Rorschach’s Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Movies

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)

MV5BMTQzMTUxNTMxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODg2ODU3._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMTU4NzMyNDk1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTEwMzU1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_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)

MV5BNzM2NDYwNjM3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDYxNzk5._V1_SX214_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)

MV5BMjA0NzA5NzgzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMzY2OTI5._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMTY4MDg0OTgyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTMxNzIzMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR9,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMTczOTA3MzY2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTYwNjE2MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMjE1NzI5OTA1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg1MDUyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMjEzNjg1NTg2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjY3MzQ5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_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)

MV5BMTkxNDA5MTM5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTYyNDE0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_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

MV5BMTcxMDUyODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTQzNDk4._V1_SX214_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?

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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30 Responses to Rorschach’s Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Movies

  1. monster1711 says:

    Children of Men is one of my favourite films. It is so underrated, it is actually kind of depressing not a lot of people know about it. No doubt Clive Owen’s best performance to date. Great list!

  2. Nick Powell says:

    Well then. I did not expect Reign of Fire. I love the post-apocalyptic sub-genre so I get aboard any of these lists. Solid choices, but also severely lacking. Seeing Children of Men at #2, however, makes up for it. I’d also throw on Delicatessen- great dark comedy.

    • r361n4 says:

      I’ve never even heard of it, but I’m always up for a good dark comedy. What else would you say is lacking here?

      • Nick Powell says:

        Well it depends on what you’re wanting. Some under-the-radar films- The Quiet Earth, On the Beach.. Others- Twelve Monkeys, Akira, and Dark City as well. There are plenty of films.. I could go on forever lol. I love this genre.

  3. Nice list Andy. I’ve still not seen Children of Men. I thought it sounded a bit daft but I’ve heard some really good things about it. Also, glad to see Wall-E on there, I love that film!

  4. Nice list. I’m a sucker for the apocalypse. But I think Dawn of the Dead is more MID-apocalyptic. 🙂

    • r361n4 says:

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I personally consider the apocalypse to be fully commenced once society, i.e. government and organizational structures, have broken down. Just curious, would you consider The Walking Dead to be mid-apocayptic as well?

      • I guess it’s a fine line. I think of post-apocalyptic as being everything is shut down, there’s no structure at all and there’s no hope of going back, and all that remains of the old world are crumbling structures. Dawn of the Dead starts with a news broadcast and all of the electricity is still working, nobody’s starving to death, etc. I think Walking Dead is more beyond that point so I’d consider it more post-apocalyptic but still pretty soon after its apocalypse.

  5. filmhipster says:

    Omega Man!!! Who doesn’t want to go through the Apocalypse with Charelton Heston?

  6. I agree with all of them, except Children of Men which I found extremely boring haha bring on the haters 😀

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, I can understand that criticism even if I don’t agree. It’s definitely a very subdued film, but it just worked for me

      • The concept is good but its not worth a full length film. Got bored and there’s a couple of scenes that make absolutely no sense. I’ll stop myself now 😀

    • Mr Rumsey says:

      And I thought I was the only person in the world who wasn’t all that keen on Children of Men!
      I can understand why people rate it so highly, and in fact I think it has a couple of excellent moments, but otherwise… nah it wasn’t all that.

      Nice list otherwise though 🙂

  7. Gene says:

    Great topic for a list! I like it, but is Wall-E really a post-apocalypse? The human race is still all intact afterall.

    • r361n4 says:

      I’d say it definitely counts, after all you could say that the human race is technically still intact in Mad Max, Children of Men, Reign of Fire, and The Matrix, etc. My general rule is that if society as we know it has collapsed or if the world is no longer habitable, it counts as an apocalyptic event

  8. Wha-at? No Waterworld? Shame on you sir. For SHAME!

    I kid, obviously. Fun list. Happy to see Children of Men on there.

  9. Great picks! Love post-apocalyptic movies and I’m so glad you included Children of Men, which I adore. Really liked The Road, as well.

  10. sati says:

    Great list! for me the most horrifying view of post apocalyptic world was The Road. Very difficult to watch. Glad to see Children of Men here, such a clever idea and well executed too.

    • r361n4 says:

      I was debating about including the road, I loved the book and the movie was well done but it was even a bit too dreary for me (coming from someone who put children of men as his #2 choice

  11. Great post! I agree that I am Legend isn’t high art, but it’s solid entertainment. But so sad. I’m glad to see Wall-E and The Matrix here.

  12. Pingback: Iron Man 3, 100% & Shitfest 2013 | filmhipster

  13. Pingback: Iron Man 3, 100% & Shitfest 2013 | filmhipster

  14. The Vern says:

    Very cool list. I’m glad to see you include Escape From New York and Wall E. I wish Pixar would go back to making more original movies like that one.

    • r361n4 says:

      Trust me, so do I. Luckily I’ve seen Monsters University and it’s a return to form for Pixar, but it’s still not as great as it could’ve been with an original premise

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