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Disaster film

Disaster film

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A disaster film is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster
Disaster
A disaster is a natural or man-made hazard that has come to fruition, resulting in an event of substantial extent causing significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life, or drastic change to the environment...

 (such as a damaged airliner
Airliner
An airliner is a large fixed-wing aircraft for transporting passengers and cargo. Such aircraft are operated by airlines. Although the definition of an airliner can vary from country to country, an airliner is typically defined as an aircraft intended for carrying multiple passengers in commercial...

, fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

, shipwreck
Shipwreck
A shipwreck is what remains of a ship that has wrecked, either sunk or beached. Whatever the cause, a sunken ship or a wrecked ship is a physical example of the event: this explains why the two concepts are often overlapping in English....

, disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

, an asteroid collision
Impact event
An impact event is the collision of a large meteorite, asteroid, comet, or other celestial object with the Earth or another planet. Throughout recorded history, hundreds of minor impact events have been reported, with some occurrences causing deaths, injuries, property damage or other significant...

 or natural calamities) as its subject. Along with showing the spectacular disaster, these films concentrate on the chaotic events surrounding the disaster, including efforts for survival, the effects upon individuals and families, and 'what-if' scenarios.

These films typically feature large casts of well-known actors and multiple plotlines, focusing on the characters' attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath. The genre had its greatest box office success during the 1970s with the release of Airport (1970), followed in quick succession by The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake
Earthquake (film)
Earthquake is a 1974 American disaster film that achieved huge box-office success, continuing the disaster film genre of the 1970s where recognizable all-star casts attempt to survive life or death situations...

(1974) and The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno is a 1974 American action disaster film produced by Irwin Allen featuring an all-star cast led by Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.A co-production between Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Bros...

(1974).

The casts were generally made up of familiar character actors. Once the disaster begins in the film, the characters are usually confronted with human weaknesses, often falling in love and nearly almost always finding a bad guy to blame. In the '90s, a whole new style of disaster films hit the cinema
Movie theater
A movie theater, cinema, movie house, picture theater, film theater is a venue, usually a building, for viewing motion pictures ....

, boasting increased CGI
Computer-generated imagery
Computer-generated imagery is the application of the field of computer graphics or, more specifically, 3D computer graphics to special effects in art, video games, films, television programs, commercials, simulators and simulation generally, and printed media...

 and big budgets. Letting go of the more character-centred human dramas of the '70s, films like Dante's Peak
Dante's Peak
Dante's Peak is a 1997 disaster film directed by Roger Donaldson, written by Leslie Bohem, and starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton and Charles Hallahan. The film portrays the effect of a volcano erupting near a small town in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The film is loosely...

 and Armageddon
Armageddon
Armageddon is, according to the Bible, the site of a battle during the end times, variously interpreted as either a literal or symbolic location...

 focused more on destruction.

Most disaster films have large-scale special effects (especially in the recent big budgeted films), huge casts of stars faced with the crisis and a persevering hero or heroine (Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston was an American actor of film, theatre and television. Heston is known for heroic roles in films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes...

, Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen
Terrence Steven "Steve" McQueen was an American movie actor. He was nicknamed "The King of Cool." His "anti-hero" persona, which he developed at the height of the Vietnam counterculture, made him one of the top box-office draws of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination...

, etc.) called upon to lead the struggle against the threat, and many plot-lines affecting multiple characters. In many cases, the 'evil' or 'selfish' individuals are the first to succumb to the conflagration.

Disasters have been the subject of film-goers' fascination since the time of silent film epics, and this interest continues to exist up to the present time.

Origins


Disaster themes are almost as old as the film medium itself. One of the earliest was Fire! (1901) made by James Williamson of England. The silent film
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

 portrayed a burning house and the firemen who arrive to quench the flames and rescue the inhabitants. Origins of the genre can also be found in Night and Ice (1912), about the sinking of the Titanic; Atlantis (1913), also about the Titanic; Noah's Ark (1928), the Biblical story of the great flood; Deluge
Deluge (film)
Deluge is an apocalyptic science fiction film, released by RKO Radio Pictures, about a group of worldwide natural disasters which lead to the destruction of the earth....

