Theatrical release poster
Directed byMick Jackson
Screenplay by
Story byJerome Armstrong
Produced by
CinematographyTheo van de Sande
Edited by
Music byAlan Silvestri
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 25, 1997 (1997-04-25)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$122.8 million[1]

Volcano is a 1997 American disaster film directed by Mick Jackson, and produced by Neal H. Moritz and Andrew Z. Davis. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle and Keith David. It tells the story of an effort to divert the path of a dangerous lava flow through the streets of Los Angeles following the formation of a volcano at the La Brea Tar Pits. The storyline was conceived from a screenplay written by Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray, and was inspired by the 1943 formation of the Parícutin volcano in Mexico.

Volcano was released by 20th Century Fox in the United States on April 25, 1997. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $122.8 million worldwide on a $90 million budget.


In downtown Los Angeles, an earthquake strikes. Mike Roark, the new director of the city's Office of Emergency Management, insists on coming to work to help out with the crisis even though he has been on vacation with his daughter Kelly. His associate Emmit Reese notes that the quake caused no major damage, but seven utility workers are later burned to death in a storm drain at MacArthur Park. As a precaution, Mike tries to halt the subway lines near the location of the earthquake. MTA Chairman Stan Olber opposes, believing that there is no threat to the trains. Seismologist Dr. Amy Barnes believes that a volcano may be forming beneath the city due to the earthquake opening a fissure in the fault line; however, she has insufficient evidence to make Mike take action.

Early the next morning, Amy and her assistant Rachel venture in the storm sewer to investigate. While they take samples, another (more powerful) earthquake strikes the city. Rachel falls into a crack and is killed by a rush of hot gases. A subway train derails from falling debris, and a power outage occurs across the entire city. Later, in the La Brea Tar Pits, the volcano begins to erupt. As Mike helps injured firefighters out of the area, lava begins to flow down Wilshire Boulevard. The lava incinerates everything in its path and kills two firefighters in an overturned fire truck. The Roarks become separated, as Kelly is injured when a lava bomb burns her leg and is taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital along with other patients. Meanwhile, Stan leads his team through the tunnel to the derailed train to search for survivors. While his team save everyone aboard, Stan rescues the driver just as lava reaches the train, causing it to disintegrate. Stan sacrifices his life by jumping into the lava flow to throw the driver to safety.

Mike, Amy, and LAPD lieutenant Ed Fox devise a plan to use concrete barriers to create a blockade, which obstructs the lava in its path. A fleet of helicopters dump water collected from the ocean to subdue the lava and volcano, forming a crust and making the plan a success. However, Amy thinks that the magma is still flowing underground through the subway because of the amount of ash still falling. When Mike helps her confirm her suspicions, she calculates that another eruption will occur at the end of the Red Line at Cedars-Sinai and, after calculating the speed of the flowing lava, determines the lava will reach the end of the tunnel in thirty minutes.

Mike devises another plan to demolish a 22-story condominium building to block the lava's path from flowing towards the hospital and the rest of the West Side of Los Angeles, redirecting it into a nearby storm drain. As the lava arrives, Mike's co-worker Gator and an LAPD Bomb Squad officer (trapped under debris) sacrifice their lives to detonate the final explosive charge. Mike then spots Kelly nearby, trying to retrieve a little boy she was watching who wandered off; the two are in the direct path of the collapsing building. Mike barely manages to save them from being crushed as the building collapses. The plan succeeds, and the lava flows directly into the ocean. As it begins raining, the trio emerge from the rubble unscathed and reunite with Amy before heading home.

The film ends with a view of the volcano, named Mount Wilshire.




