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Movies Like The Day After Tomorrow Disaster Fans Need To See

In disaster movie maestro Roland Emmerich's "The Day After Tomorrow," a new ice age causes natural disasters around the globe as the scientist who first predicted the catastrophe, Dennis Quaid's Jack Hall, attempts to get to New York City to rescue his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal). The movie has all the hallmarks of a natural disaster story: a scientist who discovers an unprecedented crisis is looming, a politician who doesn't want to listen, a family struggling to survive, heroic rescues, noble sacrifices, and of course, lots of people running for their lives as nature shows just how powerful it can be.

Whether it's earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, asteroids, or another cataclysmic event, Mother Nature can't be tamed, and natural disaster movies explore the worst of the worst-case scenarios. These films let us vicariously imagine what it would be like to be in the midst of such an overwhelming calamity and ponder what we'd do if it happened to us. Or, in the case of some of the hokier movies in the genre, we get to laugh in delight, safe in the knowledge that we'll never have to confront that particular, implausible on-screen scenario. From the harrowing true story of "The Impossible" to the heart-pounding "San Andreas" to the classic "The Poseidon Adventure," here are our picks for the natural disaster movies fans of "The Day After Tomorrow" need to see.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

"The Poseidon Adventure" is considered a classic by many, and for good reason. The tale of a group of survivors who make their way out of a luxury ocean liner after it's hit by a tsunami and capsizes on New Year's Eve, the movie's realistic stunts are what really make it work all these years later. Before the wave hits, we're introduced to the small group that will decide to take their survival into their own hands, including Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman), a minister who holds the unconventional opinion that God's too busy to attend to people's individual needs; Manny (Jack Albertson) and Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters), who are on their way to see their grandson for the first time; and Lieutenant Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and his new wife Linda (Stella Stevens), a constantly bickering couple on their honeymoon.

Parts of the movie are noticeably questionable by today's standards, especially when it comes to its attitude towards women. At one point or another almost every major female character becomes hysterical, and yes, at least one of them gets slapped by a man who wants her to calm down. Meanwhile, poor Shelley Winters is constantly insulted by both herself and others because of her weight. Still, it's hard to beat the scene in which she finally gets to be the hero and rescue Reverend Scott. While it certainly has its issues, "The Poseidon Adventure" is a tensely enjoyable adventure.

Earthquake (1974)

Just like the title promises, "Earthquake" centers on a massive seismic event in Los Angeles. While the movie was made in 1974 and therefore features some less-than-impressive special effects, for the most part, the it holds up surprisingly well. Part of the reason is that it spends its first hour doing some pivotal establishing work, following a large group of characters from different backgrounds as they go about their business throughout the city.

The ensemble is led by iconic movie stars Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner as Stewart and Remy Graff, but they aren't the only ones who get the spotlight. In addition to establishing the Graffs' troubled marriage, the film also delves into the hopes and dreams of a variety of individuals, from a disgruntled cop to a wannabe daredevil. By the time the Big One hits, you're genuinely invested in the characters' lives.

And when the temblor finally comes, it's a symphony of terrifying destruction that lasts nearly 10 minutes. The movie shows what happens to every character as the quake pulls apart the world around them, following the unexpected ways they cross paths and find new sources of strength in the wake of the disaster. Some characters live and some die, but "Earthquake" ultimately works because we care about the outcome.

Meteor (1979)

The title "Meteor" is actually a bit misleading — at least for those who know their space rocks. "Meteor," in fact, centers on an asteroid and its numerous fragments, which are knocked off course and sent hurtling towards Earth. Sean Connery stars as Dr. Paul Bradley, a former NASA scientist who secretly designed a satellite with nuclear missiles intended for use in just such a crisis. While the small American arsenal already floating in space isn't enough to stop the asteroid, after some prodding, the Soviet Union admits it's built a similar weapon, leading the typically antagonistic countries to team up in order to prevent the Earth's destruction. Natalie Wood also stars in one of her final roles as Tatiana, an astrophysicist and translator to the Soviet scientist Dr. Alexei Dubov (Brian Keith), who works with the Americans to save the world.

