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10 Little Known Facts About Popular Disaster Movies

by Estelle
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Disaster movies are hugely popular with audiences around the world. There is just something about watching the Statue of Liberty toppling over into the sea or a giant tsunami “folding” over an entire city that keeps people on the edge of their seats. There is a lot of work that goes into making a disaster movie, as producers will attest to. And there are a lot of things that can go wrong or not according to plan. On this list are some lesser-known facts about some of the most popular disaster movies.

Related: Top 10 Films About Economic Disaster You Really Need To Watch

10 Independence Day

Independence Day 1996 Area 51

Way back in the day when Will Smith wasn’t a Hollywood pariah, he was the star of the biggest film of 1996, Independence Day, the script of which was written in a mere four weeks. The movie made top dollar regardless of reviewers calling it the ultimate B-movie or an over-the-top cheese-fest.

What some may not know is that the film had the support of the U.S. military, which agreed to provide greater access to military facilities and make their officers, soldiers, and pilots available for consultation. However, as soon as they became aware of the multiple references to Area 51 being the center of obscure alien projects, the military immediately withdrew their support.

Also, when residents of California spied the “Welcome Wagon” used in the film, more than 150 of them called the police to report a UFO sighting.[1]

9 The Impossible

The Impossible (1/10) Movie CLIP – The Tsunami (2012) HD

The Impossible is a terrifying film, not only because of the tsunami sequences but also because hundreds of thousands of people lived through and died during that specific real-life tragedy.

María Belón, Enrique Álvarez, and their three sons—Lucas, Simón, and Tomás—were in Khao Lak, Thailand, when the 2004 tsunami struck. The Impossible tells their story of survival, closely following the harrowing details, which are enough to make you watch through your fingers.

At the beginning of the film, the sound of a jet can be heard in the distance. This was done on purpose as that is how María described the sound of the approaching tsunami. The massive destruction that followed during the next 10 minutes took a year to complete. The producers also included many tsunami survivors as extras for the film.[2]

8 Greenland

In Greenland, the grim reality of the selfishness of humankind in the face of overwhelming disaster is thoroughly explored. It’s all fun and games and social media debates over a visible comet in the sky during the daytime when the realization hits that the U.S. government can only evacuate so many people. Chaos ensues. Fortunately, there are also great moments, such as the military personnel putting their lives on the line to help save others. Throw in the ambiguous ending, and you have yourself a decent disaster flick.

Director, Ric Roman Waugh, did some intensive research into the science of comets to bring realism to his vision. He spoke to several scientists and did some of his own studying to fully understand what would truly happen if a huge comet broke through Earth’s atmosphere the way it does in Greenland.

Waugh also mentioned that his focus on family came from the hope that the personal side of such a disaster would help his film stand out from previous disaster films.[3]

7 Don’t Look Up

DON’T LOOK UP Trailer 2 (NEW 2021) Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence Movie

The black comedy film Don’t Look Up focuses satirically on the typical scientists no one ever wants to listen to when it comes to pending doomsdays. Reviews were mixed, especially about the satire, but the movie continues to be a fan favorite after being released in December 2021.

If you’ve seen the movie, you would have noticed the hotline launched by the government, which people could call if they had any questions. In real life, that number leads to a sex chat line. And apparently, that was an accident as the number was just thought up randomly.[4]

6 The Wave

The Wave – Official Trailer

The director of The Wave, Roar Uthaug, submitted his movie as Norway’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but sadly failed to be nominated. The movie is based on actual events—in this case, the 1934 landslide that caused a tsunami in the Norwegian community of Tafjord, as well as the prediction that this disaster will repeat itself in the not-too-distant future.

The Wave had one of the best opening weekends in Norwegian history, beating the number of tickets sold for Jurassic World by 30%.

The movie also includes the single most expensive scene ever filmed in the country. Amazingly, 40,000 liters (10,566 gallons) of water came crashing down on a purpose-built set and could only be filmed once. Planning the scene took six months and the execution several days.[5]

5 Knowing

Knowing (1/10) Movie CLIP – Disaster Codes (2009) HD

Knowing may not be your traditional disaster movie, but it does center around trying to prevent the apocalypse. Despite the ending being panned by critics and movie-goers alike, the film has gained a cult following (thanks in no small part to the presence of Nicolas Cage).

