Why do we like to watch the world being threatened or, in the worst case, going under? Are we all secretly sadistic voyeurs? The answer is, of course, no. We don’t want to see our fellow man fail; quite the opposite, in fact. We love it when new heroes are born in times of crisis and when the situation seems hopeless. Your heroism may show up in different ways.
One fights fearlessly against the zombies, the next never gives up hope and thus gives it to his fellow man, and still other heroes simply show humanity and therefore move us to tears. We experience in the compressed form how others deal with difficult situations, which new paths are taken, and we all eagerly await the hopefully happy end.
The following films, all of which are available to watch on Netflix, meet these requirements in a particularly good way. We have compiled the 15 best disaster movies on Netflix for you. Granted…you’re also allowed to be scared because no disaster comes that completely without shock moments.
Place 01: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Category: Natural disaster movie, End time movie
For us, the deserved number one disaster movie. Why? The blockbuster combines everything it needs for the perfect disaster show: star cast of unwilling heroes (Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal), an enemy everyone can agree on (climate change and insightful, power-hungry politicians), suspense, action, love, and of course – Roland Emmerich!
Hailing from Stuttgart, successful director Roland Emmerich once again shows why he has his firm place in the A-league of Hollywood here. This doomsday film looks at the consequences of global warming, shows how disastrous it is when economics is placed above science and wakes up its viewers. The Earth can and will fight back, and in what form can be seen in impressive images of frozen countries and entire continents?
At the heart of the film is a special father-son relationship. Dennis Quaid, the scientist who has long predicted a similar horror scenario but fell on deaf ears with the government, sets out to save his son Jake Gyllenhaal. A race against time and especially against the cold and hopelessness.
Place 02: 2012 (2009)
Category: Natural disaster movie, End time movie
Maybe we won’t mention the director of this movie and let the viewer figure it out for himself within the first few minutes? Alright, yes, it’s Roland Emmerich again. This time he introduces us to the following end of the world:
Scientists have found out that the world as we know it will end in 2012. Refreshing in this scenario is that the government, for once, is on the side of science and initiates everything so that humanity, to be more precise, a vanishingly small part of humanity, can survive the end of the world. In biblical imitation, they try to find shelter on newly built arks.
The viewer sees a brilliant cast: John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, and Danny Glover. Emmerich pulls out all the stops in spring floods, earthquakes, and forest fires, leaving us breathless but not without hope.
Rank 03: San Andreas (2015)
Category: natural disaster movie
Due to the well-known San Andreas Fault in California, the entire area is extremely prone to earthquakes. Scientists predict that the consequences of a shift would be devastating, especially for the metropolis of Los Angeles. Due to the overwhelming power of economic interests, the government does not listen to the scientists. When a disaster takes its course, and a magnitude nine earthquake destroys everything, the world is caught off guard.
Helicopter rescue pilot Ray, played by Dwayne Johnson, tries to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco with his wife to their shared daughter. As the protagonists and the rest of the world are lulled into a sense of security, Earth strikes its next blow, revealing its full destructive power.
Rank 04: Snowpiercer (2013)
Category: disaster movie, science fiction
The South Koreans seem to have a knack for disasters. The film, which is actually based on the French comics “Snow Cruiser,” reached both its audience and critics worldwide.
Despite all the attempts to stop global warming, humanity has failed. It comes to the next ice age. Few lucky or unlucky survivors barricade themselves in a gigantic long train that races through the desolate ice desert without stopping. Even now, humanity can’t manage to see past class distinctions, so there’s a clear divide within the platoon.
The majority live in squalid conditions at the back of the train, while the powerful and wealthy minority reside at the front and enjoy their decadence. The inevitable uprising is led by the proletarian Curtis, played by Chris Evans. Along with fearless and desperate comrades-in-arms, he sets his sights on Wilford, played by Ed Harris. He is the train’s inventor and ruler and embodies everything bad in this new world.
Rank 05: I am Legend (2007)
Category: natural disaster movie, zombies
We see the world in the post-apocalypse. Nothing we know lasts anymore; on the streets of New York walk deer, dogs, cats, lions, and especially zombies.
The virologist Dr. Robert Neville, played by Will Smith, seems to be the last remaining human survivor of an epidemic. Incessantly the scientist tries to develop an antidote, a serum, which is to be won from the zombies’ blood—accompanied by his dangerous excursions by his faithful animal companion. Samantha, the sheepdog, is all Neville has left of his family. The film is an adaptation of the novel “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson and became the most successful film at the box office in its year of release.
Rank 06: The Impossible (2012)
Category: natural disaster movie, drama
This natural disaster film from J.A. Bayona from 2012, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, shows the horrors of the tsunami in Thailand.
Through the story of one family, the film knows how to make the horrors more tangible. The overall scale of the disaster is addressed, and the individual fate impressively shows how these forces of nature can change lives forever from one minute to the next.
Rank 07: How It Ends (2018)
Category: disaster movie, action thriller
Once again, the world ends in chaos, and the circumstances are mysterious and not at all tangible: a nationwide blackout and the decline of civilization. The population is divided. Some hope for help from the government; others take their fate into their own hands and enforce the law regardless of the consequences.
A suspenseful social drama that reveals how differently people react when completely rattled by unprecedented events. In all the madness, an expectant father takes the dangerous path to his wife. He is accompanied on this trip by his father-in-law, who is anything but thrilled not only by the new situation but also, in particular, by his son-in-law.
Not only do the road-movie elements leave a lot of room for the unexpected, but they keep asking the question: is this near demise really the result of natural events, or is an evil force driving the decay further on? Incidents. Are they of natural origin, or is there a driving force behind them?
