It’s February 2020 and Storm Ciara is battering the UK. Trees are down, ferries are struggling to dock at ports across the nation and hundreds of flights have been cancelled. In typical British fashion however, the biggest debate is over the pronunciation of the storm name itself rather than the path of destruction it is making all over the country. Is it “see-ara” or “kee-ara”? Who knows.
With the majority of the UK population locked indoors, it got me thinking about the best movie storms to have ever graced the silver screen. This doesn’t incorporate disaster scenes as a whole (we’ve got another top 5 for those), just those involving storms of some nature, weather (see what I did there) on land, in the air, or at sea. From terrifying tornadoes to swelling seas, here are our picks for the top 5 movie storms seen in film.
#5 Dante’s Peak
This is a blast from the past. As a kid I absolutely loved Dante’s Peak. Following the story of a small US town as they come to terms with the fact that their long-dormant volcano is now very much active, Dante’s Peak stars a rather handsome Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Connor herself, Linda Hamilton. The storm that results from the volcano’s eruption is filmed brilliantly and holds up relatively well today – no tornadoes, just lots of lightning and ash. It’s campy fun of the highest order and definitely one to watch if you’re ever in the mood.
#4 Into the Storm
Steven Quale, who just so happened to direct the best Final Destination movie, brought tornadoes back to the big screen in 2014 with Into the Storm. The special effects were pretty good in this one, but the scene that packs the most impact features fire twisters, a terrifying monstrosity of wind and fire that looks like something straight out of the gates of hell. The human characters are bland, as they are in most disaster films, but it’s fun while it lasts and those fire twisters, boy are they scary.
#3 The Wizard of Oz
Perhaps the most famous twister in all of cinema, The Wizard of Oz was a revolution in special effects and the infamous tornado scene was created using a rudimentary green screen, with the twister itself created from a cloth sock. Effects crews then threw dirt at it while using strong fans to make it look like the iconic twister we’ve come to know and love. It’s a classic of cinema and retains its eccentric charm to this day. Of course, with the invention of CGI, this clever piece of film-making shows how creative film-makers can be when they don’t have the tools to do anything else.
#2 The Perfect Storm
One of George Clooney’s lesser-known films lands itself a silver medal here. The Perfect Storm is based on the true story of fishing vessel Andrea Gail. The boat was lost at sea after a storm in 1991. The storm scene in question is titled The Giant Wave and is filmed with the typical aplomb that you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster. Just as our heroic crew think they’re in the clear, the skies darken and they have to content with a monumental wave. Knowing that this is based on true events makes it even more difficult to watch.
We’re finishing with Jan De Bont’s brilliant 1996 blockbuster, Twister. Starring the brilliant Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, the screenplay was written by none other than Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton. This is tornado film-making on a whole other level with fantastic special effects, nicely written human characters and a final storm that is written like a comic-book villain, it’s that imposing. Twister fully deserves this list’s gold medal. If you haven’t seen Twister, and you’re a fan of the genre, you absolutely have to check it out.
The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich’s love letter to disaster movies, before 2012 was released of course, features some cracking tornado destruction and the Big Apple frozen like a giant ice-pop, but the scale is just too big for this list – this is the best movie storms, not disaster movies.
Plagued by production troubles from the outset, Geostorm harks back to the 90s with its fun tone and ridiculously over-the-top set pieces. Gerard Butler is as fine as he always is in films, but again, the scale of the destruction takes it so far past the remit of this list that an Honourable Mention placing is the best it can muster here.
Life of Pi
One of the best-looking films ever seen on the big screen and by far the best film (technically speaking) here, Life of Pi features a terrifying storm at sea that absolutely ravages a large freighter and its crew. A brilliant film from visionary director Ang Lee that should be checked out as soon as you have finished reading this article.