Bad Geology Flicks

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I am a sucker for bad geology movies. Sure, I suffer somewhat through the bad science and bad dialog, but I still find myself hooked on these films. I guess there’s some appeal to seeing attractive, action star, Hollywood versions of geologists. I mean, Pierce Brosnan played the star volcanologist in the 1997 flick “Dante’s Peak”. There are plenty of inaccuracies in the film. But I wish that more volcanolgists looked like Brosnan, and I really think they should train the USGS geologists to talk like James Bond. “Hi, I’m Bond. Volcanologist Bond.” Good stuff.

Tonight, I watched another bad volcano movie, the made-for-TV flick: “Magma: Volcanic Disaster”. What a bad, yet delightful movie. The science is terribly inaccurate and implausible, the plot and writing awful, and the acting mediocre, even with the two actors from the TV show “24.” Nonetheless, I plan on buying this movie, already available on! I may wait a couple of weeks. The movie isn’t even out yet and already the price has dropped from $24.96 to $16.99. Another week, maybe, and I’ll be able to get it for six bucks. Once I do, I’ll watch it again (with buttery movie popcorn… mmm) and write a review of the bad (and good, too– I should be fair) science of this movie.

Interestingly, this movie is one my father and I could enjoy together. While I enjoy geology flicks, my dad really enjoys a good submarine flick. In this movie nuclear submarines are used to fire warheads at hydrothermal vents… um, yeah… my dad says that the submarine information is just about as accurate as the volcano information. That is to say, it’s not very accurate! Nevertheless, the movie was entertaining, and I wish my volcanology advisors would tell me to forget about finals because we need to go out and save the world!

Other bad geology movies I enjoy? “The Core”, “Volcano”, and my all-time favorite bad geology movie, the 1959 Disney musical “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. Yes, I said musical. There’s some catchy geology songs, and Pat Boone, accompanied by his trusty accordian, sings his way to the center of the Earth. Now, that’s a movie.

If I ever teach a volcanology class, I’ll have my students watch a bad, yet still entertaining, volcano movie such as “Dante’s Peak” and write a short one or two page critique of the science in the movie. I’d want my students to constructively critisize the flick, not only pointing out the bad science but also suggesting ways in which good science could be incorporated into a fun and action-filled, yet still accurate, plot.

Popular movies are an important medium through which the public is exposed to science. Even bad geology movies may do good by inspiring people to learn more about volcanology and other aspects of geoscience. There is a danger, though, when the only exposure the general public has to geology is through these bad geology movies.

I’d love to write a geology movie that’s both action-filled and accurate. Trust me, volcanoes are dangerous and exciting enough to come up with a good movie script without resorting to bad science. Perhaps I’ll write one if I can find the time.

Have a happy Christmas, if you’re celebrating! Go rent your favorite bad science flick and share with your loved ones. There’s always MST3K, too!


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. I really enjoy 'Dante's Peak', but then I'm a Pierce Brosnan fan anyway. (That said, I do also enjoy 'Volcano'.)

    Heck, I can even enjoy 'Armageddon' (although I know certain commentors to this post don't ;) ), and if you ever get the Criterion Collection DVD of that, listen to the commentary by the space science advisor guy who points out all the places they are wrong! :)

    One of my favourite MST3K episodes is "The Mole People" about a race of people living under a mountain.

  2. I absolutely love The Core! Me and a pair of my engineering mates used to have The Core movie nights once in a while, including one time we took over a classroom and watched it on the projector. It's such a fabulous movie to watch with some friends and some beers, because it doesn't take much specialised knowledge to poke holes in it.

    And also because the movie knows how ridiculous it is. I mean, come on! Unobtanium? Really?

    Plus, the hacker guy's lines are so awesomely cheesy.

    "This is my kung fu, and it is strong."

  3. The only good thing about "Armageddon" is the Bad Astronomy review which is hilarious. I remember reading it the first time while I was working on my masters thesis. Armageddon is so bad it's not funny just rather sad really, and it's hard to be that bad.

    The absolute worst movie ever made, IMHO is "Reptilicus". But that is funny bad.

  4. I'm the same way with steven segal movies. Somehow he's made the same movie over and over again for 10 years.

  5. I wish I could still watch MST3K, or that I had the hard drive space to save all of the ones that were available for ::cough::legal::cough:: download when I was an undergrad. One of the best shows EVER.

