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40 Disaster Movies That Will Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat

It’s the end of the world as we know it—and we feel fine watching it from the safety of our living rooms.

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Disaster movies thrill us

From natural disasters to epidemics to monsters wreaking havoc, disaster movies have always fascinated audiences. We experience some of our biggest anxieties vicariously through the characters on screen, and we are left to wonder, “What would I do in this situation?” The best disaster movies challenge us to take a good look at the world we live in: the dire consequences of man’s hubris and the fragility of man-made structures, from physical architecture to the social contracts that bind civilization together. They remind us to appreciate every day we get to breathe and laugh under the sun and encourage us to take action to save our planet, and each other, while we can.

In this list, we’re highlighting the 40 best disaster movies, based on critical acclaim and lasting cultural impact. Though the label “disaster movie” usually evokes images of action flicks or drama movies, films of any genre can fit this category. Some of these award-winners and cult classics are romantic movies, sci-fi movies and even some of the funniest movies you’ve seen. From classics like The Poseidon Adventure to more recent favorites like The Day After Tomorrow to the brand-new Netflix satire Don’t Look Up, these are easily some of the best movies of all time.

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Titanic

Released: 1997

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “The pumps buy you time, but minutes only. From this moment, no matter what we do, Titanic will founder.”

Perhaps the most romantic and heartbreaking disaster film ever, James Cameron’s Titanic is based on the tragic 1912 sinking of the real-life passenger liner when it hit an iceberg. While it is a romance at heart, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as ill-fated lovers, the film accurately captures the panic and horror of its passengers, as well as the quiet dignity of the crew and orchestra who went down with the ship. Titanic was the highest-grossing film of all time for over a decade and won a whopping 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. After you watch the movie, read about these Titanic survivors and what happened to them next.

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The Poseidon Adventure

Released: 1972

Rated: PG (Keep in mind, ratings were different back then—this is not for your little ones)

Memorable quote: “The Poseidon is too fine a lady to be rushed to the junkyard on her last voyage!”

Before Titanic, there was The Poseidon Adventure: a disaster classic about a fictional luxury liner that gets hit by a tidal wave and capsizes. The film stars Gene Hackman as an unorthodox and cynical reverend who must help his fellow passengers through the upside-down ship before it sinks completely. While the moral lessons are a bit heavy-handed, the special effects and tense scenes still hold up. The Poseidon Adventure was nominated for nine Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards and has since become a cult classic.

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Airplane!

Released: 1980

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking … We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused, this is due to periodic air pockets we encountered, there’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight … By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”

A spoof of ’70s disaster movies, this disaster comedy imagines what would happen if both pilots were debilitated by food poisoning—and the only person who could save the plane from crashing was a man who’s terrified of flying. The eccentric cast and silly but witty one-liners keep Airplane! quotable and funny to this day. Be prepared for belly laughs, and don’t sleep on these other ’80s movies while you’re at it!

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This Is the End

Released: 2013

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? Actors. They’ll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there’s room, you guys will come.”

Given the nature of the genre, there aren’t too many comedy disaster movies on this list. However, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This Is the End is a hilarious and raucous ride as Hollywood celebrities—James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson playing fictionalized versions of themselves—find themselves facing the biblical apocalypse. While it’s got its fair share of crude and bro-y humor, there are also clever pop-culture references, and the scenes are ridiculous in a good way. Next, check out these other new comedy movies!

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The Mist

Released: 2007

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “Leave it alone, David. You can’t convince some people there’s a fire even when their hair is burning. Denial is a powerful thing.”

While it might be better known as a horror film, this adaptation of a Stephen King novella ticks all the boxes for a great disaster film. An unstoppable force laying waste to everything in its path? Check. The failure of emergency services to initiate adequate countermeasures? Check. The lives of everyday citizens hanging in the balance? Check. Inspired by 1950s creature features like Them! and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this cult classic uses its supernatural premise as a device to explore the dark depths of human nature. This is one of the scariest movies of the early 2000s. Check out the black-and-white director’s cut for an even creepier experience.

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2012

Released: 2009

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “My fellow Americans. This will be the last time I address you. As you know, catastrophe has struck our nation … has struck the world. I wish I could tell you we can prevent the coming destruction. We cannot. Today, none of us are strangers. Today, we are one family, stepping into the darkness together.”