Filming was primarily on location in Los Angeles, California.[3] Various filming sites included MacArthur Park, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the La Brea Tar Pits.[3] Extensive special effects surrounding certain aspects of the film such as the lava flow were created by ten separate digital effects companies including VIFX, Digital Magic Company, Light Matters Inc., Pixel Envy and Anatomorphex.[4] An 80% full-size replica of Wilshire Boulevard, which was one of the largest sets ever constructed in the United States, was assembled in Torrance, California.[5] The computer-generated imagery was coordinated and supervised by Dale Ettema and Mat Beck.[3] Between visuals, miniatures, and animation, over 300 technicians were involved in the production aspects of the special effects.[4][6]


The score for the film was originally composed and orchestrated by musical conductor Alan Silvestri.[7] Recording artists James Newton Howard and Dillinger among others, contributed songs to the music listing.[4] The audio soundtrack in Compact Disc format featuring 8 tracks, was officially released by the American recording label Varèse Sarabande on April 22, 1997.[8] The sound effects in the film were supervised by Christopher Boyes. The mixing of the sound elements were orchestrated by Jim Tanenbaum and Dennis Sands.[4]


Among mainstream critics in the US, Volcano received mixed reviews.[9] Rotten Tomatoes reports that 49% of 47 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 5.10/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Volcano's prodigious pyrotechnics and Tommy Lee Jones' crotchety sneers at lava aren't quite enough to save this routine disaster film."[10] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average using critical reviews, the film received a score of 55 out of 100 based on 22 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[11] In 1997, the film was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award in the category of "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property", but lost to Con Air.[12]

"The ads say The Coast Is Toast, but maybe they should say The Volcano Is Drano. This is a surprisingly cheesy disaster epic. It's said that Volcano cost a lot more than Dante's Peak, a competing volcano movie released two months ago, but it doesn't look it. Dante's Peak had better special effects, a more entertaining story, and a real mountain."
—Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times[13]

Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times, "Volcano begins so excitably and hurtles so quickly into fiery pandemonium," but noted that "in the disaster realm, it's not easy to have it all. A film this technically clever can't get away with patronizing and familiar genre cliches."[14] Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called the film a "surprisingly cheesy disaster epic" while musing, "The lava keeps flowing for much of the movie, never looking convincing. I loved it when the firemen aimed their hoses way offscreen into the middle of the lava flow, instead of maybe aiming them at the leading edge of the lava—which they couldn't do, because the lava was a visual effect, and not really there."[13] In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle wrote that "Things go bad after Volcano plays its last card — the lava — and from there it has nothing to show but more of the same."[15] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said, "Volcano is cheese, all right, but it's tangy cheese. I'm not sure I've ever seen a disaster movie in which special effects this realistic and accomplished were put to the service of a premise this outlandish."[16]

Walter Addiego of the San Francisco Examiner opined that "Volcano offers a bit of humor, a minimum of plot distraction and the joys of watching molten rock ooze down Wilshire Boulevard."[17] Left equally impressed was James Berardinelli of ReelViews. He described the character of Mike Roark as "a wonderfully heroic figure — a man of action who never has time to rest. The fate of the city rests on his shoulders, and he knows it." He added: "Volcano has opened the "summer" movie season at an astoundingly early late-April date... This isn't the kind of film where it's worth waiting for the video tape — it's too big and brash, and demands the speakers and atmosphere of a state-of-the-art theater."[18] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times asserted that the film "glows with heat. Lava heat. The coast may be toast, but it's the lava, covering everything like a malevolent tide of melted butter, that makes this a disaster picture that's tastier than usual."[19]

Writing for Time Out, author TCh said, "The most striking aspect of this fun, old-fashioned disaster movie is the novelty of seeing the most familiar of backdrops used as a creative resource in its own right."[20] Not entirely impressed was Margaret McGurk writing for The Cincinnati Enquirer. She stated that the high-caliber special effects were "still fun, but all this lock-step storytelling is wearing thin."[21] In a hint of commendation, McGurk added, "On its own escapist terms, Volcano dishes up a textbook serving of low-I.Q., high-energy entertainment."[21] Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle called Volcano was a "laughably ridiculous take on what we all secretly dream of: Los Angeles, washed away in a huge, molten tide of cheese — uh, lava, I mean."[22] Savlov added, "Screenwriters Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray have crammed the script with...reams of very, very bad dialogue. So bad, in fact, that the screening audience I viewed Volcano with seemed to enjoy it immensely, hooting and hollering and laughing as though it were an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000."[22]

