The End Is Nigh: 10 Apocalypse Films To Watch Before The World Ends [Stuff to Watch]

stufftowatch logo   The End Is Nigh: 10 Apocalypse Films To Watch Before The World Ends [Stuff to Watch]In the past 20 years there have been a tremendous amount of apocalypse and post-apocalyptic films made. While the trend appears to be slowing, the so-called prophecies predicting the end of the world later this year are definitely dragging it out.

As a science fiction fan it would be hard to ignore this sub-genre of destruction, mortality and the fight for survival with some of the best sci-fi films depicting the end of the world as we know it. If you’re a fan of humanity’s demise, you will probably appreciate this week’s Stuff to Watch as we take a look at some of the most memorable apocalyptic moments in film history.

Don’t forget to add your own favourites, recommendations and opinions at the end of this article!

28 Days Later (2002)

Probably the best apocalypse film of the decade, Danny Boyle’s 2002 take on zombies is just as haunting now as it was ten years ago. A film that arguably influenced production studios and game developers to embrace “fast zombies” (Left4Dead anyone?), pretty much every aspect of the film is polished beyond belief – from the acting, to the haunting shots of London that had to be filmed at 5am to the original score, 28 Days Later is must-watch cinema for any apocalypse or zombie fan.

The Road (2007)

The Road will pick you up, shake you with tense action scenes, pull on your heartstrings through tight character relationships and blow your mind with the unforgiving no-holds-barred reality of a lawless society in a post-nuclear setting. Be prepared to feel hopeless and spat-out for a bit afterwards as you try and get your emotions around one of the most depressing yet beautiful films of the decade.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLgszfXTAY

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Despite being an old black and white film from the 50s, The Day The Earth Stood still is still highly regarded among sci-fi fans today holding a very “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes despite being over 60 years old. The film tells the tale of an alien spacecraft arriving on earth on an apparent goodwill mission, though tensions rise as the visitor reveals a terrifying robot capable of massive destruction. The film offers an outsider’s view on earth’s situation post-World War II, and while the costumes and some plot turns might look a bit poor by today’s standards, it’s still a very watchable film you should probably check out.

12 Monkeys (1995)

With more twists and turns than is probably necessary for any apocalypse film, 12 Monkeys is another shining example of a modern post-apocalypse production starring some of the 90s best remembered actors. Both Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis take on excellent roles, with Willis playing the hardened criminal to the same standard as the lone cop in Die Hard and Pitt’s portrayal of the unhinged mental patient leaving you worried for the actor’s sanity, 12 Monkeys is a confusing but wonderful edge-of-your-seat epic.

Silent Running (1972)

In the future all plant life on earth has been made extinct and the last remaining specimens of earth life exist in large greenhouse domes that orbit the planet saturn. Freeman Lowell is tasked with the maintenance and preservation of this life when the orders come in from earth to destroy the domes and return the deep-space freighters to commercial service – an order he disobeys. A post-2001: A Space Odyssey sci-fi, Silent Running might be dated but is must-see for fans of 70s sci-fi and anyone searching for pre-CGI productions that used insanely detailed models as opposed to polygons in their special effects.

Mad Max (1979)

Set in “the not too distant future” is the Australian film that split critics and film fans’ opinions alike. Starring a young Mel Gibson the film is said to have inspired a new wave of Australian cinema as well as launching Gibson to fame and generating controversy in the process. Aside from being a gritty tale of the breakdown of the moral fabric of society, Mad Max is one of those classic 70s grungey low-budget productions with plenty of synthesizer and grainy film quality that only serves to add to the atmosphere.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The 1978 remake of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers was everything a remake should be and more. Opening with a scene of deep space depicting gelatinous creatures abandoning their home, the alien life travels via solar winds to the planet earth where they eventually settle in San Francisco. The blobs soon begin creating clones of the city’s population, distinguishable by their distance and lifeless nature. The apocalypse films itself has received glowing reviews from fans and critics alike, and is a true 70s gem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTSR6bu0Nq0

Delicatessen (1991)

A French tale of hunger, romance and vegetarianism sums up the 1991 release Delicatessen, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic France in a time when food is so scarce that grain becomes the currency of choice for the country’s remaining population. In a run-down apartment building a butcher entices “workers” to seek employment as a source of cheap meat until one particular traveller steals the heart of the murderer’s daughter. Cue a tale of romance, secrecy and a vegetarian underground cult in this 1991 French-language epic.

