Twister is silly, splashy disaster fun. But it also weaves together an adventure story with something more painfully human. The 1996 film, directed by Jan de Bont, stars Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, a storm-chasing couple on the verge of divorce who reunite amidst a massive tornado outbreak in Oklahoma. As Bill and Jo, their challenging romance is contrasted with the chaotic, maddeningly storms they attempt to track and study. Really, it’s a beautiful love story that just happens to feature tornadoes. God bless the ‘90s. To honor the perfect summer blockbuster, I decided to rank all of the twisters in Twister. Because hey, why not! Here are my picks.
6. The F5 tornado
Let’s start with the most controversial entry on this list. Yes, the famous F5 tornado that closes out the film comes in last place. Why? Because it’s easily the most absurd. And, honestly, the most boring.
This tornado seemingly lasts forever, which is, you know, not really how tornadoes behave. (Most tornadoes last less than 10 minutes; this one takes up about 20 minutes of screen time.) We never see it form, only witness it in annihilation mode. But outside of killing Cary Elwes, this “finger of God” is pretty unimpressive. Sure, it sends Bill and Jo on an odyssey through an Oklahoma farm, but it behaves erratically and never feels as dangerous as it should.
For the most part, this fearsome beast—the dreaded F5, talked about throughout the film—feels like a giant fuzzy teddy bear. It doesn’t even knock down the farmhouse! Almost every other tornado in the film is scarier or more interesting. Next!
5. The F1 tornado
The twister that really kicks off the action isn’t much to write home about either, but it sticks in the mind for how expertly it sets up the tone of the movie. There’s an urgency to this one that mirrors the reignition of the relationship between Bill and Jo. As they quarrel, the storm brews and rages. They get caught in the middle of it, this unpredictable tyrant that marks a new beginning chapter in their romance. It’s kind of beautiful?
4. The 1969 tornado
One of the more haunting sequences in the film comes right at the beginning. In a flashback to Jo’s childhood, we witness the twister that started it all. It comes in the night without warning and no alarm, and it rips through the farm that Jo’s family lives on like a blade through soft fruit. Jo’s father dies trying to protect his family when the door to their storm shelter won’t close; this harrowing moment kindles a fire in Jo that reverberates throughout the rest of the film.
3. The F3 tornado
It may seem curious that this one appears so high on the list, since it’s a barely-there entry. But something about this tornado—which appears on the lip of a hill and snarls like a beast at our heroes—is really scary. I don’t know if it’s the sound design used in the scene or how unpredictably it punches down from the sky, or maybe it’s the blackened appearance and melancholy sequence that follows. Whatever it is, whenever this one kicks into gear, I feel nervous and a little frightened. That’s the making of a good cinematic twister.
2. The drive-in tornado
Another terrifying moment comes at the drive-in movie theater. The team of tornado chasers, looking for rest and reprieve, realize they can’t escape the outbreak of twisters terrifying the plains on this day. As they settle in with sodas to enjoy a screening of The Shining, a gruesome F4 brews and comes right after them. It tears through the screen just as Jack Torrance axes down the bathroom door, creating a burst of chaotic synergy.
The entire scene is scary as hell. The crew and the other drive-in attendees make their way to a nearby building seeking protection. And though it mostly offers it, there’s still that gutting moment when a loose bit of debris slices open a dude’s head.
This sequence is so memorable that it got its own theme park attraction. Though it’s since shuttered, it was the setting for Twister… Ride It Out at Universal Studios in Orlando.
1. The waterspouts
Hear me out. Not only are the twin waterspouts really beautiful to behold, but they also work as metaphors like the F1 twister. Again, they symbolize the relationship of Bill and Jo—two forces of nature dancing around one another, creating magic together. These tornadoes are the most gentle and lovely in the film.
They’re also the vehicle for what might be the most memorable moment in all of Twister. They’re the tornadoes that carry the cow across the screen—twice. “Cow!” Who can forget? Without these dancing tornadoes, the movie would lack a certain charm—and that’s why we love it, after all.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures
Originally published on July 23, 2020.