He's smashed Singapore, death-rayed Manhattan, turned the planet to marshmallow several times over and generally presided over enough global destruction to make even the gloomiest Mayan's eyes water. Now Roland Emmerich is dusting off those death lasers again for Independence Day: Resurgence. But what does he love in a disaster movies? We've asked Empire's new guest editor to talk through his ten favourites of the genre. "You can make so many different kinds of disaster movies," he enthuses. "It's what interests me about them."
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
"The Poseidon Adventure is a very simple concept for a disaster movie: a big wave topsides a big ocean liner and everybody has to show who they really are. They work against each other, they work with each other and sometimes the weakest members end up saving everyone. My friend Wolfgang Petersen did a remake of it. I told him I wouldn't do that, because how can you remake a classic? It's so perfect in every way. He just shrugged and said, 'Well, I've already shot it!'"
"Jim Cameron is one of the most genius screenwriters that ever lived and Titanic is such an emotional movie, you just get so endeared to the characters. By the time they're hanging on to the boat at the end, you feel like you're about to lose your own relatives, you know them that well. Could Rose have got Jack on the raft? Yeeeah, but it's great when the hero sacrifices himself for his girl. Come on! They got reunited in the afterlife.
I visited Jim once on the set. We never even shook hands, we just waved from afar. I said, 'Where's Jim?' and they said, 'Ooh, he's hanging from a crane right now.'"
"I like how outrageous the first half of Armageddon is. I heard this funny story from Michael Bay's first A.D. on the movie, K.C. Hodenfield. I said to him, 'I'm a big fan of Armageddon. How was it?' He told me that Ben Affleck had gone up to Michael in the first two weeks and said, 'Michael, the actors were wondering: wouldn't it just be easier to train astronauts to be oil drillers?' He said, 'Ben, just shut up!' That story makes me laugh.
Michael and I aren't friends or anything but we chat when we see each other. I'm a little bit worried that he's only doing Transformers. He must get tired some days. He's a great, great stylist – he knows what to do with the camera."
Deep Impact (1998)
"Of Armageddon and Deep Impact, Deep Impact is the one I like best. Armageddon is wildly entertaining and the scene in the Russian space station is a classic, but Deep Impact has more social relevance and it has real heart. It's more how I would done it. I like a big concept and then cutting away to small human stories."
The Towering Inferno (1974)
"We modelled Independence Day on The Towering Inferno. Steve McQueen comes into it very late and in our movie, Will Smith comes very late, after 30 minutes or so. Today people say, "Why's your hero coming into the movie so late?" but in the '60s and '70s those rules didn't exist. That's what I love about The Towering Inferno: it's so long, it's so interestingly structured and it shocks you when people die. How sad is it when the woman that Fred Astaire's in love with dies – Ava Gardner? You're in tears."
The Impossible (2012)
"It's what interests me about disaster movies: that you can make so many different kinds. This is a family drama as a disaster movie, where you only follow one family, but you're so into it. On a technical level it's brilliant. I have an old 1931 boat in Phuket – Maid Marian 2 – and I know all about the disaster, and heard all these stories about it. The Impossible proves that you can use real drama in a disaster movie."
World War Z (2013)
"Where we used aliens as a disaster in Independence Day, in World War Z they used zombies as a disaster. They're not these slow-moving things anymore, they're vicious and super-fast and they move in a swarm. It's a brilliant idea. For me, the Jerusalem sequence is a highlight of filmmaking. Everything is perfect: the visual effects, the acting, the light... how it looks. Awesome, just awesome. When people go into the cinema and think, 'What would I do in this situation?' you've got a good chance of having a successful movie."
Apollo 13 (1995)
"I'm a big Ron Howard fan and this is one of his best movies. It was really, really difficult to shoot and incredibly well made. And Tom Hanks? It doesn't come any better. I once came close to working with Tom. We were talking to him about something but then it fell apart. He's super-sympathetic – in person and in his movies. You just think, 'Oh my god, what a cool guy! I want to be friends with him.'"
"I saw Gravity in the Mann's Chinese in Los Angeles – my local cinema. It's a disaster movie about the will to survive and it's just incredible. I've only met Alfonso Cuarón once, at Heathrow – we had a chat because the head of Warner Bros. was there and introduced us – but I read up about how they did it in Cinefex, the bible for VFX. They previs'ed the whole film, using the actors' movement to plan shots and then put them in a robot with a camera in it. They had to test it thoroughly because can you imagine if something had happened? You can't kill Sandra Bullock or George Clooney!"
"This is the first movie that did helicopter shots and tracked them and then put the visual effects in. For that alone, it has to be remembered. Twister came out in the same year as Independence Day. When I came out of Twister I said, 'They will get the visual-effects Oscar.' Then we got it and I said, 'Oh, shit.' I was so convinced: it was such a revolutionary concept to make Steadicam shots and helicopter shots, and then film footage and put something in. That was a total revolution for me. And I love the flying cow."
Independence Day: Resurgence is out in the UK on June 23. Pick up the current issue of Empire – onsale from all good newsagents – for much, much more on the movie or pick up a digital subscription now.
Head back tomorrow when Roland Emmerich takes us through an exclusive behind-the-scenes gallery of his career to date.