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Ten lessons to be learned from extreme weather in the movies

Elements getting you down? Here's some solid cinematic advice for when mother nature goes mental

1/10

Lesson one: Don’t mess with the ocean

As seen in...
The Perfect Storm’ (2000)

The forecast
The title says it all. When George Clooney, Marky Mark and their robust gang of woolly-sweatered, blue-collar guys’ guys come home from the sea with a disappointing haul, they know they’ll be forced to make one… last… trip before the season ends. Never mind that there’s an almighty shitkicker of a squall brewing up: it’s a man’s responsibility to put fish on the table.

What we learn
If the Weather Channel warns that it’s getting blustery, even the world’s sexiest man shouldn’t persuade you into a sea voyage. The Atlantic ocean is, as the film’s characters repeatedly remind us, ‘a bitch’, and she shouldn’t be messed with when she’s in a feisty mood.

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2/10

Lesson two: Ensure your pets are safe

As seen in...
The Wizard of Oz’ (1939)

The forecast
Twisty. When a tornado comes to ravage her aunt and uncle’s remote Kansas farm, little Dorothy Gale’s first thoughts aren’t for her beloved relations or even their band of aw-shucks farmhands, it’s for Toto, her permanently bemused cairn terrier. Of course, it all works out for the best when Toto uses his sniffing skills to track down a witch. Could Auntie Em have done that? Doubtful.

What we learn
In a crisis, it’s always handy to have a pet around. And not just dogs: birds can be used to deliver messages – it shouldn’t be too hard to train a parrot to say, ‘Help! Trapped in ice!’. Hamsters can be hooked to a turbine, providing power during blackouts. Cats can be sent forth to forage for mice and other small rodents. And of course goldfish can provide hours of much-needed entertainment, or a handy after-dinner snack.

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3/10

Lesson three: It’s always warm inside an animal

As seen in...
The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

The forecast
Snow on snow. When, on his morning rounds, Luke Skywalker is startled by a passing Wampa (we’ve all been there), it looks like curtains for the young Jedi. But luckily his best pal Han Solo has a cunning plan. Noticing that his trusty Tauntaun steed has keeled over in the cold, Han slices open its belly and covers Luke with the steaming guts. Yum.

What we learn
This is just one more reason to keep a pet around (see previous entry). We’re not sure how much protection you could really get from, say, a gerbil’s intestines, but if there’s a larger animal kicking around – a great dane, a racehorse, perhaps some sort of endangered big cat – you’re in luck. Readers with large families are urged to purchase an elephant now, just in case.

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4/10

Lesson four: Fema ain’t your friend

As seen in...
Beasts of the Southern Wild’ (2012)

The forecast
Three feet high and rising. When heavy rains wash out their remote Louisiana bayou home, six-year-old Hushpuppy and her unpredictable dad are left stranded in the wreckage. But it’s not long before government forces come to root them out of their sunken daydream and relocate them somewhere a little less damp, whether they like it or not.

What we learn
In the timeless words of Kanye West, post-Katrina: ‘George Bush don’t care about black people’. Or, to translate this sentiment for Brits in 2014, George Osborne don’t care about coastal folk. Politicians love to pop down in the wake of a tragedy, mutter a few homilies and scoot back to their warm, dry, well-lit homes. But don’t expect them to wring out your soggy socks for you.

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5/10

Lesson five: Crazy weather makes for crazy people

As seen in...
The Wind’ (1928)

The forecast
Gale-force melodrama. When innocent East Coast girl Lillian Gish is sent to live on her cousin’s isolated ranch, she expects her biggest problem will be the constant (and we really do mean constant) wind that batters their desert shack. But it’s not long before the windswept neighbours start taking an unhealthy interest in this fresh-faced newcomer.

What we learn
Where there’s wild weather, there’s widespread weirdness. Who but a loony would choose to live in a place where the wind howls and the sand batters against the windows 365 days a year? On the plus side, though, the film reveals how particularly strong gusts can sweep away the evidence of a murder. So that’s handy.

