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The 10 Best Earthquake Movies of All Time, Ranked


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by Xtreme HD IPTV

Although disaster films have been around since the dawn of cinema, one subcategory that tends to go overlooked is the earthquake movie. Often rife with FX-driven spectacles, epic doomsday movies like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow usually begin with a catastrophic event that gives way to many natural disasters, including floods, fires, tsunamis, ice storms, and more.

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However, far fewer examples focus specifically on land-shaking earthquakes caused by shifts in the tectonic plates beneath the sea and the devastating ramifications that ensue.

Given the recent 7.6 earthquake in Japan that left more than 60 dead, it’s worth reflecting on the most visceral and harrowing movies about earthquakes ever made. While there’s certainly a place for big-budget action movies that revolve around the thrills of a natural disaster, the most memorable earthquake movies are rooted in real-life events and make profound statements about the human condition. Here are the 10 best earthquake films, ranked.

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10 Volcano (1997)

Mark carries a girl by a fire in Volcano
20th Century Fox

Directed by Mick Jackson, Volcano takes place in Los Angeles. The story picks up when a massive earthquake strikes downtown Los Angeles, activating a long-dormant volcano beneath the city’s famous La Brea Tar Pits that spews incendiary lava across the city. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Mike Roark, the new director of The Office of Emergency Management tasked with dealing with the hellish inferno.

Thanks to the frenetic pacing of the action, Volcano does a wonderful job of creating the panic and chaotic aftermath of a devastating earthquake. The result conjures a jarring sense of urgency and immediacy, allowing viewers to vicariously feel the horrors of the characters. While the notion of a dormant volcano below L.A. may sound absurd, the visceral, shaky handheld camerawork and infernal atmosphere are deeply unsettling.

Stream Volcano on Starz

9 San Andreas (2015)

san andreas

San Andreas

Release Date
May 27, 2015

Director
Brad Peyton

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
3D

Los Angeles is just a popular place for earthquake movies. Directed by Brad Peyton, San Andreas is an FX-driven marvel that kicks off when a massive 7.1 earthquake shakes up the San Andreas Fault and leaves millions of Californians scrambling to escape. California has long been known for its history of earthquakes, with the San Andreas fault line often cited as the next major potential calamity in the state.

Despite the fun entertainment value and cautionary messaging regarding the movie’s precarious real-life location, San Andreas struggles to overcome its thin plot and weak characterizations. But the movie succeeds as an old-fashioned popcorn flick that delivers eye-popping FX and action-packed spectacles.

Dwayne Johnson also gives a typically charismatic performance as L.A.F.D. helicopter rescuer Ray Gaines, but he too can’t quite overcome the silly story and two-dimensional character development. Apart from the decent amount of thrills it delivers as an action movie, San Andreas is a formulaic reminder that California remains at risk of earthquakes in the future.

Stream San Andreas on Prime Video

8 Escape From L.A. (1996)

While nowhere near as iconic as Escape From New York, John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. succeeds in its post-apocalyptic vision caused by a land-shaking disaster. The story finds Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) in the year 2000 when a giant earthquake leaves future Los Angeles in ruins.

Tasked by the government to obtain a doomsday device that can erase the world in a blink, Snake goes on a hyper-violent warpath to complete his mission as environmental destruction ensues.

In an over-the-top action spectacle that both exploits and lampoons the genre it’s working in, Escape From L.A. is a breathless blitzkrieg of barbarity and brutality that fans of Carpenter and Russell will have a blast watching. While the inciting earthquake is meant to springboard the plot, the dazzling visual effects, and extreme environmental destruction go a long way in capturing the manic energy of a mega-metropolitan earthquake.

Stream Escape From L.A. on Max

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7 Underwater (2020)

underwater

Underwater

Release Date
January 8, 2020

Rating
PG-13

Featuring a remarkable performance by Kristen Stewart, Underwater takes place deep below the Pacific Ocean surface near the Mariana Trench. When a team of researchers led by Norah Price (Stewart) is interrupted by a large underwater earthquake, a time-sensitive dash for survival ensues. Thanks to the unique, otherworldly submarine setting and chilling sense of claustrophobic dread, Underwater overcomes its flaws to deliver true terror.

Although the movie was criticized for being too derivative and formulaic compared to other disaster movies, Stewart’s sympathetic performance and William Eubanks’ stylish direction go a long way in compensating for the movie’s glaring weaknesses. As for the earthquake itself, rarely do moviegoers get to witness what is normally a natural land disaster and see the destructive consequences that take place below the sea and affect the oceans.

Stream Underwater on Hulu

6 The Impossible (2012)

Directed with intense hyperrealism by J.A. Bayona, The Impossible tells the unbelievable true story of the Bennetts, an American family visiting Thailand for Christmas in 2004. When an enormous underwater earthquake causes a massive tsunami to hit landfall, the Bennett family must do everything in their power to survive a harrowing deluge of seawater and ground-shaking destruction as the locals rush to respond.

