20 Best Disaster Movies of All Time, Ranked According to Letterboxd


There used to be no greater spectacle in cinema than the disaster movie. Often big-budget movies designed with the sole purpose of causing as much destruction as possible, these films found their characters trying to survive increasingly dangerous situations. While some of these movies would feature disasters caused by humans, such as buildings on fire and plane crashes, usually these films would see their stars at the mercy of the elements.

The genre is not as popular as it used to be, as superhero movies and the Transformers series seem to have a monopoly on mass-scale destruction on the big screen. That does not stop disaster movies from being popular, however, and a survey on Letterboxd decided to find the best disaster movies of all time. The top disaster movies that are most mentioned on Letterboxd contain the usual suspects, while also offering a few surprises as its entries cover all manner of catastrophes. Whether it is the world-destroying Deep Impact, or Volcano, which sees L.A. flooded with rivers of lava, there is still an audience keen to see out-of-control weather lay waste to humanity. If the weather outside has got you down, throw on one of these disaster flicks and reassure yourself that things could be worse.

20 ‘Annihilation’ (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Image via Paramount Pictures

Far from a typical disaster movie, Annihilation is a psychological sci-fi horror film that follows a group of scientists tasked with entering “The Shimmer,” a mysterious zone filled with mutating plants and animals. As they travel deeper and deeper into the destructive and unexplainable zone, they come to realize just how much danger surrounds them at every corner, as they draw closer and closer to the powerful force at the center of it all.

While there are plenty of disaster visuals and wildly destructive concepts inside of The Shimmer itself, the greatest strengths of Annihilation come from its character dynamics and overarching themes. The film is dense with philosophical themes and messages that can be interpreted in many different ways, yet it’s the inherent terror and nightmarish possibilities of The Shimmer that help tie it all together. It’s certainly not the first film people would think of when considering the best disaster movies, but it earns its place with its unique take on a world-destroying disaster. – Robert Lee


Release Date
February 22, 2018

Alex Garland

115 minutes

19 ‘Godzilla’ (1954)

Director: Ishiro Honda

An iconic shot from Godzilla (1954)
Image via Toho

While Godzilla as a character has become a beloved icon of disaster movies, with many memorable film outings over the years, nothing can truly top the masterfully crafted original film. The original Godzilla follows the 50-meter-tall monster breaking havoc across Japan following his awakening from several shops exploding near Odo Island. The citizens and leaders of Japan are forced to do all that they can to stop the destruction of Godzilla, by any means necessary.

Godzilla is easily one of the most iconic and influential disaster movies of all time, influencing far more than the multitude of sequels, but acting as one of the quintessential beginnings for giant monster movies as a whole. While giant monster disaster movies certainly existed before Godzilla, such as the case with the original King Kong, Godzilla redefined exactly what was possible with the genre, providing thematic depth and powerful emotion to the genre. – Robert Lee

Godzilla (1954)

Release Date
November 3, 1954

Ishirô Honda

Takashi Shimura , Akihiko Hirata , Akira Takarada , Momoko Kôchi

96 minutes

18 ‘Independence Day’ (1996)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Aliens blowing up the White House in Independence Day
Image Via 20th Century Studios

When aliens finally arrive at Earth and declare war on humanity, it falls to a group of humans to turn the tide in our favor. Following the exploits of the U.S. President, a scientist, a fighter pilot, and other ragtag survivors, Independence Day showcases humanity’s insurmountable willpower in the face of impossible odds. While director Roland Emmerich has made a name for himself as the go-to director for massive-budget disaster films, Independence Day is the film that put him on the map for audiences across the world.

Beloved by a large audience, Independence Day finds its way onto many lists of top ten disaster movies thanks to its sheer scale. It is the quintessential big-budget disaster movie, featuring cutting-edge special effects for the time and stacked with an all-star cast that includes Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. Even to this day, the powerful shot of the white house being destroyed by the alien ship is one of the most iconic and recognizable disaster movie moments in film history.

