Top 10 Wettest, Most Destructive Storms in Movie History

by Warren Cantrell on November 6, 2012

in Top 10s

So we had a hell of a storm last week: one of the biggest, and most destructive in recent memory, at least for the region hardest hit.

clooney-wahlberg-perfect-storm-2000Indeed, it was the kind of squall that usually serves as the backdrop to some hellacious cinematic set piece, one where the picture’s heroes must navigate the pitfalls of the gods and men alike.  Footage of Al Roker squinting half-turned against the howling snarl of Hurricane Sandy’s passing got this author thinking about some of the most furious, ball-busting storms in movie history, for it’s a well-covered subject in cinematic circles. So … to make today’s list, the storm had to be Earth-based (sorry, Prometheus), terrestrial in nature, wet (blizzards were a different list), and not the result of some outside factor like an asteroid, alien invasion, weather device, wizard, or God. Indeed, it didn’t seem fair to rank a once-in-a-millennia storm system below some tawdry dust-up featured in a science fiction crap-tasterpiece.

 No, to make this cut, it had to be an honest-to-goodness tempest with moderately believable pretenses and intentions. Since today’s ranking orders the featured films based on their storm’s level of destruction and/or impact, the bigger, nastier, and implicitly damaging the gale, the better!  To keep the selections reasonable and on a straightforward track, the choices were limited to classic “wet” storms, which excluded blizzards, tornadoes, and tidal waves.  Still, there were quite a few selections to pick through, something that left the inevitable stable of honorable mentions, which included some pretty intense weather systems in The Great Outdoors, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frankenstein, and, of course, Hard Rain. If you feel like any of your favorite rain vignettes were excluded, feel free to whine about it in the comment section below. Until then…

10. Caddyshack (1980) worst-movie-storms

Just a few quick words for Caddyshack’s squall, which hit like a ton of bricks and with a sudden burst that scared everyone right the hell off the golf course except for two brave souls.  Though other members at Bushwood Country Club tried to warn Bishop Pickering (Henry Wilcoxon) that something nasty was on its way in, the clergyman seemed to know that he was in the midst of a truly special game: one he wasn’t about to interrupt because of a little rain.  Using the assistant groundskeeper for a caddy, the Bishop plowed valiantly forward into the face of what appeared to be the wrath of the Almighty Itself, yet only seemed to improve his game with the growing strength of the gale.

What began as a vigorous downpour eventually turned into a class-3 hurricane, yet the Lord was with the Bishop that particular day, and shots just kept on dropping!  Though Caddyshack didn’t give its audience much of a look at the damage this storm did to the community, or even the course as a whole, the impact this film had on one man’s soul was unmistakable.  Though unshakably pious and devout before the incident, the storm and lightning strike robbed Bishop Pickering of his faith, not to mention his will to live by the looks of things near the end (“there is no God!”).  Though something of a trifle compared to some of the stuff mentioned today, the impact it had on a formerly respected man of the cloth pushed this storm into the conversation, just one spot behind…

9. The Hurricane (1937)  top-10-movie-storms

An unquestioned classic from Hollywood’s golden age, The Hurricane was so damn good that they remade it four decades later with Jason Robards and Mia Farrow (try not to hold that against it).  The original 1937 John Ford film that starred Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour was the real deal, however, and did a brilliant job mixing intense action with relatable drama and (for the period) high-end special effects.  Directors like Spielberg, Zemeckis, and Lucas owe a lot to Ford and films like The Hurricane, something those directors, famous for their massive, show-piece spectacle pictures, would likely gush about at length if given the opportunity.  In Ford’s film, a boorish yet kind-hearted sailor named “Terangi” got into some trouble while in port, and as a result, had to serve out a prison sentence that became quite lengthy because of the sailor’s repeated escape attempts.

