The 5 Lamest Disasters in Disaster Movie History


Hollywood loves a good disaster and, let's face it, the end of the world looks cool as hell on screen. If you show us a bunch of exploding monuments, we'll buy a ticket.

But apparently Hollywood ran out of the really good disasters a long time ago, because sometimes they end up using disasters that appear to be just barely more than mild inconveniences. Such as:


The Disaster:

When the La Brea Tar Pits inexplicably turn into a goddamn volcano, it's up to a plucky geologist (Anne Heche) and a Dedicated Emergency Management director who can't fry up scrambled eggs without injuring himself (Tommy Lee Jones) to save Los Angeles from the river of lava now flowing down Wilshire Boulevard.

Why They Should Calm The Hell Down:

After a character points out early in the film that some volcanoes can erupt with the force of a nuclear blast, we find out that, wait, no, the one under LA is really small. It barely erupts at all, really, just oozes lava down the street.

Here's the interesting thing about lava: It's not very fast. Wait, did we say interesting? We meant boring.

"Hurry, the lava's gaining on us, we only have three minutes. And six hours. And eleven days."

Sure, on a particularly steep slope, a lava flow might get up past 6 miles per hour but on more gentle inclines it tends to top off at about 1/2 a mile per hour, only slightly faster than a turtle can walk. So of course the movie has tons of scenes on steep inclines, so the lava can come rushing down on the characters, right?

Not at all! They even have a scene where a character sets a basketball on the street to figure out which way the ground is sloping, thus establishing firmly that Wilshire Blvd is the safest place on earth to be in the event of a volcano.

That leaves the screenwriters with the uncomfortable task of trying to find ways to make this easygoing safety hazard more exciting. So, in one scene, a palm tree catches fire and falls over, conveniently trapping the heroes between an overturned bus and the creeping tide of molten death. Later, a handful of people on a subway train have to be rescued because not one of them is smart enough to figure out how to use the door on a subway car without outside help.

Finally, the lava breaks several laws of physics to race across town via an underground tunnel and spring out of the middle of the road near Cedar Sinai Hospital, but then it just starts crawling along exactly the way it did on the other side of town.

How They Solve the "Problem":

How do you re-route a lava flow and send it harmlessly into the ocean? Simple: You blow up a huge fucking building! Seriously, to save the city from a threat that can be easily out-walked, they topple a large building, killing two people in the process. If they ever make a sequel, they should save a city from a glacier by burning down an orphanage.

"We'll build a lava blockade using every available fire truck."

Most Laughable Brush With "Danger":

An old lady walks away from the lava that's engulfing her house, but she left her tiny little dog inside! The dog, realizing that he's in no danger whatsoever, runs over to the lava and barks at it.

Then, he scampers out the doggy door to tell all his little doggy friends that lava is a huge pussy.


The Disaster:

When a large stormfront threatens to let loose a number of tornadoes in an area commonly known as the "Tornado Belt," it's up to a plucky Storm Chaser (Hellen Hunt) and a guy with the regrettable nickname "The Extreme" (Bill Paxton) to put a bunch of little plastic balls into one of the tornadoes for science.

Why They Should Calm The Hell Down:

We're certainly not going to argue that tornadoes aren't a destructive force of nature. That would be retarded. However, it's important to keep in mind that the average tornado-related event doesn't actually last very long, certainly not long enough to base an entire movie around.

The solution, obviously, was to make a movie about people who are dumb enough to run right up to one tornado after another and try to stick their balls in it.

But, even if you're willing to buy into the idea that the heroes' mission is worth all this ridiculous weather chasing, and some people obviously do, you're still left with the fact that these particular tornadoes are pretty much wimps. Sure, they're ready to tear a house apart or throw around the occasional cow, but time and time again the heroes drive right up to the funnel clouds, as if you actually have to jam your head inside one for it to hurt you.

For the big finale, our protagonists actually pass through into the eye of an F-5 tornado (read: a seriously fucking dangerous tornado) and emerge completely unharmed because they hung on really tight.

"This was such a stupid idea."

Yes, unharmed by the tornado that's full of debris flying around at speeds that can drive a piece of straw through a tree trunk.

