So we thought about starting off the New Year with a positive and light-hearted post, but with the global pandemic reaching new depths and the outbreak of despicable violence at the heart of our country, it’s hard to be all fun and jolly. The attack on the US Capitol was stunning and sickening to watch play out in all its visceral ugliness on live television. It is something right out of an “end of days” montage that would precede a movie or TV show about an apocalyptic storyline. So we thought we’d compile a list of our top 10 apocalypse-themed movies and TV shows. We’ve touched on a few earth-ravaged visions in prior posts, going all the way back to Dark Visions of the Future and Robot Uprising, if you want to check those out, but here are some more to consider.
And here I was hoping 2021 was going to be a fresh start. I have to think it will get better, eventually, but the Capitol attack was something unfathomably sickening and disgusting to see happen in my own country. For our international readers, I can only imagine how unsettling those images must have been. I realize not everyone around the world loves the USA, but seeing a government-inspired uprising in a country with an enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons has to be scary. I do think we will be able to keep this from turning worse, but between the escalating pandemic deaths and the danger of extremism, these are dark days indeed for all of us. Nuclear annihilation is a common theme in movies/TV as a way we do ourselves in, but as my list reflects, there are certainly other ways humans experience catastrophic destruction.
- Snowpiercer [TNT TV series](2020 – ) I recently finished this series on HBO Max. Mankind’s demise comes from a botched response to global warming. Better than the film and a timely cautionary tale about the danger of class warfare.
- Dr. Strangelove…(1964) – Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant dark comedy centering on imagined war-room discussions and the crew of a nuclear bomber, leading to a nuclear strike. Peter Sellers is brilliant in three roles, especially as the deranged title character. The plot also features a Russian “doomsday device” that would unleash radiation that would encircle the globe in the event of a nuclear attack against the country. M.A.Dness indeed.
- The Road (2009) – The book was much better, but you can’t get much grimmer than the desperation of wandering a devastated landscape trying to find any shred of nutritious food while dodging gangs of cannibals.
- 12 Monkeys (1995) – A virus wipes out most humanity, so Bruce Willis is sent back in time to try to prevent the outbreak. Terry Gilliam’s twisty storyline hops different time periods in a struggle against the inevitable. The going-back-in-time to save the world from destruction is a sub-genre all its own
- Zombieland (2009) – Finally an outright comedy about the end of the human race! This is a film I can drop into and watch anytime when it’s on cable. One of the best of the “zombie apocalypse” genre.
- Melancholia (2011) – The title refers to the name of a rogue planet that breaches our solar system and keeps drifting closer to Earth. I struggled at times with director Lars Von Trier’s trademark weirdness in this film, but the stunning ending is viscerally disturbing and haunting. I had trouble sleeping after.
- The 100 (2014 – 2020) – This show features not one, not two, but three (!) mass extinction events on Earth over the course of its 7 seasons. I literally just finished this series days ago, and although it did not stick the landing, reminiscent of Lost’s insipid ending, I enjoyed the ride, especially the first four seasons.
- The Omega Man (1971) – Biological warfare is the demise of the human race in this one. I did not realize how much Charlton Heston loved the apocalypse film (see below and also Soylent Green).
- X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014) – The world is almost always on the brink in superhero films these days (Avengers, Justice League, etc.), but in this one the old and young versions of the main characters have to work across time to prevent the imminent end-of-the-world. You’d think the follow-up, X-Men: Apocalypse would be the one for our list, but it was god-awful – one of the worst films I’ve seen in recent years.
- Raised By Wolves (2020) – This was one of HBO Max’s first original series to air, and producer/director Ridley Scott’s dystopian visuals are on full display in the first two episodes I’ve watched. Mankind’s end comes at the hands of a religious war between atheists and some religious conglomerate called The Mithraic. I am definitely intrigued to see if the lead characters, both androids, tasked with raising children on an alien planet, will end up as mankind’s saviors or destroyers.
