The ’90s Disaster Movie You Need To Stream And Give A Second Chance

By Chad Langen | Published

Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano (1997)

Volcano distinguishes itself in the realm of natural disaster movies, notably for its pioneering visual effects from the late ’90s. Now streaming on Starz, the film showcases massive explosions and fiery rivers of lava engulfing the streets of Los Angeles, pushing the boundaries of cinematic standards at the time. While the effects may appear dated by today’s standards, the film’s thrilling intensity remains just as captivating as when it first erupted onto screens in 1997.

Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones, is now streaming on Starz.

Volcano unfolds against the backdrop of a seemingly ordinary day in Los Angeles. However, this illusion is shattered when a series of bizarre and deadly incidents begin to plague the city. First, a subway worker is scalded by mysteriously boiling water, followed by a sinkhole engulfing a busy street, and finally, an explosive eruption from a construction site.

The film’s narrative delves into the psychological and emotional toll of disaster, showcasing the resilience of its characters. Roark’s unwavering commitment to protecting the city and its residents forms the backbone of the plot. Dr. Barnes, a strong and scientifically grounded female lead, complements Roark’s efforts.

Volcano (1997)

Amidst the flowing lava, explosive eruptions, and daring rescue missions, Volcano explores the human spirit’s ability to rise to extraordinary challenges. The film shines a spotlight on the remarkable sacrifices and heroic endeavors undertaken by the city’s emergency responders and its courageous residents, forging a united front against the impending fiery cataclysm that looms ominously over them. Together, they form an inspiring testament to the indomitable human spirit in the face of dire adversity.

Volcano assembles a formidable team both in front of and behind the camera. Tommy Lee Jones takes the lead, embodying the resolute Mike Roark. Anne Heche shines as Dr. Amy Barnes, offering a strong female presence in a genre often dominated by male protagonists. The supporting cast, featuring talented actors like Gaby Hoffmann and Don Cheadle, further enriches the film’s character dynamics.

Although Volcano featured jaw-dropping action sequences, stunning visuals, and commendable performances from the cast, it faced challenges at the box office.

Director Mick Jackson, known for The Bodyguard and The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest, helmed the volcanic chaos in Volcano with impressive skill. The film’s authenticity was bolstered by collaboration with geologists, ensuring the eruption’s scientific portrayal was as accurate as possible. The practical effects team, led by special effects supervisor Bruce Nicholson, employed a mix of pyrotechnics, miniatures, and visual effects to craft the breathtaking scenes of destruction.

Although Volcano featured jaw-dropping action sequences, stunning visuals, and commendable performances from the cast, it faced challenges at the box office. It garnered just over $49 million domestically, contributing to a global total of approximately $122 million. While this figure might be considered successful for some films, it fell short of expectations for a production with a hefty $90 million budget.

Critically, Volcano received a reception closely aligned with its box office performance. While it earned praise for its thrilling action sequences and Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of a capable and charismatic leader, it also faced criticism for its formulaic plot and character development, accused of adhering too closely to genre conventions. Additionally, some critics expressed the sentiment that the film missed opportunities to delve deeper into the emotional and psychological impacts of the disaster on its characters.

Adding to the challenges faced by Volcano, its release occurred merely two months after Dante’s Peak, another film centered around volcanic eruptions. This close timing led to inevitable comparisons between the two disaster movies, potentially diluting the impact of Volcano in the eyes of audiences. The simultaneous presence of two volcano-themed films in the same year undoubtedly presented a unique cinematic competition.

Volcano and Dante’s Peak are two of the most famous “Hollywood clone” movies of the 90s.

Dante’s Peak revolves around the quiet town of Dante’s Peak, which lies in the shadow of a seemingly dormant volcano. When volcanologist Harry Dalton, played by Pierce Brosnan, is sent to investigate unusual seismic activity, he discovers signs pointing to a possible eruption. As nature’s fury threatens to engulf the town, Dalton teams up with the town’s mayor, Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), in a desperate race against time to evacuate the community before the catastrophic eruption.

Although Volcano initially received mixed reviews and had an underwhelming box office showing, it has since emerged as a beloved classic in the natural disaster genre, largely due to its intense portrayal of a volcanic eruption in downtown Los Angeles. With time, audiences have recognized its deeper reflections on human resilience, the complexities of urban living, and our inherent vulnerability to nature’s unpredictable forces. The film champions the human spirit’s ability to unite and overcome in the face of overwhelming odds.