Children of Men

Adapted from a novel of the same name, Children of Men is a highly celebrated dystopian science fiction film about the human race’s struggle for survival. After twenty years of infertility among humans, a man must help a pregnant African refugee seek refuge in the UK where the government imposes oppressive immigration restrictions. The film has been praised for its art direction, cinematography and action sequences, and has won enough awards to prove that you should probably go and watch it if you haven’t already.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NikEQy1XxDE

Metropolis

The last apocalypse film on the list is the earliest here, having being released in 1927 and lovingly restored for re-release in 2010. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has been described as “one of the great achievements of the silent era” by critic Roger Ebert, despite Lang’s own dissatisfaction with the film. The picture itself is set in a dystopian future where the rich control the world from vast high-rises and the poor keep the machines running from ground-level in poor conditions. The son of the city’s master begins exploring what life is truly like in the “worker’s city” and discovers some unpleasant truths about life in the metropolis.

You can see the full film, below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekL3VBD00W0

Finally…

In true apocalyptic fashion I’m going to leave you with one film that’s not a work of fiction but a time-lapse diagram of every known nuclear test between the years 1945 and 1998. After watching this, you’ll probably see where a lot of the writers and production teams got their inspiration for these films.

What did you think of this list? Got any favourite apocalypse or post-apocalyptic films of your own? Let us know in the comments, below!

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28 Comments -

druv vb

Nice collection of movies ending our race… Sure there are recent movies like 2012, War of the Worlds, Battle LA etc… These days movies are much more visually striking than having a better story…

Tim Brookes

I actually did enjoy the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds, and I’m really not a big Hollywood or Tom Cruise fan so that was surprising. I’m not sure if the story is really that good it made up for it. I was pretty shocked at the setting (it’s more of an adaptation than a remake IIRC) but it had the right feel for an apocalypse despite Tom Cruise’s presence and a lot of CGI.

Battle LA, 2012 and other similar CGI-fests are exactly what you described though. The Day After Tomorrow is another one. Movies like this are vaguely enjoyable, but not really worth your money for their paper thin plot and dialogue with heavy reliance on CGI explosions and green screens. I love a nice bit of CGI when used in conjunction with a good plot and story, but CGI alone does not make a film good.

Timo Reimerdes

The real nuclear explosion movie is the scariest, imho.

Mila Kun

I only saw 12 Monkeys. It’s worth it :)

Tim Brookes

It is, despite having some fairly cheesy big name actors they’re all well-placed and very convincing.

Macwitty

Metropolis is great – well worth seeing many times
Interestingly, while many of the early with sound feels too slow there are silent films that still work

Tim Brookes

Metropolis is indeed a great film. I think its age and silent nature only add to the oddity personally!

Garey Boone

On the Beach with Armand Assante made in 2000 is a fairly decent movie as well.

Pax

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. There was a strong human element to it that’s often lacking in other apocalyptic films.

Tim Brookes

Thanks for the recommendation, will check it out!

Pax

This is a great list. I’ve watched them all except for Silent Running (1972) and Delicatessen (1991).

I’m trying to stay away from well-known blockbusters with these recommendations but some lesser known films I’ve enjoyed in this genre are ‘The Last Man on Earth’ (I think it’s the best thing Vincent Price ever did. The Will Smith version, ‘I am Legend’, was pretty good too), ‘City of Ember’ (2008), Carriers (2009, with Chris Pine of Star Trek Fan) and The Mist (2007. Stephen King).

