Why Don’t Natural Disaster Movies Work?

You know what’s terrifying? Natural disasters.

Let’s face it: the planet we live on is more than capable and willing to kill us. It can do it whenever and wherever it wants. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, so on and so forth. These disasters often result in catastrophic destruction, people losing their homes, their pets, their family members. It’s equal parts tragic and terrifying.

Naturally, given how many people are affected by these every year all over the world, you’d think that it would be a subject matter to handle delicately. Something to treat in a serious matter. One that could spread awareness of these things to people who have been lucky enough to avoid suffering from them.

Instead, we get brain-dead action and/or horror movies.

The list of movies that fall into this genre is surprisingly extensive. 2012, Geostorm, Crawl, Kursk, Into the Storm, so on and so forth. You’d think that a genre this populated would have some variety. Maybe some quality.

But no. For every one good natural disaster movie, there are four shlocky and terrible ones. They all feel the same. Whether the main characters are fire fighters battling a forest fire or a rescue crew struggling through a rainstorm, they’re all pretty much the same thing.

There are a few contributing factors. The biggest one being: nature doesn’t make for a thrilling antagonist. It makes for good obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. But when the antagonist itself, the force working against our heroes, is just an earthquake? Well, you lose a lot of what makes a story interesting.

How does the protagonist react to the antagonist? How does the ladder’s actions and decisions affect the former? How does it inform their growth?

The only answer you can get in a disaster movie is: “Oh no, my home is gone.”

It certainly doesn’t help that the characters within these stories are less characters and more like archetypes. You’ve got your smart science guy, badass hero guy, family in distress and/or damsel, greedy business tycoon, so on and so forth. Often times you’ll get something about a dysfunctional family or a divorced couple or something like that. But that’s the closest you’ll get to character development.

All of these can work in a dumb action movie. If you’re antagonistic force isn’t something natural, like an alien invasion or a giant monster, those character tropes can be enjoyable. Maybe not compelling, but fun.

But… well, you can’t plug stuff like that into a more serious subject matter. When you’re making a movie about a very real thing that affects very real people, people who might become a little upset upon seeing it, you need to take it seriously.

There are two decent ways to do this. The first way is to drop the fiction altogether and make a documentary. This way, you can spread awareness of these tragedies, inform people about them, and spread information about how they can help. If you ask me, this is the best way to go.

However, if you must make a fictional movie out of it, then at least take it seriously. Don’t make it a dumb and cheesy action movie. Maybe try something like a tragedy movie or something like that. Make a movie that captures the often sad and horrifying results of catastrophes like a tsunami or an earthquake.

There is a third option, however: go all the way. Make your movie so over-the-top, so stupid, and so entertaining that it stops being an action movie and becomes a dumb comedy. Make this shit the next Sharknado. It won’t be remembered as some grand, thought-provoking masterpiece. But sometimes audiences just need something dumb and fun.

Unfortunately, few disaster movies try any of these approaches. They’re shlocky action flicks that take themselves way too seriously. If they’re not brain-dead stupid, they’re annoying. Watching stock footage of tornados is more interesting than these.

Don’t ask why I know that.


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