(1933), about tidal waves
Tsunami
A tsunami is a series of water waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, typically an ocean or a large lake...

 devastating New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

; King Kong
King Kong (1933 film)
King Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 fantasy monster adventure film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and written by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman after a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. The film tells of a gigantic island-dwelling apeman creature called Kong who dies in...

(1933), with a gigantic gorilla
Gorilla
Gorillas are the largest extant species of primates. They are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. Gorillas are divided into two species and either four or five subspecies...

 rampaging through New York City; and The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), dealing with the Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting...

 volcanic eruption in 79 AD.

John Ford
John Ford
John Ford was an American film director. He was famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath...

's The Hurricane
The Hurricane (1937 film)
The Hurricane is a 1937 film set in the South Seas, directed by John Ford and produced by Samuel Goldwyn, about a Polynesian who is unjustly imprisoned. The climax features a special effects hurricane. It stars Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall, with Mary Astor, C. Aubrey Smith, Thomas Mitchell, Raymond...

(1937) concluded with the striking sequence of a tropical cyclone
Tropical cyclone
A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a large low-pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones strengthen when water evaporated from the ocean is released as the saturated air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor...

 ripping through a fictional South Pacific island. The drama San Francisco
San Francisco (film)
San Francisco is a 1936 musical-drama directed by Woody Van Dyke, based on the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The film, which was the top grossing movie of that year, stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy. The then very popular singing of MacDonald helped make this film...

(1936) depicted the historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

, while In Old Chicago
In Old Chicago
In Old Chicago is a 1937 American drama film directed by Henry King. The screenplay by Sonya Levien and Lamar Trotti was based on the Niven Busch story, "We the O'Learys." The film is a fictionalized account about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and stars Alice Brady as Mrs. O'Leary, the owner of...

(1937) recreated The Great Chicago Fire which burned through the city in 1871. Carol Reed
Carol Reed
Sir Carol Reed was an English film director best known for Odd Man Out , The Fallen Idol , The Third Man and Oliver!...

's 1939 film, The Stars Look Down
The Stars Look Down
The Stars Look Down is a 1935 novel by A. J. Cronin which chronicles various injustices in an English coal mining community. A film version was produced in 1939, and television adaptations include both Italian and British versions....

, examines a catastrophe at a coal mine in North-East England.

Inspired by the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and the beginning of the Atomic Age
Atomic Age
The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

, Science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 films of the 1950s, including When Worlds Collide
When Worlds Collide (film)
When Worlds Collide is a 1951 science fiction film based on the 1933 novel co-written by Philip Gordon Wylie and Edwin Balmer. The film was shot in Technicolor, directed by Rudolph Maté and was the winner of the 1951 Academy Award for special effects....

(1953), The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds (1953 film)
The War of the Worlds is a 1953 science fiction film starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. It was the first on-screen loose adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic novel of the same name...

(1953) and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a 1956 Japanese/American black-and-white science fiction kaiju film. It is an "Americanized" version of the original Godzilla film, which had previously been shown subtitled in the United States in Japanese community theaters only, and was not known in Europe...

(1956), routinely used world disasters as plot elements. This trend would continue with The Deadly Mantis
The Deadly Mantis
The Deadly Mantis is a 1957 science fiction film produced by William Alland for Universal-International Pictures. It was directed by Nathan Juran from a screenplay by Martin Berkeley, and starred Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, and Pat Conway...

(1957), The Day the Earth Caught Fire
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a British science fiction disaster film starring Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro. It was directed by Val Guest and released in 1961....

(1961) and Crack in the World
Crack in the World
Crack in the World is an American science-fiction disaster movie filmed in Spain in 1964 and released by Paramount Pictures. While noted for its attempts at scientific accuracy, its premise—a crack in the solid crust of the Earth threatening life on it—was disproved by the conclusive...

