The pleasure of destruction: the 13 essential films of disaster cinema

The premiere this Friday of that madness under the title of 'Operation Hurricane' ('The Hurricane Heist') has made us consider giving a review of the many titles that, since Irwin Allen had thought to give it definitive form in the seventies, they already integrate this particular genre, which is that of catastrophe cinema.

A cinema that has always been characterized, or at least has been in its most characteristic titles, by two things: one, having a tremendously striking cast made up of the stars of the moment and called to try to attract at all costs the most public, best; and two, that with two or three honorable exceptions, to speak of disaster cinema and good cinema is to speak of completely antithetical worlds.

'The Poseidon Adventure' (1972)

The one that started it all. A survival story that inherits formulas from 'Airport' ('Airport', 1970) and that narrates the misadventures of the crew and the passage of a luxury ocean liner that due to the effect of a giant wave capsizes in the middle of the ocean, forcing the Survivors find a way to escape from the sea grave that slowly sinks into the depths.

Co-directed by Irwin Allen, the film already has the basic parameters that will shape the pattern on which subsequent productions will be designed, that is, impact visual effects —for which the film received an honorary Oscar, deaths everywhere of a good part of the protagonists for that of keeping the public in suspense and, as I said, a cast that here was led by Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall or Shelley Winters.

Either because it was the first - with permission from 'Aeropuerto', which could be considered as "episode 0" of disaster cinema - or because, even seen today, it retains much of its charm, or because the horrendous remake he orchestrated Wolfgang Petersen only valued his strengths, the truth is that 'The Adventure of Poseidon' is one of the three most worthy and lasting examples that disaster cinema has left us.

'Earthquake' ('Earthquake', 1974)

With the success of 'The Poseidon Adventure' in mind - the 20th Century Fox production garnered nearly 85 million gross (cost approximately 5) and eight Oscar nominations - two were the productions released in 1974 with only a month apart that they wanted to start exploiting the possibilities opened up by Allen a couple of years earlier.

'Terremoto', which follows the effects of a huge earthquake in Los Angeles, had the dubious honor of being the first of them, and although it had a vertigo cast led by Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and George Kennedy, the truth is that, as much as it is recognized as one of the main examples of the genre, Mark Robson's film has unfortunately aged poorly, with ridiculous visual effects or the music of John Williams being notorious, which, impregnated by the sounds of the time, sounds ridiculous today and demodé.

'The burning colossus' ('The Towering Inferno', 1974)

Nominated for eight Academy Awards - including Best Picture - the overwhelming and oppressive way in which Allen made us part of a devastating fire in a gargantuan San Francisco skyscraper and the marvelous way in which the sequences in which fire is the main protagonist are enough incentives to ignore certain dialogues and the occasional character put on with a shoehorn to increase the dramatic load of the footage.

We are many who see in 'The Colossus in Flames', more than the tape that exposed the limitations of the genre and killed it just when it began to fly, the early coronation and the example from which countless later productions would drink in a unique way. 

Another, following more or less covertly what was here in three and a quarter hours, which, according to them, has more than a few minutes, but not as many as some have always been quick to affirm.

'The day after' ('The Day After', 1983)

This is probably the darkest reference of how many I have decided to include in this post. 

Production of ABC for starring TV Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg and Amy Madigan and others, 'The Day After' is a product completely anchored to the climate of political tension that was lived to the beginning of the eighties with the "Second Cold War" and the fear, once again, that the atomic threat will destroy the surface of our planet.

Under this premise, the cash Nicholas Meyer proposes a film that, adjusted to the patterns of disaster productions, tries to show as starkly as possible the consequences of a nuclear holocaust in the heart of the United States . 

And while the footage works unevenly, with a correct starting time, a brilliant midpoint, and a final act with too many ups and downs, it is a harsh and sometimes eerie blow to watch the characters degrade from the terrible effects of radiation.

Warning a brief note on black at the beginning of the end credits that what we have just seen is so much "smoother" than what would actually happen if Total Thermonuclear War were declared - which they would say in 'War Games' ('Wargames', 1983), it is precisely in this particular where 'The day after' finds greater reasons to become one of those films that, with its many flaws, it is necessary to see to be even more aware if possible of the dementia that moves certain leaders international when they speak as if such thing of the nuclear power.

'Outbreak' ('Outbreak', 1995)

With very shameful examples in the six years that would complete the seventies, and with the cinema of the eighties giving (almost) completely its back to the genre, it will be necessary to jump twenty years in time to reach 1995 by the hand of Wolfgang Petersen and the film that, in a way, showed that the taste for disaster productions was not something that could be limited to a specific historical moment in the past.

Counting on Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, Petersen - who had come from directing the highly stimulating 'In the Line of Fire' (1994) - fueled the paranoia towards contagious diseases so characteristic of nineties putting in value quite forcefully a story in which a monkey became an unconscious vehicle of a deadly epidemic that, if not contained, threatens to devastate the American population.

'Twister' (1996)

Said and done, and with Jan De Bont in front while still living on the popularity credit earned by 'Speed' (id, 1994), Warner, Universal and Amblin joined forces to raise 'Twister', a somewhat atypical by standards film. of the cinema of catastrophes.

First, for having a cast of familiar faces but not high-gloss stars; second, for not responding to the choral formulation that is always associated with disaster films and, third and fundamental, because the story of a scientist's obsession with studying tornadoes since, as a child, one turned her existence upside down, gallops away from what we normally consider as an example of the genre. 

