With Roland Emmerich ‘s latest film now in theaters, here are his disaster movies ranked from worst to best. How does Moonfall stack up against the rest?
For 25 years now, starting with the release of Independence Day, Roland Emmerich has been synonymous with the disaster movie. When you think of large-scale destruction in movies, he should be one of the first directors that comes to mind. So to celebrate the release of his new film Moonfall, let’s take a look back at the disaster movies that’ve made him famous and see where his latest falls into the mix. All ranked from worst to best right below.
6. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Independence Day: Resurgence falls into a growing list of legacy sequels that fail to capture the magic of the original. Emmerich makes an admirable attempt here, going for bigger and better, but that’s all to hide the obvious absence of Will Smith, who was a key reason the first movie worked as well as it did. There’s no big movie star performance here. Returning actors Goldblum and Pullman seem checked out, and new faces like Hemsworth and Monroe bring almost nothing to the table. There are some big concepts, such as how earth has adapted since the years following the first film, but it’s not enough to replicate something as genre defining and iconic as the images of The Empire State Building or The White House being destroyed in the original. These are two of the defining visuals of 90s action cinema, so following it up with something that never gives us anything close to that was always destined to fail.
5. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
The Day After Tomorrow is easily the most middle of the road of Emmerich’s disaster output, which is its biggest crime. When Emmerich’s movies don’t work, there’s a goofy sincerity to them that’s almost admirable, but this one’s just lifeless. No big performances, no bizarre attempts at humor, and uncommonly flat action sequences. Climate destruction is definitely something that needs to be handled with more care, especially when making it into a blockbuster disaster movie intended for the masses, but most of the film results in just sitting around waiting for things to happen for a majority of the runtime. This is Emmerich we’re talking about! Where’s the excitement? There’s a reason this is the film of his I’ve come back to the least.
This one is interesting. 2012 came out at a time when the master of disaster cinema himself could finally take full advantage of everything advancements in digital technology had to offer, and, in terms of total destruction of absolutely everything, this may be his crowning achievement. If you can think of it, there’s a good chance it’s destroyed in this movie. It’s the biggest movie; the most movie, even, and therein lies the problem, cause good god is this thing bloated. That’s not a word I like to use when critiquing something, but 2012 is one of the few exceptions. When Emmerich isn’t having fun playing with his new digital toys, we are treated to useless characters and pointless melodrama. You take this 2 hour and 40 minutes runtime and shave it down to a lean two, and maybe we’ve got something fun on our hands.
Full Review: One Small Misstep for Man…
Every feature I described in 2012 is present here and with the bug of the runtime taken out. Moonfall is lean even at a little over two hours. It pretty much gets right into it, featuring the kind of big, dumb, mindless destruction setpieces I’ve been missing for years. It’s also just a welcome change of pace getting something not IP adjacent in cinemas again, warts and all. And there are issues here, plenty of them. The first half is quite messy, bad even, but always entertaining, always moving, and that’s just dressing for the off the wall, completely gonzo second half which features some of those rare moments and plot turns that make you lean forward in your seat and say “WTF?” out loud in the theater. The thing is, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I go to the movies for. I don’t want to spoil much, but this goes into territories you’d never think possible. What can I say? I’ve got Moonfall fever.
Placing Godzilla at no. 2 might seem like a crime, sure. If you’re a fan of the franchise like me, you’ll know this is widely considered blasphemous to like. Emmerich gets nearly everything about the character wrong and would clearly rather be making a Jurassic Park film, and his Madison Square Garden setpiece featuring a bunch of raptor-like baby Godzillas causing chaos proves that he’d probably be pretty great at it, but nostalgia is a powerful drug and let me just say I have a lot of it for this one. I did not care when I was a kid that Godzilla was reduced to just a big T rex with almost none of the established qualities he had come to earn in the 45 years since his first film. What I did care about was getting to see a giant monster running around New York City, destroying nearly everything in sight, and I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Emmerich is very obviously a fan of one Steven Spielberg. He frequently employs his style of longer, more elegant takes (to much less success) and sentimentality, and here he’s really able to lean into both the wonder and the terror of his title character in the way Spielberg did in back in Jurassic Park, which pretty much just further proves that point from earlier.
1. INDEPENDENCE DAY
There’s a small number of movies I wore out on VHS as a kid and this is one of them. Emmerich has simply never been better at capturing pure spectacle. As mentioned earlier, there are a few images here that are indelible to 90s action/sci fi cinema or even just any genre. The analog setpieces are second to none, almost entirely practical, only using CG where absolutely necessary. There have been so many advancements in digital effects since Independence Day was released, but if this was made today you bet all the detailed work of the gorgeous miniatures here would be replaced. I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on what’s made possible by digital effects either, but there’s a tactile, undeniable thrill in seeing something real blown up that’s been lost in the age of CGI. I also can’t not mention the corny sincerity of this thing. You can’t tell me Bill Pullman’s speech doesn’t get you pumped, and, if you do, I’m sorry but I’m pretty sure you’re lying.
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