(1965).
As in the silent film era, the sinking of the Titanic would continue to be a popular disaster with filmmakers and audiences alike. Clifton Webb
Clifton Webb
Clifton Webb was an American actor, dancer, and singer known for his Oscar-nominated roles in such films as Laura, The Razor's Edge, and Sitting Pretty...

 and Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck was an American actress. She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra...

 starred in the 1953 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

 production Titanic
Titanic (1953 film)
Titanic is a 1953 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco. Its plot centers on an estranged couple sailing on the maiden voyage of the , which took place in April 1912.-Plot:...

, followed by the highly-regarded British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 film A Night to Remember in 1958. The British action/adventure film The Last Voyage
The Last Voyage
The Last Voyage is a 1960 American disaster film written and directed by Andrew L. Stone. It stars Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.The screenplay centers on the sinking of an aged ocean liner in the Pacific Ocean following an explosion in the boiler room...

(1960), while not about the Titanic disaster but a predecessor to The Poseidon Adventure, starred Robert Stack
Robert Stack
Robert Stack was an American actor. In addition to acting in more than 40 films, he was the star of the 1959-1963 ABC television series The Untouchables and later served as the host of Unsolved Mysteries.-Early life:...

 as a man desperately attempting to save his wife (Dorothy Malone
Dorothy Malone
Dorothy Malone is an American actress. Her film career began in 1943, and in her early years she played small roles, mainly in B-movies. After a decade in films, she began to acquire a more glamorous image, particularly after her performance in Written on the Wind , for which she won the Academy...

) and child trapped in a sinking ocean liner
Ocean liner
An ocean liner is a ship designed to transport people from one seaport to another along regular long-distance maritime routes according to a schedule. Liners may also carry cargo or mail, and may sometimes be used for other purposes .Cargo vessels running to a schedule are sometimes referred to as...

. The film, concluding with the dramatic sinking of the ship, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Additional precursors to the popular disaster films of the 1970s include The High and the Mighty
The High and the Mighty (film)
The High and the Mighty is a 1954 American "disaster" film directed by William A. Wellman and written by Ernest K. Gann who also wrote the novel on which his screenplay was based. The film's cast was headlined by John Wayne, who was also the project's co-producer...

(1954), starring John Wayne
John Wayne
Marion Mitchell Morrison , better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director and producer. He epitomized rugged masculinity and became an enduring American icon. He is famous for his distinctive calm voice, walk, and height...

 and Robert Stack as pilots of a crippled airplane attempting to cross the ocean; Zero Hour!
Zero Hour!
Zero Hour! is a 1957 movie whose screenplay was written by Arthur Hailey, starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden, and released by Paramount Pictures. Zero Hour! was an adaptation of Hailey's 1956 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation play Flight into Danger...

(1957), written by Arthur Hailey
Arthur Hailey
Arthur Hailey was a British/Canadian novelist.- Biography :Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England, Hailey served in the Royal Air Force from the start of World War II during 1939 until 1947, when he went to live in Canada. Hailey's last novel, Detective , is a mystery told from the perspective of a...

 (who also penned the 1968 novel Airport) about an airplane crew that succumbs to food poisoning; and The Doomsday Flight (1966), written by Rod Serling
Rod Serling
Rodman Edward "Rod" Serling was an American screenwriter, novelist, television producer, and narrator best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling was active in politics, both on and off the screen and helped form...

 and starring Edmond O'Brien
Edmond O'Brien
Edmond O'Brien was an American actor who is perhaps best remembered for his role in D.O.A. and his Oscar winning role in The Barefoot Contessa...

 as a disgruntled aerospace engineer who plants a barometric pressure bomb on an airliner built by his former employer set to explode when the airliner descends for landing.

1970s


The Golden Age of the Disaster film began in 1970 with the release of Airport. A huge financial success earning more than $45 million at the box office, the film was directed by George Seaton
George Seaton
George Seaton was an American screenwriter, playwright, film director and producer, and theatre director.Born George Stenius in South Bend, Indiana, Seaton moved to Detroit after graduating from college to work as an actor on radio station WXYZ. John L...

 and starred Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster
Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster was an American film actor noted for his athletic physique and distinctive smile...