Tim Brookes

Good list, though I must admit I really didn’t like I Am Legend. I thought it was pretty fluffy and typically Will Smith which didn’t really make for a convincing apocalypse. Too much Hollywood maybe?

Conversely, The Mist is an absolute favourite of mine. I would probably have put it in this list had I remembered, but it escaped me at the time. The end of that film is absolutely brutal, the actors are great and the plot transferred perfectly to a screenplay. I must have seen it 5 times by now!

Pax

I used to feel that way about Will Smith. A lot of his early roles felt like the same character. He didn’t seem to have any diversity as an actor – which was ok because he picked his roles carefully. Then I saw him on Hancock. Whether you like the film or not (I’m a huge fan of this film, btw), I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before and it was his facial expressions. He had brought nuance into his repertoire.

It may be hard to believe but I learned a lot about facial expressions by watching Scare Tactics. In the beginning, I disliked the show because it felt a little cruel but eventually fell in love with it because the “victims” were OK with the jokes during the ‘reveal’. As I watched this show, I couldn’t help how different faces expressed the same emotion (usually fear) in different ways. Some people who were absolutely terrified didn’t seem to reflect that in their expressions while others… even a little scared, seemed to express a great deal in their faces. Some faces are just more naturally expressive than others.

Will Smith has improved has an actor and it shows in his recent work. I understand that once a mental picture is formed re: an actor, the mind can muddy a current performance. If you look for it, you’ll notice a different Will Smith – one who wouldn’t turn down a role like ‘The Matrix’ because he didn’t think he could pull it off and understood his shortcomings at the time (unlike the versatile Reeves:-)

JTwig

I’ve never seen The Mist, but I did read the short story and really enjoyed it. My fear, especially after reading about it on Wikipedia, is that watching the movie may taint my early teen (12-13) memories of reading it late at night and not being able to sleep afterwards. Not because I was scared, but because it got my imagination going on hyper-drive.

Nermal

Children of men was absolute rubbish and the road was boring.. some of the others were OK. Mad max 1 was over the top with the crap aussie accents, the nasal whine..

So many of these “top 10″ things are crap – picking movies because of some cult status when they are just rubbish, picking movies because they have some special social message, but are still crap movies..

Tim Brookes

Did you not think of adding a few films you actually liked instead of just slagging off the list?

I would argue with you but it’s your opinion and that’s fine, though I’m puzzled how you found The Road boring. Granted, it didn’t have explosions every five minutes but managed to build a miserable brooding atmosphere and played up to the apocalypse theme very well. It had some dull moments, but it’s a rollercoaster of a film and to say it was “boring” seems overly harsh.

Anonymous

So glad to see Metropolis on this list. Gives an insight to the research that went into the article. +1 :)

Tim Brookes

Not only is Metropolis on the list, but the full film is embedded in the article! So get (re) watching ;)

klu9

interesting list, thanks.

as for another apocalypse film, I remember being up late one night and catching a film, which the paper’s TV guide described as “Mad Max with a French accent”… which was odd as not one word was spoken in it! I had no expectations going in but found it very moving.

Years later I realized it was my first experience with later-to-be-superstar French cinema talent: the main bad guy was Jean Reno and the director was Luc Besson (his début, in fact). It was called “Le Dernier Combat”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085426/
http://www.quietearth.us/articles/2008/08/05/Retro-Review-Luc-Bessons-LE-DERNIER-COMBAT
http://movies.amctv.com/movie/1983/Le+Dernier+Combat

Wooga

“Panic in the Year Zero” is good too. Plus Netflix has it on the flip side of the Vincent Price “Last Man on Earth” DVD.

r

I have no quarrel with your picks but I don’t understand how you could have left off “On the Beach”?

Real hollywood movie stars. Real acting. No explosions or zombies but it will chill you to the bone.