“Master of disaster” Roland Emmerich gives us this wild ride of a disaster movie about a Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012. John Cusack plays a father trying to keep his children alive as the world literally begins falling apart. Donald Glover (as the president of the United States) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as the scientist trying to make sense of everything) were nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Watch this movie for the astounding special effects and heart-pounding visual spectacle. It’s safe to say the events in this film won’t ever happen, but if you don’t mind a little suspension of disbelief, check out these other scientifically inaccurate movies!

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Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa)

Released: 2016

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Musubi is the old way of calling the local guardian god. This word has profound meaning. Typing thread is Musubi. Connecting people is Musubi. The flow of time is Musubi. These are all the god’s power.”

Without giving away too many spoilers, Makoto Shinkai’s visually stunning Japanese animated film is a comical body-swap story on the surface. But the teenagers come to realize there’s a bigger purpose to this supernatural occurrence and that they must save their town from a huge disaster. Emotionally affecting and sweetly romantic, this film won Best Animated Feature at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and was nominated for Best Animation of the Year at the 40th Japan Academy Prize. It also happens to have one of the most gorgeous movie soundtracks, composed by Radwimps, so this movie is a must-watch for teens and adults alike.

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Bird Box

Released: 2018

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “If you hear something in the woods, you tell me. If you hear something in the water, you tell me. But you never, ever take off your blindfold. If you look, you will die. Do you understand?”

Based on Josh Malerman’s novel of the same name, Bird Box imagines creatures that will drive you mad if you look at them. The latter half of the film would be considered post-apocalyptic, but this horror thriller is included on our list for the sheer discomfort of watching these characters figure out what the heck is going on and try to survive against the unknown. Even underneath their blindfolds, Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich give incredible and believable performances. Bird Box held the record for the most-watched film on Netflix until 2021, proving book-to-movie adaptations can be done well!

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Contagion

Released: 2011

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “The average person touches their face 2- or 3000 times a day. Three to five times every waking minute. In between, we’re touching doorknobs, water fountains, elevator buttons and each other. Those things become fomites.”

Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant medical disaster movie is about a devastating epidemic and the medical experts around the world who must contain the disease and produce a vaccine in time. Sound familiar? Contagion has eerie parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic, using terms like “social distancing” before many of us fully understood what that meant, and the film gained popularity again on streaming sites in 2020. With an all-star ensemble cast—Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Kate Winslet, to name a few—this riveting box office hit offers insight into how the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization operate, and it’s been praised for both its smart storytelling and scientific accuracy. Read up on these other predictions that came true.

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Outbreak

Released: 1995

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “Men wounded in battle, we can deal with. But this strange disease … Thirty men dead yesterday. Eighteen, the day before. We need supplies. Plasma. Penicillin.”

Another film that re-gained popularity in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Outbreak also follows medical experts during a deadly and highly contagious disease. This medical disaster movie, starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freedman, focuses specifically on the effects of the Ebola virus on a small town in California, questioning how far the United States Army would go to contain and eradicate the disease. Although it’s not as scientifically accurate as Contagion, this film captivated audiences and topped box office lists around the world. If you’re in the mood for more medical drama, these are the best doctor shows on TV.

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Released: 2012

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “The 70-mile-wide asteroid known commonly as Matilda is set to collide with earth in exactly three weeks time, and we’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute coverage of our countdown to the ‘End of Days,’ along with all your classic rock favorites. This is Q 107.2.”

This underrated rom-com pairs Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as unlikely strangers who meet right as a meteor is hurtling toward earth. As they work together to get to their respective loved ones in time, they find themselves in truly bizarre and darkly humorous, yet poignant, situations. As far as apocalyptic films go, this one is sweet and heartwarming. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World received mixed reviews, but it’s undeniable that the different reactions to the end of the world get you thinking: What would you do if the world was going to end? And who would you want by your side? If you’re looking for some cheerier films to swoon over, check out these romantic comedies.

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Don’t Look Up

Released: 2021

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They are not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”

A cynical allegory for mankind’s apathy to climate change, Don’t Look Up is a black comedy highlighting the frustrations of astronomers who try to warn the public about a comet that’s set to collide with our planet. Unlike Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which depicts what people might do in their remaining time on earth, Don’t Look Up more realistically hypothesizes that people would either try to exploit the situation or be in denial up until the very last moment. This brilliant yet bleak film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill and Meryl Streep in some of their funniest roles yet, was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Film Editing.

