Here are the absolute best disaster movies of all time. You’re welcome.
Let’s face it: disaster is on all of our minds lately. It’s impossible to scroll through Twitter, watch the news, or even turn a street corner without being reminded of the COVID-19 pandemic currently wreaking havoc on the planet.
In films, Earth is no stranger to calamity. While the worst disaster movies are full of poor special effects, bad acting, and derivative plot twists, the best disaster movies use impending doom to develop compelling characters, dazzling action sequences, and endless suspense.
The disaster movies on this list range from big-budget thrillers to psychological jigsaws. Why are they the absolute best disaster movies of all time? It’s because they will keep you on the edge of your seat without sacrificing top-notch filmmaking techniques.
From fiery skyscrapers to giant asteroids to sinking ships, get ready for a cinematic tour of carnage & destruction.
While 1998’s ensemble feature about a massive asteroid heading toward Earth may not be the most scientifically accurate or the most critically acclaimed (see that year’s other disaster epic Deep Impact), Armageddon director Michael Bay employed the most advanced special effects at the time in order to make science fiction relevant for modern audiences.
Armageddon also stars working-class deep sea drillers – played by the likes of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck – who become the story’s heroes after they are deployed by NASA to blow up the asteroid. Dozens of subsequent films have sought to capitalize on the success of Michael Bay’s dazzling, explosive colossus.
The Towering Inferno
A 1974 production from the “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen, The Towering Inferno is a star-studded spectacle about a massive, brand new San Francisco skyscraper that catches fire during its dedication ceremony. Paul Newman plays Doug Roberts, the architect who realizes too late the building’s subcontractor cut some serious corners in order to save money & time.
The Towering Inferno is sustained by claustrophobic imagery, urban development nightmares, and fervent performances from its talented cast. In addition to Paul Newman, the movie also stars Steve McQueen, Fred Astaire, and Faye Dunaway.
Jeff Nichol’s 2011 psychophysical science fiction gem blurs the line between reality & fantasy. Take Shelter stars, Michael Shannon, as a working-class Ohio man who is haunted by apocalyptic dreams and visions. Married with a young daughter, Shannon’s character Curtis LaForche struggles to comprehend whether he’s prophetic, mad, or both.
Instead of presenting a straightforward disaster narrative, Take Shelter focuses on how trauma affects a family unit. Whether his premonitions are real or imagined, Curtis LaForche’s wife, played by Jessica Chastain, ultimately stays by his side. By the end of the movie, it’s obvious the LaForches are ready for whatever horror may be coming their way.
The first movie in the Godzilla franchise, Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Gojira raises the creature feature to apocalyptic levels. A massive sea dragon with atomic breath, Godzilla destroys Tokyo, Japan, with ease – a symbol of the devastation Japan endured at the end of World War II.
The groundbreaking filming style used by Ishirō Honda involves humans in life-sized monster suits interacting with miniature sets meant to replicate cities. Godzilla’s influence on both pop culture & science fiction is undeniable. Recent monster-themed disaster films like Attack the Block and Cloverfield are forever indebted to the style established by Gojira.
This under-the-radar cult classic focuses on Los Angeles as nuclear war breaks out between the United States and the Soviet Union. Released in 1988, Miracle Mile harnesses Cold War paranoia into a cogent & relatable tale of survival. The movie stars Anthony Edwards & Marie Winningham as two people who fall in love right before all hell breaks loose.
Miracle Mile’s events span the course of one day & night. The lovebirds at the center of the action band together to evacuate Los Angeles before it’s destroyed by a bomb. They traverse the city’s eponymous neighborhood in search of a way out.
Steven Soderbergh’s realistic & procedural film explores what happens when the world is rocked by a highly contagious and deadly respiratory virus. This 2011 ensemble feature has experienced a revival in recent weeks for obvious reasons.
Contagious doesn’t rely on pageantry to tell its story. Instead, director Steven Soderbergh applies a documentary-like style to showcase how scientists, government officials, and everyday people deal with viral pandemics. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow are among the film’s diverse cast.
A Night To Remember
So, you may be wondering why Titanic, James Cameron’s melodramatic disaster love story starring a swoon-worthy Leonardo DiCaprio, isn’t on this list. That’s because A Night to Remember is a much better cinematic take on the final night aboard the HMS Titanic in 1912.
Adapted from the 1955 novel of the same name by Walter Lord, 1958’s A Night to Remember fueled the disaster movie trend that dominated movie theatres in the 60s and 70s. Instead of histrionics, this movie fictionalized the events of April 15 with amazing detail & verisimilitude.