The movie includes some over-the-top moments, including an especially dramatic turn from Martin Landau as a general who strenuously objects to the collaboration with the Soviets and the idea that an asteroid could actually wipe out the planet. And this is a Sean Connery movie, so of course, he somehow finds the time to flirt with Natalie Wood's character during the tense race to keep the Earth from being obliterated. But despite these coy moments, the stakes are high, and the scenes of devastation as the asteroid's smaller fragments hit various cities across the globe are well done and make the film all the more disturbing.

Twister (1996)

Thanks to "Twister," the natural disaster genre roared to new heights at breakneck speeds in the mid-'90s. The movie introduced the general public to storm chasing, with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton starring as meteorologists Jo and Bill Harding, a couple who used to chase tornadoes together but are now on the brink of divorce. While their characters' relationship creates some human-scale drama, and the story also nods to the science of studying tornadoes, the real stars of the movie are the numerous twisters the characters encounter. These feats of special effects and expert action choreography thrillingly demonstrate just how unpredictable and destructive tornadoes can be.

The movie is a roller coaster ride as Jo and Bill race both toward and away from huge funnels of spinning air, and it's that thrill that keeps "Twister" just as engaging now as it was when it hit theaters 25 years ago. In fact, the movie occupies such a noteworthy place in pop-culture history that in 2020 it was announced that Universal Pictures is working on a reboot of the blockbuster.

Volcano (1997) and Dante's Peak (1997)

"Dante's Peak" and "Volcano" were released just two months apart in the first half of 1997, making it the year of big-screen volcanos. While "Dante's Peak" was more successful at the box office, "Volcano" received better reviews; however, the movie you prefer may hinge on which depiction of volcanic devastation works better for you.

"Dante's Peak" is undeniably the more realistic of the two films, focusing on the eruption of a thought-to-be dormant volcano near the fictional title town. Plus, while it features all the creeping lava and spewing gases you'd expect, the story centers on Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan), the volcanologist who anticipates the eruption, and Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), the mayor of the small town, who strike up a relationship as they flee together with Rachel's kids when disaster strikes.

On the other hand, "Volcano" takes place in Los Angeles, a place known for many natural disasters — although volcanoes aren't one of them. In the movie, a relatively minor earthquake somehow causes a volcano to form underneath the city, touching off an escalating calamity that starts in the subway (which is depicted as far bigger than the subway system that really exists in L.A.) and creeps into the streets. With a starry cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, and Don Cheadle playing scientists and public officials, the wacky plot is pure cheese, but that cheese is pretty tasty.

Deep Impact (1998) and Armageddon (1998)

The threat of objects from space colliding with Earth isn't something most of us spend a lot of time thinking about. However, in the summer of 1998, asteroids and comets were the source of impending doom in not one but two disaster films: "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon." The storytelling approach of each may be different, but the movies both hinge on the delivery of nuclear weapons to the space rock to avoid an extinction-level event.

Ultimately, "Armageddon," directed by Michael Bay from a script co-written by J.J. Abrams, is the more crowd-pleasing of the two films, and with the help of big names like Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Liv Tyler, did better at the box office. "Deep Impact" was no slouch, though. It had plenty of stars of its own, including Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, and Morgan Freeman, made more than its money back, and was deemed the more scientifically accurate of the two films: the scientific community didn't like "Armageddon" much. While it's now decades later, people of a certain age are still debating the merits of one film over the other. If you're a disaster film fan, that conversation can be extremely fun to be part of.

The Perfect Storm (2000)

"The Perfect Storm" is a dramatization of the true story of a commercial fishing vessel that was lost at sea, along with its whole crew, after it encountered a terrible storm in 1991. The film centers on a group of fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts, where life revolves around the fishing season. George Clooney as Billy Tyne, the captain of the doomed boat, leads an all-star cast that also includes Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, and John C. Reilly.

After bringing in a subpar catch, Tyne decides to go out for one last late-season fishing trip and the rest of his crew agrees to join him. Yet, almost from the beginning, the expedition seems cursed: A crew member falls overboard, a shark is carried onto the ship by the unruly ocean, and even when the crew finally finds the swordfish they're looking for, their ice machine breaks. Finally, when several storms converge in front of them, they underestimate the danger and steer right into the tempest.

