The 10 Best Disaster Movies Of All-Time Via YouTube

The movie Deepwater Horizon is about to hit theatres, and it is the latest in a long line of disaster movies to grace the silver screen. Since the early 1970s, Hollywood has been churning out disaster movies pretty consistently, and many of them have turned out to be true classics. When we say disaster movie, we are referring to a film where an unexpected event (or disaster) occurs and it forces a group of people to survive against great odds and at any cost. We’ll exclude alien invasion movies such as Independence Day and War of the Worlds, as well as terrorist takeover movies such as Die Hard and Under Siege for the purposes of this list. So, with that definition in mind, here are the 10 best disaster movies of all time.

10. 2012 (2009)

This is the mother of all disaster movies in terms of scale and scope. Directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day fame and starring John Cusack as an everyman who has to save his family from the end of the world, 2012 plays on the ancient Mayan prophecy that the world as we know it would end in the year 2012. The world, of course, did not end four years ago as predicted by the ancient Mayans. But back in 2009, with three years to go, making this movie seemed like a decent way to cash in on people’s fear and anxiety. 2012 is a massive popcorn disaster movie that features everything from giant title waves cascading over the Himalayan Mountains to entire cities burning to the ground and airplanes falling out of the sky. It’s all poor John Cusack can do to keep his family intact amidst the over-the-top carnage around him. Filled with outlandish special effects and one cliff hanger scene after another, 2012 is a disaster movie for modern times. Mayan prophecies be damned! Via L.A. Times

9. San Andreas (2015)

Another recent CGI infused disaster movie is 2015’s San Andreas, which uses special effects aplenty to look at what might happen when the “big one” finally hits California. And by “big one” we mean earthquake. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in this movie as a rescue helicopter pilot who struggles to save his daughter (and a few other folks along the way) after San Francisco is hit by the massive earthquake that has been predicted for more than 100 years now. Light on script, but big on action, this movie is what disaster flicks are all about. It focuses on a natural disaster that is beyond people’s control and makes heroes out of ordinary folks who are forced to rise to the occasion in an hour of need. Plus, The Rock is pretty ripped and can seemingly handle any situation – even the biggest earthquake in history. This movie has great pacing and is a fun thrill ride even if the CGI effects are, at times, overwhelming. Via

8. The Perfect Storm (2000)

True, this movie is smaller in scale and more intimate than either 2012 or San Andreas, but The Perfect Storm is still a great disaster movie. It tells the true story of the Andrea Gail fishing boat that left port in Gloucester, Massachusetts and perished in an unusually massive storm in the Atlantic Ocean that was so powerful meteorologists dubbed it “The Perfect Storm.” All six crewmen aboard the ship died back in 1991. This movie does a great job of combining the personal story of the fishing boat and its crew with the epic storm they run into at sea and struggle to survive. Starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and directed by Wolfgang Petersen of Das Boot fame, The Perfect Storm is the rare disaster movie that manages to connect with audiences on an emotional level. The special effects and action sequences are pretty impressive too.

7. The Impossible (2012)

Another disaster movie based on a real event is the 2012 film The Impossible, which is about the epic Tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play an expatriate British family from England who are living in Hong Kong and vacationing in Thailand over Christmas, when the resort they are staying at gets hit by a tidal wave. What follows is the family’s attempt to reunite amidst the devastation and chaos that followed the Tsunami. This film gets high praise for realism and being factually accurate – while sacrificing none of the danger, terror, or adrenaline of a traditional disaster movie. Naomi Watts is perfectly cast as a mother who is badly injured and must fight to both survive and get back to her husband. The scenes of wreckage and carnage in this movie are truly unforgettable, and it hits home exactly how destructive the Tsunami of 2004 was when it occurred. Via

6. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Another special effects heavy disaster movie from director Roland Emmerich (see 2012 above), The Day After Tomorrow theorizes about what would happen if a new ice age descended on Earth. After all, the last ice age wiped out the dinosaurs and they were a pretty tough species. Actors Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal play a father and son who struggle to reconnect in New York City after the planet is swept up is severe sub-zero temperatures. While not the most original premise, this movie largely works for two reasons – the special effects and the actors involved. This is another in Roland Emmerich’s unapologetic popcorn movies – big, dumb, and fun. But it is a classic disaster movie in that it forces people to survive against the odds and against forces beyond their control. Via