Though Terangi was eventually busted himself loose, it was only after something like a decade and a half cracking rocks; once out, all manner of folks scrambled to try and get his ass back in stir, much to the dismay of the fleeing protagonist.  This flight towards freedom culminated in a return home, where Terangi hoped his secluded island in the South Pacific would provide him the sanctuary he so desperately desired.  Johnny Law didn’t take any days off, however, and were all over Terangi’s shit, despite the imminent approach of a massive typhoon.  The finale of The Hurricane played out as Terangi tried to stay one step ahead of his pursuers whilst still seeing to his family’s safety, which was seriously threatened by the approaching storm.  For a film made in the 1930’s, this one had one hell of a squall, which was believable enough to get audiences convinced that the heroes of the picture were actually braving a fierce tempest.  Much like this next movie, made just a decade later, the director did a lot with what most today would consider desperately little …

8. Key Largo (1948) bogart bacall top storm

The last of the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall films, John Huston’s Key Largo was a demonstration of what seasoned pros could do when left alone to do good work.  Adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 play of the same name, the film adaptation did right by its source material, for despite a slight alteration in the antagonist department, it was a very faithful retelling of the original tale.  Set in the Caribbean not long after World War II, the film told the story of a veteran, Bogart’s Frank, who was in Key Largo to pay his respects to the family of a fallen comrade.  A hurricane was bearing down on the island and the hotel where Frank and his late-friend’s widow, Bacall’s Nora, were located, however.

Though mostly deserted, the Hotel Largo also contained Nora’s father-in-law, some staff, and a collection of mysterious guests who eventually revealed themselves as members of a gang led by the infamous Rocco (Edward G. Robinson).  Since the film was made in the 40s, most of the plot unfolded indoors as stock footage clips of a hurricane snuck in here and there between scenes.  Still, though, the storm drove the events of the film forward, and were shown to be wildly destructive not only to the island and hotel, but to all those involved in the torrid drama that unfolded inside the Hotel Largo.  Though not as visually stunning as some of the other storms on today’s list, the hurricane in Key Largo at least had a respectable cinematic pedigree backing it up, something that certainly could not be said of this next picture…

7. The Karate Kid, Part II top-10-movie-storms(1986)

Come on, Daniel LaRussa and Mr. Miyagi taking on a karate rival AND a super-storm all at the same time!  How could Karate Kid, Part II NOT be on the list?  Though not looked upon as favorably as its predecessor (or most films in general), the sequel definitely had more action than the original Karate Kid, albeit with a slightly sillier premise.  In #2, Miyagi returned to his native Okinawa village to be at his father’s side during the old man’s passing (with Daniel in tow, naturally).  This entirely understandable series of events was complicated by a decades-old feud between Miyagi and his former best-friend, Sato, the latter of whom was still pissed off because he’d lost out on some Kool-aide to Miyagi almost half a century previous.

The preposterous plot unfolded from here, with Daniel defending himself against far more skilled Japanese punks whilst Miyagi tried to make peace with the man, Sato, destroying a village and its community seemingly out of spite.  Shit all came to a head when a nasty typhoon bore down on Okinawa. Daniel and Miyagi flew into action to rescue not just Sato, but also some previously anonymous little girl too stupid to get out of a storm perch despite all manner of warning.  Ludicrous in conception though it may have been, the typhoon did appear to have some teeth, and just about wiped a town off the map, citizens included.  It also gave the movie a chance to ratchet up the tension via a storm-rescue vignette, an opportunity this next picture, the most recent of all listed today, certainly didn’t skip …

6. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) storm-hurricane

A critical darling that made a triumphant tour of the festival circuit before it expanded into to a fairly successful general run, Moonrise Kingdom is a near-perfect Wes Anderson experience.  The film gave the director’s fans a generous helping of dry humor mixed with adolescent nostalgia: all of it nuzzled within a distinct universe outfitted with its very own wardrobe and color schemes.  Set in 1965, on the fictional New England island of New Penzance, the film was the sum of several parts, chief among them the rebellious pre-teen lovers at its center, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward).  After the pair’s elopement, a massive search was coordinated, one that involved Suzy’s parents, Sam’s Khaki Scout troop, the fuzz, and, eventually, Social Services.