Independence Day

Release Date
June 25, 1996

Roland Emmerich


17 ‘Deep Impact’ (1998)

Director: Mimi Leder

When a dangerous comet is discovered to be speeding toward Earth, scientists scramble to predict how much damage the asteroid will cause. As it is revealed that the comet will wipe out humanity, the government scrambles to concoct a plan that will save as many people as possible. At the same time, it covers a variety of other stories, including a reporter looking to get the scoop of the century, as it sees how everyday people are reacting and handling the terrifying possibility of a world-ending disaster.

Releasing the same summer as Armageddon, Deep Impact did not achieve that movie’s box office success but was classified by professionals as being more scientifically accurate. While it can be a tad melodramatic at times, Deep Impact still offers enough disaster movie thrills for fans to enjoy. Especially compared to a number of disaster movies whose focus is much more on wild, unbelievable disasters, Deep Impact‘s focus on characters and realism has made it highly commendable over the years.

Watch on Paramount+

16 ‘Volcano’ (1997)

Director: Mick Jackson

After an earthquake strikes Los Angeles, it reveals a dormant volcano underneath the city. As the city officials fail to act in time, the volcano erupts and causes havoc as molten lava flows down the city streets. It falls to a seismologist and other specialists to save the day, having to work together with each other to stop the volcano from completely consuming all of Los Angeles before it’s too late.

While Volcano falls into the same cheesy tropes that are common in the disaster genre, it still provides enough thrills to keep things entertaining. The lava effects are poor by today’s standards, but the audacity of a volcano erupting in Los Angeles makes this disaster flick worth watching. The film is living proof that a disaster film doesn’t have to be realistic or even have timeless effects to be memorable, as it is still full of creative sequences and thrilling moments throughout.

Watch on Starz

15 ‘San Andreas’ (2015)

Director: Brad Peyton

The Golden Gate Bridge about to be hit by a tidal wave in San Andreas
Image Via Warner Bros.

When a series of earthquakes wreak havoc across the West Coast of the United States, it threatens to tear the country apart. With their daughter trapped in the center of the carnage, rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) are forced to reunite to save her. As the disasters continue to pile-up across the state, the danger increases around every corner and the chances of survival are close to zero.

Like plenty of Johnson’s movies, San Andreas is big dumb fun. It is one of the top disaster movies of recent years and features plenty of destruction as earthquakes and debris tear buildings and roads to pieces. It’s far from what could be considered high art, but its usage of CGI to create massive spectacle as well as its simple yet effective story made it an effective and simple popcorn flick over the years. A sequel has been rumored for years but has yet to enter production.

San Andreas

Release Date
May 27, 2015

Brad Peyton


Watch on Tubi

14 ‘Melancholia’ (2011)

Director: Lars von Trier

Kirsten Dunst wearing a dress lying on a bed of water surrounded by leaves in Melancholia.
Image Via Magnolia Pictures

Controversial director Lars von Trier‘s foray into the disaster genre, Melancholia follows a pair of sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as they discover another planet named Melancholia is about to collide with Earth. Taking place on Justine’s (Dunst) wedding day, the film explores Justine’s relationships with her friends and family as the threat looms above them. It becomes a difficult balancing act of attempting to have the typical “greatest day ever” that comes with a wedding, while also understanding the all too real inevitability of mass destruction.

In typical von Trier fashion, Melancholia is an art-house film through and through. Those expecting a big-budget spectacle will be disappointed as the film instead uses the impending disaster to explore themes such as depression while showcasing one of the best performances of Dunst’s career. It’s certainly one of the most unique and powerful interpretations of a disaster film, giving more insight and personal insight than any other disaster film out there.


Release Date
May 26, 2011

Lars von Trier


13 ‘2012’ (2009)

Director: Roland Emmerich

A plane flying through collapsing buildings in 2012
Image via Columbia Pictures

Based on the obviously false myth that the world was going to end in 2012, 2012 takes this concept and turns it into a blockbuster disaster movie. With all manner of deadly disasters plaguing the earth, from earthquakes to floods, novelist Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) struggles to get his family to safety. The solution and beacon of safety comes in the form of many “arks” that are being made by world leaders across the world in an attempt to keep humanity alive and safe during the chaos.

