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Oh, the humanity! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Craziest Disaster Scenes in Movies."
For this list, we’re taking a look at the most extraordinary disaster scenes in movies, be they action adventures, thrillers, or monster mashes. Spoiler alert from here on.
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#10: Every Scene “2012” (2009)
Director Roland Emmerich has built his entire career around destroying major cities on the silver screen. Instead of just targeting New York or Washington, D.C., though, Emmerich took on the entire world in this disaster picture. As the title suggests, the film revolves around the prediction that our world would end on December 21, 2012. While that theory fortunately didn’t come true, this film still provides an intriguing “what if” scenario with a plethora of impressive effects. No landmark is safe, from the Vatican, to Christ the Redeemer, to Yellowstone National Park. Of course, the most memorable set piece would have to be the Curtis family’s LA escape, miraculously dodging every obstacle they encounter.
#9: Elevator Explosion “The Towering Inferno” (1974)
The 1970s brought us a storm of star-studded disaster pictures and The Towering Inferno was among the most successful, even earning an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. when a group of people become trapped in a burning skyscraper, it appears a scenic elevator may pave the way to salvation. The intensity rises to 100°, however, when an explosion stalls the elevator near the 110th floor, leaving several scared souls hanging by a thread. The fact that we see one person fall to their demise only puts a stronger emphasis on their precarious position and the high stakes. With a helicopter providing a narrow escape, it’s pure edge of your seat action.
#8: Godzilla’s Arrival “Godzilla” (2014)
Godzilla was originally intended to be an allegory for Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The 1954 original certainly captured this sentiment as the King of the Monsters destroyed Tokyo. Special effects would make great strides over the next 60 years and viewers were treated to the most visually striking depiction of Godzilla yet in 2014. It was also the tallest version of the monster, skyrocketing at 350 feet. The audience can truly feel the gravitas of Godzilla as he emerges from the waters of Honolulu, igniting a tsunami that engulfs the city. As jaw-dropping as this scene is, it’s only a small taste of the destruction to come.
#7: The Rogue Wave “The Perfect Storm” (2000)
This Wolfgang Petersen blockbuster centers on the Andrea Gail, an actual fishing vessel that was lost during the 1991 Perfect Storm. Our heroes endure hell at sea throughout the film, although they’re able to withstand every hurdle until confronting a rogue wave. While they try to persevere in David and Goliath fashion, the wave proves too mighty and overthrows the ship. As phenomenal as the effects are here, they don’t distract from the moments of humanity as the crew accepts their fates after putting up such a strong fight. It especially gets us when Billy decides to go down with the ship and Bobby bids farewell to his girlfriend before the waters claim his life.
#6: An Inconvenient Tsunami “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004)
Okay, so Roland Emmerich might not be the go-to guy for scientific accuracy, but that doesn’t make the action sequences in The Day After Tomorrow any less majestic. The film’s most iconic scene sees a towering tsunami submerge the Statue of Liberty and wipe out the coast of New York. Entire streets are buried underwater and our main characters nearly meet their end before seeking refuge in the city’s Public Library. This isn’t the only instance where they outrun the effects of global warming. As the climate rapidly changes and ushers in a new ice age, the whole of Manhattan starts to freeze, as our heroes race for safety.
#5: When Cows Fly “Twister” (1996)
Even over two decades after its release, nothing has ever quite topped Twister in the tornado department. The most famous scene in this thrilling disaster picture is ironically among the more lighthearted moments. Driving towards a pair of waterspouts, the storm chasers encounter something unusual in the air. Long before tornados were scooping up sharks, this film was lifting cows off the ground. While this results in the film’s funniest line, the humor takes a backseat when the vortexes swirl in front of the vehicle. As if sharing a car with your estranged wife and fiancé isn’t uncomfortable enough, Bill also gets stuck in the middle of two sister twisters. Talk about a hot spot.
#4: Hitting the Roof... Literally “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)
One of the defining disaster movies of its era, The Poseidon Adventure takes place aboard an ocean liner on New Year’s Eve. Everyone’s night is literally turned upside down when a tsunami hits, flipping the ship on its back. Despite coming out in the early 70s, the effects hold up remarkably well as the dining room slowly twists over and the passengers hold on for dear life. It’s also a feat of scenic design, as the once glorious ballroom is suddenly plunged into chaos. Upon release, this was arguably the most recognizable shipwreck sequence in film history and it’d hold onto that title until a certain other blockbuster set sail...
#3: A Sinking Ship “Titanic” (1997)
After the seemingly unsinkable ship hits an iceberg, Titanic becomes a thrilling spectacle that’s only elevated by our investment in the characters. The climax has no shortage of iconic moments, from the captain nobly going down with the ship, to the ceiling above the Grand Staircase shattering, to the band playing a comforting melody over the unspeakable destruction. The money shot, however, sees the ship’s stern rise up, eventually causing the vessel to split in half. Jack and Rose, along with numerous others, grasp onto whatever they can find and prepare for the end. No matter how many times we rewatch it, the scene’s scale always gives us the chills.
#2: Meteor Shower in New York City “Armageddon” (1998)
Weirdly enough, 1998 gave us two action movies about giant asteroids headed for Earth. Well, technically it was a comet in Deep Impact, but po-tay-to po-tah-to. While the tsunami disaster from that film was memorable, Michael Bay’s Armageddon drew in more audiences with its extreme action. The obliteration of Paris is a highlight from of the final act, but it was the film’s opening action sequence that set the bar. It’s an ordinary day in New York until it starts raining fireballs, reducing Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building to rubble. Although explosions were already a common mainstay of action pictures, never before had audiences seen ones that were this… well explosive!
Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Volcanic Eruption, Dante’s Peak (1997)
- Solar Flare, Knowing (2009)
- The Earthquake, Earthquake (1974)
#1: The White House Explodes “Independence Day” (1996)
Two years before Armageddon blew up the box office, Independence Day ushered in a new age of disaster pictures with what might be the most epic explosion ever to hit the silver screen. Even before the film came out, this scene was a major selling point, captivating audiences from the second it appeared in the teaser trailer. Although audiences knew this moment was on the horizon, that didn’t take away from the excitement or intensity when the countdown to the alien attack reached 0. Since then, the image of the massive spacecraft looming over the White House has been burned into our memories, forever reminding us of summer 1996.