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The Ultimate List of Disaster Movies

Which, of course, is of little interest to anyone but me. I started with the 70's, as that's when my interest in disaster films began. So you can help me fill in the 70's blanks and start piling on the 80's and forward.

Why? Because. I feel like it. Eventually I'll review all the movies I've seen, just for the hell of it. If anything, it will give me an excuse to watch all these films again.

I'll eventually put them into categories, like man made, natural and bees.

Do insect and animal gone wild movies count as disasters? I think the criteria here has to be that they threaten more than just one town. Still working on that, but for now I'll accept species-related disasters for the list. After all, worms coming out of your shower head would certainly be a disaster, no?

Poseidon Adventure1972
Towering Inferno1974
The Hindenburg1975
Airport '751975
The Savage Bees1976
Food of the Gods1976
Empire of the Ants1977
Airport '771977
China Syndrome1979
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure1978
Airport '791979

Now, I've seen every single one of these movies. Let me tell you, Food of the Gods scared the bejeebus out of me. My mother took us to see that in the theater - I was 14 years old and told her I was way too cool (or something like that) to go see some ridiculous movie about giant chickens. But she dragged me with her anyhow and it was a long time before I could look at a chicken - even one dead, cut up and covered in seasoning - without shivering.

I do think I need your help here not just in compiling the list, but in defining just what makes a movie a disaster flick. No, not the Uwe Boll kind of disaster. The other one.

Update: Thanks to Jeff Goldstein for reminding me of Rollercoaster. Helen Hunt and Henry Fonda!


Is Alien (1979) a "disaster" movie, do you think? It's easy to put it in its own genre (sci-fi horror, or even just horror -- that was the great thing about the first one, it was more horror than shoot-em-up sci-fi), but it scared the hell out of me as a 10-year-old at the drive-in (I was supposed to be asleep by then, it was the second feature).

Who's the Kevin Bacon of disaster films? George Kennedy or Marjoe Gortner. The mind boggles.

If Poseidon Adventure qualifies, then wouldn't Titanic also? Admittedly, James Cameron took a fairly good documentary about the Titanic's sinking and kludged it up with a completely anachronistic love story, but in broad outline the movies are similar, yes?

And let's not forget Krakatoa, East (sic) of Java. If only they'd looked at a map before they printed the posters for the movie theatres...

Night of the Lepus-1972

Feral rabbits are right up there with giant chickens. The close-ups of the rabbit's teeth-hilarious!

When I think of disaster flick, something I too crave, I think of epic disasters of gargantune (sp) proportion. Hundreds of people have to be in danger. An important aspect is the notion that once an event is started it's hard to stop. The purpose of the movie is to see how people react to things way beyond their control.

Thus Titanic would qualify as a disaster flick. So would Armageddon, Twister, Volcano, and The Day After Tomorrow.

dude. i saw Earthquake in a special theater that had seats that actually shook. how lame is that? hahahahah

Heaven's Gate

Oh wait, that was a movie that was a disaster.

Silly me...

What about The Day After Tomorrow or whatever it was that was recent. Then Deep Impact, then the one with the volcano and Alec Baldwin - where they drive a truck over a lava flow (key plot turn). Also, what about the volcano movie where the cauldron sprouts up in the center of LA - Awesome. Armageddon is another great disaster flick.

And freakin Godzilla for chrissake if were gonna talk giant animals.

Would Arachnaphobia (sp) count as a "disaster" film? More in line with the animals I guess. Also, what was the name of the movie with Pierce Bronson, where they were trying to convince people that the volcano they were living near was going to blow? and it did...the end was he was rescued from a tunnel or something. How about Independence Day? And the star trek movie shut up where the only way to save the world was to go back in time to get two humback whales? I can't remember the name. sigh I have trouble remembering names....

Does The Birds count? That's an early one, and twice as creepy because there's no explanation given for why it starts or stops.

