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Ten Best Hollywood Tornado Movies

The ten best Hollywood tornado movies include Twister, The Day After Tomorrow, The Wizard of Oz, Night of the Twisters, Tornado!, Storm Cell, Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister, NYC: Tornado Terror, Devil Winds and Atomic Twister.

Hollywood tornado movies, a sub-component of the larger Hollywood disaster film genre, number but a handful of entries. But what is here is deadly – or in some cases, deadly humorous – with tornadoes playing a major or supporting role in several films. Here are Hollywood's ten best tornado movies. Look to the skies!

Twister (Warner Bros., 1996)

Twister – not to be confused with the classic party game of the same name – stars Helen Hunt as scientist Dr. Jo Harding and Bill Paxton as TV meteorologist Bill Harding, a married couple who are about to divorce. Bill is smitten with Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz), whom he wants to marry after his divorce to Jo is finalized. The three soon find themselves thrown together in Tornado Alley, chasing storms as they try to implant a new scientific device into the hearts of deadly twisters. Made for $92 million, Twister was directed by Jan de Bont and earned two Oscar nominations for, not surprisingly, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Twister was filmed on location in Oklahoma and Iowa. 

Twister (1996) advance one sheet movie poster - Warner Bros.

The Day After Tomorrow (Twentieth Century Fox, 2004)

The deadly effects of global warming roar to life in this $125 million disaster movie spectacular. Dennis Quaid has the starring role of climatologist Jack Hall, with Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris) and Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall) also along for the ride into global warming hell. The Day After Tomorrow begins with a series of monster tornadoes forming near Los Angeles, where they proceed to destroy the City of Angels. That is followed by torrential rains in New York and other meteorological disasters across the globe, all of which signal the beginning of a new Ice Age. Tornadoes in Los Angeles? Well, they come out in spades in this film, smashing skyscrapers, hurling buses and cars and even destroying the iconic Hollywood sign!

Tornadoes destroy Los Angeles in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) - Twentieth Century Fox

The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)

A deadly Kansas twister plays a major role in this classic film, hitting the Gale farm and lifting the old house up from its foundation. Inside is Judy Garland as Dorothy, who is whisked away to the fantasy land of Oz where she meets up with some old buds sporting new monikers, namely The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) and The Tin Man (Jack Haley). The tornado doesn't prove to be all bad, as it sets the Gale farmhouse down in Oz where the latter crushes the life out of the evil Wicked Witch of the East. The tornado scene in Oz is really quite well done, ably conveying the power and fury generated by what is probably an F3 or maybe F4 tornado. But we can only hope that those two guys in the rowboat – seen in the tornado debris field – made it safely through the inferno!

Judy Garland and the tornado in The Wizard of Oz (1939) - MGM

Night of the Twisters (The Family Channel, 1996)

Devon Sawa (Dan Hatch), Amos Crawley (Arthur Jones), John Schneider (Jack Hatch), Lori Hallier (Laura Hatch) and Laura Bertram (Stacey Jones) head the cast of this made-for-TV disaster flick, which premiered on The Family Channel on February 14, 1996. The setting is rural Nebraska, where a series of bizarre tornadoes wreak havoc among the God-fearing locals. Directed by Timothy Bond, Night of the Twisters features passable special effects, but nothing on the order of its more famous big-screen cousin Twister (1996).

Tornado! (Fox, 1996)

With the release of Twister in 1996 came a series of made-for-TV knockoffs. One was Tornado!, starring Bruce Campbell as storm chaser Jake Thorne, Shannon Sturges as Samantha Callen and Ernie Hudson as Dr. Joe Branson. Like Twister, our brave meteorological gang is out there in Tornado Alley, trying to gauge the effectiveness of a new device which can detect the formation of tornadoes and provide earlier warnings. Directed by Noel Nosseck, Tornado! debuted on May 7, 1996. "Hell has no fury like a twister," the movie promised TV viewers.

Storm Cell (Lifetime, 2008)

The aptly named Storm Cell was first telecast in the United States on the Lifetime Movie Network on April 26, 2008. Mimi Rogers, Robert Moloney, Andrew Airlie and Ryan Kennedy head the cast in an all-too-familiar yarn involving an estranged parent/storm chaser, a teenager and monster tornadoes which, amazingly, follow Ms. Rogers from Oklahoma to Seattle.

Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister (The Family Channel, 1998)

Kelly McGillis, Wolf Larson, Liz Torres, Adrian Zmed and James MacArthur come out smokin' in this made-for-cable movie, with McGillis playing kick-ass storm chaser Jamie Marshall. Jamie, who had lost her husband while out storm chasing, is sent to Colorado to investigate the possible sighting of a tornado. Do tornadoes really hold grudges?  They apparently do in the movies.

NYC: Tornado Terror (Kaleidoscope Entertainment, 2008)

New York City, the hapless site of a number of disaster films, gets pasted with a series of unconventional tornadoes following a split in the atmosphere. Nicole de Boer plays the requisite concerned meteorologist Dr. Cassie Lawrence, with Sebastian Spence (Deputy Major Jim Lawrence), Jerry Wasserman (Mayor Leonardo), Winston Rekert (Dr. Lars Liggenhorn), Colby Johannson (Brian Flynn) and Tegan Moss (Lori Lawrence) also knee deep in swirling debris.

Devil Winds (Lion's Gate, 2003)

Joe Lando plays Peter Jensen, an ex-meteorologist now working in law enforcement in Portland, Oregon, who lost his wife in a Tulsa twister. Peter returns to Oklahoma in order to attend the college graduation of his estranged daughter Kara (Erica Parker). Just in time, too, as it's the tenth anniversary of his wife's death and another killer tornado may be on the way. "This lame thriller opens with its best special effects — a spectacular twister — and goes downhill fast," reports TV Guide.

Atomic Twister (TBS, 2002)

Atomic Twister debuted over superstation TBS on June 9, 2002. Sharon Lawrence, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Carl Lewis, Corbin Bernsen and Jonathan Blick head the cast. The plot: a monster tornado hits a nuclear power plant, setting off a fatal countdown as the people inside – all four of them apparently – struggle to halt the impending meltdown. This one's full of basic nuclear power goofs and Hollywood embellishments, but those type of things never get in the way of a good/bad Tinseltown disaster film. "They only give you a tornado warning when your house is 50 feet from where you built it!" opines Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Deputy Sheriff Jake Hannah in a dig at TV meteorologists. 

Top Image

  • Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt in Twister (1996) - Warner Bros.

Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (5)

Seen most of these movies. A good review, thanks.

Twister and Storm Chasers are my two favorites, my wife would say that The Wizard of Oz was her favorite. Some nice reviews here William.

I doubt any twister film will even surpass The Wizard of Oz, and I thought the '96 Twister was shallow, poorly acted, and disjointed, but I enjoy seeing the power of nature on film nonetheless.

Yes, Twister has a lame plot, and Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt play second fiddle to nature. But when picking tornado movies, you have to go with what's there – which unfortunately isn't much. Now does anyone want to play Twister the game?

A tornado and a plot and you have all the drama you could want. It was fun remembering all of these!

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