Deluge (1933): If it’s true moviegoers go to movies to sublimate desires—sex, violence, or just ogling the rich and attractive—then what the hell is the appeal of watching mass destruction? Given the BP spill and resulting misery, how many today would go see a movie depicting similar devastation? Yet movies have always provided that very thrill. Early special effects helped scarily depict the earthquake that topples New York in this ‘30s sci-fi, though, as with future endeavors, we mostly see buildings collapsing from a distance, rarely people dying up close. Because that would be horrible.
San Francisco (1936): This time it’s the city’s 1906 earthquake (happy 30th!), which occurs, the film suggests, all so saloonkeeper Clark Gable will clean up and find God. And it works! The 3,000 dead didn’t die in vain!
The Day the Earth Caught on Fire (1961): The earth’s axis shifts, which this British film—notable for its documentary style—claims would merely set it ablaze. Phew!
Krakatoa, East of Java (1969): This recreation of another real event—the 1883 destruction of the South Pacific island by volcano—as a 70mm blockbuster doesn’t always strive for accuracy: Krakatoa is in fact WEST of Java.
The Swarm (1978): The disaster movies of the ‘70s felled most of the globe during their decade-long reign of terror. But only this insectoid bomb got Richard Widmark to mutter the classic doozy, “Houston on fire. Will history blame me or the bees?”
Knowing (2009): Roland Emmerich, who brought disaster movies back with Independence Day, recently tried to make the ne plus ultra disaster movie with 2012. But (spoiler!) he wussed out: He only destroyed most of the world. Knowing, a sneaky, queasy Left Behind-ish tract, incinerated the whole planet—and its many allegedly wicked sinners—in one divine fireball, with extra attention to New York City. Apparently, it only took eight years for that to be cool again.