'San Andreas' Stars The Rock As A Father Saving His Daughter & Do Any Disaster Movies Not Feature This Trope?
As long as disaster movies have existed, actresses have appeared in them only to be put in positions of peril so they could be rescued by their hunky, big-biceped, very male co-stars. There is a specific subset of this trope that has been particularly persistent: action-hero fathers rescuing their damsel-in-distress daughters... usually while repairing their estranged relationship along the way. This summer's mega-earthquake movie San Andreas looks to continue that trend, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson starring as a rescue-helicopter who must, well, rescue his daughter, played by True Detective's Alexandra Daddario. This begs the question: Are there any disaster movies that don't feature this overused trope?
Just think about it: Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler as father/daughter in 1998's Armageddon; Mel Gibson and Abigail Breslin in 2002's Signs; Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning in 2005's War Of The Worlds; Kurt Russell and Emmy Rossum in 2006's Poseidon; Bruce Willis (again) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 2007's Live Free Or Die Hard; John Cusack and Morgan Lily in 2009's 2012...I could go on and on. Are there any disaster films at all that feature a father rescuing his son? (I don't normally advocate for more male roles in cinema, but it's nice to have a young man in the damsel-in-distress role every now and then, if only for the sake of variety) In fact, there are, but you have to do quite a lot of digging to find them.
Here are pretty much the only disaster movies I could find that revolve around the relationship between a father and his son:
The disaster: An arsonist kills firefighters with deadly backdrafts.
The father: Kurt Russell as Capt. Dennis McCaffrey
The son: William Baldwin as Brian McCaffrey
I will admit this entry is sort of a cheat, since it doesn't actually feature the father rescuing the son. Rather, though, it exists in a specific sub-genre of the father/son disaster movie: In that it's the son-is-motivated-by-the-death-of-his-father movie. Brian becomes a firefighter after witnessing his own firefighter father die while on the job. (In an interesting twist, Russell plays both Dennis and Dennis' older son Stephen in the film.)
Vertical Limit (2000)
The disaster: Avalanche on K2!
The father: Stuart Wilson as Royce Garrett
The son: Chris O'Donnell as Peter Garrett
The movie opens with Peter forced to make a difficult choice: while he, his father, and his sister Annie are rock climbing in Monument Valley, a fatal error by two amateur climbers puts his own family in a precarious position. Peter is forced to cut his dangling father loose lest he and his sister plunge to their deaths as well. The memory of his father and this impossible choice will, of course, affect Peter for the rest of his life.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The disaster: Global warming causes an overnight ice age.
The father: Dennis Quaid as Professor Jack Hall
The son: Jake Gyllenhaal as Sam Hall
Perhaps one of the first true father-rescues-son disaster movies, this weather-themed flick featured Dennis Quaid tromping through a New England suddenly covered in ice to find his son, who's riding out the sudden ice age in the New York Public Library. Lest audiences blanch at the idea of a movie without a damsel in distress, Roland Emmerich gives Jake Gyllenhaal a female love interest to rescue on multiple occasions. (Also, she's played by Emmy Rossum who, between this and Poseidon, should just stay away from large bodies of water in general.)
The Road (2009)
The disaster: Unspecified apocalyptic catastrophe.
The father: Viggo Mortensen as Man
The son: Kodi Smit-McPhee as Boy
Based on the classic Cormac McCarthy novel, this film revolves entirely around a father doing whatever it takes to protect his son in post-apocalyptic America. Mostly this involves hiding from and occasionally fighting with a gang of bloodthirsty cannibals. (Spoiler alert!) Of course, "Man" dies at the end, making this the rare case of a film that combines both the "father rescues son" and the "dead father" tropes.
Super 8 (2010)
The disaster: Alien monster terrorizes small town.
The father: Kyle Chandler as Jack Lamb
The son: Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb
Okay, so Joe Lamb doesn't end up needing much saving in this movie. In fact, the young boy pretty much singlehandedly saves the entire town! But, it is a disaster movie that revolves almost entirely around the relationship between a father and his son, so it deserves mentioning here.
The disaster: Mutant lizard stomps on buildings.
The father: Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody
The son: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody
Last year featured not one, but two disaster films focused on father/son relationships: progress! The first, which was the latest reboot of this iconic Japanese monster, was a return to the early sub-genre. (Spoiler alert!) Audiences who flocked to the film expecting to see Heisenberg go mano-a-mano with Godzilla based on the advertising were let down when Bryan Cranston's character died about a third of the way in — before we'd even gotten our first glimpse of the titular lizard. Of course, this disappointing death provided ample fodder for our protagonist's angst.
Into The Storm (2014)
The disaster: Too many tornadoes.
The father: Richard Armitage as Gary Fuller
The son: Max Deacon as Donnie Fuller
The second of last year's films was more of a classic father-rescues-son movie, as Richard Armitage (aka Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit films) had to make his way through his twister-ravaged town with a group of meteorologists to locate and save his missing son, trapped in a collapsed building. Bonus points for giving the main character two children and having neither of them be a daughter. That's right — not only was Into The Storm a father-rescues-son movie... it was a father-rescues-son-with-other-son-in-tow movie! Beat that, San Andreas.
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