Split Decision: Big Impact

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

What is your favorite disaster movie?

Well, The Room was a disaster, but I don’t think that’s what you had in mind. I actually don’t see many of these types of films. I loved Airplane as a kid, spoofed disaster films, and was as hilarious as the unintentionally funny The ConcordeAirport ’79 But for a real action-adventure movie, I kind of loved San Andreas. Not because it was a good movie, but because I went to an 11:00 am show towards the end of it’s theatrical run with my friend Dee. We were the only two people in the theater and we laughed and screamed and talked back to the screen. I can’t wait to take her to see Skyscraper.–Gary M. Kramer

I’m going with Poseidon Adventure (1972). It’s a small-scale disaster movie, only affecting the people onboard a luxury liner but the whole debacle is instigated by an undersea earthquake/tsunami, so I think it counts. This movie was on TV literally everyday of my life as a kid, and I would always, ALWAYS, manage to catch it at the same exact time, immediately after the luxury liner capsizes. It wasn’t until years later that I actually decided to sit and watch how this whole disaster started. But I knew the rest of the film beats like the back of my hand. Mrs. Rosen (Shelley Winters), a former competitive swimmer, saving a near-drowned Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman), Linda Rogo (Stella Stevens) perilously climbing up metal bars in stilettos wearing nothing but her husband Mike’s (Ernest Borgnine) dress shirt and underwear. And Reverend Scott, grasping a burning hot valve wheel to allow the other survivors to get to safety, all while ranting and raving about God. It was melodramatic as hell and I was riveted.

Runners-up include Contagion, a movie I could watch anytime, anywhere, including right this second (if you love this movie you must play the Pandemic board game, it’s crazy fun for a game about mass global death) and The Day After Tomorrow, because even though it’s easy to crap on this movie, I’m really entertained by it. –

Most of my favorite disaster movies are about huge forces suddenly crushing people and forcing them to adapt in crazy ways, but I’m going to give a shout out to Everest because it’s the rare entry in the genre where the victims chose to confront doom. Parts are very sad and are made infinitely sadder knowing the movie is based on a true story, but as you watch you keep thinking things like “You’d still have hands if you treated this like a mountain and not a metaphor.” Say what you will about depth of characters in Roland Emmerich movies, but nobody in The Day After Tomorrow ever just decided to enter a climate change hellscape and live in an ice building because it’d be thrilling. Everest is also terrifying because of the ways the mountain kills people– in those Emmerich movies, there’s usually a big shot where a bunch of little CGI people are dying in every corner of the screen, and it’s scary but also relatively abstract. They’re just tiny things falling into lava as John Cusack flies to safety. Everest, on the other hand, is full of slow, painful deterioration. It’s as hard to watch as anything I’ve seen.–

The Day After Tomorrow has a special place in my heart; I feel like it is the most “disaster movie” disaster movie but I’ve gotta go with Everest. This movie was pretty solid, has a great cast and seems pretty underrated. I’m fascinated by people who climb Everest because it’s a rich people’s vacation, and it’s pretty much the dangerous and inhospitable place on Earth. People go to a place that is very likely to kill them. That movie is a great little look at how badly things can go and turn into a nightmare. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong. —Jacob Harrington


You know what? I’m going to go with Dante’s Peak. It is certainly not the best of its kind (and it’s really not the best of, like, anything), but it will always hold a special (and/or messed up) place in my heart. Remember that scene where the two ~lovers~ are in the geothermal hot tub alcove (I believe that’s the technical term for it), and they’re making out and then they’re consumed by lava and DIE? No? Well I do. It will forever be burned in my memory, because immediately following that moment my parents had to turn off the movie. Because I was eight. And I thought those two people had actually died. I think they talked me down after about twenty minutes of explaining props and special effects, which were all expertly crafted in this scene. (I should mention I haven’t seen this movie since the late, late ’90s, but I’m fairly certain it was very advanced.) Thanks, Dante’s Peak, for scarring me forever and, in the process, for teaching me that not everything that happens behind the camera is real.
Catherine Haas

Disaster movies may be my favorite subgenre. I have a healthy fear of Mother Nature, so channeling that trepidation into cinema is a personal delight (and coping mechanism) for me. Now, I have already professed my love for Titanic, and I confess that it that could be debated as to whether it belongs in the genre at all, so I’ll disqualify it. There are other great movies that operate on the fringe of “disaster movie”, like Contagion, Force Majeure, and Take Shelter, all of which I highly recommend, but will exclude so as to not disturb the spirit of the question. And finally, disaster movies offer plenty of guilty pleasures that immediately jump to mind, like Dante’s Peak and Twister, or even guiltier, Volcano and Daylight. See anything I just mentioned and you’re in for a treat.

