United States Geological Survey volcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton and his partner, Marianne, attempt to escape an eruption in Colombia. A piece of debris pierces through the roof of Harry's truck, killing Marianne.
Four years later, Harry is assigned by his superior, Dr. Paul Dreyfus, to investigate seismic activity near Dante's Peak, Washington, a town that borders a dormant stratovolcano. Harry arrives at the town, where he meets the mayor, Rachel Wando, and her children, Graham and Lauren.
Rachel offers to take Harry with them as they see her former mother-in-law, Ruth, who lives near a lake at the base of the volcano. While exploring, they find dead trees, dead squirrels, and even two people boiled to death by a hot spring. Harry tries to convince Rachel and the executives to prepare the town for a possible disaster, while he is discussing this, Paul arrives with his team (who were at the local motel) and explains that years ago, he feared that Mammoth Mountain was going to erupt and warned a few towns around it, however it didn't erupt. But the rumor had been leaked out to the public and caused tourists to stay away. Which nearly resulted in a town becoming bankrupt. He explains that they will be there to see if the volcano really is going to erupt. But the signs of an eruption could also be a false alarm. Harry later falls into a budding romance with Rachel. He warns her that if the volcano does erupt violently, the eruption would reach the town within a minute. A few days later, Harry, and a geologist, Terry, go up the mountain, and send a robot invented by Paul's team known as "Spiderlegs" down into the crater to examine the crater of the volcano, but it gets stuck, so Terry goes down into the crater to try and fix it. As he does this, an earthquake shakes the mountain, causing an an avalanche that buries Terry alive. Harry then goes into the crater to save him and sees that he is trapped, and suffering a broken leg; the team, which was watching the event happen through the robot's camera, sends a helicopter up to rescue them. Harry attaches himself and Terry to the Helicopter and the two are lifted out of the crater. They safely return to town, as Terry is taken to the hospital. Harry argues with Paul, saying that the earthquake was Harmonic, and to put the town on alert but Paul dismisses it. Claiming that the Earthquake was merely tectonic. And then tells Harry that unless he has proof before they leave in a few days, that he should calm down. He also tries to discuss the threat with his colleagues but they also don't believe him. After another week with no activity, they suggest that the worse is over and prepare to leave the following morning.
During the night, Harry and the USGS team are preparing to leave, but while at Rachel's home, he discovers that the local water has become contaminated. Harry and Rachel drive up to the town's water supply to find that it is contaminated with sulfur dioxide. Harry tells Rachel that Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines had shown the same signs before it erupted. They then drive back to the town, and Harry shows the contaminated water to Paul. They realize that it is only a matter of time before an eruption occurs and tell Rachel, who requests that the town should gather at the high school gymnasium for a meeting. As they start to prepare the town for an orderly evacuation, the volcano suddenly erupts, sending everyone into a panicking frenzy. Paul contacts the National Guard for help.
Harry and Rachel go to the house and find out that Lauren and Graham have gone up to the mountain to get Ruth. They drive through the river, as the bridge leading out of the town was too crowded, while also avoiding a helicopter crash after the ash stalls it. As they race towards the lodge, they are hit by a landslide that blocks the road behind them. They arrive to see the three. Ruth suggests that they leave but Rachel tells her that they can't, as the way back is gone. Just as they pack up some belongings, a lava flow engulfs her cabin, and destroys the cars; the five attempt to retreat by crossing a lake on a motorboat. Halfway across, they notice that all the fish in the lake are dead. Harry notices steam rising from the boat and realizes that the lake has become acidic due to sulfur-rich gases from the volcanic activity, destroying the motor and eating away at the boat. Ruth jumps into the acidic water and pulls the boat to the shore; she later dies from chemical burns. Meanwhile, the heat from the volcano has melted the snow and glaciers on it. Now becoming a lahar, it over tops a nearby dam and causes it to collapse. The flood races down the river towards the town. Elsewhere, the family takes a truck from a ranger's station and start driving back to the town.
Meanwhile, the National Guard has arrived and volunteers to help the USGS team evacuate, but as they cross the bridge, the lahar strikes, causing the bridge to loosen up. Paul, still on the bridge in a van, is thrown in the river to his death.
Harry, Rachel, and the kids are stopped when their vehicle gets stuck in a crusted lava field. With more lava beginning to flow down the hill, Harry finally manages to get the truck free. They notice Ruth's dog, Roughy, on a rock ledge in front of them; they successfully catch her and drive away as the lava flows over the road behind them. They make it back to the deserted town, where Harry runs inside to the motel to retrieve a distress radiobeacon. And finds out from a laptop monitoring volcano that it is due for a final catastrophic eruption. He collects a NASA tracking beacon and speeds towards the entrance to an abandoned mine, where Graham was caught using it as a clubhouse before. Moments later, the volcano violently and laterally explodes. A pyroclastic flow descends, destroying everything in its path. Harry manages to drive into the mine as the cloud follows them. Outside of town, the USGS team believe Harry to be dead as they watch the eruption from afar.