, Dean Martin
Dean Martin
Dean Martin was an American singer, film actor, television star and comedian. Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This", "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You", "Sway", "Volare" and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?"...

, George Kennedy and Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset is an English actress. She has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy Award. She is known for her roles in the films Bullitt , Airport , The Deep , Class , and the TV series Nip/Tuck in 2006...

. While not exclusively focused on a disaster, in this case, an airplane crippled by the explosion of a bomb, the film established the blueprint of multiple plotlines acted out by an all-star cast. Airport was nominated for 10 Academy Awards
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 including Best Picture, winning Best Supporting Actress
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry. Since its inception, however, the...

 for Helen Hayes
Helen Hayes
Helen Hayes Brown was an American actress whose career spanned almost 70 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of the American Theatre" and was one of twelve people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award...

.

With the 1972 release of The Poseidon Adventure, another huge financial success notching an impressive $42 million in rentals, the Disaster film officially became a movie-going craze. Directed by Ronald Neame
Ronald Neame
Ronald Elwin Neame CBE, BSC was an English film cinematographer, producer, screenwriter and director.-Early career:...

 and starring Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman
Eugene Allen "Gene" Hackman is an American actor and novelist.Nominated for five Academy Awards, winning two, Hackman has also won three Golden Globes and two BAFTAs in a career that spanned five decades. He first came to fame in 1967 with his performance as Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde...

, Ernest Borgnine
Ernest Borgnine
Ernest Borgnine is an American actor of television and film. His career has spanned more than six decades. He was an unconventional lead in many films of the 1950s, including his Academy Award-winning turn in the 1955 film Marty...

, Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

 and Red Buttons, the film detailed survivors' attempts at escaping a sinking ocean liner overturned by a giant wave triggered by an earthquake. The Poseidon Adventure was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry. Since its inception, however, the...

 for Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

 and winning for Best Music, Original Song and receiving a Special Achievement Award for visual effects.

The trend reached its zenith in 1974 with the release of The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno
The Towering Inferno is a 1974 American action disaster film produced by Irwin Allen featuring an all-star cast led by Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.A co-production between Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Bros...

, Earthquake
Earthquake (film)
Earthquake is a 1974 American disaster film that achieved huge box-office success, continuing the disaster film genre of the 1970s where recognizable all-star casts attempt to survive life or death situations...

and Airport 1975
Airport 1975
Airport 1975 is a 1974 disaster film and the first sequel to the successful 1970 film Airport. It stars Charlton Heston and Karen Black and is directed by Jack Smight....

(the first Airport sequel). The competing films enjoyed staggering success at the box office, with The Towering Inferno earning $55 million, Earthquake $36 million and Airport 1975 $25 million.

Arguably the greatest of the 1970s disaster films, The Towering Inferno was a joint venture of 20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation — also known as 20th Century Fox, or simply 20th or Fox — is one of the six major American film studios...

 and Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 and was produced by Irwin Allen
Irwin Allen
Irwin Allen was a television and film director and producer nicknamed "The Master of Disaster" for his work in the disaster film genre. He was also notable for creating a number of television series.- Biography :...

 (eventually known as "The Master of Disaster", as he had previously helmed The Poseidon Adventure and later produced The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is a 1979 American disaster film, a sequel to the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure. It was directed by Irwin Allen and starred Michael Caine and Sally Field...

and When Time Ran Out...
When Time Ran Out
When Time Ran Out... is a disaster film released in 1980, starring Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, James Franciscus, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Burgess Meredith, Valentina Cortese, Veronica Hamel, Pat Morita, Edward Albert, and Barbara Carrera.Produced by the "Master of...

). Directed by John Guillermin and starring Paul Newman
Paul Newman
Paul Leonard Newman was an American actor, film director, entrepreneur, humanitarian, professional racing driver and auto racing enthusiast...

, Steve McQueen, William Holden
William Holden
William Holden was an American actor. Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1954 and the Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1974...

 and Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway is an American actress.Dunaway won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Network after receiving previous nominations for the critically acclaimed films Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown...

