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Disaster Movie

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Films whose plots revolve around something huge, horrible, and natural heading towards the protagonists, and their reactions to it.

About half have the main characters trying to stop the disaster somehow, while the other half have them simply trying to survive. In both varieties, viewers are introduced to large casts that exist solely to be killed off in various ways by the disaster and its side effects. Meteors, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and catastrophic climate change are among the popular subjects. People who watch these movies are typically Just Here for Godzilla.

The genre became incredibly popular in The '70s, with Irwin Allen became (in)famous for making a number of these movies. Eventually, like all trends in Hollywood, it burned itself out, finally being killed when Airplane! tore into the genre. Modern special effects helped revive the disaster movie in The '90s, until certain events made scenes of cataclysmic destruction rather insensitive. This aversion swiftly passed.


Alien Invasion and especially kaiju movies tend to be very similar in tone to disaster movies, with their focus on destruction.

Not to be confused with the Seltzer and Friedberg movie of the same name

Common tropes found in this genre include:



  • San Francisco (1936): Another early example, decipting the historical 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy.
  • The Hurricane (1937): Mostly a drama of interracial romance and unjust imprisonment on a Polynesian island, but climaxes with the eponymous storm.
  • Five Came Back (1939): About a plane with eleven people aboard that crashes into the Amazon jungle, is another early example.
  • Morning Departure (1950): A submarine on routine patrol is sunk by an old Sea Mine. The survivors are trapped on the sea floor, awaiting an uncertain rescue.
  • The High and the Mighty (1954): An Unbuilt Trope example of the genre. Starred John Wayne, who was also co-producer. Its plot, about a plane that suffers engine failure on a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, would later be copied by Airport.
  • Zero Hour! (1957): Most famous today for serving as the primary model for Airplane!.
  • A Night to Remember (1958): An accurate portrayal of the doomed RMS Titanic; perhaps the Trope Codifier and served as the inspiration for James Cameron's Titanic (1997).
  • The Last Voyage (1960): An ocean liner sinks in the Pacific following an explosion in its boiler room. Notable for being filmed aboard an actual decommissioned liner (the Ile de France) which was due for scrapping.
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961): London journalists gradually discover that simultaneous A-bomb tests on opposite ends of the globe have knocked Earth off its axis and sent it hurtling toward the Sun.
  • Airport (1970): The Trope Codifier. Started the first boom of disaster films in the '70s. Starred Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy and Jacqueline Bisset. Had three sequels, each one progressively worse (but still successful... at least, until the fourth one finally killed the series).
  • No Blade of Grass (1970): When a new strain of blight destroys all members of the grass family, society descends into chaos as hundreds of millions starve.
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971): After a deadly extraterrestrial micro-organism is brought to Earth on a crashed military satellite in the Southwestern U.S., a team of scientists assembles in an underground facility to investigate the organism and contain its spread.
  • The Poseidon Adventure (1972): An ocean liner is capsized by a giant wave. The first of Irwin Allen's disaster movies. Starred Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, and Leslie Nielsen in a non-comedic role. Had a sequel in 1979, and was remade in 2006 as Poseidon.
  • Short Walk to Daylight (1972): A TV movie, where an earthquake strikes New York and a group of passengers in a subway, led by a cop played by James Brolin, must try to find their way back to the streets above after realizing nobody will be looking for them. Quite well liked despite being rather obscure, with a low budget, and notable for taking place entirely underground.
  • Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) (1973): Arguably the most successful Japanese disaster film ever, it was followed up by a highly subpar remake in 2006. Subjected to a particularly bad Importation Expansion when it was released in the US. Based on a book by the great sci-fi novelist Sakyo Komatsu, who is mostly known in the Anglosphere for the numerous Shout Outs he gets in work by Osamu Tezuka. See below for its plot.
  • Westworld (1973): Humanoid robots go murderously haywire at a futuristic amusement resort.
  • The Towering Inferno (1974): The world's tallest skyscraper is built in San Francisco, but on the day of its dedication, it catches fire, trapping partygoers on the top floors. The second of Irwin Allen's disaster movies, and often considered to be one of the best. Starred Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway.
  • Earthquake (1974): An earthquake destroys Los Angeles. Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and Lorne Greene try to survive. This was the first of a handful of '70s films to use Sensurround, a special surround sound system with a powerful bass line. When the city started to rumble, crumble, and tumble, the bass kicked in to literally shake up audiences.
  • Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974): Japanese movie. Earth goes through a disaster gauntlet, ranging from mutant slugs to city-engulfing fire-storms, to the sky filling with green shit.
