States of Emergency! Rating the Disaster Movie Canon - Rolling Stone
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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


A scene from 'The Day After Tomorrow.'

Courtesy: Everett Collection

Four-alarm fires, devastating tsunamis and floods, seismic rumblings and crumblings — disaster movies live or die by how well they present their fictional rage-of-nature spectacles. Take the latest example to hit the multiplexes: Into the Storm, a 21st-century take on the genre that uses "found footage" culled from storm-chaser videographers, smart phones and surveillance cameras to portray a town literally torn apart by numerous tornadoes. (Call it Meteorological Activity.) Were you to rate this would-be blockbuster according to an adherence to the rules of found-footage movies, the quality of the line-readings or, say, simple logic, you'd find it wanting. If you were to assess the movie by its sequences involving flaming twisters and far-flung semi trucks and jet airliners, however, you'd probably be inclined to be way more generous, if not downright giddy, when it comes to pointing your thumbs up or down.

So we've taken a look back at some of the best-known disaster flicks of the past 30-plus years and have sized them up according to their sound and fury: How well do they level small villages and big cities? Are they creative in how they unleash the elements, or do they cravenly cop out with cut-rate CGI effects? Is the destruction horrifying realistic or hilariously cheesy? Here are 12 titles that demand to have their wreckage checked.


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