But my favorite disaster movie of all time is one I own and have still only seen once; it is a film that is so harrowing, the fact that it is a true story (minus the white-washing of the characters) is all the more moving. The Impossible is a 2012 film that recounts the events of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, told through the eyes of a family vacationing in Thailand at the time. It stars Naomi Watts in an Oscar-nominated role as Maria, the mother of three sons (one of which is Tom Holland pre-Spider-Man), and married to Henry, played by Ewan McGregor. The story is simple: the family is at their hotel when the tsunami blindsides them and separates everyone. The rest of the film is their journey to survive and find each other. Of course, the capturing of one of the most devastating disasters on record cannot possibly be encapsulated adequately in two hours, so director J.A. Bayona (who is making the rounds now for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) smartly focuses on the disaster’s effects on just one family. The Impossible pulls no punches, depicting the events as authentically (and brutally) as possible. The result is a draining, impactful viewing experience that truly shook me to the core and made me think about how ill-prepared I would be for such a situation. The Impossible features incredible visuals, stunning performances, and does not compromise the emotional stakes for spectacle like some disaster films. It is truly one of the greatest disaster movies ever made and, though it is not one I will revisit often, The Impossible is a moving experience that I will always cherish.–

Thinking about this question, I realized I have a huge soft spot for virus/disease movies like Outbreak and Contagion, and even The Andromeda Strain, but they don’t typically come with the spectacle I usually associate with the genre (unless you count World War Z). I also really dug Pompeii when it came out, because I am obsessed with making all kinds of genres period-piece crossovers.

But when it comes to favorite, is has to be Armageddon. The opening barrage of space rocks hitting New York City is breathtaking and scary at the same time, especially revisiting it post-9/11. While there are other, more pure expressions of “Bayhem” to be found in Bad Boys 2 and the better Transformers entries, this film is Bay at his most nakedly patriotic. Military hardware, blue collar heroes and hard ass fathers combine to make something that is an absolutely captivating watch. Adding in the ticking clock about trying to prevent the disaster, and it combines the best of action and disaster into a worthy hybrid.

And speaking of trying to prevent disasters, Knowing, (from the director of Gods of Egypt, the best film of all time) a film where a small child in 1959 cryptographically predicts every disaster through 9/11 and Nicholas Cage tries to stop the big one coming next. Just a reminder that it exists and needs to be seen to be believed.  —Ryan Silberstein

What good is heavy metal with out Spinal Tap or Tenacious D? What good is horror without scream? Scream without Scary Movie. Gangsta’s Paradise without Amish Paradise? What I’m saying is that everything good deserves a parody, and my favorite disaster movie just so happens to be one of the finest around. Airplane! is largely considered the funniest movie ever made (some atypically fun accountant calculated its gag-to-laugh ratio as being the highest in record), and despite its “throw everything at the wall” method of comedy, it stands upon the framework of a disaster movie. Specifically, it’s aping the tropes on display in Airport, Airport 1975, and Airport ‘77, but in a broad sense it really covers everything we love and hate about the genre, long before its massive resurgence in the 90s. They even brought in Leslie Nielsen – a dramatic actor whose dry delivery launched a second career – as a nod to his work in an earlier disaster flick, The Poseidon Adventure.

Interesting piece of disaster trivia: Trey Parker and Matt Stone got their hands on an early copy of the script for The Day After Tomorrow, and had planned to shoot it as is, but with puppets, and release it on the same day as the live-action film. Their lawyers advised against it, and that’s how Team America: World Police was born. I’m glad it worked out this way, what with Team America being a masterpiece, but it’s fun to imagine a world where a puppet version of a largely mocked film competed against said film for box office gold. —Dan Scully

The Wizard of Oz is the best disaster movie. The tornado picks up a house and murders somebody and then has the AUDACITY to make the black and white Boring world TECHNICOLOR BEAUTY!? Iconic. Also, that poppy field is a natural disaster. Mostly because allergies. And deadly sleep.—Jenna Kuerzi

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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