Except for the crazies who predict the apocalypse every year, nobody can possibly call when society as we know it is going to collapse. Could be war, lack of resources, aliens, a meteor, or even the much less likely zombie attack. But it is probably going to happen at some point, and who knows what the survivors, if any, will do to stay alive. Filmmakers have been making creative visions of this fate for years. These are my Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Movies of all-time. I have excluded movies taking place leading up to or focusing on the end of times. The world must already be in disarray. Big sci-fi action/adventures are also not in this category. No “The Matrix” or “Terminator”.
10. “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”:
While by no means the best installment overall, “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” is by far the most insane. Mel Gibson returns for his third go around as Max. Having been wandering the desert after the bloody events in “Mad Max 2”, the hardened ex-cop stumbles upon Bartertown, the most ‘advanced’ town in what’s left of the Australian outback. The town, led by Tina Turner, is stuffed with all types of crazies, including a giant idiot with a midget that rides on his back as they run the manure factory. Max is forced into the Thunderdome to face off against the huge brute with all types of weapons hanging from the rafters. The journey does not end when Max escapes and then encounters a group of kids who live “Lord of the Flies” style in a canyon. The tribe believes Max to be the savior they have been waiting for who will lead them to paradise. Nothing normal happens in “Thunderdome”, and they even throw in a classic car chase with makeshift vehicles as always.
9. “The Road” (2009):
It doesn’t get much more grim than the world depicted in “The Road”. Viggo Mortensen plays an unnamed father, who is slowly dying, trying to protect his son at all costs before he passes. The apocalyptic event in the past is never revealed, but it has left all survivors trying to kill and rob each other every chance they get. Mortensen is determined to get his son to the coast as it is believed there is still a semblance of a society where he can be safe. One of “The Road”‘s strong points is how visually grim it is. Long stretches of forest and highway truly look like it has been years since these locations have been used. Add in the intense performance by Mortensen and you’ve got a realistic idea of what a world such as this could actually look like.
8. “Escape From New York” (1981):
Director John Carpenter’s“Escape From New York” is one badass dystopian future movie. That is mainly due to Kurt Russell playing the no nonsense Snake Plisken. In this future, crime has ravaged the country, creating a semi-military state. New York City has been transformed into a giant free-for-all walled-in open prison where all prisoners, no matter the crime, are sent and have to try and survive. When the U.S. president’s helicopter is shot down over the city the main ruling prison group led by ‘The Duke’ hold the man hostage in exchange for passage out of the city. Fearing an all-out massacre by sending in troops, Snake Plisken is brought in out of retirement to infiltrate New York and return the President as well as the secret government codes he was carrying. A city full of insane killers and obstacles are no sweat for Snake. You can capture him, take away his guns, and he’s still gonna blast your punk-ass.
7. “A Quiet Place” (2018):
Admittedly, there are a few questionable plot holes in “A Quiet Place”. The alien creatures don’t completely make sense and the ending birth scene is a bit of a stretch. But those small flaws are mostly trumped by director John Krasinski’s excellent debut thriller. While we never find out the origin of these deadly creatures, all those who survived cannot make a sound without being attacked and killed. Kransinki and his real life wife Emily Blunt are a family that somehow survived. They communicate only in sign language and never wear shoes outside. The only reason they know others are still out there is at night other households will light fires. Who knew that a movie with almost no spoken dialogue could have us all on the edge of our seats.
6. “Soylent Green” (1973):
Most apocalyptic movies are about the majority of humanity being wiped out. “Soylent Green”is the opposite of that. With a lack of wars or disease, the world has become incredibly overpopulated. Other than the rich or essential workers most live in piles as they sleep in stairwells and any other location they can find. Facilities across the country provide free services for anyone looking to peacefully commit suicide to help population control. Due to an immense food shortage, most people live off of a food based on plankton from the ocean called Soylent Green. When the president of the Soylent corporation is murdered, Detective Thorn (Charleton Heston) is tasked with solving the case. “Soylent Green” is a raw look at what could happen if population is allowed to grow unchecked, an unfortunate truth. And if you haven’t seen it, get ready for the ending.
5. “Metropolis” (1927):
One of the first looks ever into what dystopia could be, legendary pioneer filmmaker Fritz Lang crafted one of the original epics put on screen. “Metropolis” showed what the future might be like if society becomes completely divided by the haves and have-nots. After an undisclosed battle took place in which the rich won, a futuristic city has the workers marching into factories everyday with no sign of hope until eventually they die. In the towers above are the city planners who reap all of the benefits. Freder Frederson, the son of the head city planner, runs into a beautiful worker girl. He runs to follow the stunner and discovers what these factories truly look like and just how awful they are. With one of the rich group connecting with an outspoken worker, a revolution begins to grow. With silent cinema, striking images are essential. Lang’s look into the future was uncanny and continues to influence Sci-Fi movies to this day.