Harry, Rachel, and the children explore the mine, but Harry realizes that he forgot the beacon in the truck. When he tries to go back and get it, the mine collapses, causing a rock to break his arm. He then gets to the truck and gets inside but another collapse nearly crushes the truck, and traps him inside the truck. However, he still manages to activate the beacon.
Later, Terry notices a beeping light on a monitor, realizing that the distress beacon is activated, and that Harry is still alive. The USGS dispatches search and rescue teams. Harry and the Wandos are freed from the mine and flown out by a helicopter. The movie ends, showing the obliterated town before turning to the foreboding remains of the volcano, now reduced to a menacing caldera, bearing an eerie resemblance to Mount St. Helens. Ominous music builds up, hinting that it will erupt again in the unknown future.Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Harry Dalton
Linda Hamilton as Mayor Rachel Wando
Charles Hallahan as Dr. Paul Joseph "Paul" Dreyfus
Jamie Renée Smith as Lauren Wando
Jeremy Foley as Graham Wando
Elizabeth Hoffman as Grandma Ruthleen "Ruth"
Grant Heslov as Gregory "Greg"
Arabella Field as Nancy
Tzi Ma as Stanley "Stan"
Bill Bolender as Sheriff Turner
Peter Jason as Norman Gates
Jeffrey L. Ward as Jack Collins
Kirk Trutner as Terry Furlong
Brian Reddy as Lester "Les" Worrell
Susie Spear as Karen Narlington
Walker Brandt as Marianne
Principal Photography began on May 6, 1996. The film was shot on location in Wallace, Idaho, with a large hill just southeast of the town digitally altered to look like a volcano. Many scenes involving townspeople, including the initial award ceremony, the pioneer days festival, and the gymnasium scene were shot using the actual citizens of Wallace as extras. Many of the disaster evacuation scenes that did not involve stunts and other dangerous moments also featured citizens of Wallace; dangerous stunts were filmed using Hollywood extras. Mount St. Helens also makes an appearance at the very end of the movie; during the start of the closing credit crawl, the scene shows an image of a destroyed Dante's Peak community with the camera shot moving out to show a wider scene of disaster, and then showing what remains of the volcano itself. The volcano that remains is actually an image of Mount St. Helens taken from news footage just after the May 18, 1980, eruption.
Exteriors shots of the Point Dume Post Office, 29160 Heathercliff Rd, Malibu, California were used as the USGS's David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. The facility was named in honor of David A. Johnston, a young scientist who had precisely predicted the volatility of the May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens eruption and perished during the event.
A brief scene was actually shot inside the crater of Washington State's Mount St. Helens. It is the scene where a scientist gets caught in a rock slide and breaks his leg while climbing down inside the crater to repair a malfunctioning piece of scientific equipment. The giveaway of this shot is a brief appearance by Mount Adams, a dormant 12,776-foot (3,894 m)-high peak 35 miles (56 km) east of Mount St. Helens, above the crater rim as the view focuses on the scientists. The scene was actually filmed on the tarmac of Van Nuys Airport while the Mount Adams image was green screened. Production was completed on August 31, 1996.
Extensive special effects surrounding certain aspects of the film, such as the lava and pyroclastic flows, were created by Digital Domain, Banned from the Ranch Entertainment and CIS Hollywood. The computer-generated imagery was mostly coordinated and supervised by Patrick McClung, Roy Arbogast, Lori J. Nelson, Richard Stutsman and Dean Miller. Although the film uses considerable amounts of CGI, the volcanic ash in the film was created using cellulose insulation manufactured by Regal Industries in Crothersville, Indiana. Between visuals, miniatures, and animation, over 300 technicians were directly involved in the production aspects of the special effects. Despite the complexity of its visual effects, Dante's Peak was not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year, as it faced stiff competition from Titanic, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers.Agua Dulce, California, US
Baker Hot Springs, Mount Baker National Forest, Washington, US
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, US (establishing shots)
Wallace, Idaho, US (town exteriors)
The original score was co-composed by John Frizzell and James Newton Howard. Howard wrote the main theme (heard during the opening titles) and a number of cues, while Frizzell wrote the bulk of the score.
30 minutes of the score was released by Varese Sarabande; the short album length being due to high orchestra fees at the time of release. An expanded bootleg exists which contains almost the entire score.
The contents of the CD release can also be found on the region 1 DVD, and Blu-ray on an alternate audio track during the 'Creating a Volcano' documentary.
The "Main Titles" cue is also featured on Varese's "The Towering Inferno and Other Disaster Classics" compilation album.
The film was released on February 7, 1997 in 2,657 theatres. It debuted at #2 at the box office behind the special edition re-release of Star Wars with $18 million in its opening weekend. After 8 weeks in theatres, it went on to gross $67.1 million in the U.S. and $111.0 million overseas, it went on to earn $178 million worldwide, making it a box office success.
Despite having wider financial success and being slightly more scientifically accurate than Volcano, Dante's Peak received negative reviews compared to its rival: Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 27% rating based on 26 reviews, compared to a 44% rating from 39 reviews, for Volcano.