  • The Hindenburg (1975): Why did this Real Life disaster happen? The fictional story chronicles the possibility that it was sabotage. A rare case of a Disaster Movie that holds off on the actual disaster until the finale. Notable for the sets being extremely loyal to the real Hindenburg, to the extent that the spectacular, dreamlike airship steals the show.
  • The Cassandra Crossing (1976): A terrorist infected with plague is on a train, so the authorities send it in the directon of a bridge too weak to support it. Can the passengers who don't succumb to the illness save themselves?
  • The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977): Three years before they did Airplane!, the ZAZ team is responsible for a much more brief parody of the Disaster genre in this movie with the segment "That's Armageddon!".
  • Gray Lady Down (1978): A nuclear U.S. Navy sub sinks after colliding with a Norwegian freighter, trapping its crew and necessitating a dangerous rescue effort.
  • The Swarm (1978): In another Irwin Allen effort, killer bees attack Texas. Yeah. It was around this point that the genre began dying out.
  • Avalanche (1978): Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • City on Fire (1979): An unnamed Midwestern city suffers a massive fire when an oil refinery worker loses it and sabotages the place.
  • Meteor (1979): A bunch of nukes built by Sean Connery and Brian Keith versus a giant asteroid. Not as cool as it sounds, sadly.
  • Hurricane (1979): A remake of a 1937 John Ford film tells a tropical tale of young lovers whose romance is threatened first by the girl's father, then by the titular storm.
  • When Time Ran Out... (1980): A volcano in the South Pacific threatens a resort, an oil rig, and a volcano observatory. The final nail in the coffin for the first cycle of disaster films, and Irwin Allen's final theatrically-released film. Even the cast (which included Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, and William Holden) hated it.
  • Airplane! (1980): The Parody of the disaster genre. So effective, it made it nearly impossible for disaster movies to be taken seriously for another thirteen years.
  • Virus: Day of Resurrection (1980): also based on a novel by Sakyo Komatsu, a man-made virus wipes out the human race, save for a group of Antarctic researchers who must take on the task of preserving some sense of civilization. At the time it was the highest budgeted Japanese film, with an All-Star Cast including Masao Kusakari, Sonny Chiba, and Olivia Hussey.
  • The Day After (1983): A very different sort of disaster movie, which is the reason it was able to escape Airplane!'s shadow. It was a TV movie about nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. It, along with its British equivalent, was effective enough at showing the result of a nuclear war that it is widely credited (by, among other people, Ronald Reagan) for inspiring the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.
  • Threads (1984): The Transatlantic Equivalent of The Day After, with the added horror (thanks to advances in understanding the effects of nuclear war between 1983 and 1984) of showing the long-term effects of worldwide nuclear war (short version: those who die in the blasts are the lucky ones).
  • Apollo 13 (1995): The manned space mission that never made it to the Moon.
  • Twister (1996): Tornadoes in Oklahoma. Helped to revive interest in disaster films, with help from...
  • Independence Day (1996): Aliens blow up the White House, among other things. This film turned Will Smith into a superstar.
  • Daylight (1996): The Holland Tunnel floods following an explosion, and Sylvester Stallone goes in to save the people trapped.
  • Mars Attacks! (1996): A parody of '50s Alien Invasion films, which overlapped into the disaster genre. Directed by Tim Burton, and starred Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, and Sarah Jessica Parker, with early roles by Jack Black and Natalie Portman. Had the misfortune of arriving a few months after Independence Day, and barely made back its budget.
  • Dante's Peak (1997): A volcano erupts in the Pacific Northwest. Surprisingly for a disaster flick, it was notable for its relative scientific accuracy. Starred Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton. Dueled with...
  • Volcano (1997): A volcano erupts in Los Angeles. Not so notable for scientific accuracy. Starred Tommy Lee Jones.
  • Titanic (1997): What happens when you combine a disaster movie with a Chick Flick. The latest in a long line of films about the Titanic disaster.
  • Armageddon (1998): An asteroid the size of Texas is headed for Earth, and our only hope is Bruce Willis and his team of deep core oil drillers. Makes Volcano look like a scientific documentary. Directed by Michael Bay. Dueled with...
  • Deep Impact (1998), the comparative Dante's Peak of this particular duel.
  • Earthquake In New York (1998): A two-part TV movie about a major quake in a place no one expects.
  • Hard Rain (1998): Concerning an armored-car robbery that takes place during a cataclysmic Midwestern flood.
  • The Perfect Storm (2000): Dramatization of the hurricane that hit the Atlantic coast of North America in October 1991, and the sinking of the commercial fishing boat Andrea Gail.
  • 9/11 (2002): Real Life documentary that it's actually not that far off - a film crew embedded with the fire department responding to a minor call just happens to capture an incredibly destructive terrorist act and follows the firefighters into harms way, recording the whole time. In the end, despite thousands dying, the entire main cast survives. If you wrote a movie with that plot you'd have fanboys telling you it's unrealistic.
