A disaster film or disaster movie is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster as its subject and primary plot device. Such disasters include natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis or asteroid collisions, accidents such as shipwrecks or airplane crashes, or calamities like worldwide disease pandemics. A subgenre of action films, these films usually feature some degree of build-up, the disaster itself, and sometimes the aftermath, usually from the point of view of specific individual characters or their families or portraying the survival tactics of different people.
These films often feature large casts of actors and multiple plot lines, focusing on the characters' attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath. The genre came to particular prominence during the 1970s with the release of high-profile films such as Airport (1970), followed in quick succession by The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (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 almost always finding a villain to blame. The genre experienced a renewal in the 1990s boosted by computer-generated imagery (CGI) and large studio budgets which allowed for more focus on the destruction, and less on the human drama, as seen in films like 1998's Armageddon and Deep Impact. Nevertheless, the films usually feature a persevering hero or heroine (Charlton Heston, Steve McQueen, etc.) called upon to lead the struggle against the threat. In many cases, the "evil" or "selfish" individuals are the first to succumb to the conflagration.
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 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 In Nacht und Eis (1912), about the sinking of the Titanic; Atlantis (1913), also about the Titanic; Noah's Ark (1928), the Biblical story from Genesis about the great flood; Deluge (1933), about tidal waves devastating New York City; King Kong (1933), with a gigantic gorilla rampaging through New York City; and The Last Days of Pompeii (1935), dealing with the Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption in 79 AD.
John Ford's The Hurricane (1937) concluded with the striking sequence of a tropical cyclone ripping through a fictional South Pacific island. The drama San Francisco (1936) depicted the historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake, while In Old Chicago (1937) recreated The Great Chicago Fire which burned through the city in 1871. Carol Reed's 1939 film, The Stars Look Down, examines a catastrophe at a coal mine in North-East England.
Inspired by the end of World War II and the beginning of the Atomic Age, science fiction films of the 1950s, including When Worlds Collide (1953), The War of the Worlds (1953) and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), routinely used world disasters as plot elements. This trend would continue with The Deadly Mantis (1957), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) and Crack in the World (1965). Volcanic disasters would also feature in films such as The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961) starring Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra, and the 1969 epic Krakatoa, East of Java starring Maximilian Schell.
As in the silent film era, the sinking of the Titanic would continue to be a popular disaster with filmmakers and audiences alike. Werner Klingler and Herbert Selpin released the epic film, Titanic (1943 film). The film was soon banned in Germany and its director, Selpin, was allegedly executed. The film was a staple for all Titanic films, and scenes became stock footage for the British version. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck starred in the 1953 20th Century Fox production Titanic, followed by the highly regarded British film A Night to Remember in 1958. The British action-adventure film The Last Voyage (1960), while not about the Titanic disaster but a predecessor to The Poseidon Adventure, starred Robert Stack as a man desperately attempting to save his wife (Dorothy Malone) and child trapped in a sinking ocean liner. 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 (1954), starring John Wayne and Robert Stack as pilots of a crippled airplane attempting to cross the ocean; Zero Hour! (1957), written by Arthur Hailey (who also penned the 1968 novel Airport) about an airplane crew that succumbs to food poisoning; Jet Storm and Jet Over the Atlantic, two 1959 films both featuring attempts to blow up an airplane in mid-flight; The Crowded Sky (1960) which depicts a mid-air collision; and The Doomsday Flight (1966), written by Rod Serling and starring Edmond O'Brien 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.
The golden age of the disaster film began in 1970 with the release of Airport. A huge financial success earning more than $100 million - 590 million in 2017 adjusted dollars, at the box office, the film was directed by George Seaton and starred Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Jacqueline Bisset and Helen Hayes. 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 including Best Picture, winning Best Supporting Actress for Hayes.
With the 1972 release of The Poseidon Adventure, another huge financial success notching an impressive $84 million in US/Canada gross rental theatrical rentals, 490 Million in 2017 adjusted dollars, the disaster film officially became a movie-going craze. Directed by Ronald Neame and starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters 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 for Shelley Winters and winning for 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, Earthquake and Airport 1975 (the first Airport sequel). The competing films enjoyed staggering success at the box office, with The Towering Inferno earning $116 million - 548 million in 2017 adjusted dollars, Earthquake $79 million - 376 million in 2017 adjusted dollars, and Airport 1975 $47 million - 235 million in 2017 adjusted dollars - in theatrical rentals.
Arguably the greatest of the 1970s disaster films, The Towering Inferno was a joint venture of 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. and was produced by Irwin Allen (eventually known as "The Master of Disaster", as he had previously helmed The Poseidon Adventure and later produced The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and When Time Ran Out...). Directed by John Guillermin and starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden and Faye Dunaway, 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 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, winning for Best Sound and receiving a Special Achievement Award for visual effects. The film was directed by Mark Robson and starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Geneviève Bujold, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene. It was noted as the first film to utilize Sensurround, 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 Heatwave! (1974), The Day the Earth Moved (1974), Hurricane (1974), Flood! (1976) and Fire! (1977).
