We both know that I could probably fill all seven slots of this list with just scenes from Roland Emmerich's disaster-tastic 2012, but in the interests of letting everyone else get a chance to see it, let's stick with films that have already come and gone. Some of these titles qualify because of the uniquely ridiculous nature of their disasters, while others count for what ridiculous plots unfold amidst otherwise ordinarily perilous acts of nature.
There will be a couple of spoilers to go along with our picks, but since most of these have been out for a couple of years, it's not like it's the end of the world...
1. Firestorm and 2. Hard Rain (both 1998)
Just as we had our rival volcano movies with Dante's Peak and Volcano, and our rival meteor movies in Deep Impact and Armageddon (I know, I know, Impact had a comet), January of 1998 was apparently THE time for movies in which criminals unleash schemes under the cover of natural disasters. Firestorm was essentially Cliffhanger with arson, as smokejumper Howie Long (!) tries to prevent escaped felons led by William Forsythe from relocating a long-hidden stash of cash in the middle of a wildfire started by our baddies as a cover. In Hard Rain, armored truck driver Christian Slater (!) tries to prevent bank robbers led by Morgan Freeman from committing a bank heist in the middle of a massive flood used by our baddies as cover. Naturally, both villains underestimate the powers of Slater/Long when teamed up with Mother Nature. As for me? I keep waiting for somebody to try and rob an art museum in the middle of a locust swarm...
3. The Core (2003)
The ridiculous part of this one isn't that our heroes are forced to drill downward and set off numerous nukes in order to restart the Earth's core (though that is awfully far-fetched). The ridiculous part is that the core stopped in the first place due to a hush-hush government project (is there any other kind?) intended to use concentrated earthquakes as a weapon against our enemies. Despite all best intentions, though, this causes the Golden Gate Bridge to melt, the Roman Colosseum to explode and space shuttles to land off-course instead. Hell, that project caused anything but earthquakes!
4. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
It was inevitable that Roland Emmerich had to earn placement on this list somehow, and none of his other prior disaster outings were as worthy of this list as this global warming-centric effort. Tornadoes, floods and hail come as no surprise in the scheme of things, nor does the onset of the next Ice Age. However, Jake Gyllenhaal and friends quite literally outrunning an instant freeze phenomenon, combined with their encounter with some seriously computer-generated wolves, is where I do draw the line.
5. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
The '70s may have laid claim to the airplane disaster sub-genre, but none of them had a time-released crate full of venomous snakes snuck on board by a vengeful gangster who's willing to take out the entire plane if it means nabbing his witness as well. And how exactly does one rid an airliner of its unwanted passengers? Simple - you strap yourself in, guide the plane to a low enough altitude and then depressurize it, sucking every reptile out Goldfinger-style. Arthur Hailey's probably kicking himself in his grave for not coming up with that one.
6. The Happening (2008)
You know, none of us thought this sounded so bad at first. People start mysteriously committing suicide across the Eastern Seaboard? That's one hell of a hook. Alas, M. Night Shyamalan soon gives up that what our protagonists are faced with is none other than the retaliation of Mother Nature, through the trees and on the winds, and man, what a horribly un-cinematic villain that makes for, and yet such a wonderful comedy too...
7. Knowing (2009)
A message from a fifty-year-old time capsule offers a series of numbers that predict when and where a disaster is going to happen, in addition to a death toll. After enduring both a plane crash and a subway accident which prove the numbers correct, MIT astrophysicist Nicolas Cage cracks the code just in time to determine that ...(spoiler alert, since this one's fairly new) ...a massive solar flare is going to consume the entire world and everyone on it, save for those children rescued by some angelic aliens and relocated to another planet to begin life anew.