The end is nigh! Maybe not, too. I mean, it could be, I actually have no idea, but doesn’t it seem that way lately? Between the mass shootings and the overall insane energy pervading all of 2018 so far, it really feels apocalyptic out there. But keep in mind, since the 70s people used to stand on street corners with signs declaring that very thing (the end is nigh!) so really, life is just cyclical.
This happens every thirty years or so, so we were about due for this panic anyway. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it IS the end of the world. What do you do? How does one prepare for such a catastrophe? Easy, you watch as many apocalyptic movies as you can and take notes. But there are a ton of end of the world movies out there, how do you pick the best ones?
I did it for you.
Now you just read the list then watch the movies I talk about here, take notes when you watch them, and bam, you’re apocalypse-ready!
More in the ‘post-apocalyptic movies’ genre, but a great film to start the list with for just how bleak and hopeless (and palpable) it makes the end times really feel. A story about a father and son (play off of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub‘ for those of you who may be EXTRA nerdy and literate) trying to survive against the odds in a very dark time and place.
Viggo Mortensen really sells the nihilism abound in this tragic but powerful film.
What I LOVE about The Divide is many things, but two I can point out right away.
The actual cause of the world-ending disaster we never quite see in this film (and nor do the characters experiencing it) so we question it as they do. They are questioning if it is war or something alien or weather-based, but we don’t get answers ever handed to us, nor do they, which makes it all even more harrowing. Let the viewer fill in the blanks.
The other thing about The Divide which makes it shine is it plays with the basic premise of “what happens when a whole apartment building who barely know each other all are suddenly crammed into one basement?”
I won’t ruin anything here but WE ARE THE MONSTERS, PEOPLE! If any of these movies are even a LITTLE accurate, we turn on each other quickly and in the ugliest of ways.
Terry Gilliam can do the surreal like few other directors, and 12 Monkeys shows us, even in the surreal, he can tell a truly captivating tale about the fall of man.
Set in a future where a disease has wiped out most of the populace, 12 Monkeys plays with the themes of the butterfly effect and multiverse in ways we do not often see in (older) movies, and it has an ending that is genius (for the few who can grasp it).
Not a typical “we all gonna die” film but one that is well worth the ride. And Brad Pitt KILLS IT as the crazy man. One of his best performances to date.
Right at Your Door
How this 2006 apocalypse film didn’t become a huge hit is beyond me.
It deals with the basic premise of a chemical attack on American soil and how, in one single moment, your whole world can change. What makes this film so watchable is the fact that we spend the entirety of the film with only one couple who become separated by a thin piece of plastic and some genuine panic.
Also, this one has a twist that will leave you reeling. I hate to say that cuz it kind of ruins it when they happen, but I, myself, was like:
The Book of Eli
When it comes to apocalypse movies, The Book of Eli is one of those movies you can tell took inspiration from the Mad Max series, but they put it to good use.
Starring Denzel “I am [bleep] in this movie but will still f*ck you up” Washington, Book of Eli deals with religious themes while also showing us how quickly humanity would descend into madness if things went south for us.
A gritty and action-packed film, plus you can’t fail with Denzel kicking ass.
Seeking A Friend for the End of the World
Though many consider this movie a black comedy more than an end of the world movie, the title should make it pretty clear it IS an end of the world movie (make no mistakes), even though this one may be padded with some laughs.
What really sells this movie is the odd but palpable chemistry between the leads, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. That may sound like an odd pairing (and it is, that is the point of the movie) but you will have feels for these two by the time this (genuinely sweet) movie ends.
Now on the OTHER extreme:
Time of the Wolf
Easily one of the most divisive and polarizing apocalyptic movies out there, Time of the Wolf was written and directed by Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (one of the best directors alive) and the film is clearly not American, nor necessarily aimed at American audiences (not meant as an insult).
What makes Time of the Wolf so unforgettable among these many great films is that it has deliberately slow pacing that shows you the aftermath while never quite fully letting you know how it got that far. If you are looking for an action movie, this is not for you.
If you are looking for a movie that is a quiet rumination on the eventual fall of humanity as seen through an artist’s eye, check this one out ASAP!
Children of Men
Imagine a world where women just stopped giving birth altogether? Not by choice but JUST BECAUSE. That would mean the slow and inevitable cessation of mankind, and Children of Men mines that exact topic but takes the viewer on some true twists and turns before concluding in a way many do not foresee.
While there may be the slightest sliver of hope in this film, it is a tiny silver lining you only find after sitting through many tragedies to get there.
But worth it, as it is a truly staggering film to behold.
It actually makes me mad how few people have seen (and understand) just how poignant an end of the world movie Snowpiercer is. Breaking us all down by social classes in a giant train after a neo-ice age, Snowpiercer examines the end in a very different way than these other films.
