In honor of Oblivion‘s release this weekend, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the sub-genre of Post-Apocalyptic movies. We humans seem to have an undying fascination with our own demise, and over the last fifty years or so of film making we’ve proven just how imaginative we are when it comes to how that demise might occur. The following list contains my ten favorite films that take place after the downfall of society as we know it.
There are a few things to note here. One, as usual I am only pulling my choices from movies that I have actually seen, so the absence of a few popular entries like 12 Monkeys is not a judgment of quality so much as it is an observance of my own ability to not see every movie ever made. Also, these are all films that deal with the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, not necessarily with the apocalyptic event itself. In other words, movies like, say, anything directed by Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) would not qualify even if they weren’t massive piles of CGI-laden crap.
10. Reign of Fire (2002)
There are plenty of reasons why you might call Reign of Fire a terrible movie, but none of those matter when they’re compared with the reason I include it on my list; Motherf*cking Dragons. Of all the ways the world might end, be it Zombie Apocalypse, massive disease outbreak, Nuclear Holocaust, or what have you, nothing even comes close to the level of Nerdvana that is “Death by Dragon Attack”. Combine that premise with a surprisingly decent cast (even if they are wasted on a mediocre script and an overly serious tone) and you end up with one of the greatest big-budget B-Movies of all time.
9. I Am Legend (2007)
You can talk all day about how poorly done the CGI Zombie/Vampire characters are or how much you do or don’t like Will Smith, but at the end of the day what really makes I Am Legend stand out is how it sets the standard for how to not only survive in a post-apocalyptic world, but survive in style. I mean, it’s always easy to think about the dangers of starvation and roving bands of raiders, but it’s just so much more fun to focus on driving a gorgeous sports car through New York City at 100 miles per hour, or working on your golf swing off of the deck of an aircraft carrier. Not only that, but you get to do all of this with your trusty canine companion at your side (Spoiler alert, prepare to have this aspect of the film turn on you in an emotional-punch-to-the-groin sort of way). It’s not high art, but it’s still solid entertainment.
8. 28 Days Later (2002)
Despite the issues many have with the concept of “Running Zombies”, there are few that will not admit to being scared sh*tless by this movie. Proving once again that Danny Boyle is a true directorial shape-shifter in terms of his genre preference, 28 Days Later is one of the most frantically terrifying films I’ve ever seen. As for the running Zombies complaint, I would like to point out that technically these are not Zombies so much as they are Rabid Humans. In any case, what really sets the film apart from the pack is how well it does in keeping both feet on the ground when it comes to realistic mechanics and plot developments as logical as they are brutal. Next time you’re in the mood to pull an all-nighter for whatever reason, you will find that this functions just as well as several cups of coffee in its ability to prevent you from being able to sleep.
7. Escape From New York (1981)
When it comes to the end of the world, few decades can measure up to the perfect mix of cheesiness and awesomeness that the 80’s bring to the table. Sure, the budgets were low and the fashion sense was questionable, but Escape From New York proves that the only personal accessories that really matter are Eye-Patches and Mac-10’s. As long as those two are present, Snake Plissken could wear a bonnet and a feather boa and still be a certified boss. Pepper in a straightforward plot (Save the president and stay alive for the sequel) and a pretty damn cool premise and you’re left with one of the most deserving cult classics of all time.
6. Planet of the Apes (1968)
If you find yourself in a global catastrophe and you’re curious as to where the tipping point is between “Thing’s aren’t looking so great” and “The Apocalypse has come”, here’s a great little litmus test; is the Statue of Liberty still standing? If so, you’re in the clear. If not, promptly drop to your knees, pound the ground and shout “You Maniacs, You Blew it up! Damn you, God Damn you all to hell!!!!” In any case, even if the world isn’t ending you can go ahead and do that anyway wherever you may be if you’re looking for a conversation starter. It’s movies like Planet of the Apes that remind us of the downside of ending the Cold War; Sci-Fi now has to start making up ways for the world to end that just don’t stick like they used to (I’m looking at you, The Day The Earth Stood Still remake). If you are looking for a great way to re-live the glory days of our people’s self-destructive ambitions go ahead and pop in a DVD of this one and enjoy.