5. Alive (1993)

Back to a more intimate disaster movie. The 1993 film Alive tells the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes Mountains in 1972. The band of survivors is forced to contend with frigid mountain temperatures and even resorts to cannibalism when the small amount of food they have runs out. The cannibalism is not played for shock or gore, but is portrayed as the sad inevitability of the rugby team’s fate. This is another disaster movie that packs an emotional gut punch and is more than a popcorn movie. Based on a book written by one of the real life survivors, and starring actor Ethan Hawke, Alive is a first rate film. The plane crash scene at the beginning of the movie is impressive, as is the emotional ending. This is a disaster movie worth seeing. Via YouTube

4. Airport (1970)

For sheer influence, the 1970 movie Airport deserves to be ranked high on this list. Some critics credit this film with ushering in the entire era of classic disaster movies. Airport spawned three sequels as well as the spoof comedy film Airplane! With a cast of 1970 a-listers such as Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin and Jacqueline Bisset, Airport chronicles 12 hours in the lives of a disparate group of people at fictional Lincoln Airport, as they encounter a series of problems. Those problems include a bomb aboard an airplane, a massive snow storm, and malfunctioning equipment. It all seems to go wrong in this movie, and the cast have to negotiate one disaster after another. Fortunately there is still some time for a little romance amongst the cast. Nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture, this a true classic of the disaster movie genre. Via

3. Miracle Mile (1988)

A disaster movie on a smaller scale is the 1988 independent film Miracle Mile, which literally combines romance with Armageddon. This very intimate disaster movie stars actors Anthony Edwards (Goose from Top Gun) and Mare Winnigham (St. Elmo’s Fire) as two lonesome singles in Los Angeles who meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and feel an immediate kinship with one another. They arrange to go on a date, but unfortunately the evening of their big night happens to also be when the U.S. and Russia engage in all out nuclear war against each other. (Bummer). That first date ends up being an attempt by the two would-be lovers to escape Los Angeles and the hysteria that envelopes the city as nuclear war breaks out. This movie was little seen when first released, which is too bad as it was a critical darling. The film currently holds a 88% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has become a minor cult classic over the years. For a disaster movie with a heart, look no further than this underrated gem from the height of the Cold War in the late 1980s. Via

2. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

There aren’t many disaster movies more classic than this rip-roaring tale from 1972. The Poseidon Adventure is about a group of passengers who struggle to survive and reach the surface after the ocean liner they were traveling on capsizes at sea after being hit by a tidal wave. That means the boat has flipped upside down and much of the movie involves tables and staircases hanging from ceilings. Like other disaster movies from the 1970s, The Poseidon Adventure features an all-star cast that includes Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, and Shelly Winters. And like other 1970s disaster movies, The Poseidon Adventure places the survivors in a series of outlandish scenarios that test them and their ability to cope and survive. The premise alone is cool enough. But the acting and set pieces in this movie make it a true classic (avoid the 2006 remake Poseidon starring Kurt Russell). Via

1. The Towering Inferno (1974)

The 1974 classic movie The Towering Inferno takes top spot on this list based on the strength of its cast. It is, after all, the only movie to star both Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Add in co-stars such as William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, and a young O.J. Simpson and you’ve got the makings for one helluva disaster movie. About a state-of-the-art skyscraper that catches fire and a group of people who have to navigate their way to safety at ground level, The Towering Inferno is like Die Hard but without the terrorists. Paul Newman plays the architect who designed the skyscraper and Steve McQueen plays the fire chief who is responsible for putting out the blaze. What follows is a number of terrific action sequences that make good use of the assembled cast. While the special effects may seem dated now, there is no denying the allure of this disaster movie, or the grip it places on audiences. Worth it alone to see the chemistry between Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. A classic of the genre. Via
Jack Sackman

Jack Sackman

Jack Sackman has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2013.