From frightening forces of nature to extra-terrestrial encounters, Hollywood has found many ways to bring disaster to the big screen. Sometimes it arrives in the shape of nonsensical popcorn fodder, with over-the-top special effects, while other times it is served up via more thought-provoking, localised drama that really gets to the heart of tragedy.
But whether it is a touching account of trauma or a brainless piece of escapism, the disaster movie subgenre continues to remain popular with audiences. In fact, moviegoers love a bit of disaster every now and then, leading to an ongoing series of thrilling flicks!
In this post, I am providing a run-through of 60 disaster movies, all guaranteed to rock your socks in some way or another. The movies range from full-blown blockbusters to post-apocalyptic peril, as well as everything in between.
Independence Day (1996)
First up is one of the most popular and most iconic disaster movies of all time – the sci-fi blockbuster, Independence Day (aka ID4). Directed by Roland Emmerich, the movie depicts the impact of a hostile alien invasion on planet Earth, and the subsequent response as humanity fights back.
Loaded with huge spectacle, Independence Day is a tour de force of effects wizardry. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman star.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Up next is The Day After Tomorrow – another huge disaster movie from director Roland Emmerich. In this movie – which is based on the book The Coming Global Superstorm – the world finds itself entering an extinction-level event, brought on by a series of extreme weather conditions.
In Twister, a team of storm chasers follow the path of a tornado which is tearing through Oklahoma with devastating results. Jan de Bont directs, while Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton take the lead in this rip-roaring action blockbuster not to be missed.
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Based on two books – The Tower and The Glass Inferno – The Towering Inferno is a disaster picture set within the world’s tallest building. In the movie, the building catches on fire, trapping various guests inside.
John Guillermin directs a star-studded cast that includes Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Vaughn, and Robert Wagner.
Poseidon Adventure (1972)
In the Poseidon Adventure, guests on a luxury liner find themselves in grave peril after a tsunami overturns their vessel, leaving them trapped inside. The ship – the SS Poseidon – then begins to fill up with water, turning their escape into a race against time.
Based on the book, The Poseidon Adventure, the movie stars Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, Shelley Winters, and Leslie Nielsen. Ronald Neame directs.
After the world’s tallest building is taken over by terrorists, a former FBI agent is tasked with rescuing his family who are trapped inside. But his problems increase considerably when the building is set on fire, causing mass destruction in the process.
Rawson Marshall Thurber directs, while Dwayne Johnson and Neve Campbell star.
Directed by Simon West, and starring Jason Isaacs, Skyfire is a Chinese disaster movie which is incredibly preposterous, yet also immensely fun. The movie focuses on a holiday resort, built on the side of a volcano… which just happens to erupt.
Whenever Godzilla is around, disaster sure follows, so when compiling this list of disaster movies there were plenty of Godzilla films to choose from; but the one that appears here is the self-titled 1998 monster movie from director Roland Emmerich. Emmerich is the king of the disaster pictures (as noted multiple times in this list), and he brings plenty of destruction in this flick, in which Big G terrorises New York.
From one New York monster movie to another, as a huge creature attacks the city, causing mass devastation in its wake. Matt Reeves directs this found footage take on the disaster movie, which was incredibly popular upon release.
Roland Emmerich directs this sci-fi epic about two astronauts and a conspiracy theorist who join forces to stop the world from seemingly being destroyed by the Moon. Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and Michael Peña star.
In Greenland, the world is on the brink of destruction when a comet is set on a collision course with Earth. To ensure the human race can survive in some capacity, a number of people are selected for protection, including a structural engineer, his estranged wife, and their son.
Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin star in this tense disaster-thriller from director Ric Roman Waugh. Greenland is a very effective disaster picture, which favours the civilian response to tragedy, rather than focusing on huge spectacle.
Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner lead the way in this disaster epic from director Mark Robson. As the title suggests, Earthquake follows the story of a group of people whose lives hang in the balance after an earthquake rocks California.
In Airport, a suicide bomber plots to explode a Boeing 707 mid-flight, during a snowstorm. The movie – based on the book of the same name by Arthur Hailey – stars Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, with George Seaton on directing duties.
