It seems like every six months or so some nutjob somewhere starts predicting that the world is going to end. While none of those predictions have come true to destroy the earth just once, Hollywood has portrayed our planet’s ultimate demise hundreds of times. Most of these movies depicting the apocalypse as it is happening are pretty uninteresting – I submit Armageddon, Deep Impact, or every Roland Emmerich movie that isn’t Independence Day as exhibits A-Z.
Where Tinseltown has found more success is in showing how mankind deals with everything after the world has been blown/invaded/zombified to kingdom come. Here are five post-apocalyptic movies and what they teach us about living in the end of days.
28 Days Later
Danny Boyle directed this thriller about a London whose population has been decimated by a virus that causes uncontrollable, animalistic rage in those it infects. Cillian Murphy’s Jim wakes up from a coma to find that the world he knew a month before has completely changed. He then has to join forces with a small group of fellow survivors to try to get out of the infected city and hope that help will come.
28 Days Later breathed new life (so to speak) into what had become a tired and stale zombie sub-genre of horror films. It succeeded where others had failed by turning what audiences were used to seeing on its head, making the slow-moving zombies of the past into frighteningly fast, blood-thirsty creatures that have surely been nightmare fodder at least once for everyone who’s seen the movie. Equally terrifying is what Murphy’s character and his group become capable of as they learn what they need to do to survive in this new, dangerous world.
What it teaches us: If you’re in a coma when the world ends, STAY IN THE COMA. You don’t want to know what’s happening out there.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
There’s probably no movie better associated with the phrase “post-apocalyptic desert wasteland” than Mad Max. While the first movie in the Road Warrior trilogy is enjoyable in its own right, number two is really where the wasteland environment becomes front and center. The vast, empty spaces of the Australian outback serve as an appropriately desolate backdrop for all the armored cars and bandits that make the end of the world so much fun to watch.
This is a future where you’d best get used to a wardrobe that is a cross between steampunk and professional wrestling costume, and the only thing remaining that still resembles the life you once knew is that people still know how to drive. If you like your end-times lifestyle with heaping helpings of car chases and black leather (my god how do they stand the heat??), then Road Warrior is where it’s at.
What it teaches us: Gas is the currency of the future, so sell all your worldly possessions and start saving up for that petroleum refinery! Also, even with all his insane bigotry, you’re gonna want Mel Gibson to help you supe up your car when it comes time for the road wars.
Children of Men
This is very much an atypical end of the world movie, but it’s definitely my favorite. In Children of Men, mankind faces its eventual extinction due not to an outside force like nature or aliens destroying the physical world we live in, but to our own biology. It’s established from the get-go that for reasons unknown, human beings have lost the ability to reproduce and, therefore, are an endangered species.
Needless to say, this causes significant unrest that brings much of civilized society to the breaking point. The great thing about Children of Men is that, unlike a giant meteor shower, its end-of-the-world device is much more insidious in that it is our own nature that betrays us. Director Alfonso Cuaron and star Clive Owen deserve a lot of credit for creating a future that is both foreign and terrifyingly familiar.
What it teaches us: Children are the future! You know, until we can’t make ‘em anymore. Then we’re screwed.
In the last decade or so (and thanks in part to the first movie on this list) mainstream pop culture has become saturated with zombies. Resident Evil (both the video games and the movie franchise), The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead and more all stuck with the tropes that make zombie films fun to watch, but few of them brought anything new to the table. Zombieland finds its stride as a self-aware zombie movie full of the requisite blood, gore, and undead kills and injects the proceedings with loads of clever humor thanks to a sharp script and some inspired casting.
Woody Harrelson has never been funnier, and Jesse Eisenberg’s deadpan voiceovers outlining the rules his character Tallahassee follows to survive – i.e. “Double-tap” and “Cardio” – provide a wonderful framework for this surprise hit.
What it teaches us: If you do anything before the end of the world, make sure you have stocked up on Twinkies. They might be hard to find when the you-know-what hits the fan.
This adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man and his son trying to survive in a post-nuclear United States is as dark and mostly hopeless as the source material, so if you’re looking for an uplifting tale of overcoming adversity, this ain’t it. What it is is an intense and touching character study about the lengths Viggo Mortensen’s Man (the two main characters are unnamed) will go to protect his son and prepare him for this dangerous landscape.
Unlike most of the other movies on this list, The Road has very few moments where the characters are in immediate danger, but that doesn’t take anything away from the sense of impending doom that follows them on their journey to the coast and, they hope, safe ground. Unfortunately, the Cormac McCarthy fans out there know things are not going to be that easy.
What it teaches us: Make sure your grocery cart is at full capacity at all times, and never go into dank cellars if you can help it (even more true in the post-apocalypse than it is now).