The 12 Grisliest Deaths In Disaster Movies

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Vote up the most painful fates in disaster movies.

Disaster movies don't always get the details right, but when it comes to putting memorable death scenes on film, you simply can't beat them. The disaster can be of the natural, weather-based variety - or of the fantastical, sci-fi sort. When those lights come down at the theater and the music begins to blare, we all just want to see some carnage. Without a doubt, that means grisly death scenes.

Think of a man being run over by a lawnmower in The Happening. Or a woman being killed by a lake full of sulfuric acid in Dante's Peak. Or Eddie Griffin being crushed by a meteor in Armageddon. Everybody knows what you want to see from a disaster movie, and we're running through some of the most repulsive deaths ever seen in the genre. 


  • The pandemonium that would ensue if a volcano magically popped up in the middle of downtown Los Angeles cannot be overstated. It's not scientifically impossible, just extremely improbable… so let's not worry too much about it, yeah? Besides, 1997's Volcano already showed everybody what would happen if such a monumental occurrence came to pass: Tommy Lee Jones would just scowl at it a whole bunch and all the lava would flow into the ocean.

    Seriously though, there is one moment that remains brutal to this day even in spite of the dated special effects. Early on in the movie, after things start to go awry, beloved character actor John Carroll Lynch's character is trying to save a coworker from perishing in the lava. Stuck on a train with the man he's trying to save, Lynch willingly jumps into the flowing lava so he can get the injured train operator to safety. Then he melts to death right there on screen, screaming the whole time.

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  • “Acid lake.” Those two words put together, in that order, basically tell you everything you need to know, yeah? Okay, maybe not everything you need to know, but “acid lake” paints a pretty complete picture as it is. Like 1997's other forgettable lava-related movie, Volcano, the Pierce Brosnan-starring Dante's Peak is often overlooked by film fans. It makes sense. It's not very good.

    However, anyone who saw Dante's Peak as a child has to have a vivid memory of Elizabeth Hoffman's Ruth jumping into said acid lake so her grandchildren could make it to safety. Hey, when water is turned into sulfuric acid and the only chance your family has of surviving is if you help their boat make it to shore, you leap in. That doesn't make her shrieks any easier to listen to.

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  • If the disaster film genre has a patron saint, it is undoubtedly German writer/director/producer Roland Emmerich. Though the multi-hyphenate has helmed successful non-disaster movies like The Patriot, Stargate, and White House Down, it's clear where his movie-loving heart truly lies. And while The Day After Tomorrow and Moonfall certainly focus on worldwide mayhem, the man really stepped up his game with the cataclysmic 2012.

    2012 is the two-and-a-half-hour, apocalypse-laden magnum opus of Emmerich's career that features everything from massive flooding and so-called “megatsunamis” to erupting volcanos and devastating earthquakes. Which makes it all the more curious that the most memorable death scene in the movie comes from something man-made. Tom McCarthy, probably best known for writing and directing Spotlight, plays Gordon, the new boyfriend of John Cusack's ex-wife, played by Amanda Peet. And if you thought Gordon wasn't going to make it to the end of the movie when you first saw him on screen, you were right! He gets crushed by giant gears near the end of the movie. A death everyone saw coming from miles away.

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  • Look, it needs to be said: 2003's The Core is not what you would characterize as a traditionally “good” movie. This science is totally nonexistent, the acting is completely over the top, and it just isn't going to be anyone's favorite movie at the end of the day. However, if you're in the mood for a schlocky B-movie throwback that just so happens to have been made with a big budget as well as a dynamite cast, then The Core is the film for you. Any flick with Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Greenwood, Alfre Woodard, and Richard Jenkins is at least going to be watchable.

    There is also a scene where Tchéky Karyo's Serge Leveque gets crushed by the extreme pressure of the Earth's core in a moment of self-sacrifice. As the walls slowly close in on him and Lindo's Braz tries to open the doors and free the man, Eckhart's Josh does his best to keep the soon-to-be-killed man calm. Somehow, the scene is both hilarious and horrifying. The Core defies belief!

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  • 2008's The Happening needs to be seen to be believed. To describe it as a disaster movie does it a disservice. To describe it as an M. Night Shyamalan movie does it a disservice. To even describe it as a full-fledged B movie does it a disservice. Popular critical reevaluation in the years since it was eviscerated upon its initial release has dubbed it a campy schlockfest in the mold of classic '50s drive-in cinema, but that isn’t entirely true, either. The Happening, simply put, is its own thing.

    For example, the harrowing scene where a man gets run over by his own riding lawnmower. Unless you've watched a bunch of people purposefully turn on their riding mowers and lay down in front of them to commit suicide, this scene will be burned into your brain forever. Also, watching Mark Wahlberg barely react to it happening right in front of him is wild, too.

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  • While the 1970s were the golden age of disaster cinema in Hollywood and the genre is clearly still going strong today with releases like Moonfall, Don't Look Up, and Greenland, there is no question that the 1990s produced some awesome disaster films. Just think about it. Independence Day. Armageddon. A little James Cameron flick called Titanic. But the first big-budget disaster movie to rake in the big bucks during the genre's '90s peak was 1996's Twister.

    It's easy to see why. Speed's Jan de Bont was behind the camera, Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame co-wrote the screenplay, and it featured an incredible cast with the likes of Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cary Elwes, Alan Ruck, and Jeremy Davies. Twister may be entirely predictable, but it is very good at what it does. This is especially true when it comes to killing off Zach Grenier's Eddie. The loyal driver is just doing what his boss tells him to do when he gets a little too close to the titular tornado. Unsurprisingly, things do not go well, and a piece of radio transmitter tower comes out of nowhere and impales the man while he's driving. Twister is rated PG-13, so you don't get to see everything, but you do get to see enough… 

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