September 18, 2015

Hollywood’s Top 10 Supply Chain Disaster Movies

Wayne Caccamo

sharnado-supply-chainHere’s my list of the top supply chain events based on economic impact and general disruption to supply chain operations. Why am I doing this? Let’s table that for the moment and have some fun.

To create this list, the first thing I need to do is define the playing field. I’m not considering any sci-fi flicks for this list because this is a serious analysis and a scholarly exercise. So, the main criteria is “it could happen” – although I used that phrase extremely liberally. Therefore volcanoes and land sharks in L.A. (Volcano, 1997; Sharknado, 2013) or Earth grinding to a halt (The Core, 2003), uh, no. Similarly, movies that involve any sort of alien/zombie invasion like Cloverfield (2008), The Andromeda Strain (1969), Independence Day (1996), and World War Z (2013), as well as movies that star Godzilla don’t qualify.

In addition, the subset of the sci-fi genre “End of the World”-type movies like This the End (2013), one of my favorites, are eliminated. If they were not, we would have a 10-way tie for first place in terms of economic damage and disruption to supply chain operations.  

Also, movies based on a true story, inspired by a true story (or based on a story that was inspired by a true story) are not included for one of two reasons. Either they are motivated by actual historical events like Pompeii (2014) and we can assume supply chains were relatively less connected way back then, or they were actually decent movies like The Impossible (2012) in which case we would be comparing apples to oranges.

In the spirit of full disclosure and in keeping with the pragmatic constraints of this survey, I eliminated any classics for nostalgic reasons, particularly the logistics-themed disasters because of the relatively limited impact of the event on supply chains. But, you can think about them as honorable mentions: Poseidon Adventure (1972), Airport (1970), Airplane! (1980), and Titanic (1997). Similarly movies like Towering Inferno (1974), Twister (1996), and Outbreak (1995) also had a relatively localized impact on supply chain ops, so they also qualified but didn’t make the cut.

Finally, there was an attempt not to conflate box office disasters and other man-made disasters, like movies starring Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage, or Orlando Bloom, with the supply chain disaster subject matter being ranked. 



Disaster Type

Scope of Supply Chain Impact


Contagion (2011)


Global, a pandemic of this proportion can be assumed to halt or severely constrain international trade.


The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Climate change-triggered extreme weather events

Extreme weather including super-storms damage manufacturing and transportation infrastructure in the U.S. and key regions around the world, eventually leading to polar/sub-arctic conditions.


Deep Impact (1998)

Meteor-triggered tsunami

Tsunami devastates the Atlantic coasts of North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.


White House Down (2013)

Geopolitical crisis

Paramilitary group seizes control of the White House. Global trade is put on hold as the fate of the world leader of the largest economy hangs in the balance.


Fail Safe (1964)

Geopolitical crisis

Moscow and NYC are destroyed in a Cold War era thermo-nuclear first strike and response. Supply chains reel from impact to global corporation HQs, financing, and energy concerns.


The China Syndrome (1997)

Nuclear power plant meltdown

It is feared that the nuclear reactor core will melt down into the earth, hitting groundwater and contaminating the surrounding area with radioactive steam.


San Andreas (2015)


Extreme earthquake devastates California, the 8th largest economy in the world. Supply chain impact reverberates globally.


Earthquake (1974)


Earthquake devastates L.A., the largest major manufacturing area in the U.S. The earthquake of this magnitude has severe impact on apparel, computer and electronics, and transportation products.


Krakatoa (1969)


My criteria set such a high bar that the crack research, nominating, and selection team gave up over a fight about what to do with Armageddon (1998). Krakatoa was an unfortunate compromise.




OK, I lied. This is a top 9 list. The selection committee ran out of energy and cited “artistic differences” as the cause of the breakup.

While the extent of the damage to our earth and society is taken to an illogical extreme in these films, the disaster triggers and themes ranging from extreme weather and natural disasters, to man-made threats — including geopolitical and pandemic crises — are very real and impact supply chains every year. As a result, we can no longer think of them as generational “black swan events.” Further, while factory fires/explosions, floods, and labor strikes aren’t the subject of epic disaster film makers, they are happening every day. Research show that it is these relatively smaller, more frequent events have a greater aggregate business impact.

The good news is that while there are many different sources of risk to consider, there are a very limited number of outcomes (e.g. factory or lines down, financial, or human impacts). As a result, there is more leverage [ROI] in planning for your company to be resilient in response to the predictable few outcomes by deploying a finite number of proactive and responsive mitigation strategies. This will prepare your supply for anything from the routine factory fire to the more infrequent zombie invasion.

What do you think is the top supply chain disaster movie of all time? Vote here!

You can start by monitoring supply chain events globally and 24/7. 

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Topics: supply chain risk management