Four Letter Nerd

Top Ten Disaster Movies Part 2

(Editor’s Note: this article was written by Paige Clark, check out Part One here!)

Originally this Top Ten list was supposed to be just one article.  Unfortunately, that’s just not enough time to adequately explain the awesomeness contained within these films.  Therefore, I have now broken it up into a much more manageable three part series (if Peter Jackson can make a trilogy out of The Hobbit, then I can do it to my article, dammit!) so you, the reader, do not have to spend your entire afternoon having your mind blown.  Enjoy!


5. Volcano (1997)- Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche.

Tommy Lee Jones in all his glory works for the Los Angeles Office of Emergency Management. Needless to say he has a pretty high stress job. He starts his day off like any other day in LA, with an earthquake, as he rushes into his office with his daughter something awesome happens. As they were driving by the LA tar pits a freaking volcano comes out of it shooting ash, lava bombs, and lava. Despite all of the very volcano like symptoms, it still takes a scientist (Anne Heche) to tell them it’s a volcano (Really? The lava wasn’t a good indicator?). The first thing they want to do is stop it…yeah, because that’s possible. When they realize they can’t stop a volcano (THE volcano) from forming they decide to try to stop the lava flow from getting into the neighborhoods instead. Miraculously they are able to stop the initial flow for a bit, but then discover that nature is using human engineering against them and the lava is now using mass transit via the subway system. Now they discover it is heading towards a mall and a hospital (which is where Jones’s daughter is located) so in an effort to once again stop Mother Nature from burning things (this time capitalism and healthcare), they decide to knock down a building to help divert the flow into the ocean. As they are knocking down the building Jones’s discovers his daughter is in the blast zone and runs fast enough to beat the building to save his daughter. He also is able to save the city! All in a day’s work for Tommy Lee Jones.

Reasons for making top ten: Umm hello?! Volcano in the middle of Los Angeles…how is this not on every top movie list, disaster or not. It not only has great late 90’s special effects (the pinnacle, if you ask me), it also has some touching moments. At one point a racist cop un-cuffs a black guy so he can go home, but then the guy that was released notices the cops struggling to pick up a 2-ton road divider and risks his life to help them move it. How did that scene not give you feels? I also like the scene where the tar pits are first showing signs of volcanic activity, and the concrete prehistoric animals are slowing sinking into the tar. I’d like to think that is how it actually happened. So not only is this movie a great disaster movie it is also historically accurate (right?). Considering I have a degree in history, you can trust my judgment without hesitation. Did I mention that Don Cheadle is in this movie and plays Tommy Lee Jones’s second in command? He wears one of those silly golfers looking hats that were popular in the late 90’s, which is reason alone to watch this movie.


4. Dante’s Peak (1997)- Starring James Bond, I mean Pierce Brosnan, and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).

The movie starts out with a young couple about to do it (coitus/intercourse) in a natural hot spring, everything is all fun and games until they are boiled alive. That’s either the worst or best way to go, depending on your perspective. Dante’s Peak is supposed to be a dormant volcano but it is starting to wake the hell up. The US Geological Survey (fancy words for the smart people that study the Earth) sends their best guy, Pierce Brosnan, who thinks the mountain is going to blow, but his team disagrees. The mayor of the town, Linda Hamilton, doesn’t know what to do because she doesn’t want to cause mass panic but she also wants to hook up with the new hot, smart guy. When the mountain stays quiet the town thinks they are in the clear. Nope! The volcano erupts. The shear panic that ensues from the townsfolk is truly epic. I mean I can’t say that I would handle myself any better if I was up that close to a volcano erupting. Of course the mayor’s kids go up the mountain to save their stubborn grandma. If you’ve seen the movie you know that doesn’t end well at all. Lava comes pouring in to her house and they have to escape on a small boat in a lake of acid. The grandma realizes this is all her fault gets out of the boat into the acid water to help push it to the dock, and dies a terrible, painful death. The rest of the people try to make it down the mountain before the volcano really blows. Alas, they are unable to and drive into an abandoned mine shaft just in time. Brosnan realizes he left their only means of being found in the car and goes back, but there is a cave in and his arm is mildly injured, by which I mean his elbow bones are sticking out of the skin. Eventually they are saved and a guy on crutches thanks NASA for it over and over.

