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VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Hey, it could happen! For this list, we'll be looking at the most thrilling and terrifying films that involve natural catastrophes as central conflicts to their plot. Our countdown includes disaster movies "Only the Brave", "The Impossible", "The Core" and more!

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Scariest Natural Disaster Movies. For this list, we’ll be looking at the most thrilling and terrifying films that involve natural catastrophes as central conflicts to their plot. We're excluding scenarios that are exclusively focused on alien invasions or disease-related/biological disasters. We’re also leaving out “The Towering Inferno,” which is a disaster movie, but not a natural disaster movie. Did any of these films traumatize you as a child? Let us know in the comments below!

#20: “Everest” (2015)

This film stands out from the pack in that it’s actually based on true events! This helps give it a grounded sense of realism while also thrilling audiences with incredible scenes of action and bravery. The story is based on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, which resulted in the deaths of eight climbers. This is a very well-made film, with hair-raising stunts, gorgeous cinematography, and immersive production design. It’s the closest that most of us will get to Everest, and it allows us to grasp its near-unearthly power from the safety of our couches.

#19: “Aftershock” (2012)

This disaster film from director Nicolás López goes a lot harder than most, and it may come at the detriment of some viewers’ enjoyment. “Aftershock” is about a major earthquake that hits Chile and the nasty civil unrest that follows. The violence is far more graphic than what you typically see in disaster flicks, depicting realistic dismemberments and acts of extreme indecency which are shown in graphic detail. With the horror coming from the characters rather than the calamity itself, “Aftershock” serves as a unique twist on the genre. But those wanting more cinematic “fun” out of their disaster films would do well to stay clear!

#18: “White Squall” (1996)

Did you know that Ridley Scott directed a disaster film in the 90s? It didn’t do so well at the box office, so we’d forgive you if you didn’t. But it’s well worth checking out! It’s called “White Squall,” and it’s about a sailing ship that sinks in the middle of the ocean. While the story itself is mostly fiction, the story came from the sinking of the Albatross in 1961, which saw the deaths of six people. The survivors then rode in small lifeboats back to Florida. “White Squall” horrifyingly portrays the dangers of the open ocean and how it can so easily wash away our structures and ambitions. The sinking scene is particularly stressful and directed with the typical assuredness of Ridley Scott.

#17: “Crawl” (2019)

This movie combines two blood-curdling things - hurricanes and alligators! The story concerns Haley Keller and her father Dave, both of whom become trapped in a crawl space during a ferocious hurricane. Their situation is made even worse by circling alligators who populate the nearby waters. “Crawl” is a wonderful homage to B-movie creature features, but it’s also competently made with strong direction and good performances. It’s much better than it has any right to be and features lots of great monster-based spooks. The violence is suitably bloody, the setting is eerily claustrophobic, and there are jump scares galore.

#16: “Earthquake” (1974)

The ‘70s were big on disaster flicks, and “Earthquake” is one of its standout examples. This film was once the cornerstone of cinematic technology. It won a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects, and it was made with an exclusive process called Sensurround that delivered realistic and engrossing sound design. The visual and auditory experiences combine to create a classic of the genre. The destruction of Los Angeles is very cinematic and captured with horrifying detail, including many graphic deaths and moments of great danger. Even to this day, “Earthquake” has the power to shock and amaze.

#15: “Only the Brave” (2017)

Joseph Kosinski’s movie did not perform well, grossing just $26 million on a $38 million budget. It’s a shame, because “Only the Brave” is a fantastic disaster movie that beautifully honors a real-life tragedy. It’s about the Yarnell Hill Fire, an Arizona wildfire that occurred in the summer of 2013. It was fought by the Granite Mountain Hotshots of the Prescott Fire Department, and nineteen of the twenty firefighters perished in the blaze. The movie is richly directed by Kosinski, offering up plenty of mesmerizing practical effects that capture the nightmarish reality of wildfires. Like “Everest,” it flawlessly blends realism with cinematic flourishes, depicting a true Hell on Earth.