Billed as the mother of all disaster movies due to its focus on such a well-documented apocalyptic prophecy, 2012 does not reach the heights of the best in the genre, but it is still entertaining. Cusack makes for a likable everyman while he is joined by a stacked cast of beloved actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson. The film has unexpectedly made a name for itself as one of the first movies that many people think of when they think of disaster movies, as one of the most defining and successful disaster movies of the 21st century.


Release Date
October 10, 2009

Roland Emmerich


12 ‘Deepwater Horizon’ (2016)

Director: Peter Berg

Mark Wahlberg reaching out to someone in Deepwater Horizon
Image Via Lionsgate

Based on the real-life tragedy that occurred in 2010, Deepwater Horizon follows the crew of an oil rig stationed out at sea as it explodes and threatens to kill all aboard. As the survivors scramble to stay alive, technician Michael Williams (Mark Wahlberg) takes charge to lead his co-workers to safety.

While it takes some liberties with the true event for the sake of storytelling, Deepwater Horizon was praised for its accuracy. It unfortunately bombed at the box office, but the film has been well-regarded since release, as it remains one of the best catastrophe movies to focus on a real-life man-made disaster. Especially when so many disaster movies focus on wildly inaccurate fictional disasters, seeing a film that retells and honors a real-life disaster and the heroes whose lives were lost is highly commendable.

Deepwater Horizon

Release Date
September 29, 2016

Peter Berg


11 ‘Contagion’ (2011)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Jennifer Ehle standing together in Contagion
Image via Warner Bros.

Contagion centers around a highly contagious virus as it sweeps the world and kills anyone it comes into contact with. As the death toll rises higher and higher, experts around the globe scramble to find a cure in this terrifying thriller that stars an all-star cast including the likes of Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Laurence Fishburne. While there have been many other movies that tackle the dangers of disease, few have had as much of a global, disastrous scale as Contagion.

Despite being released almost a decade before the COVID pandemic, Contagion‘s scenario is eerily similar to the real-world disaster. The film was already praised for being a thrilling and tense experience that kept viewers on the edge of their seats, yet it has only grown more powerful with age. Watching Contagion now makes for a much more startling experience as certain elements would have one believe they were ripped straight from the headlines that have appeared in the years since the beginning of the pandemic.


Release Date
September 8, 2011

Steven Soderbergh

gwyneth paltrow , Tien You Chui , Josie Ho , Daria Strokous , Matt Damon , Monique Gabriela Curnen


10 ‘The Towering Inferno’ (1974)

Director: John Guillermin

Paul Newman faces the fire in 'The Towering Inferno'
Image via 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.

When a group of guests congregates for the opening party of the world’s tallest skyscraper, technical shortcomings lead to the partygoers being trapped in the 136-story building as it is set ablaze. As rescuers attempt to save those trapped at the top, the survivors inside must avoid the growing flames. It’s simple premise yet airtight and powerful execution made it one of the most iconic and thrilling film experiences of its era.

The Towering Inferno was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and ended up winning the awards for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Original Song. It was also a hit with audiences, as it was the highest-grossing movie of 1974. While its almost three-hour runtime does stretch the plot out a bit too far, The Towering Inferno still remains an engaging and original take on the disaster genre.

The Towering Inferno

Release Date
December 14, 1974

John Guillermin , Irwin Allen


9 ‘The Birds’ (1963)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Melanie running away from killer birds in The Birds
Image via Universal Pictures

One of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best movies, The Birds does for the winged creatures what Jaws did for sharks. When young socialite Melanie follows a potential suitor to his hometown, she soon finds herself caught in a swarm of killer birds, who have turned homicidal and are terrorizing the residents. With nearly the entire town now under attack by swarms of vicious avians, they attempt to do what they can to survive the onslaught and learn why the birds are attacking in the first place.

While its effects may look laughable today, The Birds was hailed as terrifying at release and praised as another winner from the master of suspense. Even today, over 60 years since the release of the film, the filmmaking and suspenseful moments still hold up when compared to modern contemporary thrillers and disaster films. Like a lot of Hitchcock’s work, the movie proved to be influential in the thriller genre and was bestowed the highest accolade that any work of art can receive: being parodied on The Simpsons.