4. “Wall-E” (2008):
Take out all of their sequels not named “Toy Story” and you pretty much can’t go wrong with an original Pixar installment. The animated cash cow production studio actually teaches children valuable life lessons that they will face as adults in the most innocent of ways. Their boldest picture, and also their most charming, has got to be “Wall-E”. Pixar took a risk making a kids movie in which the first half is essentially a silent movie. To make it work they created Wall-E, the most lovable robot in history. Humans have destroyed and polluted earth to such an extent that the surviving rich took off on a giant spaceship paradise, leaving these tiny little robots to clean up the never-ending piles of trash. Many years later, Wall-E is the only one left. The goggle-eyed sweetheart spends time collecting a variety of items he finds while packing up the trash everyday. Then a robot from space named EVE shows up and Wall-E has a friend. The two end up on the giant human spacecraft, complete with lazy humans slowly destroying another environment. Wall-E teaches children to help protect the world they live in before it is too late.
3. “Stalker” (1979):
Andrei Tarkovsky is unquestionably the greatest Russian filmmaker in history. His meditative style generated enormous praise in the worldwide film community. In the late 70’s, Tarkovsky decided to make the most abstract look at a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. “Stalker” is not about a global issue, rather centered around a large unnamed area in Russia. Years ago, an unseen alien force propagated a large area known only as ‘The Zone’. The aliens are not visible but rather appear in the form of hallucinatory images and mind games. At the center of ‘The Zone’ is a room that, if one enters, will be given their most cherished desires. Yet nobody has ever returned if they enter the central room in ‘The Zone’. This has ravished the surrounding community as the Russian military has sealed the place off, causing extreme poverty. Outsiders constantly want to get into ‘The Zone’, and the best way is by using a mercenary known as a Stalker that knows the area and can guide them through. “Stalker” is about the idea of hope while in an environment that feels like entering the mind of an insane person. It is surreal, non-linear, and often confusing beyond belief. But if you look at it as a portrait of human zen, “Stalker” makes one think about the purpose of continuing in life despite the atmosphere one finds themselves.
2. “Planet of the Apes” (1968):
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU SOMEHOW DON’T KNOW THE ENDING HERE THEN STOP READING NOW… Evolution is a son-of-a-bitch now isn’t it. Humans come from apes, take over the world, develop interstellar space travel, then come back and the damn monkey’s are now running the show. “Planet of the Apes” was an unexpected revolutionary Sci-Fi classic that spawned six sequels, two television shows, and a series of comics. If you go back and watch the trailers it looks like no more than a glorified episode of “Lost in Space”. Far from it. In hopes of expanding humanity’s understanding of the universe, Charleton Heston leads a crew of astronauts on a mission in which the team will be cryogenically frozen to find life on distant planets. Th crew crash lands on a planet where highly intelligent apes run the show and hunt down humans with far less intelligence. When Heston is captured he is baffled. After regaining his voice and trying to escape he yells the iconic words; “GET YOUR STINKING PAWS OFF ME YOU DAMN DIRTY APES!” A human that can talk, whoa. The adventure continues, leading to the incredibly shocking revelation this was earth all along.
1. “Children of Men” (2006):
Unfortunately many do not care about future generations. But there are way more of us that do. What keeps us going is the concept of leaving the world a better place and handing down knowledge to the next group moving forward. “Children of Men” asks the simple question, what if there is no next generation? Due to circumstances scientists are unable to explain, women are no longer able to give birth. There are plenty of theories, but no answers. Elderly groups are more care free as they’re dead soon anyways. Younger gangs and terrorist groups increase ten-fold because who cares. Schools are abandoned as the youngest person in the world dies at 18. Clive Owen plays Theo, a former political activist simply trying to make it through a day without being a bombing victim. The morally driven Theo gets caught up with a young black girl who is miraculously pregnant. He needs to get the frightened young lady to a research facility supposedly not affiliated with the government while also protecting her from multiple groups trying to get their hands on her. “Children of Men” is absolutely beautifully filmed by Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Counting off the number of breathtaking shots is impossible to do on one hand. But it is the concept writer/director Alfonso Cuaron crafts that is the most harrowing aspect. It is in our nature to keep moving society forward. What happens when it appears the end is coming, and it is going to come slow?