Skip to content

Top 10 Epic Natural Disaster Scenes in Movies

23 January 2013 | Features, Other Lists | by David Zou

Disaster movies have been popular since the golden age of silent epics. From alien invasions to nuclear disasters, some of Hollywood’s most intriguing blockbusters have been based on worst case scenarios for mankind. With the increase in news regarding global warming, there’s more interest in the power of natural disasters than ever. The following are some of the most jaw-dropping scenes of natural destruction ever depicted on the big screen.

1. 2012 (2009)

2012 film

Based on the then-looming Mayan apocalypse, Roland Emmerich’s “2012″ includes some epic scenes of natural phenomena, from tsunamis to volcanic eruptions. One of the most memorable scenes is the complete destruction of Los Angeles due to a mega-earthquake. Lasting only three minutes, this fast-paced sequence was created using 3DS Max animation effects and an 8000 square foot shaking platform to illicit natural responses from the actors.


2. The Poseidon Adventure (1971)

The Poseidon Adventure

The climactic scene of the ship capsizing was repeated in 2006′s remake, “Poseidon.” Yet the original still stands as a great piece of Hollywood disaster filmmaking. The tidal wave and subsequent flooding are rendered using models and are quite realistic in comparison to the CGI effects of the remake. This realism earned the film an honorary Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.


3. The Day after Tomorrow (2004)


It’s difficult to choose the best disaster scene in this ode to global warming, with so many stand-outs. From chunks of hail as big as cars to tornadoes attacking Los Angeles, there’s no shortage of natural fury on display. Perhaps the most impressive scene is when the storm surge hits Manhattan, sweeping cars and pedestrians in its wake.


4. Dante’s Peak (1997)


There’s a good amount of build-up to the main event in this film about a volcanic eruption. When the volcano finally blows its top, it does so with gusto. Rivers of flowing lava and widespread destruction were created with a heavy use of CGI effects, but the ash that rains down throughout the scene was created with finely shredded newspapers, a surprisingly effective technique.


5. The Perfect Storm (2000)


Scary films gain a far more lasting impact when they’re based in reality. Taken from a true story, this film tells the tale of the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat that got caught in what was termed the “perfect storm” in 1991. The crew faces challenges such as regular 50-foot waves before encountering a giant 150-foot rogue wave that capsizes the boat, the standout scene of the film. All of the special effects were created using digital animation software from the team at Industrial Light and Magic, with extremely realistic results.


6. Titanic (1997)


Although it’s not exactly based on a natural disaster, Titanic makes the list since it shows the power of nature and what it can do to manmade structures. The most arguably awe-inspiring scene is when the massive ship raises itself to 90 degrees, with main characters and extras trying (and failing in many cases) to hang on for dear life. The flooding of the ship with icy ocean waters is also quite realistic, earning the film an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.


7. Twister (1996)


When cows are flying, you know that you’re watching a very serious tornado. This scene with flying cows stands out amidst the other disastrous images in a movie about thrill-seeking meteorologists. Digital special effects create very realistic depictions of the destruction of buildings both great and small.


8. 28 Days Later (2002)


A disaster film doesn’t have to show the destruction of monuments to be terrifying. Perhaps the scariest scene on this list is the opening sequence of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” which shows the aftermath of a plague or virus. The film opens in the completely deserted streets of London, unnerving in its silence and emptiness. The zombie scenes that come later on are frightening as well, but it’s the eerie quality of this opening shot that defines the film.


9. Deep Impact (1998)


From “Planet of the Apes” to “The Day after Tomorrow,” the Statue of Liberty is often used as a symbol of New York. When Lady Liberty is taken down, it means the city has gone with her. Although there are numerous scenes of destruction due to a meteor hitting the earth, one of the best is when the iconic statue takes a fall along with many of New York’s most important buildings in the background. The shot of the statue’s head slowly sinking into the overwhelming tidal wave is somewhat poignant.


10. Earthquake (1974)


There have been many earthquake disaster films, but one of the best depictions of the destruction of Los Angeles was in this 1974 classic. A combination of matte drawings, front projection, and model skyscrapers were used to create the crumbling buildings and memorable images from this scene. One of the best special effects is the use of a miniature to show the Hollywood Dam crumbling to bits.



Other Brilliant Movie Posts On The Web


Like Us on Facebook!

  • Alex Withrow

    For me, that Deep Impact scene will always be tops. It is just so powerful. The new film, The Impossible had a horrific and realistic natural disaster scene. Scary stuff.

  • WoWed

    The giant wave from A Perfect Storm always gets me. It goes from pure elation to absolute dread in a matter of seconds. You can tell when all hope is lost. Powerful.