Disaster Movies

Perusing the TV guide the other day I noticed that Escape from New York was listed. This fairly average movie from 1981 is set in a futuristic 1997 where New York City has been turned into a giant maximum security prison. Quite a laughable notion.
But back in the 1970s and early 1980s, the disaster movie was all the rage. Hollywood delighted in giving us movies that depicted things going wrong in a bad way. The Towering Inferno (1974), The China Syndrome(1979) and The Terminator(1984), all depicted terrible things happening to people, and depicted the future as some nightmarish place, ruined by nuclear war, or a dystopia of nightmarish proportions.
Hollywood might drive the agenda, but audiences respond too. Whatever ‘values’ Hollywood might wish to impose, its first imperative is to make money. So when the “Disaster” movie genre stopped striking a chord with voters, it stopped making money.
It may just be me, but didn’t these movies stop appearing about the same time the Cold War ended? The fact that people did not want to see these movies might reflect the increasing optimism with which the public faced the world.
If that is true, then what are we to make of the popular success of a movie like The Day after Tomorrow. The fear has changed shape, but it revives the old formula and gives us a view of a ruined future. Does the commerical success of this film, grossing over $180 million, suggest that the public is ready, once again, to be told messages of despair?



  1. Al Maviva

    I can tell you why Day After Tomorrow flopped: Snake Plisskin wasn’t there to lead the survivors to safety. It’s that simple.
    Call me Snake.

  2. Alan K. Henderson

    a futuristic 1997 where New York City has been turned into a giant maximum security prison.
    Off by seven years and a little over 200 miles, as this week’s security precautions in Boston attest.

  3. Dave Sheridan

    The Day After Tomorrow got a good pop for the same reason Fahrenheit 911 did — it was the equivalent of a religious tent revival for the Left. It was so bad that it may survive as a cult humor classic, but I don’t think any inferences can be drawn about disaster movies in general. I always figure that the viewer motive is escapism, not getting in tune with the times.

  4. Sam

    Apparently Hollywood won’t make a movie about REAL disasters, like terrorists flying planes into buildings, or a country which falls into civil war because one political party declares class warfare on another. Nah, Hollywood wouldn’t want to make a disaster film like that, otherwise we might learn from it.

  5. Al Maviva

    I submit to you that if the Bush Administration failed to take maximum precautions, and an attack did occur, that the howls of outrage from the Dems (“He plannnnnnnnnned the attacks!!!!”) would puncture Sasha’s eardrums in Australia, and cause Rush Limbaugh’s head to simply vaporize. Sand on the beach in Rio, not yet made into glass, would shatter. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge would rock back and forth, in grainy black and white, until it collapsed.
    The amazing thing about the convention is not the level of security – it’s that the Dems inside are howling about the Booooshwa police state, fascists, and so forth, but nobody is bitching about the intrusive security. So, they are maintaining that there’s no threat, yet not complaining about the metal detectors, the handbag searches, and the snipers. Hmmmmm….
    Either the Dems know damn well that they are lying about Bush “exaggerating” the threat (and the security effort is therefore reasonable), or they aren’t smart enough to recognize police state abuses of liberty when they see it. Take yer pick.

  6. Jim

    Feh! What do you youths of today know from disaster movies. “This Is Not A Test”, 1962, with a skid row writer, director and cast. Now that was a disaster. movie.

  7. roy edroso

    Oh, congrats, you’ve politicized disaster movies. Maybe next post you’ll tell us which old TV test patterns leaned left and which leaned right.

  8. Scott Wickstein

    Well, where, exactly, did I ‘politicise’ anything? I was making a wider cultural point.
    Going by the look of your blog, you might want to pick up a bit of culture yourself. Turn off the computer Frank, and put in some soothing music. Eldar, or Greig. Honestly, nearly totally non political!

  9. yobbo

    I love apocalyptic movies. Especially the ones where there’s just one dude and a bunch of wild feral women left. Like Planet of the Apes or The Omega Man.
    This is why I should never become an elected official.