The 10 Best Disaster Movies of All Time

6. Outbreak

Outbreak (1995)

Wolfgang Peterson, acclaimed director of “Das Boot” and “Air Force One”, tells this fictional story of the deadly Motaba virus (modeled after the Ebola virus) which manifests itself in Zaire and then makes its way across the ocean to the United States. Dustin Hoffman plays the lead investigator who is tasked with figuring out the source of the disease and how to contain it once it begins to spread rapidly.

The rest of the all-star casts includes Morgan Freeman, Renee Russo, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr. Longtime movie military presence Dale Dye also appears in the film as Colonel Briggs. Dye’s resume includes many military film including Platoon, Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

The suspense with this type of film is that it seems like something which could easily actually happen. In truth, it is said this film is based on a “true” story in a book called “The Hot Zone” which was also on track to becoming a feature film starring Robert Redford and Jodie Foster directed by Ridley Scott, but never got off the ground.

Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were offered the Hoffman role, but turned it down. The film stands as a commentary on an event all of us would never like to have happen during our lifetimes.


7. The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome

Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon (both nominated for their leading roles for their work in this film in 1979) headline this thriller involving a TV reporter doing a story about a nuclear power plant and discovering some disturbing facts and witnessing some extremely jarring events which could have long-lasting consequences.

Michael Douglas also stars as a cameraman who accompanies Fonda’s character to document her findings. He was also one of the producers on the film. In a case of art imitating life, this film was released only three weeks before the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown disaster which happened on March 28th, 1979, which is considered the worst of its type in U.S. history.

The film’s title actually means if there was a disaster of this type within the U.S., the fallout would be so severe it would reach all the way to China. Producer Douglas insisted on intense realism with both the sets and dialogue which resulted in a truly riveting drama/thriller with amazing acting performances.


8. Alive


After being a long-time Steven Spielberg producer and directing his first feature film, Arachnophobia, Frank Marshall tells the triumphant true story of the “Miracle of the Andes” Uruguayan rugby team based on the book by Piers Paul Read. While flying across the Andes to a rugby match in nearby Chile, the plane carrying 45 players and family members crashes high in the mountains. The high altitude produces frigid temperatures and harrowing weather conditions.

Determined to wait for rescue, the survivors huddle within the fuselage for warmth. Even an avalanche which kills several survivors does not deter everyone. Once they realize the search has been called off, the brutal reality of their next steps becomes clear. They must eat the dead to survive.

Once the storm season subsides, several of the remaining passengers decide their only recourse is to climb down from the mountain to their freedom. Alive is an amazing story of the triumph of the human spirit and shows anything is possible with enough determination and belief in positive outcomes.


9. The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The only total science fiction film a the list, this British disaster film was released in 1961 and is about the premise: what if the United States and Russia tested nuclear bombs at the same instant and altered the rotation of the Earth? Global anarchy ensues as climate change from the detonations begin to show themselves across the globe. It is decided only more detonations will assist in correcting the problem and making things right again.

The film successfully combined realistic elements within the script and acting to make the implausible plot more real. The film did receive a British Academy Award for its screenplay. While tame in comparison to modern-day global catastrophes in film, it is still a great retro sci-fi gem which should not be overlooked or forgotten.


10. Contagion


“Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich” director Steven Soderbergh helms this 2011 thriller, similar to Outbreak, involving a worldwide epidemic which is started when it is brought back by a young woman to the United States after returning from Hong Kong. After her death, it spreads quickly and the medical professionals and authorities have to work quickly to try and contain it before the eventual global plague ensues.

The film also features an impressive ensemble cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow Lawrence Fishburne, Elliot Gould, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law. A technical consultant for the film and director of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Ian Lipkin, actually helped create the film’s “virus” modeling it after the Malaysian Nipah virus which was spread to farmers from pigs in the 1990s.

The “virus” was also partially inspired by the SARS and flu pandemic of the 1990s. The film was heralded for its accurate depiction of events which we hope will never happen. The acting across the board was cohesive and kept us involved in the story the whole way through.

Honorable Mentions: Twister, Volcano, The Perfect Storm, Hellfighters, Backdraft, Earthquake, The Hindenburg, The Core, Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Meteor, San Andreas.

Author Bio: Andy Kubica is a life-long cinephile. Having spend time as a video store manager, movie theater manager and the first DVD buyer for a former rental chain he now spends every waking moment reducing his film “bucket list”.