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Last week I went to see the new Roland Emmerich film, 2012….twice! I love disaster movies. I think the first disaster movie I ever saw was The Towering Inferno or it may have been Airport 1975. I’m not sure but both have left a mark on me that I get a thrill out of seeing people die in a grand way. Planes crashing, meteors smashing into earth, killer earthquakes, global warming tsunami’s. The bigger, the better. So it is only apt that with the release of 2012 that I give to you my top 10 list of disaster movies:
10. War of the Worlds (2005) – Many of you will be thinking that any post ‘couch jumping’ film starring Tom Cruise is a disaster but under the steady direction of the master, Steven Spielberg, the retelling of 1953 H.G. Well’s dramatic alien invasion is very well done. Tom’s character, Ray along with his reluctant kids must find a way to survive the war started by the tripod aliens. The only downside of the film was the performance by Tim Robbins, a basement dwelling wacko! The special effects were great with the destruction of building and bridges and people all masterfully done. Score 6/10
9. Airport 1975 (1975) – Starring Charlton Heston this film is about a commercial airliner that collides with a small plane which leaves a gaping hole in the cockpit and both pilots dead. The control tower has to try and get a pilot on board while the head stewardess flies the plane. Simple in plot and effects it is a gripping story of survival. Score 6.5/10
8. The Towering Inferno (1974) – A couple of great scenes figure here for me. One is Robert Wagner (his stunt double anyway) in his hotel room which is in the midst of the inferno. He has covered himself in a wet blanket and is trying to make the front door to raise the alarm and to rescue his mistress. Within seconds of leaving the bathroom he is caught up in the blaze and eventually dies. What makes this scene fantastic is that the camera is located on the outside of the room showing the full length of the room and it doesn’t change shot during his impossible dash to safety and is shown in slow motion. Amazing scene. Score 7/10.
7. Deep Impact (1998) – When this and Armageddon came out in the same year it really was a box office battle akin to two meteors crashing into each other. Mimi Leder’s film lacked star power (compared with Armageddon) with a still young Elijah Wood starring as the high school student who discovered the deadly rock hurtling towards earth and an impressive Morgan Freeman as the US President (a full decade earlier than Barrack Obama). It had some great scenes of destruction including a giant tsunami which took out the east coast of America (and Tea Leoni). The ending was good with Robert Duvall and team sacrificing themselves in a kamakazi move flying their shuttle into the approaching meteor and triggering the nuclear explosion needed. Score 7/10
6. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) – In an era of disaster movies in the early 70’s this story of a ship that is capsized by a freak wave was ground breaking in its special effects. With a young Gene Hackman leading a small group of survivors that includes Ernest Borgnine from the now bottom of the ship to the top for a chance at rescue is gripping in suspense. The 2006 remake “Poseidon” starring Kurt Russell had a better capsizing sequence but lacked the emotional connection as in the original. Score – 7.5/10
5. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) – Directed by Roland Emmerich and the first real film to deal with climate change saw Dennis Quaid trying to reach his stranded son (Jake Gyllenhaal) in a flooded then snowed in New York City (the epicentre of all world disasters). Dramatic twisters tear apart Los Angeles earlier in the film and when a TV reporter gets blown away by a billboard then you know that no life is sacred. Score 7.5/10
4. Titanic (1997) – James Cameron’s epic love story with the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ ship, Titanic serving as the back drop. The first half of this film does not qualify as a disaster film due to the ensuing courtship of Jack and Rose but the second half delivers ‘disaster’ in bucket loads. James Cameron’s Titanic set was unbelievably accurate down to the crockery and detail of the grand stairways banisters and the crews uniforms. When the doomed ship strikes the iceberg that we all know will sink her, it is not a question of if the ship will sink, but how it sinks. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet as doomed lovers Jack and Rose the ship slowly sinks beneath the icy waters of the north Atlantic in spectacular special effects. At over 3 hours long this movie is an epic and one of the great disaster movies of all time. Score 8/10
3. 2012 (2009) – Another Roland Emmerich film based on the ancients Mayan’s belief that the world will end when the Mayan calendar ends its current cycle on December 21, 2012. With Danny Glover (another black president) telling the world leaders that the world is going to end it doesn’t take long for the action to really start. Starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet as divorced parents of 2 kids, they are soon racing to escape catastrophic L.A. earthquakes. It was also great to see New York spared from any onscreen disaster (even though we know it cops it). A great cameo by Woody Harrelson as the front row end of the world radio announcer this film has the best destruction sequences I have ever seen. At over 2.5 hours long buckle in for a thrill ride I don’t think we will see again for a long time. Score 8.5/10
2. Independence Day (1996) – Perhaps the reinvention of the epic disaster movie was delivered through this Roland Emmerich vehicle when aliens conduct a coordinated attack on Earth’s major cities. An all star cast led superbly by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are all pulverised with the destruction of the White House, particularly blown up in amazing special effects. One of my favourite parts of the movie is the speech delivered by the American President played by Bill Pullman drawing on the inspiration of the American holiday, Independence Day. Here’s the closing parts to this speech. “…once again, you will be fighting for your freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression or persecution, but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live…to exist, and should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday but as the day when the world declared in one voice, we will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight. We’re gonna live on, we’re gonna survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day.” Ok, I just typed this speech out from memory, I love it that much. Score 9/10
1. Armageddon (1998) – The big brother to Deep Impact sees a meteor the size of Texas heading towards Earth and it is up to one man and his team of red neck deep core drillers to save the world. Enter Bruce Willis and an all star cast including Owen Wilson, Ben Affleck and Michael Clark Duncan along with Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi. Together they fly two shuttles to the meteor and they have to drill 800ft to drop in a nuclear bomb to blow it up from the inside out. New York is destroyed early in the film by meteor showers the size of refrigerators and Volkswagens’ and it isn’t long before parts of Paris and Shanghai are also destroyed. Director, Michael Bay uses his signature slow panning shots in a lot of his movies and Armageddon is no different. With a great script and a colossal team of actors, this film was the big hit of 1998. Score 9.5/10
So that is my top 10. Some honourable mentions that didn’t make the list include The Perfect Storm, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, Daylight, I am Legend and Knowing. None of these movies are Gone with the Wind or Citizen Cane and you know what? I don’t want them to be. Yes they are all very far fatched and that is what I like about them. It is an escape from reality. If I want to see reality then I will just stay at home. So please keep the epic disaster movie coming.
Do you agree with my list? What would add to the list? Would you change any of my scores? What will the next disaster movie be about? Let me know below.