Disaster Movies—It’s the End of the World as We Know It

I’m back again. This time I have gone about and assembled my favorite most cheese-laden Disaster Movies. These are some of the most ludicrously outlandish movies of all time. This list could have so easily have been the “it’s so bad it’s good” list.

The list before you is filled with earth-destroying, civilization-ending computer-generated mayhem. Every entry on this list except for maybe one is the epitome of over the top cheesy goodness. The action is as immense as the dialogue is cringe-worthy.

What it really comes down to is why you watch these movies. I know I do it to be entertained so if you don’t want to watch them and you would rather read about them, that’s good too. So sit back and to quote Robbie Williams “let me entertain you.”

Armageddon (1998)

Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler on a poster for Armageddon

Michael Bay brings us the end of times in the form of asteroid impact movie from 1998: Armaggedon. Starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and Liv Tyler, it also stars half of the most well-known faces of the ’90s including: Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Will Patton, and Steve Buscemi.—not to forget Peter Stormare who steals the show as the Russian Cosmonaut Lev Andropov.

Armaggedon is a classic example of a Michael Bay movie. This movie was a standard-bearer for many Bay-helmed projects that would follow. It has crazily over the top explosions, architectural destruction, and a total abandonment of scientific accuracy and real-world physics. These things have become the hallmarks of all of Bay’s insane action movies.

All of his movies ooze so much machismo filled cheese, it is delicious. Every time I watch Armaggedon and most of Bay’s silly frenetic 1000 miles an hour movies I always have this dumb smirk on my face. They give me a childlike sense of joy.

They are often so bad they’re good but it doesn’t matter they are so god damn entertaining. Bay makes no apologies for his movies—he really should apologize for Transformers though but that’s a whole other discussion. Everybody has a favorite Michael Bay movie whether they would like to admit it or not.

The thing I love most about Aramaggedon is that it is so of its time, from the blaring Aerosmith soundtrack—it was the anthem of a generation—Bruce Wills in his prime, young Ben Affleck…it just screams the ’90s and Iove it. It is ridiculous but I wouldn’t change a thing. It really is the definition of an action-packed thrill ride—an iconic movie with one of the most iconic sacrifice plays in the history of cinema.

Setting aside that Armaggedon posits that it would be easier to become an astronaut than it would be an oil driller (which is insane), Armaggedon is a rip-roaring ride, bursting with everything that made ’90s action movies so good. Even after viewing it an unhealthy amount of times it still fills me with the same sense of joy it did way back when. Just like Independence Day, it was one of the movies that defined a generation and just like Harry S. Stamper (Bruce Willis) it well and truly hit its mark.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

They statue of liberty's raised hand can be seen from just beneath a frozen landscape

Roland Emmerich notches another one on his list of outrageous movies with enormous scale but very little heart. This entry on that said list is The Day After Tomorrow from 2004, led by Denis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. The climate change movie brought us all the brutal effects of a rapidly approaching ice-age.

Just like Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich is known for these grandiose movies, piling in every gigabyte of CGI that he can fit on the screen. I love how this movie takes a perfect snapshot of the early 2000s when everyone literally thought the entire climate could very well change any day, even maybe the day after tomorrow.

I love how ridiculous this movie is, everything is so out of step with realism, the rate that the events occur is preposterous. Even so, the questions it raises are very pertinent for the future of us as a species, they’re important questions—asked in a very dumb manner.

Denis Quaid takes on the central role as the doomsday prophet (in a sense). His performance is so hammy, which is a rarity for him, but it just fits perfectly in this movie. A lot of the dramatic scenes that Quaid has come across as oafishly comedic. It is a movie that is not in on the same joke as the rest of us. It takes itself so seriously, falling flat each time with a gloriously hilarious thump.

When the weather patterns change it is mayhem. The world changes at such a rapid rate it feels spoofish, and the level of destruction is brilliantly nonsensical. The weather systems seem to mainly target well-known landmarks and places of cultural significance, attacking them with the same fervor as an invading alien force.—this movie is just bonkers.

This reason I love these movies so much is that they are just like eating candy, you know it’s not good for you but it just tastes so sweet. In place of sugar, we get to feast upon computer-generated destruction on a gargantuan scale. They are a treat I will never quit and I for one hope Mr. Emmerich keeps on serving them up.

The Core (2003)

A city scape over a bright tunnel to the Earth's core.

Director John Amiel helms this 2003 entry The Core—which is ostensibly a rip-off of Armaggedon even down to decisive straw draw. This time in place of heading to an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, the crew of the Virgil, led by Aaron Eckhardt and Hillary Swank, will drill down into the Earth’s core to use a nuclear explosion in a bid to give it a kick start.

The premise is every bit as insane as it sounds. The Core makes little to no sense throughout but I’m wholly on board for the entirety of the ride. All of the crew roles are filled by the top level of b-side actors: Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, D.J Qualls to name a few.

Everyone one of the cast puts as little effort into their performances as the writers did in constructing this narrative and I wouldn’t have it any other way—even the creators knew not to take this movie seriously.

The special effects belong in the ’80s but that just adds to the overall cheese factor. This movie is so rough around the edges in the best possible way. The science behind the narrative is stupendously inaccurate but let’s be honest, we don’t come here for scientific accuracy now do we?

One of my favorite things about the scientific incongruities is a scene where the sun’s rays penetrate a hole in the Earth’s atmosphere. At first the beam hits a man in his car with the window rolled down. The man suffers from a very bad sunburn admittedly this is kind of accurate but then the very same beam of sunlight begins to melt through the entire Golden Gate Bridge—which just baffles the mind but it’s like I said we didn’t come here for the sciencey stuff.

