Volcano is a 1997 action-thriller\disaster film directed by Mick Jackson, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffmann and Don Cheadle.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

An earthquake strikes the city of Los Angeles. Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), the head of the city's Office of Emergency Management, insists on coming to work to help out with the crisis, even though he has taken a vacation with his daughter Kelly (Gaby Hoffmann).

His associate Emmit Reese (Don Cheadle) notes the quake caused no major damage, but seven utility workers are later burned to death in a storm drain; one escapes and survives but is severely burned on one side of his face at MacArthur Park. As a precaution, Roark tries to halt the subway lines which run parallel to where the deaths took place, but Los Angeles MTA Chairman Stan Olber (John Carroll Lynch) declines, feeling there is no threat to the trains.

Against regulations, Roark and a colleague Gator Harris (Michael Rispoli) venture down the storm sewer in the park to investigate. They are nearly burned alive and barely escape with their lives when hot gases suddenly spew out of a crack in the concrete lining and flood the tunnel.

Geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) believes a volcano may be rapidly forming beneath the city with magma flowing underground (similar to the formation of the Mexican volcano Parícutin which emerged and grew tremendously in just one week) but unfortunately, she has insufficient evidence to make Roark take action.

Barnes and her assistant Rachel (Laurie Lathem) venture in the storm sewer to investigate the scene of the accident, where they discover a crack in the ground which released the gases earlier. While they are taking samples, a more powerful earthquake strikes and Rachel is killed when she falls into the crack. Near the La Brea Tar Pits, smoke rises out along with lava bombs.

Steam explodes from the sewer system, while a subway train carrying passengers derails underground, trapping them inside and exposing them to severe heat and toxic gases, which cause them all to eventually pass out.

Roark helps injured firefighters out of the area. However, minutes later, a newly formed volcano erupts from the tar pits and lava begins to flow freely down Wilshire Boulevard, incinerating everything in its path, including Roark's truck and an LAFD fire truck, killing two firefighters trapped inside.

Roark and Kelly become separated as she is injured when a nearby lava bomb burns her leg and she is taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center by Dr. Jaye Calder (Jacqueline Kim).

Meanwhile, Olber leads his team through the Red Line tunnel to the derailed train to look for survivors. They save everyone, but Olber notices that the train driver is still missing and goes back to find him. He finds the driver still alive but unconscious just as the lava reaches the train and begins melting it. Olber sacrifices his life to save the conductor by jumping into the lava flow, throwing the driver to safety as he dies.

Roark, Barnes and police lieutenant Ed Fox (Keith David) devise a plan to stack concrete barriers at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, creating a cul-de-sac to pool the lava as helicopters dump water on it to form a crust.

While the operation is successful, Barnes later theorizes that the magma is still flowing underground through the Red Line subway extension, and calculates that the main eruption will occur at the end of the line at the Beverly Center near Cedars-Sinai.

To prove this, Dr. Barnes and Roark lower a video camera into the tunnel to watch it and then a fast-moving flow of lava incinerates the camera. They calculate the speed and realize they have 30 minutes until the lava hits the end of the red line.

Through Roark's direction, explosives are used to create channels in the street to divert the flow of lava into Ballona Creek, which will later flow into the Pacific Ocean, but Barnes realizes that the street is sloping in the opposite direction. Roark engineers another plan to demolish a 22-story condominium building (currently under construction by Jaye's husband) to block the lava's path from entering the city.

When Gator refuses to abandon an LAPD SWAT cop who has gotten trapped under a core column while slotting explosive charges just as the lava reaches the dead end of the Subway tunnel extension and explodes out of the ground in a massive geyser, he sacrifices their lives to detonate the final explosive charge.

Roark then spots Kelly nearby, trying to retrieve a small boy who wandered off, putting them in the path of the collapsing building. He barely manages to save both of them from being crushed as the building collapses. The plan is successful and the lava flows safely to the ocean. Roark walks out from the wreckage with Kelly and the young child alive.

The death toll is nearly 100 people and thousands are injured. It starts to rain, rinsing the ash and dust off the surviving civilians. Roark soon returns to work. The film's epilogue displays a graphic stating that the volcano, named "Mount Wilshire" is still in an active state.