#14: “The Impossible” (2012)

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was a cataclysmic disaster of unimaginable proportions, and it’s captured in startling fashion within “The Impossible.” The film expertly balances the humane with the grand by focusing on one family’s experiences within the bigger disaster. It does not hold back, offering many realistic scenes of intense destruction. The prolonged tsunami sequence is absolutely brutal, complete with widespread carnage and shocking images of injury and death. The aftermath is equally upsetting, with the story packing incredible emotional power. It examines touching themes of family, love, and endurance, but it’s told through the lens of a modern catastrophe.

#13: “Volcano” (1997)

You can probably guess what this classic of the genre is about. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, “Volcano” tells of an eruption at the La Brea Tar Pits and the resulting damage that it causes to Los Angeles. This movie trades traditional disaster scares for a tense and slow-paced atmosphere, as a huge lava flow slowly approaches the downtown core of the city. Of course, there are also many scenes of calamity and death, with one, shall we say, “melting” being particularly disturbing. Volcanoes are traditional disaster fare, but by bringing the action to modern L.A., “Volcano” brings their apocalyptic dangers closer to home.

#12: “The Perfect Storm” (2000)

Those who hate the open ocean would do well to avoid “The Perfect Storm.” It is, you could say, a perfect storm of what makes disaster movies work. Like “The Impossible,” it narrows a larger event to focus on the specific experiences of a single group. It’s based on Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name, which details the Perfect Storm of 1991 and the loss of a fishing vessel called the Andrea Gail. The special effects remain eye-popping, and the hugely talented ensemble sells the horror of their situation with gusto. With startling scenes of ocean-based horror and a bleak ending, “The Perfect Storm” is an unforgettable viewing experience.

#11: “Knowing” (2009)

While Alex Proyas’ disaster flick does involve extraterrestrial beings, at the center of the plot is an apocalyptic natural disaster: a solar flare that will destroy all life on Earth. The lead-up to this calamitous event is full of portentous biblical imagery - from the whispering spirits to the spaceships that represent Noah’s Ark. The movie sets a dour tone and doesn’t really let up throughout its two-hour runtime, offering up a modern-day parable about humanity’s vulnerability. It’s a chilling exploration of just how fragile life is on a cosmic scale.

#10: “The Core” (2003)

Sure, it was silly. Alright, downright absurd. The premise, that the Earth’s core had suddenly stopped rotating, made no more sense than our heroes’ plan to nuke it back to life. But in a way, the improbability of their mission just made it all the more desperate. Most frightening however was the isolating and claustrophobic nature of their task, as they drilled down deep into the Earth, far from friends, family, and well, human beings in general. Thank goodness for “Unobtanium”, the material used to build their vessel! Despite the silliness, there are some knuckle-biting scenes when it all goes wrong that left audiences sweating as much as the crew.

#9: “Dante’s Peak” (1997)

Amid all the movies about volcanic eruptions, “Dante’s Peak” has a reputation for being relatively accurate. Emphasis on “relatively”. Experts praised the special effects and the portrayal of the geological survey team, but were less impressed with how different volcanic processes are all mixed in together. In striking this balance though, the movie manages to build tension in a convincing way, before delivering a horrifying eruption scene that puts other volcano movies to shame. Sure, a lake probably couldn’t transform into an acid bath quite so quickly. But if you want to see what the Apocalypse would look like, “Dante’s Peak” has it all.

#8: “San Andreas” (2015)

Was it big, loud, and preposterous? Absolutely. But the visual effects were on point. And the premise of a devastating earthquake in California? All too real. Brad Peyton’s 2015 disaster film “San Andreas” pit mother nature against Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, and although the Rock did his best to save the day, it’s pretty clear who won. While the science might have been fudged, the incredible CGI made the movie frightening nonetheless. The moment the earth ripples like a rug being shaken is chilling enough, and the subsequent scenes of chaos and destruction positively terrifying.

