This weekend, Dwayne Johnson faces his most deadly big-screen foe yet. After fighting Vin Diesel in Fast Five and Jason Statham in Furious 7, this time The Rock is doing battle with an almost unfathomable earthquake threatening the entire state of California. And in honor of San Andreas, we’re counting down the Top 15 Best Natural Disaster Movies.
Before you start building your own list in your head, however, keep in mind that we’re counting down natural disaster movies. That means you won’t find any movies about monsters attacking cities like Godzilla or Cloverfield. We’ve also chosen to exclude alien invasion flicks that have plenty of destruction like Independence Day and Mars Attacks!, and also transportation or vehicle centric disasters like Titanic or Apollo 13. And finally, movies where a disaster has already struck, like Mad Max or other post-apocalyptic flicks, don’t count either.
Below you’ll find movies featuring volcanoes, fires, tidal waves, epidemics, tornadoes and asteroids. So without further adieu, let’s count down the Top 15 Best Natural Disaster movies after the jump.
#15. Dante’s Peak
Between James Bond adventures, Pierce Brosnan found time to try and save a small town from a volcano long thought to be dormant. And who better to be teamed up with than Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), as the mayor of the titular Washington town. This was one of two volcano based action thrillers released in 1997, the other being the aptly titled Volcano, which featured an eruption in the heart of Los Angeles.
Despite not having Tommy Lee Jones, Dante’s Peak is the superior disaster film with some pretty intense and brutal moments, including a steaming lake burning a grandmother to death and Pierce Brosnan getting a compound fracture.
#14. Deep Impact
Hollywood just loves doubling up on similar ideas, and here’s one of the world-ending asteroid movies that hit the big screen in 1998. You’ll find the other one higher on our list, but we’ll get to that eventually. Despite being fairly melodramatic, Deep Impact uses an impressive ensemble cast to show what an end of the world scenario might look like if the world’s governments made an effort to salvage the population. And while all that activity is happening on Earth, there’s a team in space trying to stop it too.
The real wow factor comes when a smaller asteroid hits Earth and creates some serious destruction, long before Roland Emmerich shook up the planet with 2012. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with Morgan Freeman as the president, which was back when having a black president in a movie was an easy way to remind audiences that we were in the future. If we ever have to deal with an asteroid impact of this level, I hope Morgan Freeman is giving all the speeches to the American people as we recover.
I’m not sure why there haven’t been more thrillers crafted based around the concept of raging fires, but it seems to be an untapped source for Hollywoo. Backdraft is one of only a handful of genuinely memorable titles focusing on the dangers of massive fires and the firefighters who try to stop them, and this movie will have you double-checking you smoke detectors before you go to sleep. This one is a bit of a cheat since an arsonist is responsible for the fires, but there just aren’t enough fire-related thrillers like this, so it gets a pass.
You might not remember, but Ron Howard directed this one back when he was good at directing thrillers such as Apollo 13 and Ransom. It also has a pretty fantastic cast that includes Kurt Russell, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the late, great J.T. Walsh.
#12. The Perfect Storm
Even though Titanic can’t be part of this list, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some disasters at sea that aren’t worth mentioning here. After Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney found gold in Iraq in Three Kings, the two stars headed out to sea on the Andrea Gail, hoping to score a literal boatload of fish during a hard time.
What begins as a fishing expedition turns into a battle for survival as their ship, which also counts John C. Reilly, William Fichtner and John Hawkes in the crew, faces the convergence of two powerful weather fronts and a hurricane. In a way, this movie was far ahead of its time, before shows like Deadliest Catch were all the rage.
#11. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
There are three total films on this countdown featuring a world-ending asteroid scenario, but this is the only one that uses this setting as a backdrop for a touching story of friendship and love between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World dances a fine line between comedy and drama as we see what happens to society as the end of the world gets closer. This is basically the kind of story that happens while the primary focus of Armageddon or Deep Impact is happening, and it ends up being much more emotional and intimate than either of those blockbusters.