Best & Worst: Disaster Movies

Best: 28 Days Later (2002)

Cillian Murphy wakes up in a London we all wish we lived in – one devoid of any people. Except his filmic journey doesn’t involve shopping sprees on a gloriously empty Oxford Street, but rage-infected, man-munching horrors who just want to rip off his face.

That eerie shot of Murphy crossing a spookily deserted Westminster Bridge still gives us chills…

Worst: Twister (1996)

Cows, houses and tractors are all swept up in the ether as a team of storm-chasers led by Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton actually follow disaster everywhere it goes. Idiots.

As Roger Ebert put it, it’s “loud, dumb, escapist entertainment”. The only bit we disagree with is the entertainment bit.

Best: Airport (1970)

Genre-defining and the first of the ‘70s disaster movie epics, Airport proved creepily prophetic as it tells the story of a suicidal man who decides to blow up a Boeing 707 during a snowstorm.

With a budget of just $10m, the film went on to reap $100m at the box office. It looks camp as Christmas now, which just sort of adds to the fun.

Worst: Waterworld (1995)

Movie legend tells of this film’s infamous budget ballooning to almost double its original size, as Kevin Costner’s post-apocalyptic yarn's $100m money pot stretched to $175m.

Sadly, shovelling money at a piece of crap doesn’t make it any better, as evidenced in the final product – a rambling tale in serious need of an editor. Fair action, though.

Best: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

You don’t get to be the number one movie in 1972 for nothing. Roland Neame’s genre-defining classic takes the tale of Titanic and spins it on its head – uh, literally – as a tsunami capsizes an ocean liner stuffed full of people.

With a cast that includes Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Roddy McDowall and Ernest Borgnine, it won a (sizeable) clutch of awards and still holds up to this day.

Worst: Hard Rain (1998)

‘Soggy’ and ‘mess’ are the best words to describe this humourless disaster pic. Morgan Freeman is in the middle of the chaos, as a small town in Indiana is flooded, coinciding with a heist gone seriously wrong.

Freeman does his charismatic thing well, but Hard Rain is both dull and uninvolving. Even if the bad weather does sound great in surround sound.

Best: The Birds (1963)

The converged minds of Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock create one of the most chilling things ever committed to celluloid, as birds inexplicably start pecking people to death in Bodega Bay. Tippi Hedren famously hated her director for pinning live birds to her clothing. Her payback? Appearing in shoddy sequel Birds 2 .

Made most people afraid of their friendly neighbourhood black bird. Now that’s some doing.

Worst: The Swarm (1978)

Natural disasters were getting old by the tail end of the ‘70s, which explains The Swarm ’s sudden lurch into horror-threaded territory as a cloud of very angry bees descend on Michael Caine, Katharine Ross and Richard Widmark.

The result is throwaway tosh, and a movie widely regarded – happily – as a total disaster. Ah, we do love a good bit of irony.

Best: Independence Day (1996)

Say what you will about Roland Emmerich’s edge-of-silly alien invasion flick, but it had everyone hooked back in the mid-‘90s thanks to some awe-inspiring computer effects, and set the trend for all big budget blockbusters that followed.

Essentially it’s a throw-back to the disaster movie glory days of the ‘70s, with a simply massive cast to match that then-massive $75m budget. Altogether now: “Hello boys, I’m baaaaack!”

Worst: Blindness (2008)

Julianne Moore is the only one who’s immune when people the world over inexplicably go blind. Probably because she’s the best actress.

No massive explosions here, but more of a social disaster as Fernando Meirelles tries something a bit different. The premise is intriguing, but the resultant horror/drama is so po-faced it merely becomes depressing and miserable.

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.