Patrick

Did not like “Children of Men” at all, nor “Delicatessen,” really. Others are wonderful, though I think “The Road Warrior” is better in the sense of being *apocalyptic*, if you will, than “Mad Max.” I’d nominate “A Boy and His Dog,” which is both humorous and a bit nihilistic. “Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price is good, but Charlton Heston’s version of “I Am Legend” (the book, not the awful Will Smith version, which, judging from earlier drafts and the late 90’s rumor that it was supposed to originally star Ah-nold, could have been way better), is my favorite. Has one of the greatest bad soundtracks ever put to film.

Funny, I remember “The Day After” being this big event when I was a kid and, of course, contributing mightily to some serious childhood trauma, but watching it again I noticed it was just plain scare tactic propaganda. Awful, awful stuff. Not any worse than, of course, “The Day After Tomorrow,” which I think South Park parodied brilliantly.

Could you put the original “Time Machine” in there? I think so, considering where the bulk of the movie is set. That’s a great film (again, the original). “The Warriors,” though whether or not that’s really “apocalyptic” is debatable, which also goes for “Escape from New York.” Both both of those movies are awesome.

“Book of Eli” aimed high but fell short. Hmmm . . . trying to think of anything else recently. Nothing really comes to mind, but that’s a start, anyway.

moviegique

Patrick–

We must be close in age. I picked Road Warrior over Mad Max, Last Man on Earth and explained why I didn’t think Time Machine qualified in my old list. The Day After is worthy of mention–not on my list, because I was doing specifically post-apocalyptic movies. I also disqualified “Planet of the Apes” and some other films because I’m looking for the characteristics of the genre even more than the exact, literal setting. (Sort of like how “Independence Day” is a disaster film more than an alien invasion film in a lot of ways. That’s how the producers intended it!)

This will either format or be a complete mess. :-P

My list

moviegique

“Metropolis” is dystopic, as you point out–not apocalyptic. If you broaden the latter to include the former, you can’t really justify leaving out the many great dystopic films. (E.g., you have Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” why not “Brazil”?)

“The Day The Earth Stood Still” isn’t apocalyptic at all. If you include movies where apocalypse is threatened, you’ve broadened the category to arguably a majority of sci-fi films.

I’d probably exclude “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for the same reason. The ’50s version is better, though Kaufman’s remake has aged well—was better than we thought at the time. But that’s debatable.

Taste-wise, I’d prefer “Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)” to the original, and “Children of God”‘s incoherence (structurally, not dramatically) would rule it out completely.

I made a list like this a few years back which only had one overlap with this: “28 Days Later”. I included “Wall-E”, “A Boy and his Dog”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Day of the Triffids” and many others.

http://bitmaelstrom.blogspot.com/2008/07/top-10-post-apocalyptic-movies-and-tv.html

Though I see I broke my own rule at the very end by having “Death Race 2000″ tie for the 10th place spot. (“Death Race” is dystopic, not apocalyptic.)

Ah, well. I don’t go by “moviegique” for nothin’.

moviegique

Well, I can’t post my link, doubtless due to spam filtering. If anyone’s interested (and I can’t imagine why anyone would be), just Google “Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Movies and TV Shows” and click on the Bitmaelstrom. I always welcome geeky cinematic arguments.

moviegique

Also, I’d include “Beasts of the Southern Wild” as a post-apocalyptic movie, and one of the best ever.

Erik Rühling

Don’t forget The Quiet Earth – watch it and be amazed at how many movies on this list, er, appropriated scenes. The waking up naked scene in 28DaysLater – right there in The Quiet Earth (complete with junk shot). The stumbling past a crashed airliner scene in War of the Worlds – The Quiet Earth has it. And finally, the talking to mannequins scenes from I Am Legend are perhaps an ‘homage’ to The Quiet Earth.

JTwig

Don’t forget about Panic in Year Zero. The lead actor, whose name escapes me at the moment, does an excellent job protraying a father forced to protect his family in the aftermath of world war III. It is a realistic, and surprisingly gritty film considering the era it was made in. Plus it has Franky Valley in one of his firs film roles!