12 Best Apocalyptic Films

By @anandawrites
12 Best Apocalyptic Films

Hollywood has long loved to peer into its crystal ball and imagine the many ways humanity may meet its end. Turns out grand scale destruction tends to be surprisingly cinematic, and morbidly entertaining. So in honor of the release of Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah, that most epic of apocalyptic tales and arguably the first due to its biblical origins, the Way Too Indie staff have compiled a list of our top 13 films depicting the end of the world as we know it.

12 Best Apocalyptic Films

#12 – Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead movie

When the end of the world comes in the form of a zombie apocalypse, leave it to the Brits to take it in stride and not make a fuss. Edgar Wright may not be the first to have noticed the absolute hilarity inherent in slow, dead people roaming the streets, but he certainly executes it best. Best friends and serial slackers Shaun and Ed find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Together they form a plan to win back Shaun’s put-out girlfriend, save his parents, and make their way to the Winchester, the neighborhood pub that seems about as good a place as any to ride out the end of the world. What makes this film a must-see is it’s ability to maintain placeholders on both comedy and horror “Best Of” lists, with both serious laughs and serious scares in abundance. [Ananda]

#11 – La Jetée

La Jetée movie

The pinnacle achievement of Chris Marker’s career, La Jetée (The Pier) glimpses a post-WWIII Paris in which we follow a man subjected to time travel experiments by underground mad doctors. After a harrowing testing period, he’s sent into the past where he meets the woman of his dreams. When the experiment concludes he’s given the opportunity to visit a new world by a future race of beings, but he passes it up to be with the woman. The film’s gut-wrenching ending haunts me to this day. Told entirely in still black and white photos (save for one revelatory sequence), the sci-fi experiment still stands as an unequaled landmark in the history of film. [Bernard]

#10 – Logan’s Run

Logan's Run movie

Admittedly the line between apocalyptic and dystopian can get a bit blurry. And a world where what’s left of humanity are all beautiful young people scantily clad in bright colors and living pleasure-filled lives, including sex on-demand and orgy clubs, doesn’t sound half bad. So long as living past 30 isn’t a priority. This 1976 sci-fi film stars Michael York as Logan 5, a Sandman tasked with catching Runners, people who try to escape their fate of Carrousel, the ritual that involves allowing oneself to be vaporized at the age of 30 in the hope of Renewal. Logan 5 finds a strange symbol on a runner and begins asking questions of the city computer. He finds out that outside the city is a place called Sanctuary and he is asked to find Sanctuary and destroy it. Adding to his urgency, the hand crystal tracking his age begins blinking red, meaning his time has run up. So he and his new friend Jessica 6 decide to run, making the hunter the hunted. The score, with its digital bee-boo-bops, sounds like a computer synth gone haywire, and the miniature scale models of the city hardly seem worthy of the Visual Effects Oscar the film won, but it’s exactly those dated details that make Logan’s Run a fun look at the future of the past. [Ananda]

#9 – A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence movie

What could be considered a modern-day tale of Pinocchio, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence centers on a futuristic robot that yearns to become a real boy so that his human caretaker (his mother) will love him again. Surrounding the film is an apocalypse caused by melting polar ice caps that flood major cities. While the film is a bit overlong and has a conclusion that will divide audiences, Artificial Intelligence creates an audacious fantasy world that only a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Spielberg could produce. This dazzling visual masterpiece includes such a deeply emotional story that you won’t leave with dry eyes. [Dustin]

#8 – The Stand

The Stand movie

I’ll be the first to say I’m beyond excited this Stephen King tome is getting a remake soon (even if Ben Affleck is no longer helming, sigh). The mini-series, which originally aired on ABC in 1994, just didn’t have the budget to do the epic tale much justice. But the elements are all there, which is why this movie can still hold its own in the realm of the apocalyptic film. The near-end of the world comes in the form of a deadly disease accidentally released by the military, offing 99% of the population. Those who are immune begin to have visions calling them to either Denver to join a mysterious old woman named Mother Abigail, or to Las Vegas to join the sinister antichrist Randall Flagg. So they trek, finding one another as they go. It’s his characters that make Stephen King’s stories so intriguing and because of it’s 6 hour length, The Stand is able to foster quite a few of them. The added element of the supernatural takes this apocalyptic tale beyond simple survival into epic good vs. evil warfare. [Ananda]

#7 – This is the End

The Stand movie

At first glance, this self-aware film featuring celebrities playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, partying at James Franco’s place before a giant sinkhole starts to swallow people, seems more like a guilty pleasure inclusion on the list. But This is the End is completely worth mentioning here because the film hits all the intended comedic notes due to never taking itself too seriously. This is the End features an ending that will make you laugh until your sides hurt, resulting in one of the funniest takes to date on an apocalyptic story. [Dustin]

