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Hollywood's 5 favorite movie disasters

By J. Scott Wilson, Staff writer
Published On: Jun 15 2011 09:44:00 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 04 2014 09:18:20 AM CDT
Cloverfield movie image, headless Statue of Liberty

Paramount Pictures

It's become painfully obvious since the dawn of cinema that Hollywood has a grudge against our little planet here.

From biblical plagues in Cecil B. DeMille movies to Roland Emmerich's ever-gaudier attempts to wipe us out, the death of all or nearly all of humanity has guaranteed boffo box office receipts.

In the modern apocalyptic movie, there are certain conventions that must be followed. For instance, if the disaster involves any sort of violent geological or impact-related upheaval, you must show what happens to either the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the Hollywood sign or the Eiffel Tower.

Lady Liberty alone has lost more heads than all of Henry VIII's wives combined in the last two decades.

Let's take a look at the five most iconic ways moviemakers wipe out our species … the most popular apocalypses, if you will.

But first, take a tissue and blow your nose. You look a little sick ...

The Omega Man, Charlton Heston

No. 5: The megavirus

With "The Omega Man," featuring Charlton Heston at his manliest as the last man on earth, we got a taste of the concept of the megavirus, the superbug that would most likely be engineered by some of our fellow humans and would (because they always do) break loose and kill us by the truckloads.

In the TV world, the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's "The Stand" added a psychic/mystical component to the mix, with an Extra Special Bonus of small-scale nuclear annihilation.

You can never have too many forms of mass extinction in one movie, right?

"The Andromeda Strain" brought the killer bug in from outer space, a much smaller-scale version of perhaps the most popular way to wipe out humanity.

Which brings us to our next disaster scenario ...

Independence Day, White House

No. 4: Not-so-friendly aliens

H.G. Wells scared the pants off an entire nation with the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, and it didn't take long for moviemakers to follow along.

Letting loose a few invincible robots, city-sized spaceships or cunningly disguised aliens to do their dirty work is a surefire recipe for mayhem.

One of the greatest examples of this is "Independence Day," which contrary to popular belief is not a movie at all but rather a collection of every single sci-fi movie cliché ever used stitched together with the flimsiest of plot threads.

That didn't stop it from making roughly 40 bazillion bucks at the box office and gaining the coveted position of being the movie shown at least 10 times a week on Turner-owned stations alone.

But aliens aren't the only things we have to fear coming from the sky ...

Armageddon movie

No. 3: Planet-killing asteroids

The summer of 1998 was a great one if you happened to be a huge mass of iron, nickel and ice prone to spontaneous gas venting and possessed of genocidal intent.

The two biggest movies of the season, "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," were both centered on the idea of planet-killing asteroids that were about to become unwelcome guests at everyone's backyard cookouts.

"Deep Impact" starred Morgan Freeman, Tea Leoni and Robert Duvall and was a fairly thoughtful, well-plotted yarn that delivered both emotional heft and a tidal wave the size of a televangelist's hair.

"Armageddon" had Bruce Willis. However, it wins because it also had Steve Buscemi in his most crazed role ever as Rockhound, the Dr. Strangelove-quoting geologist with a penchant for automatic weapons.

Speaking of "Dr. Strangelove," Hollywood has spared little expense in teaching us how to love the bomb ...

The Road, Viggo Mortensen

No. 2: The atomic bomb

Anybody knows that if you want a really good apocalypse, you've just got to do it yourself, and since ole Doc Oppenheimer taught us all how to make mushrooms out of common household plutonium, we've spent billions of dollars perfecting our doom.

The examples are endless, from the aforementioned "Dr. Strangelove" to the TV movie "The Day After" to post-nuclear-apocalypse movies like "Mad Max."

The most recent example of post-nuclear funtime, "The Road," starring Viggo Mortensen as a character reminiscent of the "Lord of the Rings'" Aragorn with emphysema and poor hygiene, is the sort of movie you watch when you're almost given up all hope, but just need a teensy bit of help to finish.

I'm not saying it's depressing, but ... well, yeah, I am. Really depressing.

Maybe going out in the sunshine will cheer me up ...

2012 movie image

No. 1: Our own planet run amok

This last is pretty much the specialty of Chief Planet Hater Roland Emmerich.

From the meteorological implausibility of "The Day After Tomorrow" to the mishmash of doomsday scenarios known as "2012," Rollie sure does love showing us done in by our own planet run amok.

In "The Day After Tomorrow," global warming was somehow blamed for weather wallops like tornadoes eating vast swaths of downtown Los Angeles and tidal floods sending cargo ships floating down Broadway in New York.

As best I can tell, the idea behind "2012" was something similar to what happens when you put Peeps in a microwave, with the middle getting all squooshy and the outside sliding around to make new, bizarre shapes.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going now to stick random things in the Amana and see if I can come up with Emmerich's next big blockbuster.

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