DJ: I have been wanting to give that Ridley Scott series a try but had heard mixed reviews. It sounds cool so I probably will check it out. 12 Monkeys is one of my favorite films and probably one of Bruce Willis’ best and also a TV Series. Von Trier has always scared me in regards to watching his films but Melancholia is often available to stream so who knows? It’s funny I loved reading The Road but never saw the movie, not sure why, it is pretty grim though. I’m not sure I get Dr. Strangelove even though I love Kubrick. Zombieland was pretty good, anyone see the sequel? Is it worth it?
It has been a scary few weeks not knowing if an unstable man would unleash his goons on the rest of the United States or maybe even hit the button. Although not out of the woods completely, I sincerely hope we are not heading for any of the fates in these 20 films any time soon. Overall I like “End of World” films, sometimes even the goofy ones, see The Seventh Sign with Demi Moore, but I have never been a big Zombie guy. I have never seen any George Romero “Dead” films but I have seen a few others I like. Unfortunately, I saw World War Z too. The 80s seemed like a treasure trove of walking the world through a landscape of a past Earth or even a few years ago with the utter travesty that was Book of Eli. But enough of the bad ones let’s take a look at the good and hope the Earth stays inhabitable for many years to come.
- Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012) – Maybe my favorite on this list, it’s sweet and funny, and depressing all at the same time. Carell and Knightly are great in it and surprisingly it has a great soundtrack. This film flies under the radar and it should not.
- Planet of the Apes (1968) – The ultimate end of humanity film, that spawned sequels, bad remakes, good remakes, cartoons, toys, is still my favorite. The newest updates are pretty good too but I will always have a soft spot for the original.
- Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – My favorite Mad Max film. Beautiful cinematography. I was actually surprised how much I liked this film. It was bad ass and really one of the better action films we had seen in a long time that actually had some plot.
- The Day After (1983) – The most realistic view of the end of the world, shocked me to my core as a kid. No Zombies, no aliens, just death and survival. Supposedly this film stunned President Reagan so much he started to tamp down the nuclear arms race.
- Wall-E (2008) – One of Disney’s animated masterpieces about a tiny bot that survives the end of civilization. Very little dialogue, and it plays like a silent film for most of it.
- Steel Dawn (1987) – Patrick Swayze plays Nomad, a swordsman wandering the desert after WWIII. He is looking for revenge on his enemy when he comes across a village who needs his help. The worst film on this list, but it’s a cult classic. As a kid I thought it was awesome.
- The Night Eats the World (2018) – Newer film from French cinema although with English-speaking actors. Man wakes up from a party and the world is gone as he knew it. How he tries to survive in the new world is the film. Stuck in an apartment building, some of the quiet moments are the best.
- Shaun of the Dead (2004) – My only true comedy on the list. The boys from Spaced (Director – Edgar Wright, Actors – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) make their first film after that Brit-com ended. They use a lot of Spaced’s humor as they navigate the Zombie apocalypse, while Pegg still works on his relationship with his ex.
- Contagion (2011) – A very scary film about a pandemic. Compare this to the goofy “action” film Outbreak. This film couldn’t be more real today, and we are still not through it. I watched this at the very beginning of the pandemic and it left me pretty shaky.
- The Walking Dead (2010-present) – My favorite anything about Zombies. I loved this TV show when it appeared in 2010, these days I wish it would end mercifully. Most of the original characters are gone and the story just spins. Also speaking of spins, stop creating spinoffs. It has run it’s course but the first few season’s are gold.
MG: Great pick to start off your list. I forgot about Seeking A Friend… and you are right that it doesn’t get enough attention for both Carrell and Knightley’s performances. Wall-E is an animation masterpiece, at least up until the humans appear (spoiler alert). I don’t recall ever hearing of Steel Dawn, but it sounds like vintage 80s and who wouldn’t love some apocalyptic Swayze? Shaun of the Dead is glaring hole in my movie watching history, which I need to remedy. Contagion was a scary pandemic take. I have wished over the years they would do a definitive take on the great nonfiction book “The Hot Zone” – which is another pandemic-themed one that will chill you to the bone. I also loved Walking Dead for a number of years, but now the title feels like a description of the show’s narrative itself.