Marked by powerfully realistic performances by Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland, The Impossible weds top-flight acting with state-of-the-art visual effects to recreate one of the most emotionally taxing and physically destructive real-life earthquakes of all time. Yet, the result never panders to viewers or insults their intelligence. Instead, the movie goes to great lengths to deliver top-tier craftsmanship and honor the true story with heartfelt pathos.

Stream The Impossible on Netflix

5 Earthquake (1974)

City destruction is shown in Earthquake
Universal Pictures

The golden era of disaster films ran its course in the 1970s, with the star-studded epic event film Earthquake literally breaking ground more than most. The sprawling movie follows the interconnected lives of several Los Angelinos dealing with the aftermath of a massive earthquake. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner lead a mega-cast of Hollywood stars and supporting players. Superior to the simplistic FX-driven spectacles, Earthquake marries exhilarating visuals with rich character work.

RELATED: The Most Over-the-Top Disaster Movies of the 1970s

Directed by Mark Robson with brimming vim and vigor, Earthquake ranks only behind Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno as the most acclaimed 70s disaster movies. The visual destruction of Los Angeles resulting from the powerful quake is riveting and realistic, and the stellar performances by such supporting players as Walter Matthau, George Kennedy, Richard Roundtree, and Genevieve Bujold help sell the drama.

Stream Earthquake on Apple TV

4 The Quake (2018)

the quake

the quake

Release Date
August 31, 2018

Director
John Andreas Andersen

Cast
Kristoffer Joner , Ane Dahl Torp , Hang Tran , Jonas Hoff Oftebro , Edith Haagenrud-Sande , Kathrine Thorborg Johansen

Rating
PG-13

Directed by John Andreas Anderson, The Quake is a great Scandinavian film that serves as a sequel to The Wave. While both are recommended, The Quake follows geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), who researches a 1904 earthquake in Oslo as a means of predicting another future calamity. Kristian’s research leads him to conclude that a devastating 8.5 earthquake will strike the city, forcing the top science officials to prevent the disaster.

In a slow-burning build-up that boils over into a palm-sweating and heart-pounding finale, The Quake nearly lives up to the acclaimed reputation of The Wave. The visceral intensity of the quake itself is enough to shake viewers to the core, but it’s the emotional journey and sense of redemption Kristian makes to atone for his actions in The Wave that resonates the most as an all-time great earthquake movie.

Stream The Quake on Prime Video

3 Suzume (2022)

Suzume No Tojimari

Suzume no Tojimari

Release Date
April 14, 2023

Cast
Nanoka Hara , Hokuto Matsumura , Eri Fukatsu

From acclaimed writer/director Makoto Shinkai, Suzume is arguably the most timely and topical earthquake movie to make the grade. The action-adventure tale concerns Suzume, a 17-year-old girl who bonds with a mysterious stranger named Souta in Japan. Together, Suzume and Souta set out to stop the Colossal, a supernatural force causing devastating earthquakes across the country.

RELATED: Makoto Shinkai’s 10 Best Movies, Ranked

With breathtaking animated artwork that is beyond reproach, Suzume uses earthquakes as a brilliant backdrop to tell a world-shattering coming-of-age story that both children and adults can relate to no matter where they come from. The supernatural elements of the story give way to a profoundly uplifting mediation of loss, grief, the meaning of home and family, and how the human condition triumphs in the face of dire circumstances.

Stream Suzume on Crunchyroll

2 And Life Goes On (1992)

A man points offscreen in And Life Goes On
The Criterion Channel

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami, And Life Goes On is a quasi-fictional Iranian movie that is impossible to shake. The ’90s disaster movie concerns a famous movie director (Farhad Kheradmand) responsible for making a movie called Where is the Friend’s House? in the Guilan region of Iran.

Two years after the real 1990 Guilan earthquake that killed over 30,000 people, the movie director returns to the area with his son to look for the actors who starred in Where is the Friend’s House? and survived the quake. Shot in a stark semi-documentary style, the line between fact and fiction is difficult to distinguish in the movie, making for a gripping and emotionally engaging true story that occurred in the early ’90s.

Boasting a 100% Rotten Tomatoes Score, And Life Goes On has drawn universal praise for tackling a serious issue with a sobering eye that does not exploit its subject for entertainment value. The human spirit has rarely shined so brightly in a movie about earthquakes, with Kiarostami’s empathetic glimpse into the lives of the displaced children affected by the Guilan disaster sure to induce a tearful smile at the end.

Stream And Life Goes On on Kanopy

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1 The Wind Rises (2013)

From the greatest animator alive, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises loosely revolves around the real Great Kanto Earthquake that struck the Japanese island of Honshu in 1923. The biographical drama traces the improbable triumphs of the Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who rose to prominence following the historical earthquake that ravaged the island during a time of great uncertainty.

Fusing history with fantasy and fairytale to fashion a ravishing glimpse at a hero’s journey, The Wind Rises has all the makings of a classic Miyazaki movie. The story is incredibly absorbing, the animated artwork is stunning beyond belief, and by the end of the movie, viewers come away learning a lot more about the history of Japan relative to how the Kanto Earthquake informed Jiro’s life path and altered his course en route to becoming one of the most celebrated Japanese engineers on record.

Stream The Wind Rises on Max

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