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6/10

Lesson six: Stay the hell away from power lines

As seen in...
The Ice Storm’ (1997)

The forecast
Frosty. In Ang Lee’s masterful ’70s-set character piece, young Elijah Wood is disheartened by his parents’ rampant sexual misconduct, his erstwhile sort-of-girlfriend Christina Ricci’s waning interest and the fact that he lives in a land dominated by chipboard and tan flares. Out for a soulful late-night stroll following a bout of severe weather, he sits on the wrong bit of newly electrified highway guardrail.

What we learn
It’s pretty simple: electrical cables and bad weather are a dangerous combination. Of course, anyone who grew up in the UK during the heyday of public information films – or who caught 2013’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ – knows that pylons and power stations are bad news all round, but it doesn’t hurt to have it reiterated.

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7/10

Lesson seven: When in doubt, drink

As seen in...
The Day the Earth Caught Fire’ (1961)

The forecast
A great British summer. When nuclear tests knock the planet off its course and send it careering towards the sun, the citizens of London react in time-honoured fashion: they go to the pub. It doesn’t help that the film’s central characters are all journalists, not a breed known for their abstemiousness.

What we learn
There’s a tipple for every occasion. In this case our heroes opt largely for pints of beer, perfect for topping up the body’s heat-diminished water resources. Those facing freezing temperatures should opt for a nice warming brandy, while rum has always been the sailors’ choice while tackling storms at sea. We’re not sure which brand of booze best suits a tornado, but we’ll do a spot of research and get back to you.

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8/10

Lesson eight: Starvation is a choice if you have friends

As seen in...
Alive’ (1993)

The forecast
Chewy. When their plane goes down in the Andes, a Uruguayan rugby team – led, strangely, by Ethan Hawke – find themselves stranded in the ice, miles from rescue, with only a tin of chocolates and a box of wine to see them through. It’s not long before someone starts eyeing up the pile of frozen corpses stacked neatly by the back door…

What we learn
They say that in case of a bear attack, you don’t need to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun your slowest friend. The same principle applies here. We’re obviously not suggesting that you start knocking off your pals for sustenance, but hey, if nature takes its course… Just remember, it’s what they would have wanted. You’re only honouring their sacrifice.

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9/10

Lesson nine: Make sure the storm actually exists

As seen in...
Take Shelter’ (2011)

The forecast
Disturbing. In Jeff Nichols’s bleak drama, Michael Shannon plays a man plagued by visions of an impending apocalypse: showers of oily rain, boiling black clouds and town-flattening tornadoes. Is he a prophet or a madman? Fearing for the safety of his family, crazy Mike spends their life savings on a new storm shelter. His hardworking wife isn’t best impressed…

What we learn
As any boy scout will tell you, always be prepared. But in this crazy modern world, with its tsunamis and terrorist attacks, how is a man to know exactly what to prepare for? That’s the question raised by Nichols’s thoughtful film, and the answer – thanks to a shock ending – seems to be: pretty much everything.

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10/10

Lesson ten: Wherever possible, avoid pirate ghosts

As seen in...
The Fog’ (1980)

The forecast
It’s a real pea-souper. Fog is the least destructive and yet perhaps the most unsettling of all extreme weather phenomena, and much of that irrational fear stems from John Carpenter’s classic coastal chiller. Structured as an old-timey ghost story, the film depicts a remote town besieged by a slow, crawling mist exactly a century after a notorious shipping accident.

What we learn
There’s no two ways about it: pirate ghosts are bad news. Call us controversial, but if some glowy-eyed, hook-handed spirit from the other side comes trying his luck round these parts, we’ll give him short shrift. We’re not entirely sure how useful this information will be to those currently enduring freezing polar vortices and massive coastal erosion, but hey, we at Time Out pride ourselves on speaking our minds.

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It’s been a winter of wild weather, with flooding across the UK and a polar vortex causing subzero temperatures across America, and if the climate scientists are right it’s only going to get worse. Luckily, there’s a place all of us can turn for guidance in these meteorologically troubled times: the movies. So whether you’re paddling to the shops in a kayak, freezing your arse off on a Chicago runway or just wondering where the sun went, our handy list of movie-sourced tips will see you right.

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