NIGHTWING! Scary bats-attack-everyone movie. I couldn't stay past teh first five minutes, adn was afriad fo the dark for months afterwards

Based on your criteria, the remake of "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" (1978) (possibly the best remake ever) would qualify -- although, technically speaking, "Dawn of the Dead" and "Star Wars" would qualify too.

Also, though it was hardly a classic, "Earthquake" (1974?) simply has to be on the list.

In the animal and Kevin Bacon categories:


I almost forgot: If you are a true 1970's disaster movie aficionado, you will love the lyrics to Killdozer's "Man vs. Nature" (http://killdozer.lyrics-online.net/ManVsNature.html) It'll have you in stitches.

Dangit, now you're going to make me look it up. There was once a very informative book (I forget the name) that discussed this very subject. The theory went like this: a society's disaster and horror movies reflect the traumas and fears of that society. Thus, all Japanese monsters were created by "nuclear accidents" or "nuclear explosions". Go figure.

Another interesting theory I've heard is about the "Child as Devil" movies of the 70's and 80's. You can read all about it in Strauss/Howe's "13th Gen". These movies reflected a society that was increasingly anti-child. This was the time of escallating divorce rates, adults-only apartment complexes, almost NO kids movies (Disney laid off cartoonists and started dabbling in adult fare), restaurants without highchairs, etc. Children were the unwanted by-product of the sexual revolution (therefore, the Devil).

It is a little over the top, but interesting to think about. But I digress.

A disaster movie involves a large-scale cataclysmic event including the lead-up, the event itself, and the aftermath. Lots of people run screaming and die, and at least one person always lives. Almost always there is an outcast genious who foresees the "event" and tries to warn everybody (think Jeff Goldbloom in Independence Day), and that person usually saves the day for the survivors and gets the girl. Big fun for everyone.

There are so many ...

"The Core"
"The Abyss"
"Independence Day"
"Deep Impact"
"Dante's Peak"
"Red Dawn"
"Mad Max" (2nd & 3rd movies)
"The Terminator" (series)
"War Games" (disaster avoided actually)
"The Day After" (TV)
"Fail Safe"
"War of the Worlds"
"Alive" (that soccer team plane crash cannibal movie)
"The Perfect Storm"
"The Trigger Effect"
"12 Monkeys"

"Sid and Nancy" ("a fabulous disaster" movie)

SQUIRM!!!! OMG!!!! I think I saw that movie when I was like 8 and I STILL have freaking nightmares about it! I'm 26 now. Holy crap. I have to go buy that to see if I can get over it.

Thanks SO much for pointing that movie out!!!

Mikey, I think you're remembering "Sensorround" where they made the seats jiggle in the theatre during "Earthquake". I remember that, too.

Want to see a little-known disaster film that will scare the hell out of you? Check out "Threads", a 1986 BBC film. All-out nuclear war, makes The Day After look like the Teletubbies.

"Sensorround" - is that like the theater in The Kentucky Fried Movie?


Disaster Movies were the topic a while back on my blog. Love them:) Forgot about some of the ones you listed. I am a disaster movie junkie. Good, bad, doesn't matter...GIVE ME CARNAGE!


Timothy Bottoms does look like George W. Bush.

How about Airport '79?

Though this movie was so bad, it may qualify more as a comedy...

Dave, added.

Does the late 70's "Damnation Alley" starring George Peppard (an army of one) and Jan-Micheal Vincent count as a disaster flick? Giant flesh eating cockroaches and global thermonuclear war yum!

The Start Trek referred to was Star Trek IV: The Journey Home. It started the saying among we trekkies: "Even numbered Star Trek films don't suck."

Men in Black*
The Seventh Sign*
Lake Placid
Dr. Strangelove*
Spies Like Us*

*these would probably be considered "diverting disaster" movies

forgot about Stargate-another diverted disaster movie...at least in "our time/space" it was diverted.

Well, diverted disasters would be a whole other genre.

