The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Why Does Roland Emmerich Hate Earth So Much?

Can a director make this many disaster movies without actively wanting to watch the planet suffer?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Roland Emmerich, in a white tee, blue jacket, and hat labeled "Deus," sits in front of a backboard with a stylized camera lens logo on it.
Roland Emmerich speaks at the 15th Zurich Film Festival on September 29, 2019, in Zurich, Switzerland
Photo: Andreas Rentz (Getty Images)

Earth may have no greater adversary than director Roland Emmerich. The man seems determined to destroy the planet, or at least watch it be destroyed. Or maybe he just wants to see human civilization almost completely wiped out. Either way, he’s put more footage of the Earth getting absolutely wrecked onscreen than anyone else alive. He’s the unquestionable master of cinematic disaster, with Michael Bay in a distant second place.

After he had his first big hit with 1994’s Stargate, Emmerich had aliens destroy 72 of the largest cities on Earth in Independence Day, killing three billion people. He was far more restrained in his awful 1998 Godzilla film, where the King of the Monsters only wrecked parts of New York City, followed by the similarly chaste The Patriot. But then he created super-storms that razed the surface of the planet before plunging it into a new Ice Age in 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, destroyed what may have been humanity’s first city in 10,000 BC, and then winnowed down the human race to 900,000 people after violently terraforming the Earth in 2012. After a few comparatively less destructive movies, the ID4 aliens attacked again in Resurgence, devastating most of Eurasia and North America’s Eastern seaboard. Next month, Emmerich is going to brutalize the planet yet again in Moonfall.


But why? According to Wikipedia, “When accused of resorting too often to scenes of cities being subjected to epic disasters, Emmerich says that it is a justified way of increasing awareness about both global warming, and the lack of a government preparation plan for a global doomsday scenario in the cases of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, respectively.” That’s a noble idea, but neither explanation justifies the destruction porn of the Independence Day movies and Moonfall.

Perhaps the simplest answer is the destruction porn business is highly lucrative. Despite consistently making movies critics and audiences mostly dislike, those audiences still watch them. Independence Day: Resurgence made $390 million internationally, while Godzilla netted $380 million, The Day After Tomorrow $550 million, and 2012 made nearly $800 million, yet none of these four movies have a critic or audience rating above 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, Emmerich’s films have earned an astonishing $4 billion dollars in total.


While audiences might buy tickets, the craft and care with which Emmerich decimates the Earth in multiple movies belie his obvious passion for it. Watch this abridged clip of John Cusack’s attempt to escape the destruction of Los Angeles in 2012:

Watch how many unique things are demolished, and in how many unique ways. How many preposterously close calls Cusack’s limo and plane have on, around, and through things as they fall apart. How utterly Los Angeles is annihilated, and the scope, the creativity, and the thoroughness of the disaster shown on screen. It’s a symphony of destruction, played by shattering buildings, exploding roads, collapsing overpasses, and debris. Everything onscreen is falling apart, crashing, or blowing up other than the limo. Sure, Michael Bay loves his explosions, but he could never pull something like this off, nor would he necessarily want to. Roland Emmerich, on the other hand, has a boundless enthusiasm for seeing the planet, and its inhabitants, suffer—and based on its trailers, Moonfall might be the director’s most destructive film yet.

To quote Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight, some men just want to watch the world burn. And in the case of Roland Emmerich, he wants you to watch it burn, too.

Wondering where our RSS feed went? You can pick the new one up here.