, the film depicts a huge fire engulfing the tallest building in the world and firefighters' attempts at rescuing occupants trapped on the top floor. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Song.

Earthquake was also honored with four Academy Award nominations for its impressive special effects of a massive earthquake leveling the city of Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

, winning for Best Sound and receiving a Special Achievement Award for visual effects. The film was directed by Mark Robson
Mark Robson
Mark Robson was a Canadian-born film editor, film director and producer in Hollywood.-Career:Born in Montreal, Quebec, he moved to the United States at a young age. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles then found work in the prop department at 20th Century Fox studios...

 and starred Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston was an American actor of film, theatre and television. Heston is known for heroic roles in films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes...

, Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner
Ava Lavinia Gardner was an American actress.She was signed to a contract by MGM Studios in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew attention with her performance in The Killers . She became one of Hollywood's leading actresses, considered one of the most beautiful women of her day...

, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene
Lorne Greene
Lorne Greene , was the stage name of Lyon Himan Green, OC, a Canadian actor.His television roles include Ben Cartwright on the western Bonanza, and Commander Adama in the science fiction movie and subsequent TV Series Battlestar Galactica...

. It was noted as the first film to utilize Sensurround
Sensurround
Sensurround is the trademark name for a process developed in the 1970s by Cerwin-Vega in conjunction with Universal Studios to enhance the audio experience during film screenings...

, where massive sub-woofer speakers were installed in theaters to recreate the vibrating sensation of an earthquake. Several made-for-TV movies also capitalized on the craze including Heat Wave! (1974), The Day the Earth Moved (1974), Hurricane (1974), Flood! (1976) and Fire!
Fire! (1977 film)
Fire! is a 1977 action TV movie, made for NBC television and Warner Bros. Television, directed by Earl Bellamy, who directed other disaster film one year before, Flood!...

(1977).

The trend continued on a larger scale with The Hindenburg
The Hindenburg (film)
The Hindenburg is a 1975 American film based on the disaster of the German airship Hindenburg. The film stars George C. Scott. It was produced and directed by Robert Wise, and was written by Nelson Gidding, Richard Levinson and William Link based on the book of the same name by Michael M. Mooney .A.A...

(1975) starring George C. Scott
George C. Scott
George Campbell Scott was an American stage and film actor, director and producer. He was best known for his stage work, as well as his portrayal of General George S. Patton in the film Patton, and as General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr...

; The Cassandra Crossing
The Cassandra Crossing
The Cassandra Crossing is a 1976 British disaster film directed by George Pan Cosmatos and starring Richard Harris, Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, Burt Lancaster, Lee Strasberg and O. J. Simpson.-Plot:...

(1976) starring Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster
Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster was an American film actor noted for his athletic physique and distinctive smile...

; Two-Minute Warning
Two-Minute Warning
Two-Minute Warning is a 1976 suspense and action film directed by Larry Peerce and starring Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Balsam, Beau Bridges, Jack Klugman, Gena Rowlands, and David Janssen. It was based on the novel of the same name written by George La Fountaine, Sr...

(1976) starring Charlton Heston; Black Sunday
Black Sunday (1977 film)
Black Sunday is a 1977 American thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer and based on the novel by Thomas Harris. The film starred Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, and Marthe Keller and was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture in 1978...

(1977) starring Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw (actor)
Robert Archibald Shaw was an English actor and novelist, remembered for his performances in The Sting , From Russia with Love , A Man for All Seasons , the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three , Black Sunday , The Deep and Jaws , where he played the shark hunter Quint.-Early life...

; Rollercoaster in Sensurround (1977) starring George Segal
George Segal
George Segal is an American film, stage and television actor.-Early life:George Segal, Jr. was born in 1934 Great Neck, Long Island, New York, the son of Fannie Blanche and George Segal, Sr. He was educated at George School, a private Quaker preparatory boarding school near Newtown, Bucks County,...

; Damnation Alley
Damnation Alley (film)
Damnation Alley is a 1977 film, directed by Jack Smight, loosely based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny. The original music score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.-Plot:...

