The 9 Best Disaster Movies To Watch Where Everyone Could Die
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Disaster films can be based on real-life events, plucked straight out of the depths of science-fiction, or even come via apocalyptic stories, but regardless of the sub-genre and origins of the story, these movies allow us to witness a cast of characters that, at one point or another, is forced to come to terms with uncertain circumstances and grapple with what could be the end to everything they know.
That's what makes the disasters such an interesting storytelling device. When faced with death, people are exposed for who they truly are, which can be startling and terrifying, or heartfelt and affirming. Everything and anything is possible; from chilling revelations spilled in an isolated clearing as the world ends, to gripped fingers and hands, squeezed tight, after learning that everything is somehow going to work out alright. When the stakes being explored are the end of all life as we know it, boundaries quickly disappear..
It's not hard to understand why we wanted to look at these films we love, even if the subject matter can be pretty sad. After all, this genre isn't new. We've been watching disaster films for decades--we've even previously looked at particularly bad disaster films. Now, though, we want to examine the very best the genre has to offer (which means, of course, 2012 is nowhere near this list). Sound off in the comments with your favorites!
1. The Perfect Storm (2000)
The Perfect Storm is about a group of regular, everyday, working class men, facing disaster, even if it isn’t the whole world that crashes into the waves that came on the day the Andrea Gail set sail for the very last time.
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and John C. Reilly all bring powerful, up-close and intimate performances in their starring roles, which allow for a tight adaptation of Sebastian Junger’s non-fiction novel about the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel that was lost at sea during a catastrophic storm in 1991.
The Perfect Storm is a tragic and engaging story about a fishing voyage that is unexpectedly a crew’s last, but it sails as smoothly as a tale like this can, largely from the playful banter and dialogue from a bunch of guys who do all they can to save each other, until the very end. The Perfect Storm is a good and inspiring film, even if you can already tell how it’s going down.
The Perfect Storm is available to stream on Max..
2. Contagion (2011)
Contagion came before a global pandemic had been normalized in a modern time so the film’s events felt more Hollywood at the time, kind of like The Day After Tomorrow releasing when most regions of the world still experienced four seasons, but in the years since COVID-19, it’s become clear how much clear and possibilities the events of the film truly are.
Contagion is a medical disaster film about a highly contagious virus spreading around the world, with the world’s top scientists, leaders, and health officials try to simultaneously solve the crisis while containing the death and damage in the wake of a health emergency.
The film’s story is dramatic and exciting on its own, with performances from Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston, among others, but it’s Contagion’s style and how accurately it articulates the path of a health emergency that makes it such an essential and engaging watch.
Contagion is available to stream on Prime Video.
3. Airplane! (1980)
Airplane! is an essential comedy that sends up the disaster movie genre, high into the sky, only to catch it, just before it hits the ground, so it can help (most of) the jokes land with style and grace.
Airplane! is part of the cultural zeitgeist at this point--chances are high that you've seen it--even if it’s been through further parody and recreation, and through various unforgettable clips from the 1980 release.
One-liners such as “‘Don’t call me Shirley” and other absolutely ridiculous and hilarious scenes are greatly amplified and enhanced by the fact that co-director David Zucker went out of his way to cast actors that hadn’t previously done comedic roles, which almost allowed for some of the humor to go over the heads of those delivering the punchlines, making it even funnier in the end.
You’ve seen Airplane! even if you haven’t at this point, but it’s absolutely worth seeing if you haven’t.
Airplane! is available to stream on Prime Video.
4. Titanic (1997)
It’s been over 25 years since Titanic’s release in 1997. In that time, director James Cameron has continued to build out his filmography with beloved movies, including the Avatar franchise. Still, his iconic disaster-romance movie remains the best way to get up close and personal with the Titanic, no matter how much money you have.
Titanic is often remembered for the enduring, authentic, and passionate, albeit quick, relationship between Rose and Jack, portrayed iconically by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively, but the film also features a lot of details about the Titanic, how it sank, and about many of the different people we could have expected to meet, if we were there during that fateful, maiden voyage.
Though the film does contain its share of historical inaccuracies, there’s also a warm and sweet amalgamation at the center of death, love, and finding yourself in the center of a place you’d perhaps least expect to find it.
Titanic is available to stream on Netflix.
5. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day is a disaster movie about death, dying, and the world potentially ending from large-scale alien invasion. Thankfully, the good guys have the big guns and sarcastic quips to get the job done. And they have mid-'90s Will Smith at the center of it all, so you already know you’re in for a good time.
Independence Day is a feel good disaster film: comfort food that’s meant to be consumed with handfuls of popcorn. However, it’s also packed with heartfelt moments and humor, making it one of the best disaster films out there.
Independence Day is available to stream on Hulu and Disney+.
6. The Descent (2005)
The Descent is intense, primarily taking place in a remote and isolated system of caves, where no one can hear you if something goes wrong.
A group of six friends with experience spelunking decides to take a trip to the Appalachian Mountains for a little fun and time away together. It’s only when the girls are deep inside the caves that they see something worse than nothing and darkness.
There is something else inside the caves, and whatever it is doesn’t want the group of girls to leave.
The Descent is available to stream on Max.
7. Twister (1996)
Twister is part disaster, part romance, and it’s all swirled together and whipped up into a high-stakes adventure, with a stellar screenplay from Michael Crichton and great performances from Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, and Cary Elwes, all culminating in a classic movie.
On the surface, Twister is a story about amatuer scientists chasing tornadoes. As it delves into the characters, though, we are introduced to people trying to find themselves, each other, and purpose in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. How does one fall in love while surrounded by a tornado? There's no better movie to find out from.
Twister is available to stream on Prime Video.
8. Signs (2002)
M. Night Shyamalan’s alien invasion movie is about so much more than Joaquin Phoenix swinging baseball bats, aliens walking through cornfields, and unattended glasses of water. The 2002 film is also about the love and sacrifice that human beings are all capable of in the face of uncertain circumstances.
The story of Signs follows a family--a widowed father, his brother, and his two kids, from his previous marriage--and how they respond as people and family members, when an alien invasion threatens the world, and no one is sure what to do, let alone an ex-pastor who lost his wife in a tragic accident.
Signs is available to stream on Hulu and Disney+.
9. This is the End (2013)
This is the End is a comedy featuring a supergroup of funny people, smashed full of performances and cameos from all kinds of celebrities--everyone from Michael Cera to Channing Tatum. At its core, though, it’s a story about a group of friends, hiding in a house together, while the world around them burns to the ground for reasons they’re not even sure of, and it’s one of the best ways to laugh about the end of the world and the possibility of uncertain death.
This is the End was brought to life, written, and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and it stars Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and James Franco, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, as a group of friends locked in a house while the world is ending.
Hill and Franco, notably, both play despicable versions of themselves in the movie, which was a lot harder to believe when it was first released back in 2013.
The story goes in some truly interesting directions, and no comedic moments are left on the floor, in this disaster comedy masterpiece, which includes everything from weed and dick jokes to demons raining fire down from the sky.
This is the End is available to stream on Netflix.