The best disaster movies of all time


Disaster movies aren’t necessarily meant to be comforting, but there can be something nice about the familiar rhythms that these movies establish. Normal lives are upended by some violent, deadly catastrophe, and every person has to react in a way that will ensure their survival.

It’s a genre that is usually all about scale, although there are some notable examples of films that defy that general trend. While there is comfort in the formula of the disaster movie, the endings of these movies don’t always play it safe. The end of the world can be horrifying, but these movies can help us deal with it. Here are 10 of the best the genre ever produced.


Few movies have made more of an impact than Titanic, and that’s because it finds an ideal form in combining an elemental romance with the action and spectacle of a disaster epic. In order for Titanic to work, you have to be compelled by the movie’s first two acts, which feature some allusions to disaster, but are mostly about two people of different class backgrounds falling in love. That romance works, and Titanic‘s action-packed third hour is just the icing on the cake.


An existential movie about the end of the world, the movie follows two sisters as they prepare for Earth’s collision with another planet. Melancholia is about making peace with the end, and in that way, it’s perhaps the most thoughtful movie on this list. Unlike most disasters movies, there’s not much action to look forward to. If you’re looking slightly more soulful that features great performances, though, Melancholia might be the way to go.

The Towering Inferno

Disaster movies were all the rage in the 1970s, and The Towering Inferno may be the apex of the genre. Starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, the film follows a world-weary fire chief and an architect as they deal with a raging fire that threatens to destroy a new high rise in San Francisco. Although it’s plenty thrilling on its own, The Towering Inferno also takes time to condemn the man who built the building and spends the entire film trying to evade responsibility for the corners he cut to do it cheaply.


A movie many people found themselves revisiting in early 2020 for some reason, Contagion follows a combination of scientists, government officials, and regular people as they deal with the emergence of a highly contagious, highly deadly pandemic. The movie was remarkably prescient about what an actual pandemic would look like, and its frankness is part of its appeal. Contagion is not a hopeful story, but it’s an excellent cautionary tale that only continues to gain relevance.

The Perfect Storm

Although it’s based on a true story, The Perfect Storm feels like one of the less realistic films on this list. Telling the story of a crew of fishermen who find themselves confronted with three colliding storm fronts, The Perfect Storm is a disaster movie and a survival epic. Part of the movie’s charm, in addition to its ensemble cast, is the way every actor has taken pains to make themselves feel like authentic fishermen, even as they deal with wildly outlandish circumstances.


Crawl is not about an apocalypse. Instead, it focuses on a severe hurricane and a single father and daughter who find themselves trapped in a flooded house. The house isn’t just flooded, though. It’s also infested with alligators. Crawl is tight and thrilling, a wonderful example of what a small genre movie can look like. It might not depict the end of the world, but Crawl‘s stakes feel as massive as any disaster movie out there. If you’re looking for a movie all about punching alligators, you can’t do better than Crawl.


When it was first released, Armageddon was the epitome of a summer blockbuster, and even though its script isn’t the sharpest thing you’ll ever read, the movie still mostly works. Telling the story of a group of drillers who are sent into space to drill into an asteroid in order to detonate a nuclear bomb before it hits Earth, Armageddon is every bit as stupid as that summary makes it sound. Even so, the movie is thrilling in its way, and it’s certainly indicative of a certain kind of blockbuster disaster movie that’s willing to go to any extreme to thrill audiences.

Don’t Look Up

The disaster in Don’t Look Up doesn’t come until the very end, but when it does, it provides one of the most harrowing depictions of the end of the world ever committed to screen. The movie follows two astrologists who discover that a world-destroying asteroid is headed toward Earth and try to raise alarm bells around the world. They fail, and in the process, humanity ensures its own destruction thanks to a combination of overly confident billionaires and a political system that refuses to act.

The Day After Tomorrow

In spite of the past 20 years or more of concern around climate change, very few movies have been made that are explicitly about its dangers. That’s at least in part because the slow evolution of our climate can be hard to dramatize, but The Day After Tomorrow does a pretty good job finding an angle. The film tells the story of a climatologist who raises alarm bells and is then ignored, only to be proven right when deadly superstorms begin developing all over the planet. The Day After Tomorrow may not be a realistic depiction of climate catastrophe, but it’s a pretty compelling way to dramatize the issue in a movie.

The Birds

You may think of The Birds as a horror movie, but it’s hard to deny that it meets all the qualifications of a conventional disaster movie. Alfred Hitchcock’s eco-terror disaster focuses on a small town that sees itself terrorized by birds who suddenly decide to start picking off humans. From there, all the humans can do is try to defend themselves against the onslaught, and The Birds becomes a pretty startling reminder that humanity is only allowed to survive because of nature’s passivity.