Rita Kempley of The Washington Post wondered why "there's no volcano in "Volcano"?...The hokey disaster drama features towering plumes of smoke, a splendid display of fireworks and brimstone, and rivers of molten magma, but I'll be darned if there's a burning mountain."[23] Todd McCarthy of Variety was more positive, writing that "first-time screenwriters Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray waste no time with exposition or scene-setting, starting the fireworks with a nerve-jangling morning earthquake that puts city workers on alert for possible damage."[5]

Box office

Volcano premiered in cinemas on April 25, 1997. At its widest distribution in the United States, the film was screened at 2,777 theaters. The film grossed $14,581,740 in box office business in Canada and the United States on its opening weekend, averaging $5,256 in revenue per theater.[24] During that first weekend in release, the film opened in first place beating out the films Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and Anaconda.[25][26] The film's revenue dropped by 37% in its second week of release, earning $9,099,743.[27] In the month of June during its final weekend showing in theaters, the film came out in 12th place grossing $602,076.[28] The film went on to top out in the United States and Canada at $49,323,468 in total ticket sales through a 7-week theatrical run. In other markets, the film took in an additional $73,500,000 in box office business for an international total of $122,800,000.[29] For 1997 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 39.[30]

Home media

Following its cinematic release in theaters, the film was released in VHS video format on May 26, 1998.[31] The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on March 9, 1999. Special features for the DVD include interactive menus, scene selection and the original theatrical trailer. It is not enhanced for widescreen televisions.[32] The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on October 1, 2013 by Starz/Anchor Bay.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Volcano". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  2. ^ "Volcano (1997)" – via www.imdb.com.
  3. ^ a b c "Volcano DVD". 20th Century Fox. March 9, 1999. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d "Volcano (1997) Cast and Credits". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  5. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd (April 27, 1997). Volcano. Variety. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  6. ^ "Tower-ing Fiction #1: Beverly Heights apartment building, Volcano (1997)". The Vault of Culture. December 14, 2018. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Volcano - Production Credits". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  8. ^ "Volcano: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". Amazon. 1997. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  9. ^ a b "Volcano Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  10. ^ "Volcano (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 30, 2022.
  11. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  12. ^ Wilson, John (August 23, 2000). "1997 Archive". Golden Raspberry Award. Retrieved May 17, 2009.
  13. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (April 25, 1997). Volcano. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 14, 2010. Archived March 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 25, 1997). Volcano (1997) Very Mean Streets: They're Full of Lava. The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  15. ^ Lasalle, Mick (October 3, 1997). 'Volcano' Sizzles but Quickly Loses Steam. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  16. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (May 2, 1997). Volcano. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  17. ^ Addiego, Walter (April 25, 1997). Lavapalooza!. San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  18. ^ Berardinelli, James (April 1997). Volcano. ReelViews. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  19. ^ Turan, Kenneth (April 25, 1997). "Volcano - Go With the Flow". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  20. ^ TCh (April 1997). Volcano (1997). Time Out. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  21. ^ a b McGurk, Margaret (November 1997). 'Volcano' more of a blast than 'Dante's Peak'. The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  22. ^ a b Savlov, Marc (April 25, 1997). Volcano. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  23. ^ Kempley Rita, (April 25, 1997). 'Volcano': 1 on the Richter Scale. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  24. ^ "'Volcano' Blasts Into Top Spot With $14.7 Million". Los Angeles Times. April 28, 1997.
  25. ^ Elber, Lynn (April 30, 1997). "'Volcano' No. 1 but fails to burn up box office". The Associated Press. The Post-Star. p. 14. Archived from the original on May 12, 2023. Retrieved May 12, 2023 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  26. ^ "Weekend Box Office April 25–27, 1997". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  27. ^ "Weekend Box Office May 2–4, 1997". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  28. ^ "Weekend Box Office June 6–8, 1997". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  29. ^ "Volcano Domestic Total Gross". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  30. ^ "1997 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  31. ^ Volcano VHS Format. ISBN 0793960398.
  32. ^ "Volcano Widescreen DVD". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved July 14, 2010.
  33. ^ "Volcano Blu-ray".