States of Emergency! Rating the Disaster Movie Canon

Raging floods, runaway blazes and perfect shark-stuffed storms — we break down the catastrophes of the disaster-flick classics

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'Earthquake' (1974)

Inspired by the 1971 San Fernando earthquake that registered a 6.6 on the Richter scale, this disaster movie shook up its audience as well as its all-star cast. The studio employed an innovation known as "Sensurround" that involved giant speakers blasting low frequencies throughout theater auditoriums — the better to make filmgoers feel as if they were in the middle of real rumbler. The use of the aftershock-and-awe ballyhoo admittedly helped sell the abundance of shakicam on display, as well as temper some of the more genuinely giggle-inducing moments of mayhem (debris rains down, the earth cracks open...and then a stunt rider falls off his bike). Yet our favorite WTF moment doesn't involve a technological gimmick; it's the introduction of a truckload of cows (?) that careens off the Los Angeles freeway. Every time we watch that bovine nosedive, we can feel the earth move.
Disaster rating: 6