(1977) starring Jan-Michael Vincent
Jan-Michael Vincent
Jan-Michael Vincent is an American actor best known for his role as helicopter pilot Stringfellow Hawke on the 1980s U.S. television series Airwolf .-Early life:...

; Avalanche
Avalanche (1978 film)
Avalanche is a 1978 American disaster film, directed by Corey Allen and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Forster, Mia Farrow and Jeanette Nolan...

(1978) starring Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson
Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., later Roy Harold Fitzgerald , known professionally as Rock Hudson, was an American film and television actor, recognized as a romantic leading man during the 1950s and 1960s, most notably in several romantic comedies with Doris Day.Hudson was voted "Star of the Year",...

; Gray Lady Down
Gray Lady Down
Gray Lady Down is a 1978 disaster film by Universal Studios starring Charlton Heston, David Carradine, Stacy Keach, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, and features the first film role for a young Christopher Reeve...

(1978) also starring Charlton Heston; Hurricane
Hurricane (1979 film)
Hurricane is a 1979 romance, epic-adventure film featuring an all-star cast and impressive special effects, produced by: Dino De Laurentiis and Lorenzo Semple Jr, and directed by Jan Troell...

(a 1979 remake of John Ford's 1937 film) starring Jason Robards
Jason Robards
Jason Nelson Robards, Jr. was an American actor on stage, and in film and television, and a winner of the Tony Award , two Academy Awards and the Emmy Award...

; and City on Fire
City on Fire (1979 film)
City on Fire is a 1979 disaster film directed by Alvin Rakoff and featuring an “all-star cast,” as was the custom for that time. The film’s plot revolves around a disgruntled employee who sets fire to an oil refinery, setting off a blaze which engulfs an entire city. Various people try to either...

(1979) starring Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor.Fonda made his mark early as a Broadway actor. He also appeared in 1938 in plays performed in White Plains, New York, with Joan Tompkins...

.

Skyjacked (1972) was a lessor entry into the Disaster film canon, following on the heels of Airport, though preceding its sequel Airport 1975. The Airport series would continue with Airport '77
Airport '77
Airport '77 is a 1977 disaster film and second sequel in the Airport franchise.The film stars a number of veteran actors, including Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Christopher Lee and Olivia de Havilland. Like its predecessors, Airport '77 was a box office hit earning US$30 million and...

(1977) and The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979), with George Kennedy portraying the character Joe Patroni in each sequel. The Poseidon Adventure was followed by the sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is a 1979 American disaster film, a sequel to the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure. It was directed by Irwin Allen and starred Michael Caine and Sally Field...

(1979).

The genre began to burn out by the late-1970s when the big-budget films The Swarm (1978), Meteor
Meteor (film)
Meteor is a 1979 science fiction Technicolor disaster film in which scientists detect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and struggle with international, cold war politics in their efforts to prevent disaster. The movie starred Sean Connery and Natalie Wood.It was directed by Ronald Neame...

(1979) and When Time Ran Out...
When Time Ran Out
When Time Ran Out... is a disaster film released in 1980, starring Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, James Franciscus, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Burgess Meredith, Valentina Cortese, Veronica Hamel, Pat Morita, Edward Albert, and Barbara Carrera.Produced by the "Master of...

(1980) performed poorly at the box office signaling declining interest in the Disaster film product.

The end of the trend was marked by the 1980 comedy Airplane!
Airplane!
Airplane! is a 1980 American satirical comedy film directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker and released by Paramount Pictures...

which fondly spoofed the clichés of the genre to surprising box office success, producing a sequel of its own, Airplane II: The Sequel
Airplane II: The Sequel
Airplane II: The Sequel is an American comedy sequel to the 1980 film Airplane!. First released on December 10, 1982, the film was written and directed by Ken Finkleman and stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Chad Everett, William Shatner, Rip Torn, and Sonny Bono.-Plot:In the near...

, in 1982.

Genre revival


The blockbuster hit Independence Day
Independence Day (film)
Independence Day is a 1996 science fiction film about an alien invasion of Earth, focusing on a disparate group of individuals and families as they converge in the Nevada desert and, along with the rest of the human population, participate in a last-chance counterattack on July 4 – the same...