While the collective energies of this posse stymied the intentions of the young lovers the first time around, once fragmented, the forces working to keep Sam and Suzy apart failed to do just that.  With the help of his fellow Khaki Scouts, Sam got his girl back, and even arranged to make an honest woman out of Suzy, something the adults weren’t able to prevent despite all their efforts.  Of course, these labors were hampered by the approach of a devilish storm, one that threatened to return the small island back to the goddamned sea!  As a climax, Anderson couldn’t have done a whole lot better, for while the raging storm battered the once-placid shores of New Penzance, another tempest wailed away inside the hearts of the newlyweds clinging to life atop a church steeple.  Naturally, Bruce Willis was on hand, and everyone got out alive, yet the storm’s lightning strikes and Biblical-scale floods left a lot of things in question, and damn-near killed a few people, a trick this next weather system actually pulled off…

5. The Abyss  wet-storm(1989)

A lot of folks forget that a nasty hurricane propelled the events of The Abyss forward, for the pesky Navy SEALS that had descended to the deep water oil platform hijacked a vital piece of equipment right when it was needed to keep the whole operation in one piece.  These SEALS, led by Michael Biehn’s Lt. Coffey, borrowed one of the platform’s mini-subs precisely when it was needed to disconnect the platform’s umbilical cord up to the surface, which was in the middle of a massive hurricane.  In a movie that had a number of thrilling moments, this storm sequence was among the most riveting in The Abyss, for as the storm raged above, and threatened the stability of the surface rig supporting the underwater platform, the fate of everybody below the water hung in the balance.  Once the surface vessel bucked hard enough, and lost the crane supporting the platform, shit went south in a hurry … literally.

The crane that supported the umbilical plummeted towards the ocean’s depths, and quickly went from a life-saving function to a life threatening one.  The platform, attached to the umbilical, damn-near got pulled off the ocean shelf by the thing meant to keep it humming along, and just barely avoided sinking into a near-bottomless chasm.  And while the troublesome SEAL team definitely didn’t help things along when they ran off with the only mini-sub capable of unhooking the platform from this very avoidable disaster, true credit for the mayhem should go to the hurricane, which caused all manner of troubles for those above and below the waves.  Admittedly, things were worse down below, where a number of people died as a result of the crane mishap (actually, everyone who survived was damn lucky to have done so).  Hey, speaking of hurricanes …

4. Forrest Gump (1994)  top-10-movie-storms

One of the most visually impressive storms on today’s list, the Hurricane Carmen vignette near the end of Forrest Gump’s second act looked like a bear of a scene to film.  Unsatisfied with the force of the fans and rain machines his technical department offered, director Robert Zemeckis went out, got a friggin’ jet engine, aimed the ass end of the thing at his boat and tank set, called action, and looked on as it appeared as if the world was coming to an end.  The storm looked meaner than shit, and as the film’s news reports explained afterwards, it took one hell of a bite out of the local fishing community (minus Forrest and Lt. Dan’s operations, of course).  Due in large part to the insanely powerful turbines that fueled the “winds,” the scene practically jumped off the screen, and produced a punishing rain that appeared to tattoo the actors.

Zemeckis brought a lot of the flash and sizzle he’d used to craft this scene when he shot the FedEx plane crash vignette in Cast Away, which is why that particular storm didn’t make it into today’s discussion.  Indeed, while impressive, watching Zemeckis punish Tom Hanks at sea was much more fun the first time around, if only because it also had the luxury of a wild-eyed Gary Sinise throwing challenges at God Almighty.  The storm in Forrest Gump also had the added benefit of ruining not just a couple lives, but those within an entire fishing community.  Shit, if Zemeckis had thrown in a few dinosaurs, it would have handily beat out…

3. Jurassic Park (1993) t-rex-storm

This was a tough one to rank, for the storm in Jurassic Park might not have been as big as Hurricane Carmen in Forrest Gump, yet the former movie had a storm that aided in the escape of murderous, bloodthirsty dinosaurs, which gave it something of an edge.  Sure, Nedny (Wayne Knight) was largely to blame, for he had sabotaged the park’s security systems during his little corporate espionage escapade, yet his meddling in conjunction with the storm transformed what might have simply been an unpleasant bother into a prehistoric orgy of carnage.  If there hadn’t been all that rain and thunder, Dr. Grant and the kids may very well have gotten away from the T-Rex before the big fucker tore their shit up, and ate their lawyer.

