Earthquake Movies: World Shaking Cinema

Earthquake Movies
Aftershock (2012) plays out the horrifying consequences of partying in a nightclub when a massive earthquake hits.

Hollywood has been releasing disaster films since the thirties and forties. Audiences are drawn to movies exploring natural disasters because they are inspired by reality. A tidal wave, a hurricane, a tornado, or an earthquake could occur at any time. It’s easy for audiences to relate to the characters in a disaster film because they can imagine themselves placed in the character’s shoes. They might have even experienced a similar disaster themselves.

Most earthquake movies are set in Southern California. This is because the state has been waiting for The Big One. The Big One is a 7.8 or higher quake which is predicted to happen along the San Andreas fault. This fault is the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Seismologists, like Lucy Jones, predict the San Andreas Fault is going to cause a catastrophic earthquake someday. Lucy’s life is dedicated to teaching earthquake safety, performing earthquake drills, and improving societal resilience after natural disasters.

Unfortunately, earthquakes can cause severe destruction. They can topple buildings, destroy homes, and damage towns. While it might be hard to watch documentaries on these natural disasters, it’s easier to stomach a fictional film about them. Not only will they provide you with entertainment, but you could learn something about the planet in the process. Here are a few of the best earthquake movies ever released:

S.O.S. Tidal Wave (1939)

Corruption and community are at battle in this science fiction film.

This film takes place on election day. It’s about a group of shifty politicians who try to stop citizens from voting by playing fake disaster footage on the news. Their plan is to make everyone believe New York is being hit by a massive tidal wave. This movie contains a large chunk of footage from Deluge (1933), which is another science fiction film. Deluge is about a massive earthquake that completely destroys the West Coast and floods the East Coast.

Earthquake (1974)

Coincidentally, during the first day of filming and the last day of filming, there were real earthquakes on set.

This disaster movie is about an earthquake with an unimaginable magnitude that strikes Los Angeles, California. It follows several people who are trying to survive, from a grocery store manager to a police officer to a widow. In one of the most memorable scenes, characters end up trapped on a 30-story skyscraper. This film was released during the same year as several other famous disaster films, such as The Towering Inferno (1974) and Airport 1975 (1974). They were all massive hits at the box office.

And Life Goes On (1992)

Writer-director Abbas Kiarostami’s film is a part of the Criterion Collection.

This movie, originally titled Zendegi va digar hich, is about a director and his son who return to the scene of the Guilan earthquake. This was a real, devastating earthquake that killed over 30,000 people. Although it’s a fictional account of what happened in Iran in 1990, it is filmed in a documentary style. It shows torn-up landscapes, gutted roads, and ruined towns. Although it is technically the second film in a trilogy, it’s not necessary to see the first to understand the plot in this film.

Escape From LA (1996)

Star actor Kurt Russell is also credited with writing the ending for the movie.

This action-packed science fiction film was directed by John Carpenter. It’s about a man, played by Kurt Russell, who is sent to recover a doomsday device from Los Angeles. This is the second time he was playing his character, Snake Plissken, which he originally played in Escape From New York (1981). However, Escape From LA is the only sequel John Carpenter ever directed.

Volcano (1997)

Director Mick Jason also directed the 1992 hit The Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner.

This science fiction film stars Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, and Don Cheadle. It’s about an earthquake that hits Downtown Los Angeles, causing a volcano to form beneath the city. The lava used throughout the film was made of methylcellulose, which is used to thicken milkshakes. Meanwhile, the ash was actually grounded newspaper. This was the second movie about a volcanic eruption released in 1997. However, Dante’s Peak (1997) is much more scientifically accurate.  

Dante’s Peak (1997)

Pierce Brosnan stars in this film written by Leslie Bohem.

The name of this disaster movie was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, which describes a trip to hell. This film follows a vulcanologist who discovers a dormant volcano that could erupt at any moment. All of the crater scenes were shot at Mount St. Helens. However, most of the exterior scenes were shot in Idaho. The rest of the background was digitally added.

Tidal Wave (2009)

This is the Korean remake of the original 1974 American film Earthquake.

This South Korean film is about a woman living in Busan with her boyfriend. When a tsunami hits, they only have ten minutes to escape the natural disaster. This disaster film was originally titled Haeundae, taken from Haeundae Beach, which is a wealthy resort near Busan. The CGI sequences in this film were shot with water tanks that were left over from Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Aside from some high drops, the actors performed all of their own stunts in the water.

San Andreas (2015)

A majority of the cast performed their own stunts due to director Brad Peyton’s hunger for authenticity in their acting.

This action film takes place after a massive earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. It follows a father, played by Dwayne Johnson, who journeys across the state with his ex-wife to rescue their daughter. The title of the film is inspired by the Southern San Andreas fault, an earthquake fault line that runs through most of California. One of the most famous scenes in this film shows the Hoover Dam being knocked down. However, scientists have assured audiences that this is unlikely to happen in reality.

The Quake (2018)

Skjelvet was the original title to this Norwegian disaster film.

This film is a sequel to The Wave (2015), which is about a massive flood after a tsunami. Meanwhile, The Quake is about an earthquake in Oslo. Although this is a fictional film, it is based on a real earthquake that occurred there in 1904. That major earthquake shook buildings, destroyed homes, and damaged the Johannes church. There were up to eighteen aftershocks reported.

Underwater (2020)

Famous faces such as Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, and T.J. Miller, star in this film.

This science fiction horror film is about a crew of researchers who try to get to safety after underwater quakes ruin their deepwater research and drilling facility. For underwater scenes, the cast and crew shot on dark stages without any lights. However, they wore airtight suits that made it hard to hear comments from the director, William Eubank. Those suits weighted about 140 pounds each.

More Earthquake Films

The titles listed above are some of the most popular earthquake films of all time. They are thrilling adventure movies with fast-paced plots, twists, and turns. They also contain phenomenal actors and unexpected scripts. However, there is always more to see. Once you finish watching through them, here are a few more earthquake films for you to enjoy:

  • The Great Los Angeles Earthquake (1990) is a TV movie about a series of tremors in Los Angeles. These tremors help a seismologist pinpoint when The Big One is going to hit California.
  • Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (1999) is about an earthquake that hits New York City. It is based on a novel written by Chuck Scarborough.
  • The Core (2003) is about a series of natural disasters that occur when the core of the Earth stops spinning. A group must drill to the center of the planet in order to save it.
  • Megafault (2009) is about several earthquakes in the North Atlantic that expose a seismic fault. It was a made-for-TV movie starring Brittany Murphy.
  • Aftershock (2012) is a disaster film that takes place in Chile, which is the home of the largest earthquake ever recorded. It was assigned a magnitude of 9.5.
  • 10.0 Earthquake (2014) is about a devastating earthquake that hits Los Angeles. It stars Jeffrey Jones and Henry Ian Cusick.
  • San Andreas Quake (2015) is a mockbuster, parodying the film San Andreas (2015). It’s about a seismologist who predicts an earthquake – but no one listens to her.
  • Kuso (2017) explores the events after an earthquake in Los Angeles. During a screening at Sundance, a large number of people walked out because the film was too gross.
  • Turn Around (2017) is about a man who teaches in a rural area that was hit by an earthquake. It is inspired by a true story.
  • Earthquake Bird (2019) is about a girl with a dark past who is questioned when an ex-friend goes missing. This film is named after a mythical bird that comes out to sing after earthquakes in Japan. However, this bird doesn’t actually exist.