This week, theaters across the country will be infested with Contagion. The film, directed by Ocean’s 11’s Steven Soderbergh, is a multicultural exploration of a deadly virus quickly spreading across the planet. Will anyone be able to find a cure, or will this disease be the downfall of man? Grab your canned foods, your zombie-bashing club, and make sure your shots are up to date, and let’s tackle the potential end of the world together, shall we?
Planet of the Apes (1968)
When astronaut George Taylor crash-lands on a planet where apes are the dominant species, he is convinced he has discovered an alien world. Turns out, it was Earth all along. After we managed to nuke ourselves off the planet, apes evolved and took over the Earth. The last shot of the film, the Statue of Liberty lying in pieces on the beach, is Taylor’s chilling realization and one of the better shock endings in cinema history.
Escape from New York (1981)
Speaking of the Statue of Liberty, John Carpenter’s 1981 actioner depicts a future (or past now) wherein most of the world is fine, but one of the greatest cities on our planet has fallen. New York City is now a massive prison colony and, as this pic shows, most of the advertising for Escape from New York used an unsettling image of the head of Lady Liberty lying on the ground. Eat your heart out Cloverfield!
The Road Warrior (1981)
George Miller’s sequel to Mad Max is one of the premier depictions of life after a total cataclysm. Mel Gibson plays a man with a dark past who wanders the wasteland searching for Earth’s most precious resource: gasoline. Along the way, he must fight off every manner of mohawked brute and leather-clad nasty he encounters. The image of him walking down the road is iconic, though ironic in light of how many amazing car chases are featured in the film.
2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)
With the success of films like The Road Warrior and Escape from New York, Italian studios decided that, instead of coming up with original content, it would be easier to simply make those exact films again at an eighth of the cost. Thus was born this movie in which NYC was one of many cities leveled by a great war. Through dangerous territory, our hero Parsifal must go in and find the last fertile female on Earth. Overall, this film is a complete disaster.
T2: Judgment Day (1991)
The Terminator franchise succeeded not only in terms of special effects and making Arnold Schwarzenegger a movie star, but also in instilling each of us with an appropriate fear of machines. It is completely understandable that what was left of the human race sent so many agents back through time to try and prevent Judgment Day. The thought of an army of robotic warriors hell-bent on our extermination is enough to make us want to chuck our iPhones out the window.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
One of the most popular depictions of the apocalypse that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons is that of a ravenous undead horde. The granddaddy of all end-of-the-world zombie epics is George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead; the second of his dead trilogy. What makes Dawn of the Dead such a scary film are scores of zombies wandering through the shopping mall, hungry for our still-living heroes. Although it is nice to know we will still be able to shop after the apocalypse.
Damnation Alley (1977)
After nuclear war obliterates the vast majority of humanity, some survivors hole up in a military installation. The installation then unfortunately catches fire and explodes; wouldn’t you know it? Those still alive decide to travel the now-barren United States to look for any other survivors. This film has it all; giant scorpions, flesh-eating cockroaches, and one atomically awesome amour-plated RV. Look for a very young Jackie Earle Haley in this post-apocalyptic gem.
The Omega Man (1971)
Nobody likes to be the last to know a secret or the last person picked for kickball or, you know, the last man on Earth. The second of three cinematic adaptations of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (the other two being 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and 2007’s I Am Legend), The Omega Man stars Charlton Heston as the titular lone survivor who must take on a surprisingly chatty race of cannibals.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Everybody talks about the weather but nobody…knows that it’s secretly plotting to rise up and destroy us all. If the tornadoes, the tidal waves, or the deep freezes don’t kill you, global warming will literally chase you down a hallway. The Day After Tomorrow is like an Irwin Allen disaster movie from the ‘70s as directed by Al Gore.
28 Days Later (2002)
Turns out, America does not have the market cornered on zombie apocalypses. Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, proves there is no genre in which he cannot work with a slick, thought-provoking horror film about a London man who wakes up from a coma to find he may be the last man in the city, and that hordes of ravenous, rage-infected former citizens are running amok.
The Road (2009)
The Road is a bleak post-apocalyptic family drama about a man and his son traveling through the wastelands. Vigo Mortensen plays the loving father who braves cutthroats and cannibals in search of warmer climates. The Road is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy who also wrote the novel upon which the Coen Brothers’ Osacar-winning No Country for Old Men was based.
If there any doubt in your mind that Pixar is leading the way in family entertainment, you need only consider that they were able to make a character who doesn’t speak so charming, he effortlessly carries the first half hour of this film without words. The interesting thing about Wall-E is that we just kept burying ourselves in trash to the point that we had no more room to exist on Earth. So while humanity waits it out in space, Wall-E tries to dig us out of the apocalyptic mess we’ve made.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Most post-apocalyptic films harbor some amount of weirdness; giant animals, mutants, etc. But 1975’s A Boy and His Dog is a special kind of bizarre. The movie stars a young Don Johnson as the titular boy who, with his faithful canine, travels the desolate wasteland after a nuclear war in search of food…and sex. At one point, he’s lured into an underground society and used solely for breeding. It’s not hard to understand why this film carries the tagline, “a rather kinky tale of survival.”
Stake Land (2010)
Zombie uprisings are bad enough, but vampire uprisings? Those really suck. In 2010’s Stake Land, a young boy who lost his entire family to the sweeping tide of vampirism must venture north to Canada in the hopes of escaping the epidemic. He accompanied by the enigmatic “Mister” a vampire hunter who is quite handy with the sharpened stake. Pictured above, Mister joins the ranks of Blade and Peter Cushing as one of cinema’s great vampire killers.
The Book of Eli (2010)
Proving that the post-apocalyptic genre is far from extinct, 2010’s The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as a drifter making his away across the dismal, burnt-out shell that was once this country. He runs afoul of a gangster named Carnegie who controls one of the remaining villages. Carnegie is after the drifter's mysterious book, which may or may not contain the potential to save mankind. The book? How to Succeed in Business During the Apocalypse Without Really Trying.