It certainly didn’t aid rescue efforts, or the treacherous Nedny, who, because of poor visibility and slick roads, was consumed alive by a Dilophosaurus.  No, when it came right down to it, the storm that ravaged the fictional Isla Nublar hit at the worst possible moment, and destroyed not just a multi-billion dollar operation, but also any chance the world might have had at watching the legendary T-Rex vs. Triceratops fight every child has dreamed of since first casting eyes upon their ferocious skeletons.  Hammond would have set that shit up eventually, for after the thrill of the park wore off, the consummate showman would have HAD to have gone there!  Anyway, we digress.  What were we talking about again?  Storms?

2. The Perfect Storm (2000) wet-storm-movie

When you name your movie The Perfect Storm, as a filmmaker, you had better come with the goods.  Luckily for the world, Wolfgang Petersen was on the case for this one, and the guy who directed the immortal Das Boot, where epic storms were endured beneath the waves, certainly didn’t disappoint.   A tough film to bear on a second or third pass, The Perfect Storm worked best as a one-off experience, much like an actual gale that arrived and was gone again before anyone realized what had hit them.  The story of an overzealous fishing boat captain (George Clooney’s Billy) that pushed his luck just a little too far, the movie was really just an excuse for the finale, which involved a plucky little boat at war with two pissed off weather systems and a hurricane.

Named for the actual 1991 storm that tore up the coast of Massachusetts that fall, the film took the time to showcase what happens when opposing storms meet up and freak the hell out.  Indeed, one hurricane or typhoon is bad enough, yet when combined with the opposing temperatures and pressures of another front, shit gets real in a hurry.  This confluence is precisely what Clooney’s boat ambled towards during the finale of The Perfect Storm, where the vessel did its best, yet didn’t quite make it to the finish line.  As a destructive force, the super storm certainly had a lot to brag about, for it ravaged an east coast fishing fleet and killed a handful of people dumb enough to be out in the thick of things.  Still, the storm was, at best, a once-in-a-century kind of affair, while this next occurrence was more along the lines of a once-in-a-millennia deal…

worst-movie-storms1. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The crown-jewel of the disaster movie crown, The Day After Tomorrow went all-out in its efforts to depict the biggest damn storm ever cooked up for a flick.  Though there were some blizzards in this film, this list was more interested in the intense storm that rocked New York City and sent the picture’s young hero into the public library for cover.  This selection, buoyed in large part by the rip-roaring super-storm that dick-slapped Manhattan in this film, seemed entirely appropriate considering what Sandy put the Big Apple through last week.  Indeed, much of what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow prior to the deep freeze second half probably looked somewhat familiar to some of the folks still recovering from Sandy’s wrath.

As it concerned destruction, it’s hard to beat a civilization-crippling weather system that re-shifts the balance of power on Earth.  Shit, the storm was so bad that the U.S. had to go to Mexico for help!  If physical evidence is what you’re looking for, then I don’t know how much better a person can do except to point to the fact that New York City flooded to critical levels that forced one of the world’s biggest cities to effectively shut down and permanently evacuate.  As far as size, scope, and impact, it simply doesn’t get any bigger than what audiences went through when watching The Day After Tomorrow, a mediocre movie with an unapproachably awesome storm.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Skot November 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm

No “Twister,” huh? Not that I give a shit, as it’s a truly awful movie . . . much like many on your list. At least in that one, though, you get to root for Helen Hunt to die. Just sayin’.


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