Sam Sheridan Gives Survival Tips for Characters in Disaster Movies

How do you prepare for the end of the world? In his terrific new book The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse, Sam Sheridan seeks to answer that question by acquiring survival skills from experts all over the world, from Olympic weight lifters to car thieves.

Today, Sheridan looks at several famous scenes from disaster films and tells us what the characters could have done to up their chances of survival in the face of catastrophe.


War of the Worlds

In Zombieland, the protagonist talks about “cardio” being a rule, but he’s not really talking about a long slow jog, he’s talking about sprinting. War of the Worlds has a great example of the need to be in shape to sprint. Here, Tom Cruise is sprinting for his life. So definitely, you need to be in shape to run sprints.

As the tripod rises up, the crowd is “milling,” standing around watching. Amanda Ripley writes wonderfully about this phenomenon in her book The Unthinkable. Who you “mill” with can have a huge effect on your survival.

As the tripod appears, it’s a good time to start thinking about cover. You could watch the tripod rise up from the corner of a building. Take a look around, and think If this goes bad, where do I go? Where am I sprinting to? But hey, I get it, you’re shocked. It’s an alien, this is a shocking event. I learned to do this when I was a firefighter working around helicopters. Helicopters are very dangerous and things can go wrong, so you would always want a plan—if the wind pushes the chopper this way, I’m diving behind those boulders.

Now the tripod starts shooting: OKAY time to go! Instead of just running straight down the street, Tom Cruise should definitely be looking to get off, get to the side, use cover. Cover doesn’t have to mean that it can block the lasers—it can just block the ability of the thing to see you. Eventually, Tom Cruise does just that. He finds cover, darting through a store. He hides behind a building and watches the tripod stroll past.


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Comments (1)

Love this. Very well written.

Posted by: Dave | Tuesday February 5, 2013 at 7:17 AM

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