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Melancholia

Released: 2011

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “I know things. And when I say we’re alone, we’re alone. Life is only on earth, and not for long.”

Master of gorgeous and dark art house films, Lars von Trier wrote Melancholia in response to the idea that depressed people tend to be the most calm in terrible situations. This beautiful yet somber drama stars Kirsten Dunst as a clinically depressed woman and Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister, who desperately tries to maintain optimism as it becomes increasingly apparent that a rogue planet will soon collide with earth and wipe out humanity. Kirsten Dunst’s incredible performance earned her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Deep Impact

Released: 1998

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Comet gets closer to the sun; sun melts the ice, ice turns to steam. We get a big hole, okay? So, how many nukes do we have left in the back?”

While Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact and Michael Bay’s Armageddon came out the same summer, with essentially the same plot—a comet hurtles toward earth while the U.S. government must figure out how to save the planet—Deep Impact frames the scenario through a slightly more analytical lens. The film examines what individual people and governments would do, given the dire circumstances. From astronauts on a suicide mission to a lottery system to put people in underground shelters and even an impromptu wedding, the film is filled with solemn and contemplative moments that make it stand out from the rest.

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The Day After Tomorrow

Released: 2004

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “This tornado just came and erased the Hollywood sign. The Hollywood sign is gone. It’s just shredded.”

Snow in New Delhi, tsunamis in New York City, tornadoes in Los Angeles. Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow dramatizes the catastrophic effects of climate change and what would happen if the North Atlantic Ocean circulation was to be suddenly disrupted. This epic natural disaster movie stars Dennis Quaid as the paleoclimatologist trying to warn the U.S. government in time, and Jake Gyllenhaal as his teenage son stranded in New York City as it’s plunged into another Ice Age. It may not be the most scientifically accurate depiction of climate change. However, it’s undeniable that the amazing visual effects (the film won a BAFTA for Best Visual Effects) are a harrowing reminder of how fragile our environment is, as well as how fragile mankind is in the face of nature.

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Independence Day

Released: 1996

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet … their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on … and we’re next.”

Arguably one of Roland Emmerich’s more well-received disaster movies, Independence Day focuses on an alien invasion that annihilates much of civilization—and the courageous humans who must fight back. The likable and varied characters are what make this one greater than the sum of its parts. From Will Smith’s courageous Captain Steven Hiller to Bill Pullman’s lead-by-example president of the United States to Vivica A. Fox’s persevering mother, Emmerich finds time amid the carnage and exciting action sequences to home in on a very human story. Independence Day won Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards and has become an action movie favorite since. Love aliens and space stories? Check out these science-fiction books.

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War of the Worlds

Released: 2005

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Think about it. They defeated the greatest power in the world in a couple days. Walked right over us. And these were only the first. They’ll keep coming. This is not a war any more than there’s a war between men and maggots. … This is an extermination.”

Based on the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, this Steven Spielberg adaptation stars Tom Cruise as a father trying to keep his children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) alive during a blitzkrieg-esque alien invasion. Cruise turns in an emotional performance most parents will be able to relate to, while Spielberg leans heavily into his horror roots to raise the stakes and suspense. Nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, War of the Worlds crafts an atmosphere of paranoia and desperation to deliver a gritty, modern take on a classic. If you want more suspenseful flicks, these are some of the best thriller movies.

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Underwater

Released: 2020

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “We’re not even supposed to be down here.”

Set in a drilling facility at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, this suspenseful action horror absolutely succeeds in making you feel suffocated. The crew, portrayed by Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Mamoudou Athie, John Gallagher Jr. and Jessica Henwick, must fight to survive as the facility implodes, oxygen tanks are dangerously low and Lovecraftian creatures pick them off one by one. And while Underwater received mixed reviews, it will certainly make you question going scuba diving ever again.

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Cloverfield

Released: 2008

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Approximately seven hours ago, some … thing attacked the city. I don’t know what it is. If you found this tape, I mean if you’re watching this right now, then you probably know more about it than I do.”

