We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
As long as movies have existed, there have been movies about horrible things happening to clueless people. The movies on this list fall into two categories, disasters that are going to destroy the Earth and potentially wipe out mankind & smaller disasters that are going to kill a lot of people in one confined area. This weekend, one of each is coming out with the release of Skyline (aliens invade the planet) and Unstoppable (out-of-control train). Wonder how they'll stack up to some of the best the genre has to offer.
7. Independence Day (1996)
Recap: When the planet is invaded by aliens with a grudge against famous buildings, only a reclusive scientist (Jeff Goldblum) and hot-shot fighter pilot (Will Smith) can combine their talents and stave off the invaders. Reason: Independence Day takes impending world destruction and does it right. Smith charms in his star-making turn as Captain Steven Hiller, a more fun take on a fighter pilot than Top Gun had to offer. Goldblum does his most charming bumbling yet hot scientist routine. It works because he doesn't end up a goopy bug man at the end. Best of all, you almost never see the aliens and certainly don't care about their feelings, so watching their civilization get destroyed doesn't result in any messy sympathy. Despite the ridiculous directions the plot sometimes moves in, it's a pretty entertaining film. You know you've got a winner when the audience cheers at the end of the movie.
6. War of the Worlds (2005)
Recap: Alien machinery rises up from in the Earth to enslave humanity. No one is prepared, but Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is lucky enough to grab the kids and get out of town more or less successfully. He races across the eastern seaboard, looking for safety. Reason: Steven Spielberg's first appearance on this list shows why he's the king of disaster movies. Huge explosions and big action scenes abound, but the story remains grounded in what's going on with Ray and his family. It's not perfect, Dakota Fanning's Rachel is cute but her inability to even walk by herself gets a little old. Still it's a really solid action film.
5. The Mist (2007)
Recap: Frank Darabont's third Stephen King adaption is an understated story about madness in a small town. After a mysterious mist descends, a group trapped in a grocery store struggle to find a way to save themselves from the creatures that live inside the mist as well as their own fears. Reason: Though it never had a huge financial impact, The Mist tells a fascinating story about paranoia and fear and the effects they can have on regular folks. Some rise to the challenge, some succumb to fear, but all the characters individually try to deal with a horrible and strange situation. But this movie really makes the list for it's ending, which is one of the most devastating I've ever seen.
4. Titanic (1997)
Recap: Rich girl Rose (Kate Winslet) meets poor but handsome Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the Titanic, then things take a turn for the worse. You know what happens, right? Reason: Two movies in one, the first half is all period romance, the second is an engrossing action film. James Cameron had the good sense to realize that what makes an audience care about two people about to die is love. The long buildup just leads to a really devastating conclusion, though one far more romantic than the end of The Mist up there.
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
Recap: Animal activists with bad timing break into a lab to save some monkeys but end up releasing a deadly zombie virus that kills most of the population of the UK. When Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma 28 days after the initial outbreak he joins up with a band of survivors to find safety. Reason: This film reinvented the zombie film by making the zombies fast. Who cared about zombies before? Now zombies are huge, last year had Zombieland, this year launched "The Walking Dead" and the most exciting one, World War Z starring Brad Pitt comes out in 2012. Besides that, it's just a great, enjoyable film.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)
Recap: Dinosaurs have come back to life and they're going to eat us all! Well, they're going to eat you if you happen to be visiting Isla Nublar's newest attraction, Jurassic Park. Reason: Um, did you see the recap? Dinosaurs are awesome, but previous attempts at making them work on film hadn't been so great. Aside from the Land Before Time films, probably the most successful film with dinosaurs was King Kong. But Spielberg realized that dinosaurs are awesome and deserve to be done right. Watching it in the theater was scary in all the right ways. The gore's limited, instead it's just a thrilling story about scientists and children trying to flee from dinosaurs using their brains and ingenuity. The two sequels had their moments, but the first film is one that can't be replicated. It's pretty much a perfect action film.
1. United 93 (2006)
Recap: United 93 follows the events of September 11, 2001 among the passengers and crew of United flight 93 from Newark Airport. The film intercuts the events on the plane with air traffic controllers monitoring their flight and the other flights going off the grid that day. Reason: Most of these films are a fun ride. They have frightening moments, but it's just a film. Even Titanic, the other film on this list based on real events is so far removed from our time it's easy to say, oh, it's just a movie. The events of this film happened five years before it's release and actually changed the world. But despite everything that could have gone wrong, Paul Greengrass did everything right. He went with lesser known actors rather than stars and uses cinema verite techniques to give the sense of documentary filmmaking. Most of the dialogue was improvised and many of the actors in the air traffic controller scenes were actually present on the day. It's both terrifying and moving and at the end you won't feel thrilled and happy, but rather a greater compassion toward the people who were put to the test that day and if you're like me, hope that put in the same position, you could handle things as well.