Even now, it is still my favorite genre. Its brief comeback in the mid 90s was especially cool (since I had assumed Airplane! killed-off the genre for good). I admit most disaster movies are kinda dumb - no one’s gonna confuse them for documentaries - but who cares? They’re fun, even the aggressively bad ones. Show me someone who didn’t enjoy The Towering Inferno and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t enjoy breathing. That being said, the following is a list of some of the best, and worst, movies of the genre I love.
THE BEST (in ascending order):
10. INDEPENDENCE DAY - Aliens arrive in giant flying saucers to kick our asses. The only movie to feature a dog outrun a rolling fireball, or Will Smith as a macho pilot able to expertly operate an alien space craft mere minutes after climbing into the cockpit for the first time. But who cares about plausibility when the White House gets wasted? And what does it take to destroy this vicious alien race? A laptop. It’s nice to know Apple software is compatible with everything, including alien technology.
|"Of course I'm phoning-it-in. |
8. 2012 - In the real world, I am a middle school teacher, and a few of my more intellectually-challenged students thought this was more than a movie…it was a prediction. That aside, this could be the epoch of all disaster movies, one which kills off 99% of the human race yet still manages to tack on a happy ending. And who knew John Cusack, playing a failed writer, possessed such superhuman abilities as outrunning a volcanic eruption, steering a sports car off a crashing cargo plane and escaping a massive earthquake in a limo? The funniest movie since Twilight.
7. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW - I’m convinced director Roland Emmerich once had a really bad experience in New York. Maybe he was mugged, or bet on the Knicks and lost a bundle. At any rate, this movie marks the third time (after ID4 and Godzilla) he totally destroys The Big Apple. The science presented may not be credible, but it is his least-dumb film.
|"What the hell have I said about |
you calling me Shirley?"
5. THE SWARM - Killer bees! So deadly they can cause people to hallucinate, passenger trains to careen off cliffs and nuclear power plants to meltdown! Michael Caine plays a sunflower seed-scarfing entomologist placed in charge of killing them (he’s also placed in charge of delivering some of the goofiest lines in disaster movie history). Richard Widmark is the standard military man who exists to deny there’s a problem (even though people are dying by the thousands) and suspects Caine has some secret agenda (!). Sure, The Swarm was one of the biggest nails in the 70’s disaster coffin, but it is just too wonderfully awful not to be included, and has the distinction of being one of the few to kill-off its obligatory obnoxious child character.
4. TITANIC - Sure, it made Leonardo DiCaprio a star. Sure, lots of teenage girls swooned and cried. Sure, it only gets interesting once the ship starts sinking. Sure, it’s corny. Sure, it made us all undure “My Heart Will Go On" long after we'd rather kill someone than hear it again. Sure, it’s proof James Cameron is second only to George Lucas as a master of dumb dialogue. But it is the only disaster movie to win a Best Picture Oscar, and though it’s hip for retro-haters to scoff at it now, Titanic is still a hell of a lot of fun.
|"Come on...do I look like a killer to you?"|
2. DEEP IMPACT - I knew I was gonna love Deep Impact ten minutes into it, when an astronomer, upon discovering a comet is on a collision course toward Earth, rushes from his observatory to warn authorities. Speeding down the mountain in his jeep, he’s involved in a fatal, fiery accident while fumbling with his cell phone. The incident doesn’t really have much baring on the story, but let that be a lesson to all you assholes yakking on your phones when you should be watching the road!
|"You know, you're right. |
Your eyes are bluer than Steve's."
THE WORST (in descending order):
1. ARMAGEDDON - Apparently edited with the intention of triggering seizures, this two-and-a-half hour assault on the senses is mind-numbing. It strives for some Titanic-inspired sentimentality (Ben Affleck & Liv Tyler using animal crackers as foreplay...Yeech), but fails because uber-macho director Michael Bay is more in love with his ham-fisted MTV approach to nearly every scene in the movie, including the action sequences. I’ll bet the special effects guys were a little pissed so much of their hard work was probably left on the cutting room floor. On the plus side, it’s better than Transformers (then again, so are YouTube videos of poo flinging monkeys).
|Respected Swedish star Bibi Andersson deserves |
hazard pay for this scene.
3. METEOR - Made back when Sean Connery must have really needed the money (he quit being James Bond to do this crap?). The story may predate Armageddon and Deep Impact by twenty years, but even though this film was American-International Pictures’ big-budget attempt to compete with the major studios, it is still rife with stock footage, crappy FX and dialogue so bad it makes The Poseidon Adventure sound like it was written by David Mamet. However, it’s still better than Armageddon, and did inspire a totally bitchin' pinball game.
4. Any disaster movie to premiere on the SyFy Channel - Just because you can produce CGI effects cheaper than using miniatures doesn’t mean you should, especially when they look about as convincing as video game graphics. About once a month, SyFy trucks out a plethora of shitty and phony-looking apocalyptic crap, usually starring one of the younger & dumber Baldwin Brothers, some guy named Dean or a former 80’s pop tart. Most of these movies are only worth watching if you can’t find your remote.
|"Hell, yeah, I'm doin' this for the paycheck!"|
6. BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE - What can you say about a sequel where the only good scenes are lifted directly from the original? Only a snake oil salesman like Irwin Allen could throw together a sequel to a film that didn’t leave the door open for one. Cheap to the extreme, this looks like it was mostly filmed on one or two sets, and every single “money” shot consists of the underwater explosions from the first movie. Considering the cast, either Allen was a huckstering genius on the level of PT Barnum, or Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas, Karl Malden and Shirley Jones all had massive gambling debts to pay off.
7. WHEN TIME RAN OUT - Irwin Allen’s last hurrah, yet he still had a bit of the old huckster in him, coaxing the likes of Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset and William Holden to sign-up for this idiotic tale of an angry Pacific island volcano and the dolts who stupidly remain nearby. Hell, considering the big stars Allen still managed to continue acquiring (long after the disaster genre became a joke), maybe it wasn’t because of gambling debts after all. Maybe they personally owed him money, or he was simply too much like that loveable old man in everyone’s family who tells the same dumb joke at every reunion, yet we offer a courtesy laugh just to make him happy.
8. Any made-for-TV disaster movie produced in the 70s to capitalize on the genre’s popularity at the time - There were a ton of them…Smash-Up on Interstate Five, Terror on the 40th Floor, The Night the Bridge Fell Down, Fire!, Flood!, SST: Death Flight, etc. They were all cheaply-made junk, mostly featuring TV actors we recognized but would never pay good money to see in theaters. On an ultimately sad note, some of these movies were produced by Irwin Allen himself, Hollywood’s once-proud “Master of Disaster.”
|"Tell me again why I refused an Oscar for Patton?"|
10. BLACK SUNDAY - I need to preface this by saying Black Sunday is actually a terrific film, probably more timely & relevant now than when it was when released in the 70s. It was also director John Frankenheimer’s last decent film for the next twenty years (he was rescued by Ronin). A focused, suspenseful and intense tale of an impending terrorist attack on American soil, it was nonetheless stupidly promoted as yet-another mindless disaster movie. I was duped into seeing it back in '77 for that reason, hoping for Towering Inferno-like mayhem, only to be totally let-down by the lackluster special effects, which didn’t rear their ugly heads until the last ten minutes. While the visuals are admittedly terrible, the film was never about destruction to begin with. Hence, the advertising campaign by Paramount, while understandable, was akin to promoting Animal House as a serious study of alcoholism.