In the recent past, I’ve talked about my top picks from the first big wave of disaster films to hit cinemas in the 1970s. Now I’m listing my favorite movies that were released during the second wave in the 90s.
ARMAGEDDON (1998) – Directed by Michael Bay; starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi
A humongous asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and NASA is desperate to come up with a plan to stop the collision. The answer, they hope, is a team of blue-collar deep-core drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Willis). Will they be able to set off an explosion on the asteroid to divert its course?
This movie was a little hard to resist, once I saw the all-star line-up. (And I wasn’t the only one to feel that way – it was the #1 movie of 1998.) I expected all action and little to no characterization. But I was pleasantly surprised. Humor is always a great ingredient, and there were even a few genuinely touching moments in the film. The actors prove they deserve to be stars.
DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman
The quaint, picturesque (fictional) town of Dante’s Peak, Washington is suddenly threatened with destruction when a nearby mountain turns out to be a volcano. (I hate it when that happens!)
Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) is the volcanologist who tries to warn the inhabitants, but of course, no one takes him seriously. When all hell breaks loose, he tries to help his new friend, the town’s mayor, (Hamilton) escape with her children. The special effects were (mostly) quite good and I definitely had no complaints about the actors involved.
I’m a huge fan of Brosnan’s, but I suppose the main reason I was drawn to this movie is because it likely could happen at some point in the future, affecting a populous city (unlike Mount St. Helens).
DAYLIGHT (1996) – Directed by Rob Cohen; starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Danielle Harris
What do you get when a caravan of trucks carrying toxic waste collide with a stolen car used in a jewelry heist inside the heavily traveled Holland Tunnel? Impressive explosions – and the perfect vehicle for Sylvester Stallone to use to achieve more box office success.
Stallone is excellent in the role of Kit Latura, an ex-medical services chief turned cab driver who witnesses the collapse of the tunnel and springs into action to help the trapped victims. On the inside, among the survivors, sporting goods retailer Ray Nord (Mortensen) takes charge and tries to lead everyone to safety.
I found the movie a little exhausting to watch, there are so many ups, downs, close calls and triumphant moments. And the special effects are convincing, too.
DEEP IMPACT (1998) Directed by Mimi Leder; starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell
Earth is being threatened by a comet so large it could cause a mass extinction. Scientists and governments around the world try to find a way to destroy it, and somehow prepare for the worst.
Stellar acting all the way around and a more realistic ending, with moments of genuine emotion, helped hold my attention. Most of the special effects take place towards the end, of course.
This movie didn’t fare as well at the box office as Armageddon, which was released just a few months later. However, astronomers claimed that Deep Impact was more scientifically accurate (if you care about that sort of thing).
And…Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States? I’m all for it.
INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) Directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid
Finally! A good old-fashioned alien invasion! With fabulous special effects and a killer cast. Loved the action, the humor, the touching moments, the failures…and especially the triumphs. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996. Will Smith can do no wrong! (At least not back then.) And it doesn’t hurt my feelings that the story begins on July 2nd – my birthday.
SPEED (1994) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels
I liked the premise of this movie. And I don’t care what you say about Keanu Reeves, he’s one of my favorite actors.
LAPD cops Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Daniels) are tasked with saving the lives of civilians who are trapped on a city bus rigged to explode if the speed drops below 50 mph. Naturally, Dennis Hopper is superior in the role of bomber Howard Payne. When the bus driver is wounded, Annie Porter (Bullock) takes the wheel.
The story has a nail-biting beginning, introducing the bomber and the cop he’s obsessed with, Traven. Trapped people on a sabotaged elevator always freak me out. The suspense holds on throughout the entire movie.
TITANIC (1997) Directed by James Cameron; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Jonathan Hyde, Bill Paxton
Why do I feel the need to apologize for putting this one on the list? (Oh, right…guilty pleasure.) If you are as fascinated as I am by shipwrecks and any mention of the Titanic disaster, if you fancy doomed romances between couples from different social classes (DiCaprio and Winslet), and you adore jealous, devilishly handsome villains (Zane), then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to watch this lengthy film at least once. And if all of that isn’t enough, the special effects showing the sinking of the Titanic are worth waiting around for.
TWISTER (1996) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz
The story begins in the summer of 1969 in Oklahoma. Young Jo and her family are in the direct path of an F5 tornado. The family takes refuge in the storm shelter as all hell breaks loose. In the chaos, Jo’s father is killed and the girl is traumatized.
Flash forward to the 90s and Jo (Hunt) is now a meteorologist (obsessed with tornadoes). One day her estranged husband (Paxton), who was once a weather researcher, shows up with his new sex therapist fiancée (Gertz) to get Jo to sign their divorce papers. Instead, Jo sucks him into a storm chasing adventure.
I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any of the others. I would never chase them, but I’ve always been in awe of tornadoes (having been one street over from one during a storm many years ago in Ohio).
This one has it all: crazy action and special effects, humor, romance (and a love triangle), good guys, bad guys, emotional drama and Bill Paxton (love me some Bill, and I can’t believe he’s already gone).
VOLCANO (1997) Directed by Mick Jackson; starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Gaby Hoffman
The fact that this film was released two months after Dante’s Peak could have something to do with its mixed reviews and lower box office draw. I had to give it a chance because I’m a fan of Tommy Lee Jones.
And the premise is different – no mountain explodes in this movie, like you’d expect. Instead, Los Angeles is struck by an earthquake that leads to a volcanic rift opening in the middle of the city, near the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Mike Roark (Jones), the head of Emergency Management, is forced to work with geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Heche) to come up with a plan to save as much of Los Angeles as they can.
Jones is always a pleasure to watch in any role. And there are some really good performances in this film. The action and special effects are admirable, too.