Greatest Ever Disaster Movies

greatest ever disaster movies

Giles Coren presents a rundown of 40 of the world’s most cataclysmic pictures, as voted for in an exclusive poll of Five’s viewers and readers of The Times newspaper. A host of film fans, critics and actors such as Robert Vaughn, George Kennedy, Ali Larter and John C McGinley offer their thoughts on what makes this electrifying genre so madly compelling.

Time and again throughout cinematic history, audiences have flocked to see mayhem and carnage splashed across the silver screen. The disaster movie is a genre that has kept pace with the times and continues to dazzle with its blend of high tension, characters in peril and awesome special effects.

Kicking off the list at number 40 is Matthew McConaughey’s epic adventure movie, ‘Reign of Fire’, which saw dragons flying over London in an apocalyptic version of the near future. “The dragons are pretty much invincible at the start of the film so they have to come up with new and exciting ways of getting them and killing them,” enthuses comedian Rob Deering.

This is followed at 37 by a film with an altogether different threat – 1958’s ‘The Blob’, in which an alien monster terrorises a small town. “‘The Blob’ is extremely kitschy,” says the Evening Standard’s Derek Malcolm. “There are some ludicrously wooden actors in it.” But this B-movie classic did bequeath the world one bona fide star, launching the career of Steve McQueen.

At number 34 is an undisputed champion of the genre: 1974’s ‘Earthquake’. “‘Earthquake’ does exactly what it says on the tin,” remarks film critic Andrew Collins. “It’s one of the iconic disaster movies of that decade.” David Poland of Movie City News website begs to differ, however. “It is the stupidest movie ever made!” he counters. But while the film’s special effects may look hopelessly dated by today’s standards, one of its stars, George Kennedy, is keen to defend it. “Is it one of the greatest films ever made? No,” he says. “But it was entertaining!” ‘

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ of the same year occupies the number 25 spot on the list, championed by fans who love the film’s gritty tale of a subway train hijacking. “It deserves to be one of the top disaster films because it is so poignant,” says critic Emma Norman. “It could happen to any one of us.”

From trains to planes, the countdown’s next stop is 1970’s ‘Airport’, a film which inspired a sub-genre in its own right and was mercilessly lampooned in ‘Airplane!’. Among the movie’s many highlights is Dean Martin’s wonderfully laidback performance as a pilot. “We were all in love with Dean Martin,” recalls actress Jacqueline Bisset. “It was a hoot, it really was.”

‘Alive’, ‘Mars Attacks!’, ‘Twister’ and ‘Deep Impact’ all crash their way onto the list before a giant of the genre plunges in at number ten. 1972’s ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ set producer Irwin Allen’s template for the quintessential disaster movie. “His great insight… was that you could take a fairly simple B-movie concept and give it an A-list cast,” says writer Toby Young. “That combination proved to be box-office gold.” Few can forget the exploits of the group of survivors onboard a stricken ocean liner – especially the moment when Shelley Winters’s character sacrifices herself by diving underwater. David Poland describes the scene as “impossibly unbelievable” yet “completely emotionally draining”.

‘The Day after Tomorrow’ ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘Armageddon’ all power their way into the top ten – but which film will walk off with the crown of catastrophe?

greatest ever disaster movies

Throughout cinematic history, audiences have flocked to see mayhem and carnage splashed across the silver screen. The disaster movie is a genre that has kept pace with the times and continues to dazzle with its blend of high tension, characters in peril and awesome special effects. To celebrate this much-loved, time-honoured school of film, host Giles Coren presents a rundown of 40 of the world’s most cataclysmic motion pictures, as voted for in an exclusive poll of Five’s viewers and readers of the Times newspaper.

From the classic fare of the 70s, including ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, to the effects-laden blockbusters of today – such as ‘The Day after Tomorrow’ and ‘Titanic’ – the show explores the apocalyptic scenarios dreamed up by Hollywood’s most fevered screenwriters.

Ships sink, planes explode, buildings catch fire and trains plough out of control as the Greatest Ever Disaster Movies careens through its countdown. Along the way, a host of famous faces including Robert Vaughn, George Kennedy, Ali Larter and John C McGinley offer their thoughts on what makes this electrifying genre so madly compelling.

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