I previously mentioned Virgil, which is the ship of sorts the team takes into the center of the Earth. The reason I mention it is because it is constructed out of very familiar material. The metal in question is one of the most lazily named fictional metals of all time, yes you guessed it Unobtanium—the very same metal James Cameron’s Na’avi did battle over in the 2009’s Avatar.

The fact that Mr. Cameron feels the need to steal anything from this dumb ass B-movie isn’t the surprising thing about his use of Unobtanium. What is really surprising is that there is a good chance he may have actually watched The Core and if it’s good enough for James Cameron then you can bet your bottom dollar it’s good enough for me.

Deep Impact (1998)

An asteroid impacting on the surface of the earth

I’m not sure what it was about the late ’90s but people back then were really worried about asteroid impacts. This concern was once again on show when we were treated to another threat of an E.L.E or Extinction Level Event as the movie would have us know.

The Mimi Leder directed Deep Impact from 1998 was unfortunately cast into the shadowlands of mediocrity. The juggernaut that was Armaggedon took pretty much all the limelight from this far more grounded tale of Earth’s potential final days.

This take on earth’s impending doom from a celestial event stars Tea Leone, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Redgrave with John Favreau, Dougray Scott and James Cromwell in more minor roles. The cast of Deep Impact really is stacked. It had all the pieces to be a much better movie than it was, but it also could have been a lot worse than it turned out.

Due to the quality of the casting, this movie shows us how a disaster movie can have a real human element to it. The destruction does come in all its chaotic glory but before the chaos, we see scenes of real human anguish. People are forced to sacrifice themselves to save their loved ones in ways that we don’t often see in these movies.

Armageddon has the epic final sacrifice play in its climax but what we see here is the constant struggle of the people who lay in wait for the end of times. Families are torn apart due to the lottery for the Ark—the mountainous safe haven that was constructed to save humanity. There is a real gut-wrenching agony in these scenes that really hits home.

I love how Leder puts a real human face to the death toll unlike a lot of these movies. Leder went with substance over spectacle. This might have curtailed Deep Impact’s box office success but it definitely made it more compelling when the asteroid comes a-calling. The characters as more real and less stereotype, making each loss more impactful.

I think Leder should be really commended for trying to make Deep Impact a movie that was as much about human tragedy as it was about a global disaster. She told a real story about flawed humans going up against inconceivable odds, making the cringeworthy moments into noteworthy moments, which in a movie like this is very rare.

It is true that Armaggedon may be more epic and action-oriented. Many people consider it the quintessential asteroid movie, with good cause in a lot of ways. In my opinion, though, I think Deep Impact is the smarter more realistic movie of the two and definitely deserves more recognition than it is given.

2012 (2009)

An urban landscape being swallowed by the ocean

I told you earlier that I couldn’t resist the oh so sweet and destructively tasty treats of Mr. Roland Emmerich, so here we go again. This time Emmerich takes charge of ending the world by Earth crust displacement in the 2009 movie 2012—I know that sounds strange.

The John Cusack led apocalyptic affair focuses on the theory that the ancient Mayan civilization predicted the end of the world on 12/12/2012. I guess they were wrong. Emmerich really never misses an opportunity to sow fear amongst the general masses.

Once again the casting is a strong point of Emmerich’s movies, and this time we have the aforementioned John Cusack, who is sided by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson—who is totally nuts in this movie. I always enjoy seeing strong actors in these types of movies because they give completely unrealistic events a sense of real-world authenticity.

I just have to stand back and admire Emmerich’s penchant for trying to take advantage of the current: first, the fear over climate change to drum up box office revenue, then in this outing, Emmerich would try his hand at using the hysteria behind the so-called impending Mayan Apocalypse.

The depictions of these events are wholly disproportionate to any event that could occur under the time frame that is allowed in his world-ending romps. I just love how much of him is in his movies. They are so over the top in the best and worst ways imaginable. He never holds back on unleashing the purest form of havoc. I think he goes about making a movie like a baker baking a cake, the worse the cake is the thicker the icing he puts on top.

What I love about 2012, in particular, is how it tries to make us believe that the trainee pilot Gordon (Tom McCarthy) with little to no experience–which he admits himself—could fly through the collapsing metropolis of Los Angeles, coming through unscathed in a plane he had zero training in. The plane in question was a twin-engine plane and the minimal training he did have was in a single-engine plane. This follows a scene where John Cusack and his family make their escape in a limousine—quite possibly the worst car ever to escape in—just as LA is starting to fall apart.

It is in moments of eye-rolling, head-shaking delight that one just has to sit back, relax and enjoy the head numbing dumbness of these movies for what they are. You remember that icing I mentioned, well it’s extra thick on this cake and it tastes ever so good in the worse way possible. Keep on baking those sweet treats and iced up cakes Mr. Emmerich because I personally want more.

Final Thoughts

There you go folks, another list of some of my favorite movies. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I did going back and rewatching these movies in preparation for this piece. It’s okay, it would be impossible to enjoy anything as much as I enjoy watching terrible disaster movies.

I would love to hear your five favorite disaster movies and if your lists would be any different from mine. What do you look for in a cinematic catastrophe? Do you prefer cheese like me or do you prefer realistic disaster movies?

I look forward to hearing from you all. For now, take care and watch out for that next impending apocalypse.

Written by Vincent Greene

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