The new thriller The Wave proves that the tradition of classic Hollywood disaster movies is alive and well…in Norway. Directed by Roar Uthaug, the film — which will be in theaters and on demand on March 4 — pits the residents of a small Norwegian town against an enormous tsunami generated by a collapsing mountain. It’s a life-and-death scenario that the film takes absolutely seriously, unlike some of the campier entries in the disaster movie canon. (For reference, it’s closer to the original Airport rather than the ridiculous The Concorde: Airport ‘79.)
When the giant wave finally sweeps through town, the destruction is appropriately apocalyptic, with Uthaug choreographing an impressive amount of disaster for his reportedly $6 million budget. (He’ll almost certainly have more money to play with on his next feature, a reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise.) We went back and located some of the other memorable tidal waves in cinema history, and ranked them in order of least to most destructive. Faced with these giant walls of water, we’re all gonna need bigger boats.
6. Back to the Beach (1987)
Two decades after their early ‘60s beach bunny heyday, “Big Kahuna” Frankie Avalon and ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello hit the sand again with their oh-so-‘80s teenage kids in tow. And while plenty has changed in 20 years, there’s one part of beach life that endures: Frankie is the only surfer skilled enough to take on the towering behemoth known as Humunga Kowabunga from Down Unda. Having conquered the freakishly large wave as a twentysomething, he still stands tall in its shadow now that he’s approaching the half-century mark, finding time to golf and even sign autographs while hanging ten. To an ordinary surfer, attempting the Humunga Kowabunga would be suicide. For the Big Kahuna, it’s just another day at the beach.
5. The Abyss (1989)
An avid deep-sea diver in real life, director James Cameron has described the ocean depths as resembling “another planet.” So it only stands to reason that his underwater epic, The Abyss, would involve a close encounter of the aquatic kind. Although this encounter is curtailed in the theatrical cut, the film’s special edition includes an extended ending where the aliens station thousand-feet tall tsunamis off the coasts of such major cities as San Francisco and New York as punishment for mankind’s many crimes. Fortunately for all of us landlubbers, Ed Harris manages to convince them that humans are capable of love and thus worth giving another chance. The waters promptly recede, averting a Waterworld-esque dystopia.
4. The Perfect Storm (2000)
It was the wave that sold a gazillion movie tickets. In lieu of putting George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg’s faces on the poster for this respectful account of a real-life maritime tragedy, Warner Bros. awarded star treatment to the giant rogue wave that engulfs their tiny ship, the Andrea Gail. (The strategy worked, by the way: The Perfect Storm earned nearly $200 million, making it the third highest-grossing movie of that ultra-competitive summer.) The wave is a featured player in the most memorable sequence in the film, too, even if its digitally-enhanced tidal swells look a little cartoony these days. Even though we walked into the theater knowing the ending, we still rooted for the Andrea Gail’s David to conquer this marine Goliath.
3. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Here’s a math problem they probably didn’t teach you in elementary school: What happens when an ocean liner traveling at roughly 26 knots meets a giant wave cruising along the ocean’s surface at 60 miles per hour? The answer is one upside-down ship. And the S.S. Poseidon’s flip flop is only the first of many disaster to befall its crew and passengers. With time running out and the water rushing in, survivors have to navigate their way to the bottom…um, make that the top of the capsized boat avoiding explosions, flooded tunnels and ill-timed heart attacks.
2. The Impossible (2012)
The 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand, Indonesia and other Indian Ocean-adjacent nations is dramatized to horrific effect in J.A. Bayona’s family-in-peril drama. Although the film was criticized for focusing on white European characters at the expense of the Asian population, the extended sequence where the wave sweeps through the resort town of Khao Lak, swallowing everything in its path, is still terrifying to watch. Although even this expert recreation pales in comparison to the real-life footage that can be found on YouTube by the not-faint-of-heart.
1. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
With Independence Day, Roland Emmerich proved that his signature skill as a director is orchestrating mass attacks on major cities. And the tidal wave that decimates New York in his eco-disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, remains one of his finest symphonies of destruction. And let’s be honest: What New Yorker hasn’t wished for a giant wave to clear the streets of traffic during a particularly stressful commute?
Watch the trailer for ‘The Wave:’