As a lifelong lover of the disaster genre, I've seen them all, and previously presented a list of those which are arguably the greatest of all time (which can be found HERE). Some are awesome, others awesomely bad, yet still provide a ton of wacky fun (and you'll never see one which qualifies as both quite like The Towering Inferno).
Now it's time to examine the lowest of the low from a genre most people already consider pretty dubious (rendering the line between great and terrible sometimes a bit thin). With one exception (which was simply marketed badly), these are examples of 'epic' destruction at its worst...
10. BLACK SUNDAY (1977)
Let's get the badly-marketed one out of the way, shall we? Black Sunday is actually a terrific film, probably more timely & relevant now than when it was when released in the 70s. It was also director John Frankenheimer’s last decent movie for the next twenty years (he was rescued by Ronin). A focused, suspenseful and intense tale of an impending terrorist attack on American soil, it was nonetheless stupidly promoted as yet-another mindless disaster movie. Many of us were duped into seeing it back in '77 for that very reason, hoping for Towering Inferno-like mayhem, only to be totally let-down by the lackluster special effects, which didn’t rear their ugly heads until the last ten minutes. While the visuals are admittedly terrible, the film was never about destruction to begin with. Hence, the dumbass advertising campaign by Paramount was akin to promoting Animal House as a serious examination of the effects of alcoholism.
9. THE HINDENBURG (1975)
How do you stretch a 30-second historical event into a two-hour film? Simply suggest the dirigible’s untimely death was the result of a massive conspiracy, then throw in a dozen subplots with has-been actors, along with George C. Scott to make it respectable (I still can’t believe he agreed to do this). And even though you managed to land a director with the clout of Robert Wise, how do you shave the budget? Easy…when it comes time to show some big-ass onscreen mayhem, revert to the same newsreel footage as familiar to everyone as the Zapruter Film. Then you can use your cost-cutting measures to your advantage by ballyhooing your “authentic” footage in promotional campaigns. But even getting to the newsreel climax is a challenge, as this is arguably one of the most boring disaster movies of all time.
8. BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979)
What can you say about a sequel where the only good scenes are lifted directly from the original? Only a snake oil salesman like Irwin Allen could throw together a sequel to a film that didn’t leave the door open for one in the first place. Cheap to the extreme, this looks like it was mostly filmed on one or two sets, and every single “money” shot consists of the underwater explosions from the first movie. Considering the cast, either Allen was a huckstering genius on the level of PT Barnum, or Michael Caine, Sally Field, Telly Savalas, Karl Malden and Shirley Jones all had massive gambling debts to pay off.
7. WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980)
Irwin Allen’s last hurrah, yet he still had a bit of the old huckster in him, coaxing the likes of Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset and William Holden to sign-up for this idiotic tale of an angry Pacific island volcano and the dolts who stupidly remain nearby. Hell, considering the big stars Allen still managed to continue acquiring (long after the disaster genre became a joke), maybe it wasn’t because of gambling debts after all. Maybe they personally owed him money, or he was simply too much like that loveable old man in everyone’s family who tells the same dumb joke at every reunion, yet we offer a courtesy laugh just to make him happy.
6. POSEIDON (2006)
What’s worse that a bad disaster movie? A boring one. This is a high-tech remake of The Poseidon Adventure, and gone is the daffy dialogue and silly characters. However, as corny as the first movie may be, at least it was exciting and we cared about the characters. In this one, we don’t give a damn about anyone, to the point where star Kurt Russell makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his daughter and we end-up going, “Okay, another one dead.” Even though its CGI effects are impressive, they really aren’t any better than the traditional effects from the first one. This is one of the few disaster movies where we walk away thinking, “so what?”
5. METEOR (1979)
Made back when Sean Connery must have really needed the money (he quit being James Fucking Bond to do this crap?). The story may predate Armageddon and Deep Impact by twenty years, but even though this film was American-International Pictures’ big-budget attempt to compete with the major studios, it is still rife with stock footage, crappy FX and dialogue so bad it makes The Poseidon Adventure sound like it was written by David Mamet. However, it’s still better than Armageddon, and did inspire a totally bitchin' pinball game.
4. THE CONCORDE: AIRPORT ’79 (take a guess)
Check out George Kennedy, piloting the fastest plane in the world, who opens the cockpit window to shoot a flare without getting his arm torn off, or the gorge-stirring moment when he engages in post-coital pillow talk with a hooker. Because we love you, George, we sincerely hope this hard-earned paycheck bought you a bitchin’ beach house. The “Corn”corde (the fourth & last in the franchise) is as unintentionally funny as The Swarm (which made my 'best' list). The difference is Irwin Allen was at-least trying to make a good movie. I don’t think anyone at Universal (who’d do the same disservice to the Jaws franchise) gave a shit…just trying to squeeze a few more drops of blood from this dying turnip.
3. DISASTER MOVIE (2008)
Not only did the Antichrists of modern cinema parody (Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer) forget the genre had been skewered several times before in far better movies (Airplane!, The Big Bus), they didn't even really try. This is yet-another grab bag of shit where simply referencing scenes from recent blockbusters apparently qualifies as satire to the mouth-breathers in the crowd (who'll spit out their popcorn to laugh and high-five their booger-eating buddies when something familiar pops up onscreen). No...just...no.
2. ARMAGEDDON (1998)
Apparently edited by caffeine junkies with the intent of triggering seizures, this two-and-a-half hour assault on the senses is mind-numbing. It strives for some Titanic-inspired sentimentality (Ben Affleck & Liv Tyler using animal crackers as foreplay...Yeech), but fails because uber-macho director Michael Bay is more in love with his ham-fisted MTV-style approach to nearly every scene in the movie, not just the action sequences. On the plus side, it’s better than Transformers (then again, so are YouTube videos of poo flinging monkeys). A complete waste of a great cast, and it's staggering how many people love this damn movie.
1. ANY SYFY CHANNEL DISASTER MOVIE
Just because you can produce CGI effects cheaper than using miniatures doesn’t mean you should, especially when they look about as convincing as video game graphics. About once a month, SyFy trucks out a plethora of shitty and phony-looking apocalyptic crap, usually starring one of the younger & dumber Baldwin Brothers, some guy named Dean or a former 80’s pop tart. Most of these movies are only worth watching if you can’t find your remote.