Reasons for making top ten: I am not sure what the deal was with 1997 but we should just call it the year of the disaster movie. I remember the day I saw this in theater. I pestered my mom all day about going because my sister was somewhere else so it was going to be just her and me. I don’t know why but watching disaster movies is a bond we share, which might be why this movie is in the top ten for me (or it made it because it’s awesome). One of the coolest scenes is when the lahar, a giant mudflow full of debris and volcano stuff, comes rushing down the mountain and wipes out a bridge. Sadly, one of the main characters died, but it was cool to watch nonetheless. This is a really great disaster movie, even outside of the emotional bond I have with it. It also had the added bonus of making you feel like a scientist (just like staying at a Holiday Inn Express). Now, I’m not a geologist, but after this movie I like to consider myself a junior geologist (not to mention the countless hours of documentaries I’ve watched and books I’ve read about disasters). I could totally predict a volcano. See how I threw out volcanic jargon with lahar? Just saying.


3. Outbreak (1995)- Starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, God (Morgan Freeman) playing a general this time, Cuba Gooding Jr., and the absolutely terrifying Donald Sutherland (I prefer his son, Jack Bauer).

You start out in Africa, in 1967, in a remote village that is ravaged by a mysterious new virus that is killing everyone in its mysteriously viral wake (it’s not Ebola, but it makes the movie all the more relevant). In order to wipe out the virus they decide to just drop a bomb on the village to blow it to smithereens… but they fail because of those damn, dirty, virus-ridden monkeys. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) is an animal smuggler that smuggles a cute little black and white monkey into the States. The monkey, presumably mad at McDreamy for making him leave his jungle home, spit in McDreamy’s dreamy face, thus infecting him with the Motaba virus. Let’s all just be happy that the monkey didn’t fling its poop in McDreamy’s face, which would have been a travesty. Either way, the virus is now in the states. You follow Hoffman, who is an Army colonel doctor that works in the infectious disease part of the Army or something, and Russo who is a doctor with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). They are recently divorced but are forced to work together when the outbreak occurs, because drama. Hoffman decides to go to the hot zone without permission from his commanding officer, Freeman. He quickly realizes the potential disaster that could happen and jumps into action by calling in the National Guard to lock down the town. The President and his people consider using the bomb they used in Africa, but thanks to Hoffman’s quick talking, they convince the pilots of the plane to “accidentally” (totally on purpose) throw the bomb’s landing off course. The virus kills everyone it infects, so it is up to Hoffman and Gooding Jr. to find the host. When they do they steal an army helicopter (because that was the only option) to fly to a huge boat to figure out where the host animal came from. From there they go on TV to show a picture of the animal (which scares the hell out of everyone because the army released false information that they are sick). A mom in the mountains sees the picture and freaks out because her daughter has a new monkey friend named Betsy. Hoffman and Gooding Jr. fly to retrieve the monkey, which they use to engineer the anti-serum for the virus. Scary Sutherland in all his evil glory attacks their chopper because he refuses to believe that they have the serum. Luckily, they make it in time and save everyone. Oh, and Kevin Spacey dies in the movie, which is sad because he is great in everything.

Reasons for making top ten: This is one of my all time favorite movies. If it is on TV I watch it; if it’s been a while and I see it OnDemand (because it’s that great and they still put it on OnDemand occasionally) I watch it; if I’m feeling bored I put in the DVD because of course I own it. This movie means a little more now with the Ebola-pocalypse (and/or Ebolamageddon) going on (not making light of thousands of people dying, just saying that people are freaking out). If you watch or read anything about potential human extinction scenarios, pandemics are always on there. The elusive “super bug” that will cause painful deaths and wipe out the human race could be the plot for every disaster movie (I am sure you would eventually get tired of the same movie plot over and over, but it would take a while to get there). This movie does a good job of putting a face to the victims of a virus. A lot of the time you hear about something like this (on a smaller scale) going on and you forget about the actual people suffering. If you want to turn yourself into a germophobe and never want to leave your clean, sterile house, watch Outbreak, but it’ll be completely worth it. (Side note: also watch Contagion. It’s essentially the same scenario but lacking the late 90’s amazingness.)


Come back tomorrow for the third, and final, installment of my top 10 disaster movies!

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