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Stars and Stripes Forever (or Until We're Blown to Smithereens): Let's Celebrate Our Independence with the 20 Top Grossing Disaster Films

By Cindy Davis | Lists | July 3, 2013 |

By Cindy Davis | Lists | July 3, 2013 |

Apple pie, baseball, crappy cars and things that go boom…yeehaw, ‘murica! But seriously, we do like our apocalypses, explosions and disasters, don’t we? So after you celebrate with all the deliciously bad charbroiled foods, the ice cream, popsicles and beer; after the kids have run themselves ragged, sparklers waving; after all the glow in the dark bracelets have dimmed to a dull shadow of their former neon brilliance, and after the guy next door blasts off his last M-80, settle down in your favorite squishy chair and watch the world (or at least some part of it) come to an end. By land or by sea, by alien, nature, animal or robot, what’s more American than slowing down and taking time to smell the…death and destruction? Here are your top 20 (box office) disaster films. (The Grey, Vertical Limit, Apollo 13, White Squall, Hard Rain, The Perfect Storm, Flight of the Phoenix, The Concorde… Airport ‘79 Daylight, Firestorm, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Alive omitted for not being disastrous enough.)

20. When Time Ran Out (1980), Total Domestic Theater Gross $3,763,988

Among the islanders threatened by a nasty volcano (based on the true story of a 1902 eruption) are: Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Burgess Merideth, James Franciscus, Veronica Hamel, Pat Morita, Red Buttons, Edward Albert and Barbara Carrera. Did all that star power make for a decent disaster film? Apparently not.

19. Meteor (1979), Total Domestic Theater Gross $8,400,000

Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Henry Fonda, Trevor Howard and Brian Keith work together to stop (or break up) a gigantic chunk of asteroid from hitting the Earth.

18. The Impossible (2012) Total Domestic Theater Gross $19,019,882

Although it’s not set in the good, ole US of A, I’m pretty sure we’ve adopted Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, so…any tsunami that involves them affects us. Seriously, I cried my eyes out. Watch it to clear out your sinuses after breathing in all those charcoal fumes and gunpowder.

17. The Core (2003), Total Domestic Theater Gross $31,186,896

The Earth’s core has stopped rotating, funking up its electromagnetic field which will apparently do worse things than rendering that stripe on your credit card useless. Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci and Tchéky Karyo come up with a plan to set off our internal top again; Hilary Swank and Bruce Greenwood pilot the vessel voyaging to middle Earth (not that one). With Richard Jenkins as the General in charge, what could go wrong? (“In a poll of hundreds of scientists about bad sci-fi films The Core was voted the worst.”)

16. Volcano (1997), Total Domestic Theater Gross: $49,323,468

Tommy Lee Jones heads up LA’s Office of Emergency Management; after an earthquake hits, strange burning incidents draw the attention of a geologist (Anne Heche) who thinks an underground volcano is forming. But nobody ever listens to Anne Heche because…Anne Heche! This hot mess also stars Don Cheadle, Keith David, John Corbett and Michael Rispoli.

15. Poseidon (2006), Total Domestic Theater Gross $60,674,817

Wolfgang Petersen’s take on The Poseidon Adventure is one of several films based on Paul Gallico’s novel. Richard Dreyfuss, Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum, Andre Braugher, Kevin Dillon and Freddy Rodríguez take on roles in the now familiar tale of the SS Poseidon’s capsizing.

14. Dante’s Peak (1997), Total Domestic Theater Gross $67,127,760

Sadly, this Pierce Brosnan/Linda Hamilton venture is not a porn film; rather another volcano waiting to blow (not a porn film). How much hot lava can be spilled? (Again, not a porn film.)

13. This Is the End (2013), Total Domestic Theater Gross $74,681,836 (*so far)

I’ll just direct you to TK’s great review—you’re probably already reading all your friends’ Facebook urgings—everyone seems to love it.

12. Contagion (2011), Total Domestic Theater Gross $75,658,097

Steven Soderbergh’s realistic outing boasts a bevy of stars: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hawkes, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston and follows the spread and panic of a pandemic. Slick and modern, but does anyone care?

11. Knowing (2009), Total Domestic Theater Gross $79,957,634

Nicolas Cage as an Astrophysics professor (*not laughing, not laughing…laughing*) who connects a bunch of disasters and manages to figure out a few more are on the way. He tries to warn people and stop the shit, but I think because of that time he was so drunk in Las Vegas, no one would take him seriously anymore. Anyhow, I don’t think him knowing actually helped too many people.

10. World War Z (2013), Total Domestic Theater Gross $123,696,919


9. Godzilla (1998), Total Domestic Theater Gross $136,314,294

Why should Japan have all the fun? I don’t know, but they do and we get stuck with Roland Emmerich and Matthew Broderick. I mean, in a million years, would you ever have put those two names together? Well, it happened, but let’s try not to think about it anymore.

8. Deep Impact (1998), Total Domestic Theater Gross $140,464,664

Another day, another comet on a a collision course with Earth—a team is sent to blow that mothereffer to hell before it arrives. Robert Duvall, James Cromwell, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Jon Favreau, Maximilian Schell, Richard Schiff, Blair Underwood, Ron Eldard, Dougray Scott, Laura Innes and Leelee Sobieski are directed by Mimi Leder (Pay It Forward, The Peacemaker).

7. 2012 (2009), Total Domestic Theater Gross $166,112,167

He’s baaaack. Roland Emmerich (yes, you’ll see him again) wrote and directed this disasterpiece that finds world leaders preparing for the Mayan prophesied “global cataclysm;” John Cusack gets to live? I don’t think so dude—shoulda been two words: James muthereffin’ Spader (okay, three words). Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Amanda Peet and Oliver Platt…but sadly, not James Spader.

6. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) Total Domestic Theater Gross $186,740,799

Guess who? Yep, him again. Let’s not even mention his name. Paleoclimatologist, Dennis Quaid discovers events that caused the first Ice Age are repeating—ergo, here comes another one! He and whatever ragtag team he is able to gather must race to find his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the pretty chick/new girlfriend (Emmy Rossum) to go sledding before things get really chilly. Weather happens.

5. Armageddon (1998), Total Domestic Theater Gross $201,578,182

Michael Bay’s take on trying to stop an asteroid before it whacks into Earth features Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, William Fichtner, Michael Clark Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, AND a sappy little love story between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. Love and disaster, what more could you want?

4. War of the Worlds (2005) Total Domestic Theater Gross $234,280,354

Steven Spielberg gets in on the game in a big way, taking on H.G. Wells, Tom Cruise and aliens all in one fell swoop. Also starring Miranda Otto, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins.

3. Twister (1996), Total Domestic Theater Gross $241,721,524

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chase terrifying tornadoes (and got their eyes burned/were temporarily blinded during filming). Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz and a flying cow also make appearances.

2. Independence Day (1996), Total Domestic Theater Gross $306,169,268

Master of disaster, Emmerich’s highest charter brings together Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Will Smith, fighting against vicious aliens who want to take over Earth to plunder its fast food restaurants resources. Stuff goes boom. Also starring Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid, Brent Spiner, Robert Loggia, Vivica A. Fox, Harvey Fierstein and Mary McDonnell.

1. Titanic (1997), Total Domestic Theater Gross $600,788,188

Kate Winslet (boobs!) and Leo DeCaprio. Haters to the left. I do recommend turning off the sound a) whenever it becomes apparent there will be singing, and b) Billy Zane is onscreen. And if you felt nothing when the little old people in the bed held hands, you are inhuman; your heart will not go on.

Cindy Davis, (Twitter) is a walking disaster.