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Deep Dive: San Andreas and the Return of Natural Disaster Movies?


After taking a tiny bit of time off after it's late 1990s/early 2000s high, the natural disaster film might be in for a comeback.

When San Andreas opens May 29, featuring a helicopter flying Dwayne Johnson carrying almost everyone in Los Angeles, the film will harken back to the glory days of summer blockbusters centered around the natural destruction of earth.

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    The definition of disaster films can mean many different things

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    Disaster films are as old a film making itself and can be traced to such disparate genre fare as the Godzilla movies to 1972's harrowing The Poseidon Adventure about a cruise ship overturned in the middle of the ocean.

    San Andreas harkens back to an older form of summer blockbuster which put the lives of millions of people or the world itself in danger because of natural forces for which we have no solution.

    1901's adorably named Fire! is one of the first, if not the very first example of a film based around the danger presented by the natural world.


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    1974's Earthquake might have been the first movie to threaten the whole city of Los Angeles



    The 1970s saw the biggest surge of these natural disaster movie, dealing with everything from water in The Poseidon Adventure to fire in The Towering Inferno.

    But the scales of these movies were relatively small compared to the regional and global catastrophes that would befall humanity in 1974's Earthquake or the Sean Connery leading vehicle Meteor. Apparently, one word is all you need to express the whole of the natural calamity.



    Audiences loved it, which is why they kept making the things.

    The plots are all basically what you expect them to be:

    1. A harrowing plight threatens many lives
    2. Only one person (almost always a white man) or a team of people (made up almost always of white people) can save the day.
    3. They do.


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    The 1990s saw an enormous resurgence of these things

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    Basically, Star Wars and the science fiction genre took over from the disaster movies in the later 1970s and through the 1990s. Then the two made something of a love child in the form of 1996's Independence Day and a new resurgence of natural disaster movies also sprung forth with the help of Twister.

    From there on out it was a cornucopia of catastrophe with competing volcano movies in 1997 (the aptly named Volcana and Dante's Peak) and competing meteor movies in 1998 (Deep Impact and Armageddon).

    The summer disaster trend lasted longer this time, tackling different concepts with larger budgets. Global warming, more asteroids, the sun's dying, etc.

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    Culturally, we obviously seemed to have moved onto post-apocalyptic movies

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    In the past five years, there has been very little seen of the natural disaster movies after 2009's incorrect prediction of 2012. There was Contagion about a viral outbreak and The Impossible about tsunamis. Both were well-received, but no where near the hundreds of millions raked in by former disaster films.

    Instead the culture seems to have moved past the movies about apocalyptic scenarios in favor of stories about life post-apocalypse.

    Also, obviously, summer movies were taken over by another genre...



    It's not exactly the science fiction takeover that claimed the first natural disaster movie trend, but it's certainly close.

    So with San Andreas opening with such a straight-forward natural disaster plot (large earthquake = death), it'll be interesting to see whether this marks another trend towards natural disaster films or it's just a one-off anomaly.

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    Anyway, here's the San Andreas trailer for your adrenaline-pumping needs


    Are you going to see it? What do you think?
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