Best Disaster Movies on Hulu: Thanks to the tremendous popularity of films like Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno, disaster movies—those frequently star-studded, effects-laden blockbusters about humans dealing with or attempting to stop terrible incidents—rose to prominence in the 1970s.
The genre went into a decade-long dormancy, like a volcano, due to oversaturation or being spoofed by Airplane!, only to erupt in the mid-’90s with smaller-scale disaster epics and doomsday thrillers about tornadoes, asteroids, icebergs, and yes, volcanoes, and have been an intermittent staple of the Hollywood release calendar ever since.
The films listed below, which include a mix of ridiculous adrenaline rushes, emotional tear-jerkers, and angst-inducing sci-fi, reflect the best of the genre over the years.
1. Armageddon (1998)
Regardless of your thoughts about Michael Bay’s filmmaking prowess, Armageddon, the more famous of 1998’s “astronomical projectile imperils Earth” movies, is worth a watch (or re-watch).
It’s a true science fiction extravaganza, complete with sequences of meteoric destruction that channel Michelangelo and lend much-needed visual flair to this unnecessarily long and manipulative sensory onslaught.
The absurd quest to blow up a cosmic asteroid racing towards Earth is the closest thing we’ll get to a Bay-directed opera.
The cast was the major attraction in 1998, with Hollywood veteran Bruce Willis clashing with relative newcomer Ben Affleck, and zeitgeist supporting roles by Steve Buscemi, Liv Tyler, Owen Wilson, and Billy Bob Thornton, and a slew of others.
The macho fist-pumping patriotism and repeated religious cliches annoy these days, but you don’t want to miss a thing, to paraphrase Aerosmith’s soundtrack hit.
2. Dante’s Peak (1997)
The lava-centric thrillers Dante’s Peak and Volcano, like the twinned apocalyptic-object flicks Deep Impact and Armageddon a year later, were released only a few months apart in 1997 and have little in common other than their intrinsic existential menace.
For one thing, Dante’s Peak—which follows a sad volcanologist played by Pierce Brosnan, fresh off his debut as James Bond in GoldenEye, as he becomes increasingly Chicken Little-y about the titular mountain’s likelihood of blowing its top and wiping out a tiny Northwest town whose mayor is played by Linda Hamilton—is based on a true story.
This film includes some great ’90s nostalgia, such as Grant Heslov’s coffee-obsessed geologist amid Starbucks’ post-grunge-era heyday, but it also includes some timely criticism about our current pandemic.
Brosnan’s scientific concerns are undermined by his boss’s political decision to suppress the truth about a potential eruption in order to avoid local backlash over the potential economic impact, and only accepts facts once the ash and lava begin spewing forth, far too late to save everyone alive, including himself. Prescient.
3. Deep Impact (1998)
It’s unusual for a disaster film to examine the melancholy that comes with a real calamity, but Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact does. It’s one of the reasons why this well-known second fiddle is one of the genre’s most soulful offerings.
Deep Impact, which was released the same summer as Armageddon, has been eclipsed by Michael Bay’s more macho take on the astronomical-object-will-destroy-us-all cliche, but when viewed side by side, they show how a director’s frame of view can mold identical material.
After a first act that features a space expedition commanded by Robert Duvall to stop a deadly comet, Leder focuses on the souls on Earth who are wrestling with the sacrifices that must be made in times of crisis.
The last hour of this film is essentially people compassionately bidding farewell to their loved ones.
Sure, there’s a happy ending, but the sight of Téa Leoni’s journalist holding her estranged father as they’re swallowed by a tidal wave with little hope of escape is the most unforgettable image of the film.
It’s a disaster film that’s truly grim, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
4. Independence Day (1996)
In his climactic speech to a ragtag crew of fighter pilots prepared to take out a huge spacecraft set on ultimate annihilation of the world, Bill Pullman’s President Thomas J. Whitmore yells, “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
The bombastic appeal of director Roland Emmerich’s science-fiction disaster epic is encapsulated by a wonderful, absurd statement delivered by a Commander in Chief who is about to strap into the cockpit of an aircraft to kick some alien ass.
Will Smith’s swaggering cool guy and Jeff Golblum’s babbling nerd link together to save the planet in the picture, with Randy Quaid’s crop duster providing a key assist?
Independence Day was hailed as a new breed of mega-blockbuster in the 1990s, with its big explosions and reliance on spectacle, but there’s an old-fashioned hokeyness to the storytelling that makes it appear downright quaint two decades later.
5. Titanic (1997)
Take out a box of Kleenex, go over your favorite super-dramatic quotes, and journey back in time to when Leonardo DiCaprio was a bearded playboy dadboding supermodels.
Over two decades after its premiere, James Cameron’s portrayal of the R.M.S. Titanic disaster still holds up as one of the best love stories set in the midst of a disaster in film history. Have you ever seen this timeless classic? You’ve got to.
Its 11 Academy Awards are no joke, and if Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet don’t leave you misty-eyed by the end of this emotional marathon, you should seek medical attention.
The ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic, the pride and joy of the White Star Line and, at the time, the largest moving thing ever built, is shown in James Cameron’s epic, action-packed romance “Titanic.”
She was the most luxurious liner of her time — the “ship of dreams” — and in the early hours of April 15, 1912, she transported almost 1,500 people to their deaths in the icy seas of the North Atlantic.