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The Screening Room

Apocalypse right now: '2012' and the best disaster movies

By Mairi Mackay, CNN
  • The latest apocalyptic big-hitter is planetary "2012" from disaster master Roland Emmerich
  • Modern disaster movie genre emerged in 1990s with films like "Independence Day"
  • Threats reflect society's concerns: nuclear apocalypse, environmental meltdown.
  • Check out our interactive showing the best end-of-the-world films of last 20 years
  • Entertainment
  • Movies

London, England (CNN) -- Fifty story-high tidal waves engulfing entire cities, miles-wide meteors on a collision course with Earth, homicidal alien invaders with pulverizing technology -- nothing beats a good old disaster epic.

The latest apocalyptic big-hitter is planetary meltdown epic "2012" from director Roland Emmerich, who has nearly destroyed the world more than once in his career -- directing "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) and "Independence Day."

Emmerich has no doubt taken the jaw-dropping imagery and shocking irreverence that saw aliens vaporizing the White House in "Independence Day" and giant tornadoes leveling Los Angeles in "The Day After Tomorrow" to a whole new level.

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Like his previous movies and the modern disaster genre more generally, "2012" is likely to be wildly popular with audiences and rake it in at the global box office.

End-of-the-world stories have been a cinema genre since before the early Cold War days when nuclear-war movies as "On the Beach," "Fail-Safe" and "Dr. Strangelove" came out.

The golden age of the disaster movie is still considered to be the 1970s -- "Towering Inferno," "The Poseidon Adventure" -- but the genre as we know it had a revival in the early 1990s.

At that time, fueled by the newly-flowering 3D computer graphics arm of the special effects industry, directors were able to create spectacle they previously only dreamed of.

As Emmerich's filmography shows, the threat to humanity can can come from any number of sources.

Themes do emerge, and often -- as with so many really successful genres -- they reflect society's contemporary concerns: nuclear apocalypse was a fad, and more recently environmental meltdown.

Pre-millennium fire and rock were in vogue in films like "Dante's Inferno," "Volcano" and "Armageddon." Aliens remain a perennial favorite.

Check out our interactive to see some of the biggest end-of-the-world movies made in the last 20 years.