The trend continued on a larger scale with The Hindenburg (1975) starring George C. Scott; The Cassandra Crossing (1976) starring Burt Lancaster; Two-Minute Warning (1976) starring Charlton Heston; Black Sunday (1977) starring Robert Shaw; Rollercoaster in Sensurround (1977) starring George Segal; Damnation Alley (1977) starring Jan-Michael Vincent; Avalanche (1978) starring Rock Hudson; Gray Lady Down (1978) also starring Charlton Heston; Hurricane (a 1979 remake of John Ford's 1937 film) starring Jason Robards; and City on Fire (1979) starring Barry Newman.
Skyjacked (1972) was a lesser 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 (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 (1979).
The genre began to burn out by the late-1970s when the big-budget films The Swarm (1978), Meteor (1979), Hurricane (1979), The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) and When Time Ran Out... (1980) performed poorly at the box office signaling declining interest in the disaster film product.
Although The Big Bus (1976), an earlier disaster film spoof, had failed to be a hit, the end of the trend was marked by the 1980 comedy Airplane! which fondly spoofed the clichés of the genre to surprising box office success, producing a sequel of its own, Airplane II: The Sequel, in 1982.
The resurgence of big budget productions of the genre aided by advancements in CGI technology during the 1990s include such films as Twister, Independence Day, Daylight, Dante's Peak, Volcano, Hard Rain, Deep Impact, and Armageddon. In 1997, James Cameron produced, wrote and directed a version of the epic story, Titanic. The film combined romance with intricate special effects and was a huge success, becoming the highest-grossing film (which it remained for twelve years) with over $2.1 billion worldwide, and winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
Movies from the disaster film genre are often based on novels. In many cases, the novels were bestsellers 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), The Poseidon Adventure (based on the novel by Paul Gallico), and The Towering Inferno (from the novels The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson). Some critically acclaimed novels that were turned into disaster films include On the Beach (by Nevil Shute), The War of the Worlds (by H. G. Wells), Fail-Safe (by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler) and A Night to Remember (non-fiction by Walter Lord).
713 Requests Permission to Land (Russian: 713-й просит посадку, translit. 713 prosit posadku) is a 1962 Soviet disaster film. It was directed by Grigori Nikulin and filmed at Lenfilm studio.
The premiere took place on April 3, 1962.Airplane!
Airplane! (alternatively titled Flying High!) is a 1980 American satirical disaster film written and directed by David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, and produced by Jon Davison. It stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty and features Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Lorna Patterson. The film is a parody of the disaster film genre, particularly the 1957 Paramount film Zero Hour!, from which it borrows the plot and the central characters, as well as many elements from Airport 1975 and other films in the Airport film series. The film is known for its use of surreal humor and its fast-paced slapstick comedy, including visual and verbal puns, gags, and obscure humor.
Airplane! was a critical and financial success, grossing over $83 million in North America against a budget of $3.5 million, being released by Paramount Pictures. The film's creators received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Comedy, and nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and for the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay.
In the years since its release, the film's reputation has grown substantially. The film was ranked sixth on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies. In a 2007 survey by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, it was judged the second greatest comedy film of all time, after Monty Python's Life of Brian. In 2008, it was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time and in 2012 was voted number one in The 50 Funniest Comedies Ever poll. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Airport (1970 film)
Airport is a 1970 American air disaster-drama film starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, directed and written by George Seaton, and based on Arthur Hailey's 1968 novel of the same name. It originated the 1970s disaster film genre. It is also the first in the Airport film series. Produced on a $10 million budget, it earned over $100 million.The film is about an airport manager trying to keep his airport open during a snowstorm, while a suicidal bomber plots to blow up a Boeing 707 airliner in flight. It takes place at fictional Lincoln International Airport near Chicago, Illinois. The film was a commercial success and surpassed Spartacus as Universal Pictures' biggest moneymaker. The movie won Helen Hayes an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway and was nominated for nine other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design for designer Edith Head.
With attention paid to the detail of day-to-day airport and airline operations, the plot concerns the response to a paralyzing snowstorm, environmental concerns over noise pollution, and an attempt to blow up an airliner. The film is characterized by personal stories intertwining while decisions are made minute-by-minute by the airport and airline staffs, operations and maintenance crews, flight crews, and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.
Ernest Laszlo photographed it in 70 mm Todd-AO. It is the last film scored by Alfred Newman and the last film role for Van Heflin and Jessie Royce Landis.Arctic Blast
Arctic Blast is a 2010 Australian-Canadian disaster film. Its world premiere took place at the 2010 Canadian Film Festival in Sydney, at the Dendy Opera Quays cinema, on 4 August.Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is a 1979 American action-adventure disaster film and a sequel to The Poseidon Adventure (1972) directed by Irwin Allen and starring Michael Caine and Sally Field.The film was a critical and commercial failure, and was the only Allen disaster film not to receive any Academy Award nominations.Crash Landing (1958 film)
Crash Landing (aka Rescue at Sea) is a 1958 dramatic, "disaster" film directed by Fred F. Sears, starring Gary Merrill and Nancy Reagan. This was the last film in which Nancy Reagan (billed as Nancy Davis) appeared, though she continued to work in television for some years thereafter. Crash Landing was based on Pan Am Flight 6, a real-life ditching at sea.Deep Impact (film)
Deep Impact is a 1998 American science-fiction disaster film directed by Mimi Leder, written by Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, and starring Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, and Morgan Freeman. Steven Spielberg served as an executive producer of this film. It was released by Paramount Pictures in the United States and by DreamWorks Pictures internationally on May 8, 1998. The film depicts the attempts to prepare for and destroy a 7-mile (11 km) wide comet set to collide with Earth and cause a mass extinction.