You have all my favorites, night of the lepus, nightwing, and damnation alley. Made for tv though, the Stephen King Stand movie.
Them, with the giant ants from nuclear testing.
Night of the Comet was cool, and what was the one where they were all in Antarctica, and survived a nuclear war and had to take numbers to breed so that they could repopulate the earth? And then they finally migrated, (they may not have been in Antarctica, it may have been nuclear winter) to warmer places? Anyone?

I don't see how Food of the Gods quailifies as a disaster movie - it is fairly typical SciFi, mad scientist's creation runs amok. If you include FotG, then why not some of the following:

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (worth seeing if only for the theme song)

And then there are all of the alien invasion movies:

Mars Attacks, The Day the Earth Stood Still (not quite a disaster), Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Signs, Plan 9 from Outer Space (truly a disaster), Not to mention all of the Godzilla movies (and any other movie where Tokyo gets destroyed "Oh no, Tokyo's got to go, go go ...")

It seems like the Evil Dead movies belong in this list too then...

Good points. I'm going to revamp my definition of a disaster movie - and the list - tomorrow.

Awwww, can't you back up just a paltry 5 years so that "Crack In The World" can be added from 1965? Would "Frogs" (1972) count? How about "A Boy and His Dog" (1975)? I know it's post-apocalyptic, but that means it's sort of post-disaster. Maybe a robots run amok flick like Westworld (1973) or Futureworld (1976)? Oh, and not to be left out... "Flood" from (1976), and "Smash-Up on Interstate 5" (1976), both made for TV movies, but disaster flicks none-the-less.

"The Andromeda Strain" seems to belong here.

The animals-run-amok genre isn't complete without Kingdom of the Spiders.

I just noticed an amazing coincidence while reading the list.

Airport '75 was released in 1975

Airport '77 was released in 1977

And Airport '79 was released in 1979!

What are the odds of this happening? It's miracles like this that make a man believe in a higher power.

I think someone is trying to send us a signal. It's like crop circles or something.

I'm not sure what's worse: that I've seen everyone of these movies or the fact that I saw them all in the theater, including all 4 bastardly incarnations of Airport *. My most vivid memory of the Poseidon Adventure is when Gene Hackman closes a steam pipe while hanging onto scalding hot metal, and then just lets go. Oh, and it was my first introduction to Pamela Sue Martin. That was a good thing.

Another, rather obscure, disaster movie I'd like to mention:

When Time Ran Out
(released around 79 or 80)

Another bad volcano movie, with Jacqueline Bisset and, I think, Ernest Borgnine. The one scene that stands out for me is a group of survivors trying to cross a rickety footbridge over a river of molten lava. This movie is so bad, that it is almost unwatchable (but I did say "almost").

Just thought of one more:

How about "The Cassandra Crossing"?

I actually enjoyed that one.

If you're going to include scary animals attack people, then would you include Pitch Black? Definitely scary creatures killing people.

But I think this is strectching the disaster genre too far. Even though I do like Godzilla (Oooohhhh nooo, Tokyo's got go...)

1980's "When Time Ran Out," which I believe is the last of the Irwin Allen disaster flicks, complete with Paul Newman (again). Horrible film, disastrous in all ways imaginable.

It's possible that the film that established the formula, though, is "The High and the Mighty" (John Wayne!). All-star cast, desperate situation, lots of mini-melodramas, tiny character studies, suspense of "who will survive", etc. The latest stuff, like "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Armageddon" don't fit that formula; they are more more "men with a mission" (save thet planet, save the son).

A "disaster" film to me will always have an A-list cast (most of whom haven't worked lately), combined with a string of tiny character subplots, tossed together by some huge external event.

Can't forget about the Blob.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was hilarious. The filming in the water with just a bunch of tomatoes floating. Classic...

Airport 1975 was actually released in October 1974. Both Charlton Heston & George Kennedy first worked together on Earthquake, finishing on a Friday and moving to Airport 1975 on Monday. But due to special effects work, Airport was released first. Earthquake was released in November 1974 and then The Towering Inferno in December 1974. I remember those few months vividly, especially the release of Towering Inferno, my personal fave.

28 Days Later. Not a Zombie flick, but I think qualifies as a disaster.