The disaster movie has been a staple in filmmaking since the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s — when special effects began progressing up to speed with the lofty aspirations of filmmakers — that the genre really took off. Films like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno made it fun to go to the movies and see things get blown up on the big screen.
The methodology of the genre has changed through the years — hitting a resurgence after 1996’s Independence Day — and just about any situation you can think of has been explored in cinematic form. But, one thing stays the same: sh*t has to get wrecked. Here, we’re talking city-wide destruction; structural damage, skies burning, rivers boiling, people crawling through the streets with their clothes frozen to their skin — that sort of thing. The Rock’s newest film, San Andreas, is making the rounds this week with its debut trailer, so why not take a look at the places that have been left in ash by Hollywood’s affinity with destruction?
This is not a completely exhaustive list, as only widely-distributed films where the destruction takes place during the course of the narrative were considered (that means no post-apocalyptic/dystopian movies), and said destruction has to either be the main antagonist of the film or primary thread in the film’s structure. See if your city made the list…
New York City, NY
New York City has been getting leveled in film for years now, and it makes for great visuals as it’s one of the densest areas in the world. It’s been hit by meteors, blasted by alien death rays, stomped by monsters that give no f*cks, and even frozen over. NASA predicts, though, that even in an apocalyptic situation you’ll still be able to purchase some of the finest pizza slices in the U.S. for just $1.00.
Watch the city get bombarded with space rocks:
Population: Est. 8,405,837
Films: The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, Deep Impact, Armageddon, Godzilla, Cloverfield, Knowing, Deluge, King Kong
Los Angeles, CA
L.A. is almost always the target of some sort of attack in a disaster movie, whether by creatures, nature, or man. Something about palm trees burning make for great cinema, I guess. Either that, or Hollywood’s underlying desire is to see itself implode, explode, or get wiped off the map.
Watch L.A. crumble via tectonic plate shifts:
Population: Est. 10,019,365
Films: The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, This Is The End, Earthquake, Volcano, War of the Worlds, 2012, Battle: Los Angeles
Croissants. Fries. The Statue of Liberty. Long, skinny cigarettes. France has brought us a great many things, so why do we like to blow it up? Because this is ‘Merica. We’re awesome, and blowing sh*t up is part of our heritage.
Space debris, again, doing damage:
Population: Est. 2,249,975
Films: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon
One of the most memorable scenes in disaster movie history is in Independence Day, when a spaceship ejaculates death upon The White House. It’s a bit cathartic, with each contemporary congressional meeting resulting in about zero changes in domestic policy. The proper cinematic response? Blow it the f*ck up.
Boom goes The White House via intergalactic hate rays:
Population: Est. 601,723
Films: Independence Day, 2012
While we don’t get to actually “see” Houston burn to the ground, it’s explained to us during a sequence in Independence Day that the city is completely destroyed because the President ordered a nuclear attack on one of the alien city destroyers. Collateral damage is a b*tch. Also, never vote for Bill Pullman.
Population: Est. 2,099,451
Films: Independence Day
Although Boston is the primary location in Knowing — the Nicolas Cage vehicle that’s barely watchable — eventually (spoiler), the entire planet gets wiped out by a solar flare. Because the sun really liked Joe, and wants Nic Cage to take on better scripts and stop doing b-movie stuff like Left Behind.
The sun getting pissed off at Nicolas Cage’s integrity:
Population: Est. 645,966
Las Vegas, NV
Vegas has hookers, and gambling — what else do you need? How about a neon-cowboy Jack Nicholson? Yup, now it’s perfect. Let’s blow it up.
Here’s “Sin City” getting demolished by aliens:
Population: Est. 2,027,868
Films: Mars Attacks
San Francisco, CA
When you think of San Fran, you think of Metro, the amazing 1997 Eddie Murphy film that won the hearts and minds of no one. Also, you think of The Golden Gate Bridge, so when it’s time to melt the city, guess what’s first on the list?
The Golden Gate stewing in a pot of apocalyptic water:
Population: Est. 805,235
Films: The Core, San Francisco, Godzilla (2014)
Pompeii is really the original disaster film because it actually happened in 79 A.D., when Mount Vesuvius exploded, covering the city and its inhabitants in ash and lava. We did get one awesome thing out of the tragedy: a very cool Busch Gardens ride.
God throwing shade on Pompeii:
Population: No one. They’re all dead.
Films: Pompeii, The Last Days of Pompeii
The fall of the Roman Empire happened somewhere around 476 A.D., but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be fun to imagine what it would look like, today, if it were to come under siege by vast quantities of electric tickle fingers from the sky.
Electricity making Rome its b*tch:
Population: Approx. 2,839,387
Films: The Core, 2012
Here are a few more cities/towns that were bombarded, ruined, and demolished on film:
Honolulu, HI: 2012, Godzilla (2014)
London, England: War of the Worlds (original)
Tokyo, Japan: Just about every Godzilla film
Castle Rock, WA: Dante’s Peak
Wakita, OK: Twister
Bayonne, NJ: War of the Worlds
Huntingburg, IN: Hard Rain