5. Wall-E (2008)
I could write pages and pages about why my undying love for Pre-Disney Pixar, but I’ll go ahead and let this little movie speak for me. There aren’t many movies that can go a whole 40 minutes without a single word being spoken while still keeping the audience firmly glued to their seats. Wall-E is filled with the kind of innocent sweetness that requires no words whatsoever, the kind of innocent sweetness that gives Pixar the sort of heart that imitators like Dreamworks and Blue Sky Animation will never have. If you were to look at Wall-E on paper, especially the post-apocalyptic elements that qualify it for this list, you might wonder how it ever got made in the first place. When everything comes together, it’s truly amazing how sincere a love story between two robotic characters can be.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I have my own issues with this film (The Undead aren’t that scary and there’s a huge amount of imbalance between the soundtrack and the movie itself, among others) but it’s hard to beat a Zombie Apocalypse when it comes to building a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The setting of an overrun shopping mall is also nothing short of brilliant, even if the locale itself would be much less than optimal in terms defensibility. Then again, who would want to watch a bunch of people be safe in a secure underground bunker for 2 hours when the alternative is continuously battling undead and roving bands of raiders from behind the counter of a Jamba Juice. As a side note I did love the recognition that rednecks would be pretty much set if the walking dead were to ever rise up and take over the world.
3. The Matrix (1999)
While I’m not nearly as hateful of the sequels as many people are, I still don’t harbor a single doubt that the first film is reigns supreme by a long shot. The world the the Wachowski brothers created In the Matrix is one of the most creatively robust premises of all time. Sure, there are a few logical fallacies (like the fact that farming humans couldn’t possibly have been the most efficient way for the machines to get energy), but as long as you suspend disbelief in all of the right places, all you have to do is sit back and let your perceptions of reality be assaulted until you start to wonder yourself whether or not there really is a spoon. Pepper in some great martial arts and one of the biggest badass characters of all time (talking about Morphius, not Neo, just to be clear) and what you end up with is one of the best science fiction films of the past 20 years.
2. Children of Men (2006)
The sheer amount of people declaring this one of “The Most Underrated Sci-Fi movies of all time” sort of undermines the meaning of the word “Underrated”. Whatever word you go with, I think we can all agree that Children of Men is one of the best visions of the end of the world that Hollywood has ever given us. Equal parts bleak and hopeful, what really sets the film aside from the other movies in this category is that it is the perfect embodiment of the T.S. Eliot quote “This is the way the world ends; not with a band, but with a whimper”. Because of this “slow burn” approach to the end of days, some might disagree with my placement of this film above entries like Planet of the Apes or Dawn of the Dead, but I when it comes to the film’s emotional impact on me as a viewer there is no question of which one comes out on top.
1. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
After the somber nature of my #2 pick, maybe this choice might come as a bit of a surprise. To that I would respond that you will be hard pressed to find a cinefile who only likes one kid of movie, and I am no exception. Sometimes I like a movie with a more serious tone, but most of the time I would much more gladly watch something with a good amount of entertainment value and that’s something that Mad Max 2 is in no short supply of. It’s a bit sad to watch the movie and then think of what Mel Gibson has become in recent years, but so long as you can put his racist comments and drooping features out of your mind it’s easy to see why he was something of a Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum in his younger days. Australian accents aside, the barren Hellscape of The Road Warrior in all of its gasoline-worshipping glory is almost cool enough to make up for the whole “ravaged by raping, pillaging raiders” thing. Of course, there’s also no beating that ending car chase…
Well, there you have them, my 10 favorite movies featuring the aftermath of the end of days. What are some of yours?