It shows how, when or if something cataclysmic happens, not only will our lives be at stake but our social and financial status will factor into where we end up and how we are treated. TrumpNation, y’all!
Good thing there are 99% of us poor folks and only 1% rich. Kinda shows you how that revolution will ACTUALLY turn out.
You have to have come from the U.K. when this aired on TV to truly know the impact this had. If you watched it now, you would probably find it REALLY cheesy, but this aired during the time when they were getting air raids regularly and was all about nuclear war wiping out all of the United Kingdom, and the fallout from that.
It was deeply disturbing on a realistic scale at the time, and it was shown on regular TV so there are still people to this day who were traumatized by this film. Even saying THREADS to them will make them go pale.
No joke, try it one day and see for yourself!
The World’s End
End of the world movies are always so heavy and depressing (because, well, the subject is) but The World’s End by the uber-brilliant Simon Pegg skews those tropes once again to deliver a very unique and interesting (and WICKEDLY FUN) movie that is as much a playoff Attack of the Body Snatchers as it is any apocalypse film.
But The World’s End actually strikes up a perfect balance between genuine pathos and side-splitting humor (broken up by some GREAT fight scenes and effects). The World’s End might not be a person’s first pick for apocalypse viewing, but they could honestly do a lot worse.
Speaking of making the end of the world fun and funny…
Cabin in the Woods
Oh crap, I think I just spoiled the ending.
If “The World’s End” and “Cabin in the Woods” are fun, then Blindness is the polar opposite of that.
This is the one you watch when you want to find some apocalypse movies that run the worst-case scenarios past you, which is just what Blindness does. It shows a world that goes(literally) blind, one by one, and then derails into chaos as certain people form groups. There is a whole sort of quasi-political cell block some people set up for safety in only to realize that THEY are their own biggest threat (a common theme in a lot of these films).
Disturbing and freakishly realistic, Blindness shows us all we need is something as simple as the loss of one of our senses for the world to unravel almost immediately.
Side note, read the book, it is way better.
Melancholia does the impossible and takes the “end of the world movie” and flips it on its head by being utterly beautiful while also being utterly devastating.
Directed by the loved and hated (but undeniably genius) Lars Von Trier, Melancholia is about another planet appearing out of nowhere (rogue planet, y’all!) set to collide with Earth, which happens to sync up with the forthcoming marriage of a very damaged woman (played brilliantly in her best role by Kirsten Dunst).
The movie focuses on the threads (see what I did there) of the personal relationships and the closure each person seeks from one another in the end as much as it does the idea of “how does one actually prepare for the end when, in the end, there is no real way to prepare for it”.
Heavy stuff, I know, but handled SO perfectly here.
But on a much lighter note…
This is the End
Gotta love Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. Those two can do no wrong and this was part of their starting streak. Featuring pretty much everyone in Hollywood (who is funny right now), This is the End dealt literally with the rapture, but did so with such crude humor, you often forget you are watching a movie about the end of civilization.
It also makes a very solid point, as do most of these films. Unless you have a bunker or mansion (and very few of us have either) you are basically screwed, and This is the End pokes fun at that cinematic trope while also skewing some funny end of the world cliches we see so often.
Also, Channing Tatum wins the “one of the best cameos of all time” award for his tiny, surreal role in this film.
28 Days Later
Also see 28 Weeks Later. Are they zombie movies? Um, yes and no? Are they end of the world movies? Definitely yes. When half the world has turned into freerunners who can do parkour and just want to rip fellow humans apart for sheer joy, that is very much some “end times” type of shit.
I mean, you gotta figure, eventually everyone will be turned, and thus, even though they may live on as husks, that is no longer human.
Now let’s hope we get some word on 28 Months Later soon so they can end this (amazing, so far anyway) trilogy right.
A Boy and His Dog
This is that movie with Don Johnson as a boy wandering the post-apocalyptic wasteland with his psychic dog that talks to him…okay, it may sound insane and there may be some DARK moments in this film that would never be allowed to get shot today, but this odd film has its place here.
It is a weird and weirdly uncomfortable film, so that is how I KNOW it belongs here.
Mad Max Series
What do I even need to say here?
Stephen King hailed this as one of his favorite horror movies of the last decade simply because it told an incredibly tense apocalyptic story of some travelers at the end of the world (and at the end of their rope) who slowly realize that there may be no escape from the inevitable.
Also, a great earlier Chris Pine role really showed he had leading man status even before he was the new Captain Kirk.
I am not going to say a damn thing about this SPECTACULAR Michael Shannon film, but rather, I am going to post the trailer and just walk away, KNOWING you will have to see it.
And THAT, my friends, is how you prepare for the end of the world.
First published in 2018; updated 2022