Hollywood has a history of disaster movies dating back decades. There’s something about a force of nature decimating humanity that’s piqued our collective interest for a long time, and it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. We’ve been battling with nature since the dawn of our species, as something that’s fascinated us on a fundamentally primitive level. There’s no better outlet for this fascination than cinema, giving us large-scale CGI, big budgets, and A-list actors as tools for storytelling.
With this, it’s worth looking back on some of the more destructive disaster movies Hollywood has ever gifted us with. These are the ones that racked up high body counts, while levying the most possible destruction. Your Apollo 13s and Poseidon Adventures unfortunately don’t back the cut as films with low casualties and destructive scope. We’re talking the big ones: The movies that truly leveled humanity on a massive scale, bringing us to the brink and back as we battle forces well beyond our control.
Released back in 2009, 2012 is a no-brainer for this list based solely on the scope of destruction that was inflicted upon the world. It’s based around the misreading of the Mayan calendar that led many to believe the world would come to an end in 2012, as planet Earth suddenly and without warning decides to stop being inhabitable. In it, 10+ magnitude earthquakes rock the world, sending whole swathes of land careening into the ocean, while ensuing tsunamis finish the job as they decimate the eastern seaboard. It goes without saying that 2012 is a film with a level of disaster that exceeds most anything Hollywood has to offer.
Waterworld is a movie that’s found its way onto a fair share of “biggest flops in Hollywood” lists since its release in 1995. Working on the most expensive budget Hollywood had ever seen (before Titanic eclipsed it a few years later), the film detailed the fall of mankind in a sort of Mad Max-esque setting. In it, all the dry land in the world is underwater, with sea levels having risen following the melting of the polar ice caps. The end result was Kevin Costner having gils, and an ocean of marauders led by the late Dennis Hopper. While not the best movie ever made, there’s no denying that a planet with no dry land is enough to qualify it for this list.
3. The Avengers
Is it for all intents and purposes a “disaster movie”? The answer is “not technically,” but bear with us and we promise you won’t be disappointed. First off: Yes, strictly speaking this is decidedly in the “comic book movies” category. But consider for a moment the events of the climactic battle that completely leveled Manhattan. If aliens came through a wormhole in the sky and decimated most of New York City over the course of a couple hours, you can bet that this would be categorized as the most destructive attack on American soil by an invader since the early 1800s. The damage and loss of life in one of the country’s most densely populated cities would be incalculable, hence The Avengers landing where it has in this collection of disaster films.
4. The Day After Tomorrow
Not to be confused with 2012, The Day After Tomorrow actually released five years prior with roughly the same story. With even the same director in Roland Emmerich, it’s a movie that brings a similar level of global destruction. The one thing most of these movies seem to be able to agree on is that if it’s not inter-dimensional aliens that destroy us in the end, it’ll probably be global warming. The Day After Tomorrow world is one where the entire Northern Hemisphere turns into a sub-arctic wasteland, with temperatures reaching almost 100 degrees below zero.
5. Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster flick circles us back to the “inter-dimensional aliens” theory of global destruction. The movie details the appearance of Kaiju, giant monsters that begin appearing in a rift in the depths of the ocean. Like any reasonably advanced society would do, the world’s governments commission a program that builds similarly giant humanoid robots called Jaegers to fight the threat. Early years of the Kaiju’s attacks show us cities along the western seaboard like San Francisco reduced entirely to rubble, before mankind finally begins to push them back. Widespread destruction abounds throughout, ending with a smackdown between the Jaegers and Kaiju that does no favors to a fair portion of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers.
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