The mid to late 90s saw a rush of disaster movies: ‘Armageddon’, ‘Deep Impact’, ‘Volcano,’ ‘Dante’s Peak’... and weather calamity ‘Twister’.
Released in 1996 (hence the title of this article), ‘Twister’ was one the better action blockbusters of the 1990s. Starring Helen Hunt, whose acting chops netted her a Best Actress Oscar, and Bill Paxton (best known for ‘Titanic’ and ‘Aliens’), the film follows an estranged couple of scientists who re-team to chase tornados for research. Sounds great, huh? Thankfully, the film has a little more plot than that, some great supporting characters (including the late, great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and plenty of personal peril.
You may have noticed a strange pairing in the films listed above; there’s a curious pattern in Hollywood regarding how scripts get auctioned to production companies – a draft script starts floating around the big film studios, and some might make a few interested noises. As a result, the screenplay gets tweaked, and two or more versions are purchased by different studios. Then it becomes a race to see who gets their film to the box office first. This happened with ‘Dante’s Peak’ and ‘Volcano’ - both released in 1997 - and ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Deep Impact’ - both released in 1998. The phenomenon is called twinning. More recently it appeared with the releases of ‘White House Down’ and ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ (both 2013). This happens more often with action films, and it’s pretty obvious why. It’s a tad more difficult to get away with when you have character-driven drama instead of explosions, but can easily be done with comedy or rom-coms (‘No Strings Attached’ and ‘Friends with Benefits’ both in 2011; ‘Antz’ and ‘A Bugs Life’ in 1998... I could go on).
Luckily for us, ‘Twister’ had no obvious blockbuster twin. Directed by cinematographer Jan de Bont (‘The Haunting,’ ‘Speed’) ‘Twister’ contained some spectacular visuals. It paved the way for the sweeping special effects of the above action films that followed it. Re-watching ‘Twister’ does remind us of just how far SFX have come, but at the time the tornados and flying petrol tankers were pretty darn impressive. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as ‘Jurassic Park’ but it’s not bad for the mid-90s; it even garnered the film Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.
The acting was pretty good in ‘Twister’ too. Hoffman’s insane Dusty stole the show for the supporting cast, making up for the terminally wooden Paxton. But the film belongs to Hunt, who manages to be exactly what you want in a believable character like this: strong, capable, focused, and still human. The other films mentioned also had hits and misses in the performance department, however, we don’t go to see them for nuances of expression from the leads; it wasn't 'Twister' that Hunt won her Oscar for.
The film belongs to Hunt, who manages to be exactly what you want in a believable character like this: strong, capable, focused, and still human.
‘Twister’ and its younger siblings of the 90s started a cinematic love affair with disaster movies that is yet to fizzle out. Watching natural catastrophes as entertainment suited the more optimistic tones of 90s cinema. None of us really believed an asteroid would strike the Earth any time soon, but it’s a possibility, and that brought these films out of the (then still nerdy) realm of sci-fi and into pop culture. The love affair may have gone somewhat stale (*cough* 'San Adreas' *cough*) but the box office figures speak for themselves - most of us still love a good disaster flick.