2023

Natural disasters are some of the real world’s most terrifying events. Hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and tornadoes all strike large portions of the population worldwide every year, causing devastation and trauma. Hollywood has taken full advantage of humanity’s fear of an impending disaster, creating the disaster movie genre to leverage our worries, and often make them entertaining. Natural disaster movies often fluff up or exaggerate the effects of a disaster, making them more violent, and with graver consequences. Sometimes action heroes have to save the day when the world is about to end. It is this extra bit of Mother Nature’s wrath that makes these films the most captivating, even if the story or characters leave something to be desired. These are the best disaster movies ever made in one easy list.

There’s something thrilling and comforting about watching a movie you know isn’t very good. Campy, cringy disaster movies like Sharknado are perfect situations for popcorn munching and relaxing with friends and family on a summer night. Ian Ziering stars as the protagonist who is placed in a version of Los Angeles overwhelmed with hurricanes made up of sharks. The plot is as ridiculous as it sounds, but if you have the right mindset going in, you’re sure to enjoy this film as it never takes itself too seriously. Five sequels followed on the SyFy channel in the years after this 2013 original.

Remember at the beginning of the 2010s when we were all worried the world was going to end in on December 21, 2012, because that’s what the Mayans predicted in about 600 B.C.? This movie uses that bit of paranoia to throw a whole lot of disaster movie tropes at the audience. John Cusack plays a family man who tries his best to escape the chaos ensuing around the planet with his family in tow. The special effects in this film are top-notch, especially for the time period.

More of a political commentary than a true disaster movie, Don’t Look Up is filled to the brim with some of the biggest names in Hollywood today. Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep are just two of the stars who litter the cast list. The plot follows a potential doomsday threat that nobody actually believes is going to occur despite the warnings from scientists who have knowledge of the threat. A release that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to make the satire in this film even sharper, as the virus was a real world-changing time period that many people refused to believe was a danger to society.

Want an even more on-the-nose depiction of COVID-19-like events in fiction? Contagion is about as close to the real deal as it gets. Matt Damon and Bryan Cranston are two of the big names in this film about a virus that takes hold of the planet and won’t let go. Humanity’s reaction to the event is foreboding and helped to create insight into what we would really act like in the event something like this occurred, and then it obviously did.

If you want a space disaster movie with a far-fetched premise that still has some scientific truth to it, Deep Impact is the answer. Scientists detect a comet approaching Earth and try their best to rid it before it destroys humanity’s only home. Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall turn in stellar performances.

With a similar premise to Deep Impact but with a lot more fluff, Armageddon came out during the same summer as Mimi Leder’s film and made a lot more money. Bruce Willis is a NASA scientist who tries to take out an asteroid about to crash into the planet. The presence of Michael Bay meant not much adherence to science and a lot of special effects to get his point across.

Climbing Mount Everest is one of the world’s largest physical and mental undertakings. Everest is based on the unfortunate 1996 Mount Everest climbing season that saw many adventurers perish on the mountain. The interpersonal relationships between the characters add to the already-rich drama. John Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air gives more details about the people and events in this movie.

Sometimes disaster movies try too hard to be prophetic or impactful. This Is the End makes sure to rib the movie producers who decide to make these types of films by taking advantage of the chemistry between Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jonah Hill as they try to escape Los Angeles in the middle of the apocalypse comedically. This comedy remains a fixture on Netflix today because of its sharp humor and unique tone.

Classics are always worth returning to, and Alfred Hitchcock knew how to depict horror better than anyone in the 1960s and beyond. The Birds creates an end-of-world scenario where birds mysteriously and incessantly attack a Californian community. The movie makes an otherwise mundane and weird scenario much more defined and refined than the plot synopsis makes it out to be.

The ultimate romance movie of the 1990s and beyond is the second highest-grossing movie ever for a reason. People love the poignant portrayal of love and loss in Titanic, and the disastrous glacier that ruined the real ship’s maiden voyage still captivates people endlessly all these decades later. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s chemistry is remarkable in the three-plus hour story.

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