Dramatic events are the stuff of cinema, and it's no wonder that the post-apocalyptic genre has fared very well on the silver screen. Earth shattering events allow for fantastic drama, epic characters and lots and lots of action. Where books and television shows can document the before, during and after periods of a post apocalyptic event, films tend focus best on the downfall of society and the aftermath. Here’s a couple of notable examples.
Editor’s Note: If you’re still holed up in your bunker and have been selectively reading websites (particularly avoiding the news) on the strangely still functioning internet, I’m here to tell you that the world didn’t end. But that doesn’t mean you have to tell the rest of your family. Here’s your chance to get them to watch those post-apocalyptic movies you’ve always loved. No more chick flicks! They can’t save you now! Just tell them it could always be worse: they could be living in one of these post-apocalyptic wastelands…
28 Days Later
There are some parallels here with the TV show The Walking Dead: someone wakes up to find the world has gone to hell, and that people are trying to eat him. Danny Boyle’s film brought back zombies in a very scary way, but even more frightening than the undead is the survivors, who look to rebuild society in some rather horrific ways, which makes one wonder: is rebuilding even worth going through?
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón’s fantastic adaptation of P.D. James’ novel of the same name witnesses the decline of civilization as a slow, inexorable decline as humanity loses the ability to reproduce. Humanity is leftto count down as the entire human population on Earth dwindles. Cuarón uses the film to highlight serious contemporary immigration issues, and by doing so, presents a world where all of our contemporary problems are with us to the end.
What if the world ends with a whimper, rather than a bang? Following in the multifaceted style of Traffic and Syriana, Contagion brings together a quiet downfall as a global pandemic of a superflu. We watch as the illness spreads around the world via the numerous connections between people and as the world goes into lockdown when things begin to get out of hand. Of all the post-apocalyptic films out there, this is arguably the one that’s the most realistic, with a major event that disrupts life, but where people begin to return to their lives once it’s past.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
This film almost doesn’t count, because it comes before an apocalyptic event, but it’s clear that this absurdist film is intent on world destruction, and by doing so, looks at the very real dangers of nuclear Armageddon and the actions that could very well lead up to the extinction of the human race. This is a story of where humanity is fully responsible for it’s actions, walking calmly up to the brink and jumping off.
Last Man on Earth / Omega Man / I Am Legend
These three films were all adapted from the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, each of which follow the last survivor in a world devastated by a disease that has decimated humanity, and turned them into something else. In each of the variations of the story, Robert (his surname changes in each film), is surrounded by vampire-like creatures, transformed by the illness. The dominant theme amongst the three films is absolute isolation, and adapting to survive in such a world.
In a post-oil world, Australian society has begun to break down, leading to a decline in law and order. Max Rockatansky, a member of the Main Force Patrol, helps to maintain order amongst the chaos, but becomes disillusioned as he realizes that the authority that he’s bestowed is becoming a bad thing, and attempts to leave the force, only to be faced with what happens in the world where criminals can operate with impunity. Authority, in some instances, seems to be a needed part of life, to hold society together, especially as everything falls apart.
Based off of a David Brin novel of the same name, The Postman follows a collapsed world following a nuclear war. A nomadic survivor of the catastrophe dons the uniform of a mailman, using a story of a rebuilt government to go from place to place. Pursued by a dictatorial general, he goes on the run, and eventually discovers that others have begun to take up the title of Postman, essentially organizing a new government organically. The desire to rebuild a free state is a powerful notion that is hard to suppress.
The Terminator films
While Terminator doesn’t take place in a post-apocalyptic world, but we see glimpses of a future where SkyNet has begun to exterminate humanity. The end of the world begins as the computer system begins with a nuclear attack, leaving a small, dedicated band of resistance fighters to fight against their attackers, resorting to jumping back in time to derail SkyNet’s plans. The key theme between the films is fate, where a technological future brings about mankind’s downfall.
The animated film Titan A.E. takes post-apocalyptic fiction to a new level: what happens when your home (Earth) is utterly destroyed? The central theme here is the value of a home, as the remnants of humanity drift amongst a galactic civilization, with nowhere to go to call their own. As one character notes, without a home, humanity is simply going to vanish, to be found only in a museum before too long, placing greater pressure on the heroes as they attempt to find a device that can give them what they need: a new home world.
Global Climate Change brings drastic changes to the planet hundreds of years into the future as Earth’s polar ice caps melt and submerge most of the continents. Humanity has taken to small, floating communities, where they etch out a living. A girl appears with a map that points to where dry land may exist, who is pursued by a group of pirates will stop at nothing to gain it. An evolution of humanity is a focus here, with humanity finding that it can persist, rebuilding a new society to fit their surroundings.
There are lots more not included in this list. Do you have any favorites among the ones mentioned or maybe another classic portent of our doom set to film? Let us know in the comments below!