The Birds

Release Date
March 28, 1963

Rod Taylor , Jessica Tandy , Suzanne Pleshette , Tippi Hedren


8 ‘Airplane!’ (1980)

Directors: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker

A group of people playing instruments in a cockpit in the movie Airplane!
Image via Paramount Pictures

Easily the funniest disaster movie of all time, Airplane! is a parody of other films within the genre, satirically poking fun at the conventions and tropes of disaster movies as a whole. Taking place aboard an American passenger flight, the trip is thrown into chaos as the pilots become ill. Thus, it falls to former army pilot Ted Striker, who must overcome his fear of flying to land the plane, save the day, and win back his ex-girlfriend Elaine.

Regarded as one of the greatest comedies of all time, Airplane!‘s humor still holds up over forty years later. The film has a distinct, rapid-fire approach to its jokes, making it so audiences will pick up on new jokes on every subsequent rewatch, making it an endlessly enjoyable comedy experience. It was highly influential in the parody genre and its influence can be felt in films such as Scary Movie, while star Leslie Nielsen would go on to headline The Naked Gun, another parody series built in the same vein.


Release Date
July 2, 1980

Jim Abrahams , David Zucker , Jerry Zucker

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar , Lloyd Bridges , Peter Graves , Julie Hagerty , Robert Hays , Leslie Nielsen

88 minutes

7 ‘Dante’s Peak’ (1997)

Director: Roger Donaldson

Daring to ask what would happen if James Bond and Sarah Connor had to fight a volcano, Dante’s Peak stars Pierce Brosnan as a volcanologist who tries to evacuate a town after discovering a nearby volcano is about to erupt. Linda Hamilton co-stars as the mayor of the skeptical town. It doesn’t take long however before the eruption takes place, and everyone in the town is forced to evacuate and fight for their lives amid the catastrophic nightmare.

While Dante’s Peak offers clunky dialogue and cardboard characters, the film’s main attraction of an erupting volcano lives up to the hype. It’s easily some of the most well crafted and visually powerful disasters put to film and is the clear highlight of the film that has elevated it to icon status over the years. The movie is at its best when everything is on fire, and Dante’s Peak’s penchant for fiery destruction is enough for the film to have attracted a cult following since its release.

Rent on Apple TV

6 ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (1972)

Director: Ronald Neame

Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) tends to Belle (Shelley Winters) in 'The Poseidon Adventure'
Image via 20th Century Fox

One of the most popular disaster movies of all time, The Poseidon Adventure revolves around a cruise ship that is traveling from New York to Greece. When a rogue tidal wave strikes the boat during its New Year’s Eve celebrations, the ship is flipped upside down. The few survivors must make their way to the surface while avoiding all manner of hazards. Especially in an era before computerized graphics would become the norm for disaster films, The Poseidon Adventure still has dynamic and powerful visuals that hold up to this day.

The Poseidon Adventure was well-received by critics and received eight Academy Award nominations, including nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, and even Best Supporting Actress. The film also received a special achievement Academy Award for its outstanding and ahead-of-the-time visual effects. Thanks to its enjoyable premise and a great cast that includes Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine, The Poseidon Adventure maintains a reputation as a cult film.

The Poseidon Adventure

Release Date
December 13, 1972

Ronald Neame , Irwin Allen


5 ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (2004)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Tsunami waves hitting NYC in The Day After Tomorrow
Image via 20th Century Fox

Envisioning a series of natural disasters that result in the world experiencing a new Ice Age, The Day After Tomorrow stars Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal as father and son. When paleoclimatologist Jack’s warnings of the impending disaster are ignored, he instead turns his attention to saving his teenage son Sam, who is trapped in the middle of the disaster. Much like Emmerich’s other disaster movies, the film was critically mixed upon release, but was a massive commercial hit with audiences who connected with its powerful and thrilling disaster premise.

Despite being twenty years old, The Day After Tomorrow‘s focus on the dangers of global warming remains relevant today. While it contains some notable scientific inaccuracies that have been pointed out by experts in the field, it is still one of the most thought-provoking movies in the disaster genre. The duo of lead performances from Quaid and Gyllenhaal also do an exceptional job at helping the film age well, as their inherent chemistry and core dynamic as father and son works exceptionally well in the film.

