Disaster films are the ultimate representation of man’s struggle to survive against the impossible, facing off against large-scale or extinction-level events that may be natural or engineered.
In the face of these natural disasters, alien invasions, or scientific accidents, humanity is powerless. Nevertheless, people still attempt to avert, avoid, or cope with the impending events.
Best Disaster Movies
Though a disaster movie has a catastrophe as its primary plot device, it also explores the human spirit in its narrative. Their moral, psychological, and physical states are pushed to their limits.
As things get worse, the survivors struggle with succumbing to human weaknesses, including hate, desperation, and selfishness. A single choice can mean the difference between life and death.
Below are some of the best disaster films that explore the end of the world, and humanity’s fight to prevent it.
1. Children of Men
Humanity has grown infertile, and nobody knows why. Adults toil in an increasingly turbulent society, knowing that there’s no future to look forward to.
That is, until one cynical bureaucrat discovers a cause worth risking his life for. As he escorts humanity’s last hope, he must also keep it away from the hands of those looking to use it for their own gain.
2. Independence Day
On July 2, 1996, an alien mothership arrives on earth and deploys ships to every major city on the planet. Each ship fires off a beam that incinerates their target cities, killing millions.
With every government in the world in shambles, a disparate group of survivors rally to launch a counterattack and take back the planet.
3. The Andromeda Strain
A government satellite crashes into a small town, releasing a deadly microbe that wipes out the population. As it slowly encroaches on the area, scientists scramble to unlock its weakness.
Having nothing to compare the alien microbe to, they desperately turn to nuclear cleansing. What they don’t realize is that it may just be strong enough to survive and thrive on the explosion.
Mitch Emhoff’s wife mysteriously dies and doctors can’t figure out the cause. When other people die the same way, an unknown virus is found rapidly spreading across the globe.
As panic sets in, public officials and medical researchers scramble to identify and contain the virus. It is now a race against time to create a cure before the death toll rises to unimaginable levels.
5. The Day After Tomorrow
Climatologist Jack Hall finds evidence of an incoming natural disaster, but no one heeds his warning—that is, until a superstorm triggers catastrophes across the world.
Temperatures drop, and entire cities ice over from the storms. As the world experiences a new Ice Age, humanity must find a way to survive what’s to come.
6. Deepwater Horizon
Based on a true story, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is set to complete drilling for oil off the coast of Louisiana. But human error and impatience cause it to suffer from catastrophic failure, leading to a massive explosion.
As the rig spews burning oil into the ocean, the surviving crew must work together to survive the flames and the smoke.
7. World War Z
Former United Nations agent Gerry Lane and his family are stuck in traffic when the world is suddenly put on the brink of collapse. A lethal virus is rapidly spreading all over the world, turning those infected into raging zombies.
Barely escaping with his life, Lane considers it his duty to find the source of the infection and stop its spread. But can he do so before humanity is overrun?
The RMS Titanic: a state-of-the-art cruiser that is also the largest ship in the world. As it prepares for its maiden voyage, countless passengers flock to take part in its prestige.
Then it strikes an iceberg and quickly takes on water. As it rapidly disappears into the ocean, two lovers must find a way to survive—not only the sinking ship, but also those trying to stop their love.
Dr. Ryan Stone is on her first mission in the space shuttle Explorer. Then, while on a spacewalk, disaster strikes in the form of high-speed debris. They destroy the shuttle and kill all of the crew, save for Stone and her commander.
With no way to communicate to base command, there is no chance for any rescue attempt. As the two float above the Earth, they realize their only hope is to go further into space.
Ford Brady, a Navy bomb expert, is suddenly reunited with his estranged father. As they both investigate a disaster from fifteen years ago, what they find is a monster that could mean the extinction of humanity.
As it leaves death and destruction in its wake, another monster emerges to answer its call. With humanity’s survival on the line, their only hope may be a third monster—one as destructive and dangerous as the other two.
11. Dr. Strangelove
General Jack D. Ripper commands the Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses an entire wing of bombers equipped with hydrogen bombs. Unfortunately, he is also insane, ordering the bombers to attack the USSR before locking himself in his office.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union scramble to prevent the bombers, because if they fail, the world will be destroyed by nuclear warfare.
12. 12 Monkeys
In 1996, a virus wipes out almost all of humanity, forcing the survivors to find refuge underground. The only clue to the virus’s origin is the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.
In 2035, a prisoner is selected to be sent back in time in search of the virus. Though he learns that the Army of the Twelve Monkeys exists, the virus’s creator may be closer than they thought.
Humanity’s Struggle to Survive
When you hear the word “disaster,” you think of natural catastrophes, manmade calamities, and extraterrestrial follies—anything that brings about large-scale chaos and tragedy, really.
Whatever the cause of these disasters, humanity’s strength is tested. People quickly learn what it takes to survive and whom they should trust in a world already going up in flames. While a few turn to terrible practices, there are still those who stick to their morals and ideals.
This is what makes disaster films so fascinating. They simultaneously scare and inspire you into thinking about what you would if faced with a similar situation. Will you succumb to human weakness, or rise above them?
Plus, there’s no denying that the visual effects that disaster films bring to the screen are incredible. They’re so realistic that you might as well be experiencing them first-hand.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!