#7: “2012” (2008)

It’s the disaster movie with it all! Roland Emmerich’s epic disaster bonanza played on popular paranoia leading up to the year 2012 - when according to some, the world was supposed to end. After all, the year marked the end of a long cycle in the Mayan Calendar, and therefore . . . THE SKY IS FALLING! While that didn’t happen, the movie “2012” certainly did it’s damnedest to frighten the bejesus out of us. The eruption of Yellowstone in particular was terrifying, especially since it actually COULD blow sometime in the future . . . even if not for the mumbo jumbo reasons described.

#6: “Deep Impact” (1998)

You’re either a “Deep Impact” or an “Armageddon” kinda person. For this list, we’re going with “Deep Impact”, as the scarier movie - even though “Armageddon” was a lot more fun. With a comet heading for Earth, Robert Duvall’s character Captain Spurgeon "Fish" Tanner leads a last-ditch mission to save the planet. Back on the ground, there’s an incredible sense of helplessness as people prepare for the worst. The lottery system to decide who survives is much too plausible. And that tsunami scene, with Téa Leoni and Maximilian Schell waiting on the beach, still haunts our nightmares.

#5: “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972)

“The Poseidon Adventure” was one of the most ambitious movies of the 1970s, and along with “The Towering Inferno” and “Airport,” helped give rise to the disaster genre. It follows the sinking of a fictional luxury liner, and for a movie released in 1972, it still looks horrifyingly spectacular thanks to its Academy Award-winning visual effects. In fact, it wasn’t until “Titanic” 25 years later that a sinking ship was so viscerally captured on film. If you’ve only seen the 2006 remake, do yourself a favor and watch the original. And while you’re at it, purge the remake from your memory.

#4: “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004)

“The Day After Tomorrow” is classic Roland Emmerich – loud and utterly baffling, yet absolutely thrilling thanks to its spectacular visual effects. Sometimes you just want to see the world get destroyed, and when it comes to that, “The Day After Tomorrow” has no rival. This movie has it all, from devastating tornadoes and hailstorms to a massive tsunami that sweeps its way through the streets of Manhattan. The image of the Statue of Liberty being swallowed by a storm surge is iconic stuff. The movie is basically a greatest-hits collection of all the best disaster scenarios, and they’re all shown in breathtaking and terrifying fashion.

#3: “The Birds” (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is a horror-thriller with all the hallmarks of a great disaster movie too. You’ve got your ominous warning signs, in the form of the first attacks and birds flying into windows. And then come escalating scenes of ever greater chaos and destruction - including a corpse with its eyes gouged out, a hysterical prophet of doom, and an explosion at a gas station. Then of course, there’s that famous downer ending that signals the possible end of the world as we know it. It’s certainly a classic horror movie, but in some ways it’s also a precursor to the entire disaster genre.

#2: “The Wave” (2015)

This small-budget Norwegian movie blew away critics, with special effects to rival Hollywood blockbusters. Inspired by real natural disasters in Norway’s northwestern fjords, “The Wave” follows a geologist and his family as they try to escape a 260-foot-tall tsunami. It’s a simple story, and it borrows many disaster clichés, but its slow pace allows audiences to broil in the tension and grow attached to the characters . . . which makes the inevitable destruction all the more compelling. Every disaster buff needs to check out “The Wave.” Just don’t watch the horrible English dub. You know what you should watch, though? The 2018 sequel, “The Quake.”

#1: “Twister” (1996)

There might be bigger, louder, more apocalyptic disaster movies. But there is no disaster movie quite like “Twister.” “Twister” captured a nation in 1996 thanks to its relentless action and impressive set pieces, some of which have become iconic staples of the genre. One only needs to hear the word “twister” to conjure up images of a drive-in being destroyed, a cow being hurled through the air, or a farm being decimated by a massive cloud of swirling black dust. It was enough to give kids nightmares, and to make adults fear the wrath of tornadoes. Who knew scientific research was so action-packed?