4 ‘The Impossible’ (2012)

Director: J. A. Bayona

Tom Holland and Naomi Watts in 'The Impossible'
Image via Warner Bros.

One of the best survival movies based on a true story, The Impossible is inspired by the tragic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. When the massive tsunami strikes Thailand, a family on vacation is torn apart by the unforgiving waves. As the parents (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) are separated, they attempt to reunite with their three children, including Tom Holland in his film debut. It’s easily one of the most emotionally charged and tearjerking disaster movies out there, as it doesn’t hold back on its powerful emotional moments.

The Impossible is an extraordinary tale about the emotional devastation that real-life disasters have on families, and the extreme lengths they will go to keep each other safe. While many disaster films will have their characters attempting to survive and fight against a disaster as it is happening, The Impossible gets more mileage showing the destruction and fight for survival in the wreckage of a monstrous event. As heartbreaking as it is hopeful, The Impossible is one of the most touching disaster movies, as it showcases the unbeatable power of the human spirit even in the worst of times.

The Impossible

Release Date
January 4, 2013

114 minutes

3 ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Image via Universal Pictures

Swapping natural disasters for the revival of dinosaurs, Jurassic Park imagines a scenario where humans find themselves knocked down the food chain. When entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) claims to have found a way to bring back dinos, he invites a select group of specialists to his island to view the results. However, the showcase quickly goes awry when disaster strikes the tour, letting the dangerous killer dinosaurs run rampant across the island.

With fantastic special effects that still hold up and an all-star cast that includes Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park remains one of the most rewatchable films ever and one of Steven Spielberg’s best movies. While the film was successful enough to create a wide number of sequels and continuations over the years, none of them can hold a candle to the emotional weight and power of Spielberg’s original masterpiece.

Jurassic Park

Release Date
June 11, 1993


2 ‘Twister’ (1996)

Director: Jan de Bont

Bill and Jo Hold Onto Each Other in Twister
Image via Warner Bros.

Set in the wild world of storm chasers, Twister follows a team as they chase an outbreak of tornados in Oklahoma. As leader Jo (Helen Hunt) tries to keep her crew members alive during the disaster, she must also contend with her ex-husband Bill (Bill Paxton) who has arrived looking for Jo to sign their divorce papers. The emotional struggles prove to come to ahead when the danger and terror of the tornado proves to be too much to handle for the team.

Trading three-dimensional characters for dazzling special effects, Twister showcases the terrors of Mother Nature on film. Tornados are terrifying due to their unpredictable nature, and the movie utilizes that by having its titular storms rip through entire houses, sending the mangled wreckage flying at anyone unfortunate enough to be close by in one of the ultimate storm movies. Twister has in a sense become the quintessential example of the perfect disaster movie, and one that a wide variety of others would take inspiration from in the years to come.


Release Date
May 10, 1996


1 ‘Titanic’ (1997)

Director: James Cameron

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winselt as Jack and Rose sharing a romantic moment in Titanic
Image via 20th Century Fox

One of the most emotional blockbusters ever, Titanic takes the tale of the infamous shipwreck and uses it to tell a love story. When struggling artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) wins a ticket to board the titular ship as it voyages from England to New York, he begins a love affair with Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a young socialite. However, while their story of love and betrayal begins to unfold, it is quickly upended by the painfully infamous disaster crash of their seemingly unsinkable ship.

While the core of Titanic is the blossoming romance between Jack and Rose, it is no slouch when it comes to the impending disaster. As the ship strikes the iceberg, it is ripped apart, seeing its passengers killed in a variety of violent ways. Jack and Rose find themselves stuck in the middle of the tragedy, fighting to save both their lives and their love. It’s no wonder that the film was once the highest-grossing movie of all time, as its mixture between genuine emotion and blockbuster disaster sequences made it an instant classic right out of the gate.


Release Date
November 19, 1997

James Cameron

194 minutes

NEXT: The Best Disaster Movies of the 20th Century


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