A decapitated Statue of Liberty, a demolished Brooklyn Bridge and a giant monster on top of Grand Central. It’s hard to imagine our beloved New York City devastated by mysterious creatures, but Matt Reeves succeeds in making Cloverfield feel absolutely real. Filmed in found-footage style, this disaster movie follows a crew of young 20-somethings (Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller) as they try to get to safety as the city crumbles around them. This film was a box office hit and praised by critics for its clever storytelling and terrifying special effects.

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Apollo 13

Released: 1995

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Based on the true story of the 13th Apollo mission, this film stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton as astronauts whose spaceship gets damaged during an attempted moon landing. With their systems failing and drifting through the blackness of space, Apollo 13 showcases the real-life courage and determination of all NASA and the astronauts in their attempt to overcome insurmountable odds. This critically acclaimed movie was nominated for a whopping nine Academy Awards and won Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Plus, it has one of the most memorable movie quotes on this list.

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Alive

Released: 1993

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “Many people come up to me and say that, had they been there, they surely would have died. But it makes no sense. Because until you’re in a situation like that, you … you have no idea how you’d behave.”

Alive is truly a testament to human perseverance and willpower. Based on the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash in the Andes Mountains, the film follows the stranded rugby team who spend 72 days in the freezing weather—and the harrowing lengths they go to just to survive. Disaster movies tend to lean toward sensationalism, but Alive was praised by critics for its respectful handling of the real-life tragedy, as well as its inspirational message.

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Pearl Harbor

Released: 2001

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”

Michael Bay’s epic war drama depicts a fictionalized version of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. Starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as two pilots in love with the same army nurse (portrayed by Kate Beckinsale), this is a romance movie at heart, but the 40-minute scene depicting the attack accurately captures its chaos and bloodshed. Although Pearl Harbor received negative reviews, mostly for its dialogue, it won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and was nominated for Best Sound, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song.

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The Impossible

Released: 2012

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “After that, when I came up, I was on my own. That was the scariest part. And when I saw the two of you clinging to the tree, I didn’t feel so scared anymore. I knew I wasn’t on my own.”

Based on the real-life tragedy of the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake in 2004, The Impossible is a heart-wrenching but emotionally uplifting powerhouse. It follows a family vacationing in Thailand when the sudden tsunami rips them apart, and they must find each other in the pandemonium that ensues. And while the performances from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland in his break-out role are incredible—Naomi Watts was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress—it’s the courage and kindness of strangers depicted in the film that will touch your heart. If you love tearjerkers, check out these other sad movies.

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Train to Busan

Released: 2016

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “I’ll take you to mom no matter what.”

This thrilling Korean movie takes a different spin on the zombie genre by imagining the outbreak spreading on a three-hour bullet train from Seoul to Busan. Starring Gong Yoo as a father desperate to keep his daughter safe, even at the expense of others, Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok (whom you may recognize from Marvel’s Eternals), Train to Busan also provides social commentary and questions the cost of survival. It was an international hit and nominated for Best Film at the Baeksang Arts Awards. Watch these other excellent Asian movies next!

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World War Z

Released: 2013

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Every person we save is one less zombie to fight.”

How would governmental organizations around the world realistically react to a sudden zombie outbreak? Based on the bestselling horror novel written by Max Brooks, World War Z treats the undead like an actual virus. The film situates us at the forefront of the zombie pandemic, as a United Nations investigator (Brad Pitt) must travel across the world to search for a vaccine. Reminiscent of Contagion, the film was a commercial success and set the bar higher for smart zombie movies. If you loved reading World War Z, check out these other scary books.

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Volcano

Released: 1997

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Roark, Roark. There’s lava in the red line. This just came through on the radio. The lava had overtaken a subway train in MacArthur Park and completely destroyed it.”

If you ever played “the floor is lava” as a kid, this movie takes it to the next level. Despite the title, you won’t actually see a volcano—rather, the movie imagines an earthquake hitting Los Angeles and causing a volcano to form underneath the city and spew lava through the subway system, causing massive destruction in its wake. It’s a delightfully absurd plot, and Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche and Don Cheadle lean heavily into the campiness of the movie as their characters try to save L.A. Volcano is one of those so-bad-it’s-good movies that has become a cult classic disaster movie. We recommend watching this one with friends to make it an even more fun experience. If you enjoy cult classics, read through this list of great movies that got bad reviews.

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Twister

Released: 1996

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I always just thought it was a metaphor.”