Deep Impact was released in the same summer as a similarly themed film, Armageddon, which fared better at the box office, while astronomers described Deep Impact as being more scientifically accurate. Both films were similarly received by critics, with Armageddon scoring 39% and Deep Impact scoring 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Deep Impact grossing over $349 million worldwide on an $80 million production budget. It was the final film by cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann.Disaster (film)
Disaster is a 1948 American drama film directed by William H. Pine and written by Thomas Ahearn. The film stars Richard Denning, Trudy Marshall, Damian O'Flynn, Will Wright, James Millican and Jack Lambert. The film was released on December 3, 1948, by Paramount Pictures.Fire! (1977 film)
Fire! is a 1977 American made-for-television action-drama disaster film produced by Irwin Allen starring Ernest Borgnine, Vera Miles, Patty Duke Astin, Alex Cord, Donna Mills, Lloyd Nolan, Neville Brand, Ty Hardin and Erik Estrada. It was directed by Earl Bellamy, who directed another made-for-TV disaster film one year before titled Flood!.Flirting with Disaster (film)
Flirting with Disaster is a 1996 American black comedy film written and directed by David O. Russell about a young father's search for his biological parents. The film stars Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Glenn Fitzgerald, Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin. It was screened out of competition in the Special Screenings section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.Into the Storm (2014 film)
Into the Storm is a 2014 American found footage disaster film directed by Steven Quale, written by John Swetnam, starring Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies. The film was released by Warner Bros. Pictures on August 8, 2014. It is a meteorological disaster film about a rash of tornadoes striking the fictional town of Silverton, Oklahoma.Jeremy Sumpter
Jeremy Robert Myron Sumpter (born February 5, 1989) is an American actor. His prominent roles include the title role in the 2003 live action film Peter Pan, Jacob in the 2014 disaster film Into the Storm, and the recurring role of J. D. McCoy in the NBC television series Friday Night Lights (2008–2010).Jet Storm
Jet Storm (also known as Jetstream and Killing Urge) is a 1959 British thriller film directed and co-written by Cy Endfield. Richard Attenborough stars with Stanley Baker, Hermione Baddeley and Diane Cilento. The film has many of the characteristics of the later aviation disaster film genre such as Airport (1970).Meteor Storm
Meteor Storm (Spanish: Lluvia de fuego; French: Tempête de météorites (dubbed version)) is a 2010 American disaster film with the tagline "The fury no one saw coming...". The film was directed by Tibor Takács, produced by Tracey Jeffrey and Written by Peter Mohan. It stars Michael Trucco and Kari Matchett. The plot describes the attempts to save San Francisco from a barrage of meteor strikes; how devastating if those meteors touch the earth's crust or ground and burning almost completely everything to ashes.Post Impact
Post Impact is a 2004 disaster film, written and directed by Christoph Schrewe and stars Dean Cain, Bettina Zimmermann, Joanna Taylor, Nigel Bennett, and Hanns Zischler. The film centers on the story of Captain Tom Parker, who is forced to leave his family behind during a massive impact event.Roger Donaldson
Roger Lindsey Donaldson (born 15 November 1945) is an Australian-born New Zealand film director, producer and writer whose films include The World's Fastest Indian (2005), acclaimed 1981 relationship drama Smash Palace, and a run of titles shot in the United States, including the Kevin Costner films No Way Out (1987) and Thirteen Days (2000), and the 1997 disaster film Dante's Peak. He has worked twice with actors Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Madsen.The Devil at 4 O'Clock
The Devil at 4 O'Clock is a 1961 American Eastman Color disaster film, starring Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Based on a 1959 novel with the same title by British writer Max Catto, the film was a precursor to Krakatoa, East of Java and the disaster films of the 1970s, such as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.Tidal Wave (2009 film)
Tidal Wave (Hangul: 해운대; RR: Haeundae) is a 2009 South Korean disaster film. Billed as South Korea's first disaster film, Tidal Wave is directed by Yoon Je-kyoon and stars Sol Kyung-gu, Ha Ji-won, Park Joong-hoon and Uhm Jung-hwa.
The film's English name is technically not correct since its theme refers to a tsunami rather than a tidal wave.Zazie Beetz
Zazie Olivia Beetz (German: [zaˈsiː ˈbeːts]; born June 1, 1991) is a German-born American actress best known for her starring role as Vanessa "Van" Keefer on the FX comedy-drama series Atlanta (2016–present), for which she has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She also appeared in the Netflix anthology series Easy (2016–17). Beetz has starred as Dana in the disaster film Geostorm (2017) and as the Marvel Comics character Domino in the superhero film Deadpool 2 (2018).