The end of the world might be frightening, but some movies have a little bit of fun with it.
Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil, political distrust, and consistent threats of nuclear attacks have led to an increased interest in films about the end of the world. Apocalyptic movies exist across multiple genres, including science fiction, horror, comedy, action, and existential dramas.
Frequent topics covered in apocalyptic films include zombie attacks, virus outbreaks, natural disasters, alien invasions, and nuclear holocausts. Some apocalyptic films are produced solely for their entertainment value, while others encapsulate the chaotic nature of their respective eras. Many of the greatest films of all time revolve around the destruction of human existence.
Train to Busan is a South Korean action horror film that predominantly takes place on a high-speed train as a group of passengers attempts to survive a zombie apocalypse. Historically, zombies have been portrayed as lumbering creatures; however, in Train to Busan, the zombies are highly aggressive and move with lightning quickness.
Train to Busan was a massive box-office success, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year in South Korea and the all-time highest-grossing Korean film in several Asian countries. The film has been praised for its thrilling entertainment value as well as its social commentary on class warfare.
Arguably the greatest animated film of all time, WALL-E is set in the aftermath of Earth becoming uninhabitable due to consumerism, corporate greed, and environmental neglect. Humanity has been forced to live on starships where sedentary lifestyles have caused the human race to become obese.
Even though WALL-E's target audience is children, the film contains many heavy-handed themes, such as corporate corruption, technological abuse, waste management, and environmental devastation. WALL-E won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, was named the best film of the decade by Time magazine, and was named one of the best films of the century by the BBC. In 2021, WALL-E was inducted into the National Film Registry.
Directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter follows Curtis, a man who begins having apocalyptic visions. The narrative conflict arises when Curtis' family must decide what is the greater threat, the perceived impending apocalypse, or Curtis himself.
In Take Shelter, Michael Shannon delivers a tour de force performance, one of the most underrated of the 2010s. Take Shelter is also notable for its exploration of mental illness, marriage, and its highly debatable ambiguous ending. The film took home over forty award wins out of over eighty nominations, including three award wins at Cannes Film Festival.
Mad Max: Fury Road serves as a reboot of the seminal Australian New Wave film series Mad Max. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where gasoline and water are scarce resources, Mad Max: Fury Road depicts Max and Furiosa's uprising against cult leader Immortan Joe.
Mad Max: Fury Road has become renowned for its brilliantly executed chase sequences that feature minimal use of CGI and rely mostly on practical effects. Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, Mad Max: Fury Road was named one of the greatest films of the century by the BBC, The New York Times, and Empire magazine.
Directed by action auteur Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers depicts an attempted alien invasion of Earth. The extraterrestrials possess the ability to make exact copies of humans through giant plant pods. Sleeping humans are placed near the pods, and through assimilation, the alien gains the physical traits of the human it is copying.
Viewed as a metaphor for McCarthyism and the fear of communism in the United States following World War II, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1950s sci-fi classic. The film was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1994 and was named one of the top ten greatest science fiction films by the American Film Institute. Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly have also both included the film on their lists of the greatest films of all time.
Released in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still posed a dire warning to the human race in regard to the escalating nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The plot of the film is set in motion when an alien named Klaatu arrives on Earth, informing humanity that if they cannot control their newfound nuclear weapons, they will be eliminated.
A landmark film in the science fiction genre, The Day the Earth Stood Still was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1995 and was named one of the top ten science fiction films by the American Film Institute. The film was also named to The New York Times' list of the greatest films of all time.
Based on Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, Planet of the Apes tells the story of an astronaut crew who crash-land on an unknown planet in the distant future. The surviving astronauts soon discover the planet is run by intelligent, talking apes that hunt and experiment on humans, who have reverted back to their primitive origins.
Planet of the Apes' iconic twist ending features one of cinema's most enduring apocalyptic images, one that stems from man's nuclear destruction. The film's social commentary and revolutionary prosthetic makeup led the film to being inducted into the National Film Registry. The commercial success of the film has led to a franchise that includes nine feature films and countless television shows, comics, and novels.
Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men is set in 2027, almost twenty years after a pandemic caused humanity to lose the ability to reproduce. Global economic depression and governmental collapse have left the world in anarchy.
Children of Men has garnered praise for its religious themes and imagery, ruminations on immigration, and numerous single-shot action sequences. Recently, the film has received additional critical praise, for many of its themes have come to fruition during the past few years. The BBC has named Children of Men one of the top fifteen films of the twenty-first century.
One of Stanley Kubrick's many masterpieces, Dr. Strangelove is a satirical comedy about a crazed United States Air Force general who launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. The film follows United States government officials as they try and prevent the attack from taking place.
Equal parts horrifying and hysterical, Dr. Strangelove satirizes the ineptitude of government leaders and the Cold War as a whole. The film perfectly encapsulates the fragility of international relations and how the slightest misunderstanding could lead to the nuclear destruction of the human race. Dr. Strangelove was among the first twenty-five films inducted into the National Film Registry.
Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice concerns a middle-aged man's existential crisis at the dawn of World War III. An examination of man's crippling fear of death, The Sacrifice combines Christian and pagan themes with startling imagery to create one of cinema's most thought-provoking looks at the end of the world.
After years of struggles making films in his native Soviet Union, Tarkovsky left his homeland to make films overseas. A Swedish production, The Sacrifice's breathtaking house fire sequence had to be entirely reshot after the camera jammed and failed to capture the scene. The Sacrifice, which took home four awards at Cannes Film Festival, was Tarkovsky's final feature film following his premature death from cancer.
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CBR Movie List Writer Vincent LoVerde has a master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies from CUNY College of Staten Island. He also worked at CUNY College of Staten Island as a teaching assistant and adjunct professor of film and media courses. Vincent is currently working as an adjunct professor at Union County College, teaching two communications courses. Besides CBR, he has had articles published at listverse.com.