The end of the world is near! Well, maybe not near (we hope), but it’s coming eventually. Hollywood sure seems to think so, anyway. Over the years, directors have made countless sci-fi movies about survivors who scrounge the post-apocalyptic landscape of our planet for survival. This week’s ‘After Earth’ is just the latest example. For today’s Roundtable, we take a look at some of our favorite movies in this genre.
Before we begin, I think a distinction needs to be made between post-apocalyptic movies and standard dystopian future sci-fi movies. In films like ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Escape from New York’, the world hasn’t ended; it’s just a miserable place to live. In a genuine post-apocalypse movie, some catastrophic event (be it nuclear war, disease, zombies, what have you) has wiped out the majority of human civilization.
Also, the ‘Mad Max’ trilogy is such an obvious standard bearer for this genre that we’ll just acknowledge it as an honorable mention and try to find other examples.
I had to think long and hard about this week’s topic, as I realized that there haven’t been that many great post-apocalyptic movies… at least not many that I’ve found really appealing. It seems like a huge chunk of these just want to copy the ‘Mad Max’ trilogy, which I enjoy for the action, but have never considered to fall in the realm of “great” movies. So, with that said, my choice is a film where we don’t realize (45-year-old spoiler alert!) that we’re on an apocalyptic Earth until the very end. “You maniacs! You blew it up!” That, of course, is the conclusion to 1968’s ‘Planet of the Apes‘, by far the best post-apocalypse movie ever made, not to mention one of the best twist endings in film history.
Now, I know this isn’t the type of post-apocalyptic film that most people will think of, but ‘WALL-E‘ is at the top of my list for this category. The movie takes place on an Earth with no human life – only a small robot and a single plant. The survivors of the planet all live in outer space on giant spaceships, completely unaware of the world that existed many generations ago. Rather than a zombie outbreak or nuclear war, the apocalypse was our own doing, as we trashed our environment to the point of no-return. It’s an amazing film.
The best part about post-apocalyptic movies is that the ideas are limitless. They can have monsters, psychos, disasters, zealots, etc. The strange thing about my favorite post-apocalypse film is that I can’t tell you what the root of the cataclysmic disaster was. Even though the Cormac McCarthy novel earned a Pulitzer Prize, John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of the ‘The Road‘ scored mixed reviews. Nonetheless, both are favorites of mine. Like ’28 Days Later’, ‘The Road’ focuses on the human aspect, not the sensational one. As a father/son story, it completely works. It’s an intense thriller filled with survival, starvation and cannibal hillbillies. It’s emotionally charged, well-written and superbly directed.
I’m actually torn on ‘The Road‘, as I feels it falls well short of being an effective adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. Nevertheless, the despair and fatalism present in the movie’s post-apocalyptic world make it likely the most valid counterpoint to the entertaining Wild West-style action of ‘The Road Warrior’, or any number of movies that portray an apocalyptic event as preceding an action extravaganza. The desperate struggle undertaken by the man and his son is not simply touching, but is so discomforting that ‘The Road’ is highly unlikely to be on anyone’s frequently-watched list. Of course, a destroyed and dying Earth should be discomforting, shouldn’t it?
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Let’s be honest: when everything went sour with Hostess last year, that twinge of loss you felt about the death of the Twinkie was completely because of ‘Zombieland‘. Thanks to a rotten fast food cheeseburger, the population of the U.S. post-zombie-apocalypse looks to be somewhere in the single digits. Long live the undead! Just because 99.999999999% of the country are ghoulish, decomposing flesh-eaters doesn’t mean you can’t kick up your feet and have a good time, though. What better way to fritter away what will probably be your last couple days on the planet than by goofing around in a zombie-infested amusement park? If you stumble upon some Twinkies along the way, even better!
What’s not to like? ‘Zombieland’ is sopping with splatter. It’s smarter, more perfectly paced and more deliriously fun than just about every other horror/comedy hybrid ever, and it’s one of the most effective character-driven zombie flicks this side of the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’. Just because everyone and everything you hold dear has had its innards ripped out doesn’t mean you have to be all angsty about it.
While it may not have the cachet of most (or, heck, any) of the other titles on this list, my vote undeniably has to go to ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown‘. In a post-apocalyptic world where most humans are infertile, one man (former pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) has the magic sperm that can impregnate women. He must go deep into the bowels of Frogtown, a haven for misshapen mutants, to rescue a group of fertile girls that the frogs had abducted as sex slaves. ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’ is every bit as ridiculous as the synopsis suggests, and often more so. Roddy Piper hams it up just right for his role as Sam Hell, and the creature effects are suitably nasty. Released a year before Piper’s starring turn in the cult classic ‘They Live’, ‘Hell Comes To Frogtown’ is every bit as fun.
‘Children of Men‘ straddles the line between the dystopic future and post-apocalypse genres. I could argue that the mysterious ailment that has rendered the entire world’s populace infertile was an apocalyptic, extinction-level event. However, I generally think of its setting as more of a dystopian future.
As such, I’ll go animated with this one. Hayao Miyazaki’s anime classic ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind‘ is set in a far-flung future after an apocalyptic war has wiped out most of mankind. The Earth is overrun by poisonous mutant plants and giant insects. The title character, a princess of one of humanity’s few pockets of civilization, has found a way to live in harmony with the new natural order. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for a warmongering kingdom that hasn’t learned any lessons from the past. The film, which is considered the first Studio Ghibli production, is a little preachy with its environmental message, but is filled with Miyazaki’s fantastical visuals, ideas and themes, and set the template for many of the director’s subsequent works.
What’s your favorite post-apocalypse movie? Tell us in the Comments.