The movie's depiction of the massive storm and the little fishing boat caught in the middle is impressive. It's also relentless, as once the storm starts, director Wolfgang Peterson never offers a moment of breathing room between increasingly cataclysmic events. This puts the audience right in the shoes of the crew as they fight for their lives, and given that real lives were lost in the disaster the movie portrays, "The Perfect Storm" is a potent reminder of the power of nature.

The Core (2003)

Warning: Watching "The Core" will result in cognitive dissonance. After all, how else can you respond when so many talented actors, including Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, and Hilary Swank, come together to make a movie this ridiculous? It's so ridiculous, in fact, that the best way to enjoy "The Core" is simply to laugh at the absurdity as the plot unfolds.

After a group of seemingly random people all drop dead simultaneously in New York City, the government asks Eckhart's Josh Keyes, a geophysicist, to determine what happened. He quickly determines that the core of the Earth is no longer rotating, a problem that will lead to all kinds of disasters all over the world and end in the destruction of the planet ... unless the core is somehow jump-started.

What follows is a journey to the center of the Earth as Keyes and three other scholars, including Tucci's arrogant Dr. Zimsky, embark on a mission to deliver nuclear weapons to the core. The vessel that carries them as it drills into the planet's interior is piloted by two NASA astronauts, including Swank's Major Beck, a young but distinguished pilot. The group's fraught expedition to save the planet is filled with an excessive amount of scientific jargon and melodrama, backed up by a hyperactive score that works overtime to drive home their dire situation. It's all absurd, yet sporadically fascinating, if only for the way the actors commit to their roles despite the silly scenario.

2012 (2009)

Like "The Day After Tomorrow," "2012" was directed by Roland Emmerich, and in many ways, it ups the ante for just how destructive a disaster movie can be. Based on the mythical "Mayan calendar" prediction that the world would end in the year 2012, the film envisioned the complete and total destruction of the planet. In the midst of the chaos, John Cusack's down-on-his-luck writer Jackson Curtis does everything in his power to get his estranged wife (Amanda Peet) and young children (Liam James and Morgan Lily) to one of several arks that the governments of the world built in secret to ensure humanity's survival.

The movie covers the perspectives of everyone from the scientific community, who discovered the end was near several years prior, to the plight of the U.S. President (Danny Glover), who decides to meet his fate with his people, as well as reactions to the pending destruction of the planet from around the world.

All that makes the movie extremely long at over two and a half hours, but the film's varied visual spectacles can't be ignored. Plus, it features a delightfully gleeful, albeit brief performance by Woody Harrelson as a conspiracy theorist whose seemingly paranoid delusions turn out to be true. And even if none of that sounds appealing, the scene of Cusack driving a limo up a collapsing road in the middle of an earthquake and safely sailing through the air to the other side is something you're unlikely to forget.

The Impossible (2012)

If you're looking for a disaster movie wrapped in a prestige package, "The Impossible" is the film to see. Based on the true story of a family that was vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit the Indian Ocean, the movie does its best to convey the gravitas of their situation. In the aftermath of the enormous wave, matriarch Maria (Naomi Watts) is seriously injured but fights to be strong when she finds her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) in the still-surging water. Meanwhile, patriarch Henry (Ewan McGregor) and the family's two younger sons (Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) manage to get through the catastrophe relatively unscathed. As Henry searches for Maria and Lucas, the mother and son are taken to a hospital where Maria undergoes multiple life-saving surgeries to repair her injuries.

It's a harrowing story that is emotionally directed by J.A. Bayona. However, it's also important to mention that, given the many other families who were caught up in the horrific disaster, it's a little hard to understand why this particular story — and not, say, that of one of the Thai natives who couldn't fly back to their normal lives in another country — was chosen for the movie treatment.

Still, "The Impossible" is worth checking out for Watts' Academy Award-nominated performance alone. This is also Holland's first live-action movie role, and it's fascinating to see how talented he was even as a teenager.