Based on a real-life disaster, Titanic provides a fictionalised account of the devastating voyage, and subsequent sinking, of the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg in 1912, killing over 1,500 passengers in the process. The movie largely focuses on a romantic relationship between two passengers, which comes to a head when the vessel meets its tragic end.
James Cameron directs, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star.
A change of pace now, as the disaster subgenre gets lampooned in Airplane! – a hilarious spoof of the Airport film series. The movie tells the story of a plane which gets into difficulty mid-flight, putting the lives of its passengers at risk.
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker write and direct, while Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, and Leslie Nielsen star.
Sylvester Stallone takes centre-stage in this disaster thriller from director Rob Cohen. Daylight follows the story of a former Emergency Medical Services Chief who helps survivors after they become trapped inside a tunnel.
When a Category 5 hurricane rips through Florida, a young woman heads to her father’s home in order to ensure his safety. But not only does she have to contend with extreme weather conditions, the woman also finds herself up against a collection of alligators which have become swept into town.
Alexandre Aja directs Crawl, while Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper star.
Dante’s Peak (1997)
After a long dormant volcano suddenly becomes active, the residents of Dante’s Peak quickly find themselves in a fight for their lives. Chief amongst them is Harry Dalton – a volcanologist working for the United States Geological Survey agency.
Pierce Brosnan, and Linda Hamilton star; Roger Donaldson directs.
Another disaster movie, and another active volcano, only this time in the appropriately titled, Volcano! Mick Jackson directs this big budget, LA-set disaster picture, while Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche star.
Deep Impact (1998)
In Mimi Leder’s action blockbuster, Deep Impact, the world is thrown into peril when a comet locks horns with the Earth. The only way to avoid disaster lies in an attempt to destroy the comet before it hits its target.
Hard Rain (1998)
When is the best and worst time to plan a robbery? During a huge flood.
This is the premise of Hard Rain, an action-thriller about a heist which takes place during a disaster. Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, and Minnie Driver star.
Michael Bay directs Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in this disaster epic about a team of deep-core drillers who are drafted in to destroy an asteroid which is heading for Earth. If they fail in their mission, the planet is doomed.
Roland Emmerich (him again), takes on yet another disaster flick in this huge sci-fi romp. But rather than focusing on one disaster, he throws everything into the mix for 2012, including flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes!
2012 stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Amanda Peet.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Based on the book of the same name by Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm follows the tale of a commercial fishing vessel which gets lost at sea. George Clooney takes on the role of the captain, while Mark Wahlberg is a member of his crew, in this epic disaster drama from Wolfgang Petersen.
San Andreas (2015)
Dwayne Johnson plays the role of a helicopter rescue pilot for the LA Fire Department in this explosive action movie from Brad Peyton. The movie focuses on an earthquake which creates mass destruction to Los Angeles, with Johnson as the hero.
Based on Richard Doyle’s novel of the same name, Flood is a British disaster movie about a devastating flood in the UK. The events take place largely in London, and see many famous landmarks battered by the elements and submerged under water.
In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash lands in the Andes, carrying the Uruguayan rugby team. Without food or shelter, the survivors of the crash must find a way to endure the elements until they are rescued.
Directed by Frank Marshall, Alive is based on Piers Paul Read’s non-fiction novel, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. The film tells a real-life account of disaster and tragedy, as well as a story about survival against the odds.
Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman take the lead in this medical disaster movie from Wolfgang Petersen. Outbreak is based on the book, The Hot Zone, and depicts events surrounding an outbreak of a deadly virus.
Sticking with the theme of deadly viruses for this next movie, which is the medical thriller, Contagion – a film which sees Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne caught in the midst of a deadly, humanity-ending pandemic. Steven Soderbergh calls the shots from the director’s chair.
I Am Legend (2007)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, I Am Legend follows the story of US Army virologist, Robert Neville, who finds himself as the last surviving human in New York, after a virus wipes out the population. The movie is loosely based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name, which has previously been adapted for film as The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971).
Another disaster movie, and another asteroid on a collision course with the planet. Ronald Neame directs Sean Connery and Natalie Wood in this potentially world-ending sci-fi flick from the late ‘70s.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
In this computer-animated comedy, the world enters its darkest hour when a food storm threatens the planet. But will meatballs and spaghetti spell the end for mankind, or can an inventor and a weather intern save the day?