#6 – Melancholia

Melancholia movie

Leave it to Lars Von Trier to look at the end of the world and feel relief. Split into two parts, Melancholia begins with a wedding that ends up being a small-scale version of what’s to come. Justine (Kirsten Dunst, in her best performance to date) is the bride, and her intense depression during the ceremony leads her down a self-destructive path. At this point the titular planet (which eventually smashes into Earth, as seen in the jaw-dropping prologue and finale) is a small blue dot in the sky. In the second half, when the planet’s collision is mere days away, Justine’s now crippling depression is cured. In fact it’s her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), seen in the first half as level-headed and happy with her life, who becomes overcome with grief as she faces the end of everything. Melancholia is Von Trier at his best, accurately showing the devastating effects of depression while focusing on some truly fascinating ideas. It’s hard to think of another film that makes the apocalypse look this beautiful. [CJ]

#5 – 28 Days Later

28 Days Later movie

Never standing still, Danny Boyle is a filmmaker constantly on the move, exploring different genres with each film in his catalogue. 28 Days Later is Boyle at his most vicious. Starring Cillian Murphy in a great performance, the horror-thriller journey movie is in an England overrun with zombies (they’re technically not zombies, but come on now…) on steroids: they’re capable of sprinting, making the film more intensely terrifying than creepy. Murphy’s odyssey across dilapidated, empty city streets and blood-splattered fields gets startlingly twisted and upsetting (especially in the film’s finale, where Boyle ratchets up the intensity to insane levels), but the likable actors and scattered moments of levity keep your heart in the fight. [Bernard]

#4 – Children of Men

Children of Men movie

Alfonso Cuarón’s vision of a ruinous, infertile near-future in Children of Men is a world rich with cinematic opportunity, and he seizes every one. His hero’s (Clive Owen) journey to deliver the only pregnant woman on earth to the coast of a demolished, war-torn Britain is fraught with intense, high-stakes encounters, and Cuarón’s now-textbook one-shot car chase sequence signified the emergence of one of the most influential visual filmmakers of our generation. In a time where too many filmmakers use coverage and editing to hide their shortcomings, Cuarón is a beacon when it comes to actually moving a camera. Children of Men is one of the most convincing versions of the future put to screen in movie history because it looks and sounds just like the world we know, only slightly closer to the precipice of full collapse that threatens us all. [Bernard]

#3 – Wall-E

Wall-E movie

I remember watching Wall-E back in 2008 and, even at the age of 16, I recall lighting up like a kid at Christmas. The only way to describe this movie is: utterly and completely adorable. However, we are still talking about end of the world stuff here, and amidst the terrifying depressive apocalyptic films we’ve listed, Wall-E stands alone in its ability to capture the hearts of all. In the film, a small waste collecting robot, Wall-E, embarks upon a space adventure with his new friend EVE (a sleek, yet dangerous reconnaissance robot). Together they will ultimately decide the fate of humanity, which has now resigned itself to life in space. This journey demonstrates courage, determination, love and affection–all of which we could do with witnessing a little more of.

The fact that the earth has gone to hell is not the main focus of this story, and in the face of all that has happened and that these characters are surviving, there’s nothing broken about the hearts of these two life-affirming robots. To me, Wall-E is an apocalyptic tale for the entire family and how often can you say that? [Amy]

#2 – The Matrix

The Matrix movie

Not only did The Matrix boldly inject a heavy dose of philosophy into an action movie structure, the film made a huge impact on the world of cinematography and special effects with its excellent choreographed martial arts. Case in point, the unforgettable “bullet time” scene where time suddenly slows down as the camera pans around the bullet allowing Neo to dodge it.

The film is all about questioning the reality that we think we know and entertaining the idea that it’s just an advanced computer simulation used to harvest energy from the enslaved human race in hibernation. At the age of 15 when the film was released, The Matrix had a profound impact on me being the first film that made me question perceived reality. Not only did The Matrix introduce imaginative concepts, but the film also presented them in an astonishing way, making The Matrix one of the most influential works of post-apocalyptic science fiction. [Dustin]

#1 – Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove movie

For a topic as dour as the apocalypse, it is a bit surprising that the best apocalyptic film also happens to be one of the greatest comedies ever made. Stanley Kubrick, a director who mastered every genre he worked in, ruthlessly made fun of the absurdity of the Cold War. The end of the world is triggered by one loony general’s actions, and as the president and his staff frantically scramble to avoid the inevitable Kubrick, along with his incredible cast (Peter Sellers is terrific in his three roles, but George C. Scott steals the show as Buck Turgidson), let audiences laugh at their own mutually assured destruction. Dr. Strangelove walks a fine line between satire and camp, but the complete lack of self-awareness throughout is what elevates this into a masterpiece. It’s still the gold standard of satire, and to this day no one has made the end of the world look this funny. [CJ]

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