(ID4), which is about a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and the Poseidon Adventure-esque Daylight
Daylight (film)
Daylight is a 1996 disaster film, starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, and Danielle Harris. It was directed by Rob Cohen and released in theaters on December 6, 1996.-Plot:...

were released in 1996. That same year Twister
Twister (film)
Twister is a 1996 American disaster/thriller film starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt as "storm chasers" researching tornadoes. It was directed by Jan de Bont. The film was based upon a script by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. Its executive producers were Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes,...

was released, featuring a team of storm chasers studying a massive outbreak of tornadoes in the American Midwest. In 1997, two films about volcanic eruptions debuted, Volcano and Dante's Peak
Dante's Peak
Dante's Peak is a 1997 disaster film directed by Roger Donaldson, written by Leslie Bohem, and starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton and Charles Hallahan. The film portrays the effect of a volcano erupting near a small town in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The film is loosely...

.

Also in 1997, James Cameron
James Cameron
James Francis Cameron is a Canadian-American film director, film producer, screenwriter, editor, environmentalist and inventor...

 produced, wrote and directed the most recent version of the epic story, Titanic
Titanic (1997 film)
Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Billy Zane as Rose's fiancé, Cal...

. The film combined romance with special effects and was a huge success, becoming the highest-grossing film (which it remained for twelve years) with over $1.8 billion worldwide, and winning 11 Academy Awards
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 including Best Picture
Academy Award for Best Picture
The Academy Award for Best Picture is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to artists working in the motion picture industry. The Best Picture category is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible not only...

 and Best Director.

The revival continued in 1998 with the summer releases of the two comet/asteroid-impact films Deep Impact
Deep Impact (film)
Deep Impact is a 1998 science-fiction disaster-drama film released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks in the United States on May 8, 1998. The film was directed by Mimi Leder and stars Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Téa Leoni, and Morgan Freeman...

and Armageddon
Armageddon (film)
Armageddon is a 1998 American disaster film, directed by Michael Bay, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Disney's Touchstone Pictures. The film follows a group of blue-collar deep-core drillers sent by NASA to stop a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth...

. The Perfect Storm
The Perfect Storm (film)
The Perfect Storm is a 2000 dramatic disaster film directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It is an adaptation of the 1997 non-fiction book of the same title by Sebastian Junger about the crew of the Andrea Gail that got caught in the Perfect Storm of 1991. The film stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg,...

was released in 2000, followed by The Core
The Core
The Core is a 2003 American disaster film loosely based on the novel Core by Paul Preuss. It concerns a team that has to drill to the center of the Earth and set off a series of nuclear explosions in order to restart the rotation of Earth's core...

in 2003. The Day After Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow is a 2004 American science-fiction disaster film that depicts the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that usher in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. The film did well at the box office, grossing $542,771,772 internationally...

did strong business in 2004, depicting rapid global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 and climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 with a varied assortment of disasters. In 2005, the genre went back to Poseidon
Poseidon (film)
Poseidon is a 2006 disaster film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the third film adaptation of the novel The Poseidon Adventure written by Paul Gallico, and a loose remake of the 1972 film of the same name. It stars Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss. It was directed by Wolfgang Petersen...

, a 2006 remake of The Poseidon Adventure, which largely did not connect with both audiences and critics alike, despite its large global box office performance. In 2007 Sunshine
Sunshine (2007 film)
Sunshine is a 2007 British science fiction film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland about the crew of a spacecraft on a dangerous mission to the Sun. In 2057, with the Earth in peril from the dying Sun, the crew is sent to reignite the Sun with a massive stellar bomb with the mass...

was released, depicting a group of astronauts' attempt to restart a dying sun.