All in all, a very entertaining film that, needless to say, found its best moments in the "attacks" of tornadoes.

'Titanic' (1997)

And what dimension! It matters little - and I repeat myself too much - that the dramatic part is of balance, because it is, when what Cameron puts into play since the Titanic collides with the iceberg is pure spectacle ready to leave us with a gasping breath and a heart for on the verge of heart attack and that. 

'Volcano' (1997)

There have been more than a few occasions when Hollywood, in an apparent attack of oligophrenia, has decided to set up two productions with the same theme at the same time. 

And we do not have to give examples of it when both this and the following are tapes that found very close equivalents in the same year of release, opting for the ones not chosen for a more serious and dramatic approach than the ones we have decided to include in this peculiar list.

With 'Volcano' and 'A town called Dante's Peak' ('Dante's Peak') dangerously approaching the lava of volcanoes, if I have opted for the film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche it is so insane and inadvertently comical of his footage and because, unlike the one that featured Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, Mick Jackson's film doesn't wait until the last act to blow up the volcano and start the fun and fireworks display.

'Armageddon' (1998)

Considered separately, I have always held 'Deep Impact' in much less esteem than 'Armageddon' in that the former, which is much better suited to disaster cinema schemes, paid too much attention to its dramatic development and little to impact on the Earth from a meteorite; something that, needless to say, is not exactly what characterizes the "rock and roll" madness, consciously absurd and abundantly comical, which is the film directed by Michael Bay.

A film that, apart from better enduring the passing of the years than the one directed by Mimi Leder, stands together with 'The Rock' ('The Rock', 1996) as the most valid example of what the filmmaker has been capable of to sign. 

And it is that as much as its assembly suffers from the hyperactivity that has always characterized it, it is impossible not to miss it with the history of the group of geologists who are about to burst a meteorite capable of ending life on our planet, not being able to avoid nor any other tear with a certain moment of the final minutes.

'The nucleus' ('The Core', 2003)

If we have to talk about disastrous ideas and crazy premises within the genre of disasters, it was impossible to leave behind 'The nucleus'.

A film that starts from the premise that the terrestrial nucleus has stopped spinning and that, to reactivate it, a group of scientists is mounted on an artifact that will go through the layers of the globe until reaching the heart of our planet, where they will drop a handful of nuclear warheads to make it work again. Take it now !!

'The day after tomorrow' ('The Day After Tomorrow', 2004)

Roland Emmerich had already approached disaster cinema more or less directly with 'Independence Day' (1996), a film with many of the hallmarks of the genre that, however, due to the alien invasion, would fit more classify within science fiction. 

But if something was clear in the film starring Will Smith, it is that the German had loved to break architectural icons and devastate cities, and 'Tomorrow' is nothing more than the logical consequence of that filia.

As a shaking vehicle for environmental consciences, the story that tells the devastating effects of a global storm that subjects Earth to a new era of glaciation works quite well when it focuses on its devastating effects, and between bad and tremendously Bad when Emmerich tries to get us interested in the various personal issues and dramas that affect Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum and Ian Holm. 

'The impossible' (2012)

I have to confess that I did not find anything in 'El orfanato' (2007), except at the script level, that came as astonishing to me as it did to the public that elevated JA Bayona's debut film "to the altars". 

Everything in the film starring Belén Rueda felt as already seen in many cardinal points of the horror genre, and the filmmaker's rehash failed to convince, again in the plot, someone who has an affiliation exacerbated by this type of movie theater.

Where 'The orphanage' if it carried strong arguments was in a superb direction that still had a lot to surprise us when, five years ago, it arrived on our screens which would undoubtedly be considered the best disaster film in the history of cinema. 

It is worth that its focus is a family and not a choral cast as is the norm of the genre, but the fact that the story of some Spaniards who manage to survive the tsunami that swept Thailand in 2004 is real, is a categorical justification for overlooking the absence of more characters.

With some Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland who convey to us with extreme intensity the disproportionate situation that was experienced both in the wake of the gigantic wave and in subsequent days, it is the camera of Bayonne —and the extraordinary reason that Fernando Velázquez composes - The one that turns 'The Impossible' into a roller coaster that loads the spectator without pretexts, testing its stamina in certain moments of extreme hardness. 

'San Andrés' ('San Andreas', 2015)

Go ahead that Dwayne Johnson seems to me a kind of sea of ​​sympathy and that, no matter how bad the decisions that in artistic terms surround his career - with the exception of the 'Fast and Furious' saga, of course - any production in which it is involved is a guarantee of entertainment. 

Brainless, yes, but entertainment after all. Two factors these - lacking "brains" and being damned entertaining - with which 'San Andreas' plays hand in hand in each of the almost 120 minutes of screening.

And if 'The Impossible' is the best disaster film in history, 'San Andreas' takes, without plucking, the title of the epitome of the genre because there is no effort in it to hide the absurdity that has always surrounded it. 

What's more, if Brad Peyton and Carlton Cuse do anything it is to embrace him with unrestrained passion, and that little of what happens in this attempt by an emergency services helicopter pilot to save his daughter after an earthquake that devastates the Californian coast make sense, it's a constant cause for celebration.

It is because seeing La Roca in action is always a joy. It is because, already put, if you have to throw the house out the window, let's throw it without consideration, a maxim that is rigorously carried out in a film that accepts every idea, however crazy it may be and shoots it for our greatest enjoyment and enjoy. 

And it is, let's be honest - not macho or sexist - because if your tastes lean towards women, that monument of femininity that is Alexandra Daddario participates.

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