- Directors: Roger Donaldson
- Producers: Gale Anne Hurd, Joseph Singer
- Writers: Leslie Bohem
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
- Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Jeremy Foley, Grant Heslov
Set in the fictional town of Dante’s Peak, Washington, located in the northern Cascade Mountains, the film is somewhat based on the real-life eruptions of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991 and is noted to have put emphasis on trying to accurately depict a volcanic eruption. The type depicted in the film is a Plinian eruption.
The film begins with the volcanic eruption of an unnamed volcano in Colombia (the script says this is Galeras, and the eruption is presumably the 1993 eruption which killed several volcanologists) where volcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) attempts to evacuate with his fiancÃ©e Marianne. As they begin heading out of the town, large volcanic bombs begin to crash onto the small town, one of which penetrates the vehicle and kills Marianne.
Four years later, Harry is called in from vacation to investigate activity going on in the Northern Cascades region near the town of Dante’s Peak. The first indication of volcanic activity is depicted when two young backpackers from Los Angeles are shown skinny dipping in a hot spring; a few minutes later, a small amount of volcanic activity turns the hot spring sulfuric, boiling the couple alive. At Dante’s Peak, the town is receiving an award for being “The second most desirable place to live in the United States, population under 20,000” and celebrating its annual “Pioneer Days Festival”. Harry meets with the town’s mayor, Rachel Wando (Hamilton), who accompanies him with her two children, Graham (Foley) and Lauren (Smith), up to the mountain’s “high lake” (high altitude lake located near the summit) to check the acidity in the water. After checking the acidity and picking up the mayor’s ex-mother in law, Ruth (Hoffman), the five of them head to the town’s hot springs where they discover the bodies of two dead backpackers, seared by the volcanic activity under the hot springs. Just before discovering the bodies, Graham attempts to make a dive into the springs since the bodies were hidden by steam, but in the nick of time Harry catches him and Lauren screams, thus revealing the bodies. After evaluating the situation, Harry calls a town meeting to discuss the option of putting the town on alert. As this occurs, Dalton’s boss, Dr. Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan) shows up to evaluate the mountain and goes against Harry’s decision for putting the town on alert based on an economically devastating decision made in 1980 when he put the towns around Mammoth Mountain on alert without the mountain blowing. Despite feeling strongly opposed to the decision (and being asked to leave), Harry remains in the town to help Dreyfus and his USGS crew Greg, Terry, Nancy, and Stan (Heslov, Trutner, Field, and Ma) evaluate the possible eruption of the mountain. Initially, tests show no sign that the mountain will erupt, and after a week the crew begins to think about leaving the town. Over the same period, Harry forms a bond with the mayor and her children, turning romantic as the plot progresses. After the town’s water supply becomes sulfuric due to the acidity of the mountain breaching the town’s springs, Harry and Dreyfus then decide to put the town on alert and call for an evacuation. Rachel attempts to get her ex mother-in-law to come down but she refuses, preferring instead to stay at the cabin that she and her husband built higher up in the mountain.
After being rescued from the mine by a huge team, Harry meets the rest of his crew who tell him that Dreyfus didn’t make it and that “he got to see the show”. Rachel and her children are escorted out of the mine followed by applause from the rescue team for their survival. On board a helicopter, Graham asks Harry if he really meant what he said in the mine about taking the family fishing and Harry confirms it with the words, “Sure did.” He and Rachel clasp hands and kiss and Harry tells the helicopter pilot that they are ready to go. As the helicopter flies into the distance over the ruins of Dante’s Peak, the camera turns to the volcano, the tense theme music suggesting that it may erupt again at some point in the future, and that the town of Dante’s Peak would remain abandoned.