Best: The Towering Inferno (1974)
Two years after The Poseidon Adventure extended Airport ’s disaster film mould, The Towering Inferno replicated it to explosive ends as Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway and Fred Astaire find themselves trapped in a massive burning building.
Inferno is, like the best disaster movies, all about spectacle spliced with human drama. That helicopter boom gets us where it hurts every time.
Worst: The Core (2003)
The Earth’s core isn’t playing nice, so a drill team are enlisted to dig down through the planet’s plates and set off explosions to sort it out.
Yes, they made an entire film based on that premise. No, it’s not any good. “The Earth core's inability to turn is mirrored in the cast's inability to give the picture any spin,” wrote the New York Times . We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Best: Titanic (1997)
James Cameron’s biggie, previous record holder for highest grossing movie of all time (which Cameron naturally trumped himself with Avatar ), Titanic was a break-out phenomenon in the ‘90s thanks to heartthrob Leo DiCaprio and the devastating final hour of wanton destruction.
The CG may look a little shaky today, and Kate Winslet’s character is still a heartless bitch (come on, we can’t be the only ones who think so), but this is a perfect example of opulent, extravagant filmmaking at its most ambitious.
Worst: The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)
Ham-fisted attempt to drag the ‘50s classic into a modern day setting. Keanu Reeves is well-cast as the emotionless, detached Klatu (playing to his strengths there), while Jennifer Connelly is fine as a mother hoping to save the human race.
The delivery, though, is woefully inept, while the newly CGI Gort is a total letdown. Thank God it’s only 100 minutes long.
Best: Earthquake (1974)
More ‘70s A-listers attempt to scrabble away from potential ruin, as an earthquake rips the City of Angels to shreds. The film came about mostly thanks to the massive success of Airport , and was dreamed up by producer Jennings Lang in 1971 when the San Fernando Earthquake gave Los Angeles a bit of a jolt.
Filmed around the same time as the similarly-themed Towering Inferno , Earthquake ’s shoot included the total destruction of Universal Studios’ backlot. Though it received a critical lashing upon release, it’s now regarded fondly as part of the ‘70s disaster movie boom.
Worst: Daylight (1996)
Sylvester Stallone’s post-Rocky/Rambo career slides further into obscurity, as he plays a former medical chief who attempts to save people trapped in the Holland Tunnel.
Only problem is nobody can understand his big-lipped babblings…
Best: Deep Impact (1998)
Though Armageddon had the bigger names and budget, Deep Impact is widely regarded as the better film. Is it because it stars Morgan Freeman (again) and future hobbit Elijah Wood?
Nah, it was more about the meteorite-centred plot, which set a 7-mile wide comet on a collision course for Earth, and would cause a mass extinction reminiscent of the dinosaurs. Notably, before Twilight this was the highest grossing film directed by a woman.
Worst: Volcano (1997)
The Bodyguard director switches one diva for another diva, as he swaps Whitney Houston for a giant, mountainous configuration of molten hot lava with a furious temper. Not many people noticed the difference.
Sadly, Mick Jackson fails to ratchet up any kind of tension as Tommy Lee Jones scratches about waiting for Men In Black to get a release date.
Best: Outbreak (1995)
An Ebola-like virus, yes, breaks out in California, while Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman ( again !) and Rene Russo attempt to stop it before it’s too late.
Uhuh, it’s another one of those ‘what if’ situations, also starring that monkey off Friends . The plot may be wafer thin, but director Wolfgang Petersen keeps thinks charging along at a breakneck speed.
Worst: The Happening (2008)
For a film whose title suggests something actually, like, occurring, nothing really happens in The Happening . Save for an enigmatic opener in which New Yorkers inexplicably commit mass suicide.
It all comes to a hysterical climax when Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel attempt to outrun the wind. If you’re slapping your forehead right now, you’re not alone.