What to watch after Chernobyl: Five compelling films about real-life disasters

HBO’s historical drama Chernobyl has become a surprise hit, with critics and general audiences alike giving high praise to the five-episode miniseries.

Created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, Chernobyl chronicles the events leading up to and following the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union. The series offers a dramatized account of the accident that takes a deep dive into the moments and people affected by it and features an impressive ensemble cast that brings its audience into the notorious historical event.

If you’ve already seen this amazing series, and you’re clamoring for more projects that provide a compelling, dramatized account of the events that shaped modern history, we’ve got just the thing. Below is a list of a few projects that offer a similar, critically acclaimed spin on real-world disasters.

The 33

Antonio Banderas leads the ensemble cast of this 2015 film inspired by the real events that unfolded when 33 miners were trapped inside a Chilean mine for more than two months. The events of that 2010 disaster were particularly enthralling, given that the miners sent videos of themselves to rescuers throughout the ordeal, and the film was praised for its accurate representation of the accident and the miners’ experiences while trapped. Banderas is joined in the cast by Westworld and 300 actor Rodrigo Santoro and Juliette Binoche (ChocolatThe English Patient), as well as James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Gabriel Byrne.

Deepwater Horizon

The largest environmental disaster and worst oil spill in U.S. history was the basis for this 2016 film directed by Peter Berg (Very Bad ThingsFriday Night Lights). The movie explores the events that led to a massive explosion on the oil drilling platform Deepwater Horizon, which had just begun drilling off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2010 explosion, oil spill, and subsequent, long-lasting fire caused the death of 11 workers on the rig and catastrophic environmental damage. The film’s ensemble cast is led by Mark Wahlberg, along with Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez (in a standout performance), Kate Hudson, and Ethan Suplee. Critically praised, Deepwater Horizon earned a pair of Academy Award nominations for its stunning visual effects and sound editing.

Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts earned her first Academy Award for her portrayal of the eponymous legal clerk who was instrumental in building a case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993 after discovering the company had contaminated the water of a small town near one of its facilities. Roberts’ real-world counterpart was a single mother without any formal legal education, but nevertheless she helped assemble a case against the energy company — which had long denied its fault in the disproportionately high rates of cancer and other ailments in the town — that was settled in 1996 for one of the country’s largest payouts ever made in a direct-action lawsuit. Critically acclaimed and a massive box-office hit, Erin Brockovich also earned director Steven Soderbergh a “Best Director” nomination at the Academy Awards, and the film also received a prestigious “Best Picture” nomination.

The Impossible

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona directed this film about a family caught in the 2004 tsunami that became one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded human history. In a performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination and various other accolades, Naomi Watts plays a mother vacationing in Thailand with her husband and three sons when the powerful tsunami washes over the region. Their efforts to find each other and survive in the aftermath of the disaster offer a personal perspective on the terrifying event that killed more than 227,000 people in 14 countries around the Indian Ocean. Joining Watts in the cast is Ewan McGregor, who plays her husband, as well as the latest Spider-Man franchise star, Tom Holland, in his first feature role.


Meryl Streep portrayed nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood in this biographical drama that followed her efforts to expose dangerous practices at the Oklahoma plutonium plant where she worked with her boyfriend and roommate. The film was praised for its factual accuracy in presenting Karen’s story and the events and personalities surrounding her, including the questionable circumstances surrounding her death in 1974. Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance along with supporting actress Cher and director Mike Nichols. In a departure from the action roles that had made him a household name up to that point, Kurt Russell played the boyfriend of Streep’s character, with Craig T. Nelson, David Strathairn, and Fred Ward also playing supporting roles.

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