How They Solve the "Problem":

Keep in mind that the situation that needs solving isn't the actual tornadoes themselves but rather the problem of getting a bunch of little plastic balls into one of these tornadoes. So, it makes sense that the day would be saved by Pepsi Cola.

See, the balls need to stay up in the air, so the heroes make tiny little propellers out of Pepsi cans. We can only imagine the inevitable, blood-drenched terror when these things finally spin their way down toward some poor farmer and his helpless family.

Most Laughable Brush With "Danger":

In an early scene, the main characters are stuck in a giant ditch with a tornado bearing down on them, and they don't even have time to turn on the machine with all those balls in it! So, they hide under a small wooden bridge. We'll go ahead and assume that it's perfectly normal for somebody to build a bridge over a ditch.

Anyway, the tornado steals their truck, dismantles most of the little bridge, and then just disappears with its tail between its legs, apparently frightened away by Helen Hunt.


The Disaster:

When a gang of astoundingly dimwitted jewel thieves crash their car into a convoy of trucks loaded down with toxic waste and the resulting explosion blocks off a section of the Hudson Tunnel, it's up to a plucky playwright (Amy Brenneman) and a cab driver who used to be the Emergency Medical Services Chief (Sylvester Stallone) to drag the few remaining survivors to safety.

Why They Should Calm The Hell Down:

The explosion must have been caused by some revolutionary new kind of clean-burning toxic waste, because nobody has any trouble breathing in that tunnel. Then again, most of these characters come into direct contact with the flames from that explosion, and none of them appear to have any burns on them, so this might actually be some kind of undercover superhero movie.

Since the smoke doesn't seem to have any effect and even fire can't hurt these people, screenwriter Leslie Bohem tries to come up with a new excuse for excitement every few minutes. At first, it seems like rising water levels will add a sense of danger to the proceedings, but the water is so slow to rise that it acts more as a vague annoyance than an actual crisis.

Then, Stallone takes a shot at livening things up by blowing up a big-ass gas tanker, ostensibly trying to slow down the water even more somehow. It almost seems dangerous because Stallone runs into some unexplained technical difficulties and he can't get quite as far from the explosion as he'd like to, but then he just jumps out of the way (a technique often referred to as a "Stallone" ).

As near as we can tell, his efforts have no noticeable effect on the rising water.

In the rare instances when danger does leap out and grab somebody by the ass, it tends to seem more confusing than anything. At one point a guy apparently falls through the road just because he walked on it and it was wet (how the hell does this only happen once?) and then an old lady sits down and just sort of dies, presumably from boredom.

How They Solve the "Problem":

It all comes down to the brave rescue efforts of a friendly parade of rats.

The rats, who apparently weren't in any particular hurry to leave the ever-so-slowly-crumbling tunnel, eventually swim over to our protagonists and kindly show them the way out, which is something we think they stole from a cartoon.

Most Laughable Brush With "Danger":

As the survivors make their way to safety, having successfully climbed a rickety staircase, they realize that the dog needs help getting up the steps! Bravely, Stallone risks his life to pull a fucking dog up a flight of steps!

And the dog makes it! Stallone, on the other hand, falls back into the water and has to find his own damn way out of the tunnel. We think the dog planned that.


The Disaster:

When a retardedly convoluted prison break results in one giant forest fire with four escaped convicts wandering around in the middle of it, it's up to a plucky ornithologist (Suzy Amis) and some guy who parachutes into forest fires for a living (Howie Long) to stop both the fire and the convicts.

Why They Should Calm The Hell Down:

As it turns out, those characters we just mentioned are the only people anywhere near this fire. That's a grand total of six people endangered by this disaster, and four of those are vicious criminals.

And one of them's Howie Long.

As it turns out, there are two kinds of forest fire: The kind that moves really fast and the kind that moves really slow. Guess which this movie is about?

Characters frequently find themselves surrounded by flames only to wander away unharmed. A couple of scenes later, they'll find themselves in some perfectly safe part of the forest untouched by the flames, having easily out-walked the disaster (on rough terrain, no less).

