Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View

Remembering Dante's Peak, the Other Volcano Movie from 1997

In a year of rival disaster movies, Dante's Peak is sometimes forgotten, but still worth revisiting.

By Matthew Jackson
Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) and Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton) appear frightened in Dante's Peak (1997).

Amid the disaster movie revival of the 1990s, we were bound to get some films competing on similar turf. The most famous of these accidental rivalries is, of course, Deep Impact and Armageddon, the pair of asteroid films that arrived to rock the summer of 1998. Just one year earlier, though, we got another accidental disaster movie rivalry that's less discussed, but still memorable. 

We're talking, of course, about the pair of volcano disaster films that arrived in the first half of 1997. The more famous of these, Volcano, starred Tommy Lee Jones as an emergency manager trying to navigate an unexpected and disastrous lava flow running through Los Angeles. Just a few months earlier, though, another volcano film arrived that was less successful, but still packs an intriguing punch more than 25 years later. It's called Dante's Peak, and you can stream it right now on Peacock.

For More on What to Watch on Peacock:
The Best Sci-fi Movies on Peacock

The Best Fantasy Movies on Peacock
The 20 Best Sci-Fi TV Shows on Peacock

Why Now Is a Great Time to Revisit Dante's Peak, Now Streaming on Peacock

Directed by Roger Donaldson (No Way OutSpecies) and starring Pierce Brosnan as a volcanologist trying to protect the titular Pacific Northwest town, Dante's Peak arrived in February of 1997 to largely negative reviews and a decent, if not spectacular, box office haul. Its somewhat muted reception, which was overtaken by Volcano a few months later, means that while it's been in steady cable rotation over the years, it's never quite risen to classic status, or even cult classic status. It's just one of those films that's always there in the background somewhere, and that's a shame, because despite some rather predictable storytelling and a front half with some pacing issues, there's quite a bit of disaster movie fun to be had here.

Brosnan is Harry Dalton, a volcanologist who lost someone he loved in a previous eruption and is, therefore, a bit jittery when it comes to protecting human lives in the path of a potential disaster. So when Harry is sent to evaluate some seismic activity near the idyllic town of Dante's Peak (named for the mountain looming over the place), he quickly tells Mayor Rachel Wando (Resident Alien's Linda Hamilton) to put the town on alert and get everyone ready to evacuate. Naturally, people are skeptical, including Harry's bosses at the U.S. Geological Survey and local businessmen who are hoping to boost the town's economic profile, a goal that would naturally be hindered by volcanic dangers. So, a bureaucratic push-pull ensues, even as –– you guessed it –– we get closer and closer to an eruption. 

There are a couple of classic disaster movie tropes put front and center by the script from Leslie Bohem (DaylightNowhere to Run), starting with Harry's life as the film begins. A prologue reveals the loss he suffered in the last major eruption of his career, then reveals a man completely devoted to his work, who stays home when he's supposed to be on vacation and insists on going out to check on potential danger even when his bosses would rather hold him back. He's not without levity or warmth, but like so many disaster heroes before him, we're meant to see Harry as a guy whose life has been hardened by circumstance, and is waiting to be softened by the right person. 

Then there's the whole first half of the film, which is largely devoted to Harry trying to warn everyone of increasingly dangerous activity around the mountain, only to be pushed back by governmental concerns, local naysayers, and others who insist that he's crying eruption when there's no need for such warnings. This is the part of the film that can get a little rough to watch, particularly in a post-COVID age when we've seen so many similar arguments about other natural dangers, and it sometimes feels like the characters are disagreeing not because it's what they'd really do, but because the film needs some kind of drama. The film takes its time, unfolding like the Deep Impact to Volcano's Armageddon, and that requires a little patience from the viewer. 

Unlike Volcano, though, when the actual eruption starts to unfold in Dante's Peak, things get increasingly dangerous in a more realistic way. Volcano is largely about what happens when a major city that's not expecting a volcano is left to contend with lava flowing through the streets, while Dante's Peak is about an actual volcanic mountain going through its various phases of eruption. That gives Donaldson and his cast room to play with various threats and explore various survival scenarios, from a rain of ash to superheated mud to, yes, eventual lava cascading down the mountain and toward the town. There's even a memorable (if a little jerkily filmed) sequence in which a lake turns to acid because of all the volcanic activity shifting the natural realm around the characters. It's a wild ride, and because the volcano gets increasingly dangerous throughout the film, Dante's Peak is able to keep building and building all the way up to its climactic moments. 

So, while it might not be a modern classic, Dante's Peak holds up surprisingly well for a 1990s disaster movie that was overshadowed by a different 1990s disaster movie. The next time you're in the mood for this particular genre, give it a watch. It might surprise you.

Dante's Peak is now streaming on Peacock.