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton star in this hair-raising film about—you guessed it—tornadoes. A meteorologist and weather reporter on the brink of divorce, yet united by their passion for storm chasing, they find themselves caught up in a record-breaking, mile-wide F5 tornado. This box-office hit was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound at the Academy Awards and won the BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects. Even if you don’t live in a tornado zone, Twister will absolutely unlock a fear of tornadoes that you didn’t even know you had.

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7:19

Released: 2016

Rated: TV-MA

Memorable quote: “Forty years! Being treated like dirt, earning peanuts and two weeks before my retirement, two weeks before I took my TV home, so that I would never come back here. You have no idea what it’s like. Besides, I’m worse off than you. You’ll get better as soon as you come out. We all wanna get out. We’re all trapped. Just like you.”

Perhaps one of the most underrated international disaster movies, 7:19 situates us in the tragic 1985 Mexico City earthquake. This harrowing Mexican drama film is shown entirely from the perspective of two men (Demián Bichir and Héctor Bonilla) trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building. They, along with some of the disembodied voices they hear in the distance, are from different walks of life, but they try to call to each other and keep each other calm while they wait for a rescue that may never come. While it’s a survival film that effectively induces claustrophobia and panic, it also paints a portrait of class inequality and absolutely deserves more acclaim.

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The Perfect Storm

Released: 2000

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “You could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this. It would be a disaster of epic proportions.”

This natural disaster movie is about the real-life Perfect Storm of 1991, when three large storms converged off the coast of Nova Scotia. Following the crew of a small fishing vessel who braved the inclement weather in an attempt to bring back their biggest haul and save their ailing business, this intense thriller starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane was nominated for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. This nail-biter is definitely a must-see.

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Pandora

Released: 2016

Rated: TV-MA

Memorable quote: “Beloved citizens, I sadly admit there is nothing the government can do.”

A fictionalized version of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, this Korean film is about an earthquake that causes a nuclear power plant to explode and the courageous plant workers who step up and try to save the country when politicians fail. With its anxiety-ridden scenes of mass chaos, realistic special effects, captivating storytelling and stellar acting, the film was nominated for 10 Grand Bell Awards. Pandora is an emotional roller coaster—keep a box of tissues handy. If you love Korean cinema, we recommend watching these Netflix K-dramas next.

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Threads

Released: 1984

Rated: TV-MA

Memorable quote: “Attack warning! Is it for real?”

Written during the Cold War, this terrifying and sobering film depicts what would happen if nuclear war actually broke out and how it would realistically affect civilization. By focusing on the decimation of a small, otherwise peaceful English city, Threads challenges the “It wouldn’t happen to us” mindset that many of us have and reminds viewers that the threat is always there. In the process, the film portrays the consequences of nuclear war with unsettling accuracy.

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Godzilla

Released: 1954

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Ogata, if the Oxygen Destroyer is used even once, the politicians of the world won’t stand idly by. They’ll inevitably turn it into a weapon. Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles. As a scientist—no, as a human being—adding another terrifying weapon to humanity’s arsenal is something I can’t allow.”

Ishirô Honda’s iconic Godzilla has been remade, adapted and parodied over and over again. But the tale of a giant lizard monster wreaking havoc on Japan is actually an allegory for the horrors of nuclear holocaust, and the terror and trauma that Japanese people felt after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This original Godzilla film is lauded as a cinematic masterpiece—but if you’re not a fan of older cinema, the Gareth Edwards 2014 reboot stays truest to the original’s themes. Check out these other classic films and their less successful movie remakes.

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The Towering Inferno

Released: 1974

Rated: PG (Keep in mind, ratings were different back then—this is not for your little ones)

Memorable quote: “Now, you know there’s no sure way for us to fight a fire in anything over the seventh floor, but you guys just keep building ’em as high as you can.”

The Towering Inferno put fire disaster movies on an even grander scale. When a fire erupts in the world’s tallest building on its opening night, guests must find a way to escape the death trap as firemen struggle to put it out from below. With a cast of the biggest Hollywood stars such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, The Towering Inferno boasts stellar performances while questioning the real-world costs of unchecked development. This film won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Song, and the tense action sequences still hold up today.

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Only the Brave

Released: 2017

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Fire’s making a run for our line, and by the time she gets here she’s going to be too strong to hold. Gonna crown that ridge, spot over and run straight into town.”