In fact, firefighter Howie Long (a former football player in what he thought would be his star-making debut) doesn't spend a whole lot of time worrying about the fire at all, so unworried about the flames creeping into an even more unpopulated areas of the forest that he spends his time worrying about the escaped convicts instead. Hell, if this were any kind of real fire, it would take care of the convicts for them.

How They Solve the "Problem":

It took us a while to figure out why, but Howie decides to set another forest fire himself. He's literally fighting fire with fire. You'd think the bigger fire would win, leaving yourself with a bigger problem than you started with.

But, at the end of the movie, the two huge fires finally meet up and they knock each other the fuck out. How the hell does that work? Why don't the two fires form one huge fire and destroy everything? Is the fire Howie started a good fire, loyal to its creator?

Ta Da!

Well, here we must admit the movie had science on its side. Yes, firefighters really do this, it's called a backfire and it's supposed to steal oxygen away from the first forest fire.

The lesson: Action movies are always right.

Most Laughable Brush With "Danger":

The escaped convicts (masquerading as firemen) and the ornithologist are trying to make their way around a particularly large fire on their way out of the forest. From above, Howie Long notices that they're wandering directly into the path of the very slowly moving fire! They could be in danger within as little as a half an hour! So, he parachutes down to save them, or at least to advise them to walk in a different direction.

The Day of the Triffids

The Disaster:

When hordes of ambulatory vegetables roam the European countryside in search of delicious human flesh, it's up to a plucky little girl (Janina Faye) and an American sailor (Howard Keel) to fend for themselves and let everybody else go to hell for all they care.

Why They Should Calm The Hell Down:

This is a triffid.

Now, while it certainly is impressive for a plant to learn how to walk around even at a snail's pace, and flinging venom into people's faces is admittedly a fairly cool way to kill somebody, these two abilities alone don't make for a particularly awesome monster. A relatively awesome plant, maybe, if you're grading on a curve, but kind of a lame monster.

Obviously, if you're in any danger of being killed by something that can barely move and needs to get within arm's reach to hurt you, you're either blind or paralyzed. Sci-fi writer John Wyndham, author of the original Day of the Triffids novel, evidently decided that mysteriously paralyzing everybody on the planet would make for a decidedly boring story. So, he wrote up a convoluted excuse for everybody to wind up blind, to give the triffids some kind of a fair chance.

So, some kind of bizarre meteor shower puts on a nice little light show, and anyone who looks at the lights in the sky ends up permanently blind by the following morning.

With about 99% of the world's population completely helpless (Hey, it was a really pretty light show, alright?), the triffids seize their chance to become something other than laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

For the main characters (who still have their sight) the film tries desperately to come up with excuses for why they should feel threatened by the hobbling plants. Therefore every once in a while the heroes have to stop and let the triffids surround them for some reason (i.e. an old man conveniently twists his ankle on absolutely nothing, and has to be carried).

But even then, it's kind of hard to take them seriously as a threat when hundreds of the monsters calmly stand around and let you set them on fire:

Or, when they can't even move fast enough to get out of the way when a survivor accidentally runs one over in his truck, pathetically dragging it along under his bumper:

How They Solve the "Problem":

In a desperate last-ditch effort to save themselves, the heroes decide to try spraying the triffids with salt water. The triffids, surprisingly enough, oblige their hosts by dissolving into a disgusting green sludge.

Yes, not only did screenwriter Bernard Gordon apparently think that the triffids would be too overwhelming of a threat if they didn't have some retarded vulnerability, but it also never occurred to him that his miraculous seawater cure isn't even as effective as just the setting the goddamn things on fire.

Most Laughable Brush With "Danger":

The little girl wanders away from her seafaring guardian to look for rocks or something, and she walks too close to a triffid!

Oh, no! She runs back to the car and gets in, but the triffid reaches the car only a minute or two later! Of course, the triffid's venom spraying attack is no match for a car window, so our heroes just drive away.

We kind of feel sorry for the triffids, really.

If you liked that, check out Steve's look at The 6 Worst Movies Hollywood Almost Made or for some examples of disasters that might spill off of the screen check out 5 Famous Sci-Fi Weapons That They're Actually Building.

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