    Speaking of the center of the Earth, have you seen the SNL episode from, oh, five or so years ago when Jackie Chan hosted? They had one hilarious sketch about several different men who dug their way to the center of the Earth, and then sang a song about it. Highly recommended :)

  6. Bad Astronomer, I haven't seen "A Crack in the World." You will get a hug and maybe a kiss (on the cheek– you are married) at TAM 5 if you bring me a copy!

    Thad, "Mole People" is one of my favorite MST3K episodes as well. I always talk about "the load" on my hiking and camping trips :-)

    Jokermage, the Austin Powers flicks are excellent. I want a volcano lair. And sea bass with lasers.

    Expatria, I haven't seen the SNL skit. Perhaps it's on youtube somewhere?

  7. Disaster movies are always so funny. But there's nothing more fun than renting one (or any bad movie really) with friends and doing your own MST3K on it.

    My favorite bad movie is "Battlefield Earth" (you know, the scientology flagship).

  8. Well, if we're talking about bad movies in general, I'm going to have to vote for the best bad movie of last year, Snakes on a Plane. Both times I saw it (opening night in Boston, cheap screening here in London) were EXCELLENT theatre-going experiences because NOBODY was there to take the film seriously…far, far too funny for me.

  9. … but if the molten rock is above ground isn't it lava not mag…. oh never mind :)

    I love Armageddon in the way you can only love a BAD movie ( I am such a sucker for Liv Tyler). I especially like Rock Hounds hi tec hand lense. Only a geologist.

    I do a "spot the paleo problems" in my class with Jurassic Park it's very popular and I think they actually get something out of it.


  10. You mean Velociraptors weren't actually six feet tall?!? But they could open doors for real, right? Please, let me have this. ;)

    "I wish I could still watch MST3K"

    Have you heard of Rifftrax? It's Mike Nelson's new project. It's not exactly the same as the old MST3k, but it's done in the same spirit of riffing on bad movies. Only he gets around the old limitations of licensing that MST3k had by releasing commentary tracks only from the website — you provide the movie yourself. So, for instance, there are Rifftrax available for movies as recent as Firewall and LotR.

    I haven't actually checked any of it out yet, but I do dig the idea.

  11. Hey, don't forget all those bad biology flicks too! Likw Jaws 4, I swear I heard a Gozilla track in there when the shark was "screaming", and Anaconda, both of those movies are so terrible they actually offend me, lol

    Course then there is my computer geek brother. He hates Independence Day. Totally not realistic how they figure out how to give the alien computer a virus. But totally ok with an alien culture invading Earth. THAT is apparently realistic enough for him, lol

  12. Joshua:

    Yeah, I had heard of Rifftrax. I haven't watched any yet, but I think it's a phenomenal idea. I still do think there was something wonderful about those two little robot puppets and the whole ultra-cheesy sci-fi angle of MST3K, but this is the next best thing, for sure.

    And I can think of FEW movies that deserve mocking MORE than Firewall…I got to see that for free at the (then) Loew's Boston Common. It was a preview screening, followed by a Q&A with Harrison Ford…let's just say that it's probably a good thing that I didn't get to ask a question, because it might have involved a choice of rather rude words. One of the rare movies where seeing it for free isn't enough…to sit through that, we all deserve to be paid!


    Independence Day was my favorite movie when I was fourteen years old. Then I stopped being fourteen and, well, you can take it from there… :)

    On that note, a professor here in England told me that the film was largely taken as a comedy. Apparently, audiences weren't certain and thought that, perhaps, it was an ultra-dry satire of America or, even worse, actually representitive of how we feel here. Yikes!

  13. Hah! My question to Mr. Ford would have been pretty straight-forward: "Hey, remember when you used to make good movies?"

  14. I have found geology flicks to be acutely painful. I cannot bear to watch them unless I am with my geology buddies. One made-for-tv flick, 10.5, came out at the time I was taking earthquake seismology, and I learnt in class the following day the magnitude necessary for the earth to rent in half: 12.0. Hooray for random facts.

    I know there is at least one bad geology flick that is accurate: Supervolcano (another made-for-tv shown on discovery channel). The producers actually came to my university and interviewed a few professors. Bravo. Accuracy did not prevent the film being dismal, however.

  15. Supervolcano is an actual movie. There is also a documentary called supervolcano: the truth about yellowstone, that aired in conjunction with the movie.

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