When Nature Strikes Back These Disaster Movies Happen
Nature Strikes Back
In Pompeii—opening Feb. 21—slave-turned-gladiator Milo (Kit Harington) races to save his true love as Mount Vesuvius erupts and smothers the city in volcanic ash. Man-vs.-nature flicks have been popular for decades, but they've increased in frequency since just before the turn of the century. So blame, or thank, Nostradamus and the Mayans and then check out some of the most memorable natural-disaster movies of the past 20 years.
James Cameron's 1997 epic became the highest grossing movie of all time until Avatar in large part because of the heartthrob status of young Leonardo DiCaprio, but the movie's most impressive visual moments come after Titanic meets the business end of an iceberg and slowly begins to sink beneath the waves.
The Perfect Storm
Based on the true story of the Andrea Gail that got caught in the Perfect Storm of 1991, The Perfect Storm stars George Clooney as the swordfishing-boat captain who decides—because of a broken ice machine—to risk racing back to shore through a hurricane to save the crew's catch due. In retrospect, it was a fishy decision.
The modern era of ubiquitous CGI trickery really gained momentum with this 1996 disaster drama about two storm chasers played by Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton that try to get an F5 tornado to suck up some of their research equipment. The tornado, of course, also sucks up everything in its path, including an unfortunate cow.
Right before the turn of the millennium, Hollywood tapped into everyone's fears that it might be party over for humanity in 1999—just like Prince sang about years earlier. This 1998 film stars Morgan Freeman as the U.S. president and his efforts to destroy a seven-mile-wide comet before it collides with Earth. Part of the comet still slams into the Atlantic Ocean and causes a megatsunami that is bad news for coastal-property enthusiasts.
Speaking of tsunamis, has there ever been a more horrifically realistic portrayal of one on-screen than the one director J.A. Bayona created for The Impossible? The film is based on the real-life tale of a family who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Naomi Watts overcame incredible odds on-screen and off, becoming the rare disaster-film actress to earn an Academy Award nomination.
The Mayans were oh so right in Roland Emmerich's 2009 film about a worldwide super-disaster. Basically, everything goes wrong: Los Angeles sinks into the Earth after a magnitude 10.9 earthquake, volcanoes erupt, megatsunamis occur—real biblical, end-of-the-world stuff that prompts humanity to seek refuge on board giant arks.
The Day After Tomorrow
Clearly, Roland Emmerich has a history of making films that play on our fear of global catastrophe. In this 2004 film, instead of global warming (sorry, Al Gore) the Earth endures a series of extreme weather events—including the flooding of Manhattan—that usher in a new ice age. This makes this year's polar vortex seem like light powder.
What would happen if a volcano suddenly emerged and erupted near the Beverly Center shopping mall in Los Angeles? You'd get lots of lava and screaming, as you can see in this explosive 1997 film starring Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones.
The most unusual eco-disaster movie on this list is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, of course. In The Happening, trees—yes, trees—are fighting mad and release a neurotoxin into the air that causes humans to commit suicide after exposure. As of yet, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel have not offed themselves for starring in this disaster about killer flora.
Just like the title promises, there is a formidable amount of precipitation in Hard Rain that results in the worst recorded rainstorm in the history of the Midwest. A small Indiana town is evacuated and flooded, giving a gang of armed robbers (led by mastermind Morgan Freeman) the opportunity to pull off a bank heist of $3 million in cash.
Action maestro Michael Bay got caught up in the disaster-film frenzy when he directed this film about Earth's impending date with an asteroid the same year as the similarly themed Deep Impact. Here, a team of deep-core drillers (led by Bruce Willis) are sent by NASA to blow up an asteroid hurdling toward Earth so that Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler can express their love to the tune of Aerosmith's Oscar-nominated "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."