2009 brought two films. Knowing
Knowing (film)
Knowing is a 2009 American-British science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage. The project was originally attached to a number of directors under Columbia Pictures, but it was placed in turnaround and eventually picked up by Escape Artists. Production was financially...

features Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage is an American actor, producer and director, having appeared in over 60 films including Raising Arizona , The Rock , Face/Off , Gone in 60 Seconds , Adaptation , National Treasure , Ghost Rider , Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans , and...

 as a teacher who discovers a set of numbers that are actually the dates, death tolls and locations of disaster events both in the past and the future, while 2012
2012 (film)
2012 is a 2009 American disaster film directed by Roland Emmerich. It stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson. It was produced by Emmerich's production company, Centropolis Entertainment and was distributed by Columbia Pictures...

, based on the supposed doomsday prediction
2012 Doomsday prediction
The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar...

 by the Mayans, sees various disasters bring the world to an end. The latter film is the highest-grossing disaster film to date, despite being largely lambasted by critics.

Literary sources


Movies from the disaster film genre are often based on novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

s. In many cases, the novels were bestseller
Bestseller
A bestseller is a book that is identified as extremely popular by its inclusion on lists of currently top selling titles that are based on publishing industry and book trade figures and published by newspapers, magazines, or bookstore chains. Some lists are broken down into classifications and...

s or critically acclaimed works. Three of the genre-defining disaster films of the 1970s were based on best-selling novels: Airport (based on the novel by Arthur Hailey
Arthur Hailey
Arthur Hailey was a British/Canadian novelist.- Biography :Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England, Hailey served in the Royal Air Force from the start of World War II during 1939 until 1947, when he went to live in Canada. Hailey's last novel, Detective , is a mystery told from the perspective of a...

), The Poseidon Adventure (based on the novel by Paul Gallico
Paul Gallico
Paul William Gallico was a successful American novelist, short story and sports writer. Many of his works were adapted for motion pictures...

), and The Towering Inferno (from the novels The Tower
The Tower (novel)
The Tower is a 1973 novel by Richard Martin Stern. It is one of the two books that was used to create the movie The Towering Inferno, the other being The Glass Inferno....

by Richard Martin Stern
Richard Martin Stern
Richard Martin Stern was an American novelist. Stern began his writing career in the 1950s with mystery tales of private investigators, winning a 1959 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, for The Bright Road to Fear.He was most notable for his 1973 novel The Tower, in which a fire engulfs a new...

 and The Glass Inferno
The Glass Inferno
The Glass Inferno is a 1974 novel by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. It is one of the two books that was used to create the movie The Towering Inferno, the other being The Tower.-Plot summary:...

by Thomas N. Scortia
Thomas N. Scortia
Thomas Nicholas Scortia was a science fiction author. He worked in the American aerospace industry until the late 60s/early 70s. He collaborated on several works with fellow author Frank M. Robinson. He sometimes used the pseudonyms "Scott Nichols", "Gerald MacDow", and "Arthur R....

 and Frank M. Robinson
Frank M. Robinson
Frank M. Robinson is an American science fiction and techno-thriller writer.-Biography:Robinson was born in Chicago, Illinois. The son of a check forger, Frank started out working as a copy boy for International Service in his teens and then became an office boy for Ziff-Davis...

). Some critically acclaimed novels that were turned into disaster films include On the Beach (by Nevil Shute
Nevil Shute
Nevil Shute Norway was a popular British-Australian novelist and a successful aeronautical engineer. He used his full name in his engineering career, and 'Nevil Shute' as his pen name, in order to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels.-...

), The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds is an 1898 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.The War of the Worlds may also refer to:- Radio broadcasts :* The War of the Worlds , the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles...

(by H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

), Failsafe (by Eugene Burdick
Eugene Burdick
Eugene L. Burdick , was an American political scientist, novelist, and non-fiction writer, co-author of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and author of The 480 ....

 and Harvey Wheeler
Harvey Wheeler
John Harvey Wheeler was an American author, political scientist, and scholar. He was best known as co-author with Eugene Burdick of Fail-Safe, 1962, an early cold war novel that depicted what could easily go wrong in an age on the verge of nuclear war. The novel was made into a movie, directed...

) and A Night to Remember (non-fiction by Walter Lord
Walter Lord
John Walter Lord, Jr. , was an American author, best known for his documentary-style non-fiction account A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the RMS Titanic.-Early life:...

).

External links