This emotional drama highlights the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of courageous firefighters who saved thousands of people during the devastating Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly, Only the Brave is unique from other disaster movies (and in particular, natural disaster movies) in that it explores the lives of the firefighters years before the big forest fire. This is what makes the emotional impact of the disaster that much more heart-wrenching. Have tissues ready! Afterward, read this list of things firefighters wish you knew.

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The Wave (Bølgen)

Released: 2015

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “In 10 minutes, the entire town will be gone.”

While the fjords of Norway may seem like just a gorgeous and idyllic tourist attraction, The Wave serves as a somber reminder of just how fragile our planet is. Director Roar Uthaug’s Norwegian film is based on a real-life rockslide disaster that created a tsunami over 200 feet high. The characters are the townspeople who live on the fjord and must run for their lives to get to higher ground in just 10 minutes. Despite the film’s modest budget, the special effects (that terrifying wave!) are absolutely believable, and you feel like you’re watching real people. This underrated movie will have your heart racing as you squirm in your seat, so don’t sleep on this one.

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Skyfire

Released: 2019

Rated: Not Rated

Memorable quote: “Only a lunatic would build a world-class resort on a ticking time bomb of molten earth, right?”

Imagine Jurassic Park, but with a volcano instead of dinosaurs. This epic Chinese disaster action movie imagines a volcanic eruption at a beautiful island resort along the Pacific Rim volcanic belt. Starring Hannah Quinlivan, Wang Xueqi, Shawn Dou and Jason Isaacs, the film has a very simple (albeit absurd) plot, but it’s worth watching for the high-budget special effects alone, which will definitely make your jaw drop.

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Unstoppable

Released: 2010

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “What if I cancel the derailer and you fail, Frank? Huh? That train will be doing 70 miles an hour into that elevated S-curve in Stanton. The damage will be a hundred times worse.”

Based on the real-life 2001 CSX 8888 incident, Unstoppable stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as two men who must stop a runaway freight train carrying hazardous chemicals that will explode if it crashes. Most of the film takes place aboard the freight train, a setting that proves to be a perfect vehicle for late director Tony Scott’s frenetic style of filmmaking, capturing the sense of speed and volatility through quick cuts while consistently dialing up the stakes. This thrilling film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing.

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Deepwater Horizon

Released: 2016

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “Well, magenta alarm on an oil rig is as bad as it gets. That’s worthy of superstition.”

Mark Wahlberg stars in this action drama about the 2010 offshore drilling rig explosion that caused a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the polemical nature of the real-life incident, Deepwater Horizon concerns itself less with the politics surrounding what went wrong and focuses on the story of the individuals forced to fight for their lives—ultimately a smart choice that makes for a better, more impactful film. This film was nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards.

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The Birds

Released: 1963

Rated: PG-13

Memorable quote: “There are 8,650 species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that 5,750,000,000 birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world … probably contain more than 100,000,000,000 birds!”

As the title suggests, Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic horror film imagines birds, from seagulls to crows to sparrows, launching violent attacks on mankind. Hitchcock was inspired by a real-life event where seagulls began behaving erratically (later revealed to be due to toxic algae). In the film, a small town is thrown into panic as the winged creatures we’ve previously deemed harmless suddenly attack with their sharp beaks and talons. Starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, The Birds definitely triggered ornithophobia in millions of movie-goers.

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Perfect Sense

Released: 2011

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “There was darkness. There is light. There are men and women. There’s food. There are restaurants. Disease. There’s work. Traffic. The days as we know them, the world as we imagine the world.”

You don’t get a lot of disaster movies that are almost entirely character driven, rather than action driven, but this romance disaster movie is a slow burn. Perfect Sense imagines an epidemic that slowly takes away each of our sensory perceptions, and rather than depicting mass calamity, it focuses on two lovers who must guide each other through literal darkness. While the movie opened to mixed reviews, Ewan McGregor and Eva Green give stunning performances in this beautiful yet heartbreaking love story.

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Sarah Jinee Park
Sarah Jinee Park is a Korean American writer and editor from Queens, NY. By day, she works at a tech start up, and by night, she's the Executive Editor of Mochi Magazine. In a past life, she led creative writing and graphic noveling workshops for children. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Truancy Magazine, Peach Velvet Magazine, and Polychrome Magazine. Read more of her work at sarahjineepark.com.