Ranking movies that destroy Los Angeles: Did 'San Andreas' do it best?

Ranking movies that destroy Los Angeles: Did 'San Andreas' do it best?
Charlton Heston as Stewart Graff in the movie "Earthquake" (1974). (Performing Arts Special Collections,)

Hollywood loves to destroy Los Angeles — whether it's earthquakes, floods, aliens, nuclear holocaust or climate change. "San Andreas" is the latest L.A. disaster film. It look in $52 million at the box office. Here are some others:

"Earthquake" (1974)


Stars: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

The disaster: A massive earthquake flattens much of Los Angeles, toppling buildings and causing a dam to burst. A combination disaster movie and melodrama, the action follows a wide array of characters before and after "The Big One."

Suspicious science: A seismologist predicts a major earthquake is coming.

"Happy" ending: Heston's character drowns after the dam burst floods the L.A. sewer system. But other characters survive to rebuild their destroyed city.

Quote: Surveying the destruction, one character says: "This used to be a helluva town."

"Volcano" (1997)

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche

The disaster: A giant volcano erupts under Los Angeles, sending balls of fiery lava into the air and creating havoc at such landmarks as Wilshire Boulevard, the Beverly Center, La Brea Tar Pits and the Red Line subway system.

Suspicious science: A small earthquake unleashes the deadly volcano. A seismologist dies after falling into an underground crack in the earth during a second quake.

"Happy" ending: The heroes manage to channel the lava out to the Pacific Ocean, saving the Westside.

Quote: "Listen up, people!" Jones' character says. "Let me tell you what's south of us: no more museums, no more department stores, just homes! People! If we turn and run now, they're going to be defenseless! You don't like my plan? That's good. Give me a another plan, but don't tell me we're backing out!"

"The Day After Tomorrow" (2004)

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid

The disaster: In this climate-change thriller, tornadoes destroy parts of Los Angeles. A TV chopper captures one tornado sweeping the Hollywood sign off Mt. Lee. Hollywood is hit next, followed by downtown L.A. Some landmarks, including the U.S. Bank Tower and the Capitol Records building, don't fare so well. Then cars start flying off a freeway.


Suspicious science: A janitor wearing headphones appears not to notice the tornado is destroying the high-rise he's working in, until he looks out and sees he's about to fall dozens of stories.

"Happy" ending: Survivors in New York, now suffering a new Ice Age, are promised transit to warmer locales in Mexico.

Quote: Amid the tornado disaster in Los Angeles, TV anchors take time to admonish Angelenos for taking videos of the destruction. "There are people down there taking pictures!" the TV chopper reporter says in outrage.

"2012" (2009)

Stars: John Cusack, Amanda Peet

The disaster: A complex geological disaster along with with bad omens from the Maya calendar combine to destroy Los Angeles. Some type of super-earthquake causes the ground to crumble, swallowing up whole neighborhoods. Freeways are destroyed. The heroes manage to escape by driving their limo through a collapsing high-rise tower. They then escape L.A. in a small plane just as the city is being swallowed by the Pacific Ocean.

Suspicious science: Faults violently open up across Los Angeles, creating massive canyons in some places but also dramatically lifting the earth elsewhere.

"Happy" ending: Some survivors start new lives on arks.

Quote: "California is going down!" Cusack's character warns.

—Shelby Grad

Sources: Times reporters, IMDB, YouTube