#08: Gravity (2013)
Category: disaster movie, space
This truly novel and surprising film was nominated in ten categories at the Oscars and cleaned up in seven, including an Oscar for director Alfonso Cuarón. Those who have seen the film know that it was rightly the winner of the evening. The not-so-gripping synopsis may put off those who have not yet seen it.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock in one of her best roles, for which she also received the Golden Globe) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission in space. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney – what can you say, George Clooney, is just George Clooney and doesn’t fall out of character here either) embarks on his last flight before he wants to take his well-deserved retirement.
But on what seems to be a routine spacewalk, devastating disasters occur. The shuttle is destroyed, and Stone and Kowalsky are left completely alone – tied to nothing but each other and left to the darkness of space. In fact, this sums up the plot quite well.
The viewer must engage in a silent film. Still, if he does, he will be rewarded with spectacular images from space, great emotional drama, and an impressiveness that can be experienced in a few other films.
Rank 09: Godzilla (1998)
Category: natural disaster film, monster
The story is common knowledge, nuclear tests go wrong, and mutant lizard eggs are the result. Humans want to destroy them, which brings the wrath of the mother beast, Godzilla. Godzilla is a giant reptilian monster that leaves destruction and devastation in its wake with every step it takes. In this version, the setting is New York City. To protect their city, a team of scientists, journalists, and other atypical heroes form up.
As if to underline this fact, Emmerich doesn’t choose the classic Hollywood action heroes for his film, giving preference to more subtle characters, such as Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Kevin Dunn, and the fantastic Hank Azaria.
10th place: Bird Box (2018)
Category: Natural Disaster Movie, End Times
This Netflix in-house production is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. Well advertised and even better received by the audience, the streaming giant reached new records with this production.
We watch the world going down, shown not only frighteningly fast but also particularly disturbing. A strange phenomenon haunts the Earth. As soon as people “see” the phenomenon, they are driven to murder in the greatest mental anguish. Unlike many other films of this type, the protagonists here are mainly made to commit suicide.
The only cure for decay seems to be to see nothing. So the survivors make do with eye masks and wander blindly through the now decayed world. Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock, tries to get her two children to a better place this way. But the road is long and full of danger.
It is particularly interesting for the viewer to see how this path must be traveled blindly for the first time. The little family finds redemption in a place that is as surprising as it is insightful.
Rank 11: Lifeline (1997)
Category: disaster movie, fire drama
Possibly the most unusual disaster film on this list, but worth watching nonetheless. Here we see those everyday disasters that brave firefighters face every day. In the process, the dramas they face professionally catch up with their personal lives as well.
The film is episodic in nature and is a harrowing reminder of how big small disasters can be.
12th place: Geostorm (2017)
Category: Natural Disaster Film
Gerard Butler embodies Jake Lawson on his mission to save the Earth from its actual demise. After several natural disasters almost happened anyway, humanity came to its senses and set up a satellite system to protect itself and better control the weather’s effects.
But when the system does just the opposite of its original purpose, they see the threat of a devastating storm approaching the world. The brothers Jake (Gerard Butler) and Max (Jim Sturgess) must solve not only their own problems in the following. They are supported by the US president, played by Andy Garcia, who selflessly tries everything in his power to protect the Earth.
Rank 13: Pandora (2016)
Category: disaster movie, thriller
Director Jong-woo Park, who has risen to superstardom in South Korea, also caused a sensation in the rest of the world with this film.
Jae-Hyeok (Nam-Gil Kim) lives with his family in a small town in South Korea and works at the local nuclear power plant. His constant hints about the lack of security fall, due to the system, on deaf ears. Even as an earthquake damages the power plant and disaster looms, there is no hope of help from the rich and powerful. So Jae-Hyeok takes the rescue into his own hands. Well-researched thriller, with nuclear scientists and risk scenario experts involved in its creation.
Rank 14: 22 July (2018)
Category: natural disaster film, rampage
This movie shows a very different disaster than the rest of the selections, a horrific story of hate, violence, and many innocent deaths based on real events. 22 July tells the story of Anders Behring Breivik, who carried out a far-right double attack in Norway on this day in 2011. First, he detonates a bomb in downtown Oslo, in front of the Prime Minister’s office building.
“Only” eight people die in this detonation, but the horror is not over yet. Two hours later, the fanatic opens fire on the island of Utøya in a vacation camp run by a youth organization of the Social Democratic Labor Party. In the following 90 minutes, Breivik kills 69 people.
On the same day, the perpetrator is caught, confesses, and gives Islamophobic motives as the background for his atrocities. The film also looks at the subsequent court hearing, where the bereaved have their say, and provides insights into Norwegian public life, which seems incapable of coming to terms with this shock.
Rank 15: Io (2019)
Category: Disaster film with science fiction and fantasy elements
A worldwide climate catastrophe causes mass deaths of humans, birds, and sea creatures. The cause is toxic air. The survivors are brought to the rescue station, which is located in the orbit of the namesake moon of Jupiter, Io, with the help of spaceships.
In the main roles, we see the rather unknown actors: Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie, and Danny Huston, who embody their roles so credibly that even the spaceships do not interfere with the viewer’s reality.
In addition to all the post-apocalyptic settings and horror scenarios, there are also human fates touching and giving hope.
With this selection, there should be something for every taste in catastrophes. Whether you personally enjoy being creeped out by zombies, fighting aliens, or are excited to see how humanity fares in the apocalypse. Fear, anger, destructiveness, hope, sadness, love, and disaster movies bundle these emotions with ease and thus serve every viewer. Some, of course, have a much simpler motive. To use the words of another genre, some just want to watch the world burn.