  • Tommy Lee Jones as Michael "Mike" Roark
  • Anne Heche as Dr. Amy Barnes
  • Gaby Hoffmann as Kelly Roark
  • Don Cheadle as Emmit Reese
  • Jacqueline Kim as Dr. Jaye Calder
  • Keith David as Police Lieutenant Edwin "Ed" Fox
  • John Corbett as Norman Calder
  • Michael Rispoli as Gator Harris
  • John Carroll Lynch as Stanford "Stan" Olber
  • Dayton Callie as Roger Lapher


The filming of "Volcano" was shot primarily on location in Los Angeles, California and took place from July 15th to October 17, 1996.

The various filming sites included MacArthur Park, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the La Brea Tar Pits.

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.

An 80% full-size replica of Wilshire Boulevard, which was one of the largest sets ever constructed in the U.S., was assembled in Torrance, California.

The computer-generated imagery was coordinated and supervised by Dale Ettema and Mat Beck. Between the visuals, miniatures and animation, over 300 technicians were involved in the production aspects of the special effects.

The lava was primarily made of methylcellulose (which is the thickening agent that is used in fast-food milkshakes) and the ash was made mostly from ground newspaper.


Box OfficeEdit

"Volcano" topped the box office, grossing $14,581,740 during its opening weekend, beating out films Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and Anaconda.

Domestically, the film grossed $49,323,468, $73,500,000 internationally and $122,823,468 worldwide.

Critical ReceptionEdit

Among mainstream critics in the US, the film received generally mixed reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes reports that 44% of 39 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 5.0 out of 10.

On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 55 based on 22 reviews.

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 it lost to Con Air.

Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, said, "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."

Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called it 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."

The San Francisco Chronicle's 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. A host of characters is introduced in the opening scenes, but Volcano doesn't know what to do with them. It can't make us care."

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." He declared: "Volcano is jittery in a clinical, self-important way."

Walter Addiego of the San Francisco Examiner, felt that "Volcano offers a bit of humor, a minimum of plot distraction and the joys of watching molten rock ooze down Wilshire Boulevard."

Left equally impressed was James Berardinelli of ReelViews. Commenting on the character significance of Mike Roark, played by Jones, he said it was "'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. Jones' fierce, unflagging portrayal helps us accept Roark not only as the man to save L.A., but as a loving father who is more concerned about his daughter's safety than that of every other citizen."

In his summation, he wrote, "Volcano has opened the "summer" movie season at an astoundingly early late-April date. But there's no mistaking this as anything but a blockbuster trying to get a running jump on competition like The Fifth Element and The Lost World. 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."

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times added to the positive sentiment by saying 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."

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."

He commended how "Jones and Heche work hard to dig up an emotional rapport from next to nothing" while also praising how the "slow but inexorable progress of the lava makes for more suspense than the usual slam bang firework display".

Not entirely impressed was Margaret McGurk writing for The Cincinnati Enquirer. She called the film "depreciating entertainment value of the natural-disaster trend" while also mentioning how the "high-caliber special effects are still fun, but all this lock-step storytelling is wearing thin," but in a hint of commendation, McGurk thought "on its own escapist terms, Volcano dishes up a textbook serving of low-I.Q., high-energy entertainment."

Describing a comical position on seismic activity, Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle said 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" and added, "screenwriters Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray have crammed the script with topical references to the L.A. riots, Rodney King, racial inequality, sexism, the ineffectuality of the 911 system, and 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".

The Washington Post's Rita Kempley openly 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."

She concluded her review by declaring that "While disaster yarns aren't known for subtlety, there are limits, and Volcano giddily goes beyond them. Director Mick Jackson, who also made Steve Martin's wry "L.A. Story," must have had his hands full with the logistics of this bombastic extravaganza. He sets a blistering pace, but the movie never generates any real thrills."

Todd McCarthy of Variety was more positive, writing Volcano delivered "enough spectacular action to get it off to a hot B.O. start" and 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."


1997 California on Location Awards

  • Location Professional of the Year- Features: Steve Dayan (won)

1998 Razzie Awards

  • Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property (nominated)

Theatrical TrailerEdit

Volcano Trailer

Volcano Trailer

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