The Five Best Post-Apocalyptic Films

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
November 6th, 2013

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The Five Best Post-Apocalyptic Films

Post-apocalyptic films might all be concerned with the end of the world, but there are many different ways to tell the tale of the end of humanity. Whether the apocalypse comes due to science gone wrong or the dead rising from their graves, the real story is how average people come to terms with the horror and occasionally become heroes. These five films are good examples of the genre and offer a few different viewpoints on society's final act.

"The Road Warrior"

While some would argue that the first movie in the Mad Max series is the superior film, "The Road Warrior" is the movie that visually defined the post-apocalyptic wasteland. The film's blasted Australian desert, populated by motorcycle-riding savages battling it out over dwindling resources, has become an icon of the genre, and Mel Gibson's Max spawned an endless number of imitators in similar films. Its sequel, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," is another great wasteland tale, if one burdened by a particularly quirky subplot involving a tribe of feral children looking for their lost shepherd. A fourth film rebooting the series is due to hit theaters in 2014.

"Dawn of the Dead"

The zombie apocalypse genre is another where the sophomore film serves as a more complete realization of the world than the original movie. While "Night of the Living Dead" was certainly a groundbreaking film, its limited scope keeps it from truly realizing its post-apocalyptic potential. In "Dawn of the Dead," however, director George Romero truly gives the audience a view of a world gone wrong. A band of humans see the writing on the wall as the dead walk again and find a shopping mall to fortify as a castle against the undead hordes. The movie cycles from the unrelenting horror of the zombie apocalypse to an almost pleasant tale of the last survivors playing house inside the abandoned mall, but of course things can't last forever. The series went on to spawn several sequels and remakes, but none of them quite manage to capture the feel of a society falling apart under the undead menace like this one.

"Pacific Rim"

In the world of "Pacific Rim," the apocalypse comes at the hand of gigantic alien monsters. Director Guillermo del Toro's film is a love letter to Godzilla films, but there are no rubber suits or cardboard skyscrapers to be seen here. The level of destruction the Kaiju have caused is truly astonishing, and the sense of scale in the movie's battles is immense. Here, the humans have created a last line of defense in the form of giant battle robots capable of giving these monsters a stand-up fight, but humanity is clearly on the ropes. The story is a race against time as the dwindling survivors try to understand their giant adversaries and find a way to drive them off for good.


It can be easy to forget that not too long ago, humanity still labored in the shadow of a potentially real apocalypse. The Cold War spawned a number of post-apocalyptic movies, each attempting to show the horror of what it would be like if someone really did push the button. While American audiences are more familiar with "The Day After," the British film "Threads" beats it for sheer despair. In this movie, Britain finds itself caught in the crossfire between a US-Soviet nuclear exchange, and the film concerns the members of a few families in a small town devastated by a nuclear warhead. There's no heroic leader saving the day here, just average people facing the realization that their civil defense pamphlets and canned food stores mean nothing in the face of an actual ICBM attack. The film is full of heart-wrenching scenes, none quite so bleak as a young boy crying hysterically for his missing older brother in the seconds before the blast. "Threads" is a fantastic post-apocalyptic movie, but one that may require a cheery recovery film as a chaser.


However, not every post-apocalyptic film has to be depressing. Pixar's "WALL·E" is technically a post-apocalyptic story set on an Earth where humanity's excesses have destroyed the pristine planet and forced them to flee from its surface. The early part of the film highlights the melancholy of a society that may be forever lost, only for the salvage robot WALL·E and his strange new companion to find hope amongst the ruins. Once the film really gets going, it becomes more of a standard science fiction tale, but it's worth it for a post-apocalyptic story where maybe, just maybe, everything might turn out okay in the end.


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