Pompeii (2014)

The synopsis of "Pompeii" reads like a cross between "Titanic" and "Gladiator," and that's largely what it is. The story revolves around Kit Harrington's Milo, the only survivor of the massacre of his clan of Celtic horsemen, who is sold into slavery and becomes a talented gladiator. He ends up in Pompeii shortly before the fatal eruption of Mount Vesuvius. There he meets Cassia, the daughter of Pompeii's governor (Jared Harris), who is powerfully attracted to him despite their very different stations in life.

Meanwhile, Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the man responsible for the slaughter of Milo's clan, visits from Rome under the pretense of helping Cassia's father when what he really wants is to take an unwilling Cassia as his wife. The romantic drama of Cassia and Milo's star-crossed love and Corvus' toxic desire plays against a background of inevitable catastrophe as Vesuvius coughs up fireballs that signal the volcano's coming eruption.

Sure, it's all fairly predictable, with good guys who are pure of heart, bad guys who are rotten to their core, and a natural disaster to swallow them all, which makes the whole thing a bit of a guilty pleasure. However, the exciting action sequences and impressive special effects — not to mention Harrington's equally impressive six-pack — make the film worth a watch.

San Andreas (2015)

Given Dwayne Johnson's ubiquity in action films throughout the last decade, it's a wonder he hasn't appeared in more stories of natural disasters. In "San Andreas," he plays Ray Gaines, a helicopter rescue pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department. It's an appropriate profession given all the rescuing he has to do during the film, including that of his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). The movie depicts the more or less total destruction of California as a massive earthquake rocks the state from Los Angeles to San Francisco. After saving Emma from the devastation in Los Angeles, the pair make their way to San Francisco to find Blake, whose visit to the city becomes the stuff of nightmares.

The scenes of land masses ripping apart and buildings collapsing into rubble are chilling to behold. However, the warm, determined presence of Johnson gives viewers someone to root for, leading to the kind of popcorn entertainment that's impossible not to enjoy.

Crawl (2019)

"Crawl" is a combination of natural disaster flick and creature feature, a simple story that draws you in with its horror-filled premise. The movie centers on Haley (Kaya Scodelario), a talented college swimmer, who goes searching for her father Dave (Barry Pepper) as a Category 5 hurricane bears down on Florida. Unable to find him at his condo, she heads to the already flooding coastal town where their family's old home is located, only to find him unconscious in a crawl space under the house.

The hurricane would be bad enough, but she soon realizes that two large alligators have taken up residence in the crawl space as well, and they're none too pleased to have Haley and Dave join them. As the water rises and more alligators swim into the streets, the father and daughter do everything in their power to escape their deadly predicament.

"Crawl" really leans into the gore of the story, as both Haley and Dave frequently face off against the alligators and their very large teeth throughout the movie's brief 87-minute runtime. If you have a fear of alligators, "Crawl" makes all your worst nightmares come true, and if you don't, the movie will give you reason to. Still, while the alligator-versus-human (and one unlucky dog) action is the focus of the film, the increasingly powerful hurricane is the more insidious enemy, a natural menace that's indifferent to the plight of alligators and people alike.

Greenland (2020)

The most recent entry on this list, "Greenland," tells the story of John (Gerard Butler) and Allison Garrity (Morena Baccarin) and their diabetic son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), a normal family who must save themselves when a comet called Clarke threatens Earth. As smaller fragments of Clarke hit the planet, destroying cities around the globe and causing mass panic, the Garritys attempt to reach an underground bunker in Greenland before the largest piece of the comet crashes into the planet and causes an extinction-level event.

While Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh had previously worked together on "Angel Has Fallen," in which Butler plays a highly-trained Secret Service agent, in "Greenland" Butler's character has no special skills that will help him survive the impending calamity. As a result, he and Allison are highly relatable as they rely on sheer force of will to inch closer and closer to safety. It's the film's very human focus that makes it especially compelling.

Plus, the heart-pounding scenes of fragments of the comet falling on a crowded highway are exactly what we watch natural disaster movies for. The movie ended up being released on video-on-demand in the midst of a different global catastrophe, the coronavirus pandemic — but despite skipping theaters, a sequel about the Garritys rebuilding in the wake of the disaster is already in development.