  • The Core (2003): Earth's core stops rotating thanks to a top-secret military project Gone Horribly Wrong, eliminating Earth's magnetic field and causing it to get hit by solar storms. Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank go down into Earth's interior to restart the core with nuclear bombs. Makes Armageddon look like Volcano. Or something.
  • 10.5 (2004): An NBC Mini Series about massive earthquakes destroying the West Coast. Its 2006 sequel, 10.5 Apocalypse, had a massive fault line opening up in the Midwest and splitting North America in half.
  • Supervolcano (2005): A docudrama aired on the Discovery Channel about the Yellowstone Supervolcano unexpectedly erupting.
  • Category 7: The End of the World (2005): The sequel to the above. The storm from the original moves east and destroys New York and Washington, while similar storms destroy Paris and Egypt. Meanwhile, a televangelist and his wife exploit the storms to gain new converts. Starred Gina Gershon as the head of FEMA, as well as Shannen Doherty, James Brolin, and a returning Randy Quaid.
  • End Day (2005): An hour-long docudrama offering four (or five, depending on the cut) ways that natural disasters could cause the end of the world (or even just massive loss of life and property): megatsunami, meteor strike, pandemic, supervolcano eruption, and formation of a killer strangelet in the Large Hadron Collider.
  • Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) (2006): Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A remake of the highest grossing disaster film Japan ever produced, it flopped compared to the 1973 original. Earthquakes and volcanoes destroy Japan and cause it to sink into the ocean. A Japanese production, it was notable for actually exploring the consequences of such a disaster with more than just passing reference.
  • 2012 (2009): The Mayan prophecies of The End of the World as We Know It start coming true. Lots of stuff blows up. An aircraft carrier crushes the White House and St. Peter's dome imitates a bowling ball.
  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (2009): A disaster Anime. Pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a story about an 8.0 earthquake in Tokyo, though with a surprising focus on human drama and emergency procedures rather than spectacle. Harsher in Hindsight after 2011.
  • Metal Tornado (2011): An energy company called Helios World tests its new power generation technology, harnessing energy from a solar flare. An accident involving a power overload causes a magnetic vortex to pinch off, and spiral out of control into something like a tornado headed straight for Philadelphia.
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Word of God maintains that mixes this in with a Superhero film due to the sheer scope of Bane's plot to destroy Gotham.
  • Aftershock (2012): A group of people surviving the aftermath of an earthquake in Chile.
  • The Impossible (2012): Based on a real-life disaster (the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) but instead of spectacle, the film is driven by the film's performances and the story of a family fighting to see each other again (which was based on a true story, by the way).
  • Gravity (2012): The destruction of a satellite leads to Disaster Dominoes as each piece of debris impacts other satellites and space stations, with a Minimalist Cast of two astronauts trying to survive it.
  • Sharknado (2013) and its sequels have been hugely successful due to the entirely ridiculous and over the top premise of combining two entirely unrelated and incompatible disasters together. Has pretty much become an Affectionate Parody.
  • Into the Storm (2014): A Found Footage Film following a number of people trying to survive a barrage of super-tornadoes. Much Stuff Blowing Up ensues, like the tornadoes razing a fully loaded airport, and even one making a gas main explode, turning into a massive firenado.
  • Noah (2014) - all the usual disaster movie tropes, set in Biblical Times.
  • The Wave (2015): An unstable mountainside collapses into the Geiranger fjord, sending a 300 ft wave towards Geiranger, Norway. Based on plausible future events.
  • San Andreas (2015): The Big One finally hits California.
  • Flight Crew: A mid air rescue btween two planes fleeing a volcanic eruption.
  • Tunnel (2016): On a routine trip home from work, Lee Jung-soo is trapped by a collapsing tunnel. With only two bottles of water, a birthday cake, and his phone on 78% battery, he must survive long enough to be rescued by emergency services.
  • Geostorm (2017): Centers, as the name implies, on a series of global meteorological disasters caused by weather-controlling satellites. It's the sort of premise one might expect from a director who's worked extensively with Roland Emmerich in the past.


  • Many Syfy Original Movies tend to be disaster flicks. Why they go for the genre with such a meager special effects budget is unknown, but it may have to do with Canadian and German tax credits.
  • Cloverfield and Gojira are disaster movies in a sense. Unlike most Kaiju movies, they focus more on the horrors of encountering a gigantic rampaging monster, thus giving them many disaster movie aspects. Helps that Godzilla was supposed to be a walking representation of the atomic bombs while "Clover"'s attack had many aspects of 9/11 in it.
  • Zettai Zetsumei Toshi, known in English as Disaster Report, is a series of disaster video games: ostensibly, they are Survival Horror games, except with earthquakes taking the place of monsters and zombies.