Reykjanes peninsula volcano | Which volcano movies have been released & where to watch them including Dante's Peak?

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You know it and I know it - there’s going to be a movie about the volcanic activity in Iceland. But what movies based around volcanoes exist already?

It reads like something from a disaster movie; the ongoing volcanic activity around the Fagradalsfjall volcano which has led the mass evacuations, an increased threat level and large cracks forming in towns and villages across the Reykjanes peninsula, spewing ash. It’s without question one of nature’s most ominous sights - one in New Zealand I was warned about when visiting an exhibition at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Hollywood being Hollywood, movie studios have been known to every now and again delve into the genre of disaster movies and at times it feels cyclical. For every ‘Titanic’ there was a ‘Deep Rising’ or for every ‘Earthquake’ starring Charlton Heston there would be another natural occurrence to keep audiences shook (pardon the pun) at the cinema. It could be killer bees (‘The Swarm’), it could be an ice age (‘The Day After Tomorrow’) or in some cases it could be plants avenging how recklessly we’re treating the earth - if that was the moral of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Happening’ anyway

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The volcanic disaster movie is no exception to that rule, however, compared to other disaster movies it feels like there is a slight imbalance. There was a period in the ‘90s where not one but two movies centred around volcanic activity and the chaos that unfolds after an eruption was released in close proximity. Very much how ‘Armageddon’ came out around the same time as ‘Deep Impact.’

Like the two aforementioned asteroid-based extinction-level events, however, one was seemingly steeped in scientific knowledge, while the other was your usual action-hero affair where the asteroid was very much the villain of the matter. 

So what movies based around volcanos and volcanic activity are worth a bleak watch, if you can actually take your eyes off the live coverage of what is happening around the Reykjanes peninsula?

What are some movies to watch based on volcanoes?

Volcano (1997)

The film is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche find themselves facing an unexpected volcanic eruption in the heart of Los Angeles. As they work against time, they must figure out a way to save the city from the destructive forces of nature. As Los Angeles becomes covered in ash and sulfur, our heroes must try and find a way to guide the biggest threat - a lava flow - into the bay before it envelopes Hollywood. 

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It was somewhat of a success, but personally - I wasn’t a huge fan that they tried to treat the lava flow like some ominous super-villainous creature. It’s a lava flow - it doesn’t have feelings or a reason to destroy Los Angeles…

Where to watch: streaming now on Disney+ (subscription required)

Dante’s Peak (1997)

‘Dante’s Peak’ follows Pierce Brosnan's character, a volcanologist, who visits a small town named Dante's Peak to assess potential volcanic activity. As he uncovers ominous signs, he races to warn the townspeople about the impending disaster.

‘Dante's Peak’ is generally considered to be more scientifically accurate than ‘Volcano.’ While ‘Volcano’ went down the Hollywood sensationalist route many disaster movies find themselves falling into, the filmmakers for ‘Dante’s Peak’ consulted volcanologists to create a more realistic portrayal of volcanic activity - and accurately depicts some of the warning signs of an impending eruption, such as changes in water chemistry and animal behaviour.

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Where to watch: available to rent or buy through all leading digital services.

Pompeii (2014)

‘Pompeii’ is set against the backdrop of the ancient Roman city. The story revolves around a gladiator played by Kit Harington, who must navigate political intrigue and a budding romance amidst the looming threat of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

While the film did take poetic licence regarding the lives of those who lived around Mount Vesuvius (it is a movie after all), there were more aspects that were historically accurate than reviewers gave it credit for. In particular, the depiction of the volcanic eruption drew inspiration from eruptions worldwide, including Mount Etna in Italy and Japanese volcanoes. Real footage and photographs of eruptions were used to ensure realism in portraying earthquakes, explosions, and pyroclastic flows. The film received support from volcanologist Rosaly Lopes at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for realistically capturing these elements.

Where to watch: available to stream on Sky and NOW TV (subscription required)

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2012 (2009)

Roland Emmerich and big-budget disaster movies: can you name a more winning combination that isn’t “Michael Bay” and “explosions.” Though ‘2012’ focuses more on everything going to pot as the world comes to an end, it is the Yellowstone eruption that means the film ends up on this list.

The Yellowstone Caldera is often labelled as a supervolcano due to its size and potential for catastrophic eruptions. The most recent supereruption occurred about 640,000 years ago. A Yellowstone supereruption would have global consequences. The release of an enormous volume of volcanic ash, gases, and lava could impact climate, air quality, and ecosystems worldwide. Immediate effects would include ashfall over large areas, potentially causing devastation to infrastructure, agriculture, and human health.

Where to watch: available to rent or buy through all leading digital services

Joe vs. The Volcano (1990)

Ok - it’s not a volcano movie in the traditional sense. But something a little light-hearted might be in order if you managed those disaster-pieces. But the volcano in Tom Hank’s romantic comedy is very much a key plot point to the story. The movie follows the character Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), a hypochondriac who is stuck in a mundane job and a dreary life. Joe is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and he is offered the chance to live out his remaining days in luxury by sacrificing himself in a volcanic island ritual.

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Though there is a volcano in the film, the volcano is actually meant to represent the challenges, uncertainties, and fears that Joe faces in his life. The decision to face the volcano becomes a metaphor for embracing life's uncertainties and taking risks, and while the actual eruption of the volcano is not a climactic disaster scene typical of volcano movies, the film does use visual imagery related to the volcano, especially during Joe's arrival on Waponi Woo. The volcano serves as a visually striking backdrop for key moments in the story.

Where to watch: available to rent or purchase on Prime Video.

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