Filming was completed in just three months and was also the movie debut of Liam Hemsworth. There is a cool tribute in the form of an elementary school named William Dawes. He was one of several people instrumental in warning American soldiers about the imminent arrival of the British in April 1775.

Also, in a creepy twist of events, the ending of the film is something scientists have been predicting for many years, but luckily for us, they believe that it would only happen in four billion years.[6]

4 Pompeii

Pompeii (2014) – Mount Vesuvius Erupts [HD]

This film eerily reconstructs the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 that led to the decimation of nearby Pompeii, leaving its residents buried in huge mounds of volcanic ash. To accurately depict the city, the director and his team LiDAR-scanned the streets and buildings. They then re-created a digital version of it by overlaying a computer-generated model over shots taken from a helicopter of the destroyed Pompeii. Scientists were impressed by this true-to-life recreation, especially the villas and the stones used for paving.

Director Paul Anderson wanted to bring across a clear message with this film that what happened then repeated itself in 1631 and killed 3,000 people and will likely happen again in the future. This is especially concerning considering that more than one million people still live in the vicinity of the volcano today.[7]

3 Into the Storm

Into the Storm (2014) – Chasing Tornados might not be such a good idea

A firenado makes a terrifying appearance in Into the Storm, a found-footage film based on real-life events. In 1986, eight tornadoes hit Dallas County in Iowa over the span of an hour. This disaster forms the center of the film, which also features a 747 being lifted by a tornado.

There has been some debate around this scene, as some doubt that a tornado could do this in real life. However, since there isn’t a significant weight difference between an empty 747 and an average-sized locomotive and tornadoes have been known to pick up locomotives, it is plausible that it could lift a plane as well.

The film makes use of several actual news reports, including some from the F5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013 and the Joplin tornado from 2011. There is also a clever tribute to Twister in a scene that shows a statue of a cow being blown clean off a building and flying across the screen.

Filming was rough on the actors and actresses, and the extras on set would often break out in song to try and lift their spirits. One of their favorite tunes to belt out was “Come Sail Away” by Styx.[8]

2 Twister

Twister (2/5) Movie CLIP – We Got Cows (1996) HD

Back in the ’90s, Twisterbecame everyone’s favorite disaster flick. Sure, watching it now makes for some hilarity, but it is still a fun ride.

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, the leads of the film, found themselves sitting in the cab of the infamous red truck for hours on end with bright electric lamps shining down on them. To keep the illusion of a dark and stormy sky behind the truck, these lamps were made even brighter until they eventually temporarily blinded both of the actors. For days afterward, they had to wear special glasses and use eyedrops. Hunt and Paxton even had to get hepatitis shots after spending some time filming inside a dirty ditch.

Wakita, Oklahoma, found a prominent place in the film after a couple of movie scouts noticed the debris still left over in the town from a hailstorm in 1993. Residents were recruited as extras and were paid $100 each day they were on set.

A few months before the movie’s release in 1996, Wakita opened the Twister Museum which boasts a Dorothy I prop, and a Twister pinball machine donated by Bill Paxton.[9]

Twister was also the first film commercially available on DVD in the U.S.

1 Moonfall

Moonfall (2022 Movie) Official Trailer – Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley

Moonfall was one of the most anticipated films of 2022. Whether it lived up to the hype is for individual viewers to decide.

What the movie has done, however, is cause speculation around whether the moon could, in fact, hit Earth should it be knocked out of orbit. Director, Roland Emmerich, confirmed that the Hollow Moon theory was a major inspiration for the film and that he’d read up on the theory in several books. He and his team also used planetary sciences simulators to depict what the moon careening toward Earth would look like. And they got it spot on, as the moon wouldn’t just cut a straight path for us but instead would get into an elliptical orbit that continuously gets smaller before an eventual impact.

For filming purposes, 135 different sets had to be constructed which were built on six different sound stages.[10]

fact checked by Jamie Frater

Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.