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller direct this highly enjoyable disaster romp, which is loosely based on the book of the same name by Judi and Ron Barrett.
When the Wind Blows (1986)
In this eye-opening animated movie, a British couple attempt to survive the fallout from a nuclear attack. The heart-breaking film depicts their attempts to maintain normality, while the world falls apart around them.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
In Mars Attacks!, the human race is on the brink of extinction after Martians arrive on Earth and make it clear they have only one goal: To conquer the planet. But what the Martians fail to see is that humanity is ready to fight back, in director Tim Burton’s outrageous sci-fi romp.
Geostorm tells the story of a satellite designer and his attempt to save the world from an extinction-level storm. Dean Devlin directs, while Gerard Butler stars.
The Impossible (2012)
Based on a true story, The Impossible follows María Belón and her family as they find themselves at the centre of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Directed by J. A. Bayona, the movie stars Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland.
This is the End (2013)
In this comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, various famous film stars are placed at the centre of a biblical apocalypse. What follows is a hilarious look at disaster, from the point of view of numerous celebrities including Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, and Channing Tatum.
12 Monkeys (1995)
In this mind-bending sci-fi thriller from Terry Gilliam, a deadly virus has wiped out almost everyone on the planet. In order to save what is left of humanity, a prisoner is sent from the future back to the past, to see if he can find the origins of the virus.
Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt star in this superb picture, loosely based on the French feature, La Jetée.
When an MIT astrophysics professor comes across a 50-year-old drawing, previously stored inside a time capsule, he starts to notice a worrying pattern – the drawing contains a series of numbers which predict catastrophes. All but three catastrophes have happened, and all the signs suggest something truly worrying is on the horizon.
Nicolas Cage stars, with Alex Proyas in the director’s chair.
In Gravity, two American astronauts become stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed mid-orbit. What follows is a race against time as the astronauts attempt to return to Earth.
Director Alfonso Cuarón won the Best Director for this dazzling sci-fi disaster thriller, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Disaster takes many forms, and here it involves a collection of dinosaurs, a disgruntled employee, and a tropical storm!
In director Steven Spielberg’s action blockbuster, dinos get loose inside a soon-to-be-opened theme park after the security systems are disabled during a storm. With the living ‘exhibits’ able to roam free, death and destruction soon follows.
Train to Busan (2016)
Told at break-neck speed, Train to Busan is a rollercoaster of a movie, set in and around a zombie apocalypse. The South Korean film, from Yeon Sang-ho, follows the story of a father who is trying desperately to protect his daughter, while the world around him falls apart.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Directed by Peter Berg and based on a real-life drilling rig explosion, Deepwater Horizon focuses on Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams, who finds himself caught up in a terrifying disaster, when his oil rig is engulfed in fire. Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of Williams, alongside a cast that includes John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Kurt Russell, and Dylan O’Brien.
In Turbulence there is terror on an airplane, when a serial killer breaks out of police custody mid-flight. He then goes on a killing spree, before threatening to crash the aircraft.
Ray Liotta and Lauren Holly star, while Robert Butler directs.
Directed by Tony Scott, Unstoppable is an action thriller about a runaway freight train and the men tasked with stopping it. The train contains a highly volatile compound that could cause disaster, if it explodes in a populated area.
Disaster Movie (2008)
A change of pace for this next film, which not only acts as a parody of the disaster movie genre, but also looks to lampoon various iconic movie characters in the process. Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, Disaster Movie is somewhat of an acquired taste which throws everything at the screen.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Based on true events, Apollo 13 tells the story of the real-life disaster that befell the crew of the aborted Apollo 13 lunar mission. The film – from director Ron Howard – depicts the ill-fated journey which quickly turns from an exploration into a rescue mission, when an on-board explosion causes disaster.
Bird Box (2018)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Sandra Bullock plays the role of a middle-aged woman tasked with protecting two children from a deadly threat. The world has been turned upside down by strange entities, with the power to induce mass suicide, and the only way for humanity to stay safe is to keep eyes closed at all times.
The Core (2003)
In The Core, a team is tasked with setting off a nuclear explosion to restart the rotation of the Earth’s core. Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Stanley Tucci star, while Jon Amiel directs.
