The 15 Best Natural Disaster Films of All Time

by Stacy Lambe 6:43 PM PDT, May 29, 2015
Playing The 15 Best Natural Disaster Films of All Time

Opening this weekend is the earthquake epic San Andreas, which follows Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and other helpless Californians as they struggle to survive the greatest natural disaster to hit the West Coast. The film gives quakes the Hollywood treatment in this 3-D adventure that sees cities from Los Angeles to San Francisco leveled as buildings fall, the Earth splits and a massive tsunami washes over the cities.

The film joins a long history of disaster films -- in particular, natural disaster films. These are the ones that are not man-made (The Towering Inferno), don’t involve any sort of alien invasion (Cloverfield, The Andromeda Strain) or star Godzilla. Instead, Mother Nature rears her nasty side and reminds humans who actually runs the Earth.

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San Andreas may destroy cities on a 2012 level, but it has a lot of competition when it comes to the best of these epic films. Some are epic, some are campy and some are so bad they're good, but what these 15 all have in common is they're forever memorable:

15. Meteor (1979)

Photo: American International Pictures

This silly disaster film attempted to end the Cold War with the threat of a meteor hurling towards Earth. Oh, what's a Natalie Wood to do? Call on Sean Connery, of course. (San Andreas will surely edge this one off the list in years to come -- sadly Into the Storm doesn't come close to Meteor, except for maybe the flaming tornado.)

Rotten Tomatoes: 8%

14. Poseidon (2006)

Photo: Warner Bros.

Most remakes tend to be unnecessary, just like this version of The Poseidon Adventure. Yet, the cast does its best to prevent this movie from being a total wash. While water films tend to be the worst -- ahem, Waterworld -- this one stays afloat long enough to watch once or twice.

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

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13. Pompeii (2014)

Photo: TriStar Pictures

The film gives the real-life tale of the doomed city a big budget upgrade, but earthquakes and flaming fire balls don't make up for silly plot lines.

Rotten Tomatoes: 29%

12. Earthquake (1974)

Photo: Universal Pictures

Much like San Andreas, Earthquake also strikes Los Angeles. This '70s flick, however, is the best of the bad movies that delivers on the ensemble cast, melodrama and Oscar-winning special effects (at the time).

Rotten Tomatoes: 25%

11. Volcano (1997)

Photo: 20th Century Fox

A volcano in Los Angeles? It's so ridiculous, it's amazing! This movie actually should have been more offensive than it was, so it also has that going for it.

Rotten Tomatoes: 44% 

10. The Core (2003)

Photo: Paramount Pictures

After a while, disaster movies started running out of things to cover. Twisters? Done. Volcanoes? Out of fumes. Deadly viruses? Put a needle in it. That's why The Core was refreshing, if not absurd. The Earth slowly grinding to a halt? Sure, why not! 

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%

9. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Viewers take note: This is Emmy Rossum's second entry on the list. She's something of a damsel in disaster. And props to giving this film political allegory in terms of global warming. Additional props to Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid for cashing in and then getting out.

Rotten Tomatoes: 45%

8. Dante's Peak (1997)

Photo: Universal Pictures

This volcano movie managed to come out the same year as Volcano, though Dante's Peak took a simpler approach: Pierce Brosnan rescues a family in a small mountain town. It was the Deep Impact to Volcano’s Armageddon -- emotion over explosion. 

Rotten Tomatoes: 27%

7. 2012 (2009)

Photo: Warner Bros.

Director Roland Emmerich is a disaster porn king and he wisely chose to let the special effects be the true star of this epic. It's truly the end of the world as we know it and damn it sure goes out with a bang.

Rotten Tomatoes: 39%

6. Armageddon (1998)

Photo: Touchstone Pictures

The movie survives more on the good graces of Aerosmith's hit theme song "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" than it should, but it's an enjoyable explosion-packed spectacle nonetheless. Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler give the movie some romance while Bruce Willis brings the kick-ass.

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%

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5. Deep Impact (1998)

Photo: Paramount Pictures

The movie may not have been as big (or loud) as Armageddon, but it delivered an emotional punch with interlocking story lines and -- spoiler alert! -- Tea Leoni giving up her seat in the safety zone in favor of facing death head-on.

Rotten Tomatoes: 47%

4. Outbreak (1995)

Photo: Warner Bros.

Leave it to a monkey to start a deadly epidemic that eventually goes airborne and threatens everyone in its path. Sure, it's clunky on the delivery, but, at times, it's legitimately scary.

Rotten Tomatoes: 59%

3. Twister (1996)

Photo: Warner Bros.

What happens when you mash up Jurassic Park and Speed? You get people running really fast from even faster tornadoes. The film grounded itself with a strong cast that included a young Philip Seymour Hoffman and Helen Hunt.

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%

2. Contagion (2011)

This is director Steven Soderbergh's take on Outbreak, and he leads with the best part: The death of Gwyneth Paltrow. Then, he follows that up by killing tons of Oscar winners. The film is more than just a deadly virus -- it gives an honest look at what just might happen in real life. Eek!

Photo: Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%

1. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Truly the best natural disaster film -- and possibly the best disaster film of all time. It set the formula for every film to follow: Large ensemble cast, multiple subplots, tons of emotional juggernauts (no death should happen without a bit of a twinge), special effects that frighten and an impossibly silly yet totally could happen set-up. In this case, a tsunami wave capsizes a cruise ship over, and everyone is forced to climb to the bottom (a.k.a. the new top) in order to get out. Of course, some people don't listen (spoiler: they die), some people stay put (spoiler: they die) and some find the courage to live (spoiler: most of them don't die).

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%

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