World War Z (2013)
Brad Pitt takes the lead in this action-horror film about a zombie pandemic, which threatens all of humanity. Marc Forster directs, with the film based on Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z.
Don’t Look Up (2021)
When two astronomers discover a mass-extinction event is imminent, they head to the White House to raise the alarm, only to be dismissed. Eventually they manage to get the world to pay attention, only to find general apathy and division amongst humanity.
Adam McKay directs this smart black comedy, which casts a satirical eye on the way in which the public are often blindsided by those in power.
Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012)
In this apocalyptic romantic comedy, two strangers find common ground and some closure ahead of the world’s imminent destruction. The movie is a very different beast to many of the other titles on this list, but presents an alternative to the standard disaster movie format.
Lorene Scafaria directs, while Steve Carell and Keira Knightley star.
The Wave (2015)
An avalanche and a tsunami form the core focus of this Norwegian disaster movie, from director Roar Uthaug. The Wave depicts the devastation caused by the tsunami, which wreaks havoc to anything in its path.
The Birds (1963)
In Alfred Hitchcock’s tense thriller, birds suddenly start attacking humans. There is no explanation for the strange occurrence, there is only an attempt at survival.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the classic H. G. Wells novel of the same name, War of the Worlds tells the story of an alien invasion, and humanity’s fight for survival. The movie focuses specifically on an American dock worker and his family, with Tom Cruise taking the lead role.
Into the Storm (2014)
Directed by Steven Quale, Into the Storm is a found footage disaster movie about a collection of tornadoes. In the film, the tornadoes strike the town of Silverton, Oklahoma causing devastating results.
In Joe Penna’s Stowaway, an unexpected guest is discovered aboard a space ship on a mission to Mars. The stowaway is there by accident, but his presence puts the crew in danger when the on-board oxygen supply is suddenly depleted and the air has to be divided amongst more people.
Another zombie apocalypse, but this time told from the perspective of a video games streamer, who is forced to live alone in his apartment when things take a turn for the worst. Cho Il-hyung directs this neat little South Korean zombie thriller.
Love and Monsters (2020)
And finally, in Love and Monsters, an apocalyptic event (triggered by an asteroid), has left humanity fighting for survival against a collection of mutated creatures. But one of the survivors decides to face the creatures, as well as significant uncertainty, as he steps out of his comfort zone to reunite with a lost loved one.
Michael Matthews sits in the director’s chair for Love and Monsters, while Dylan O’Brien and Michael Rooker star.
To save you having to scroll back up, here is a list of 60 disaster movies to watch:
- Independence Day (1996)
- The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
- Twister (1996)
- The Towering Inferno (1974)
- Poseidon Adventure (1972)
- Skyscraper (2018)
- Skyfire (2019)
- Godzilla (1998)
- Cloverfield (2008)
- Moonfall (2022)
- Greenland (2020)
- Earthquake (1974)
- Airport (1970)
- Titanic (1997)
- Airplane! (1980)
- Daylight (1996)
- Crawl (2019)
- Dante’s Peak (1997)
- Volcano (1997)
- Deep Impact (1998)
- Hard Rain (1998)
- Armageddon (1998)
- 2012 (2009)
- The Perfect Storm (2000)
- San Andreas (2015)
- Flood (2007)
- Alive (1993)
- Outbreak (1995)
- Contagion (2011)
- I Am Legend (2007)
- Meteor (1979)
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
- When the Wind Blows (1986)
- Mars Attacks! (1996)
- Geostorm (2017)
- The Impossible (2012)
- This is the End (2013)
- 12 Monkeys (1995)
- Knowing (2009)
- Gravity (2013)
- Jurassic Park (1993)
- Train to Busan (2016)
- Deepwater Horizon (2016)
- Turbulence (1997)
- Unstoppable (2010)
- Disaster Movie (2008)
- Apollo 13 (1995)
- Bird Box (2018)
- The Core (2003)
- World War Z (2013)
- Don’t Look Up (2021)
- Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012)
- The Wave (2015)
- The Birds (1963)
- War of the Worlds (2005)
- Into the Storm (2014)
- Stowaway (2021)
- #Alive (2020)
- Love and Monsters (2020)
Thank you for taking the time to stop by It’s A Stampede! to read this post about disaster movies. For more movie-related posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.