Our Favorite Apocalypse

As all of the toilet paper vanishes from store shelves and the news fills with panic inducing tales, it seems like a great time to look back at some of the best cinematic apocalypses from the past.  Apocalyptic stories have been popular movie fare since at least the 1950s and the theme shows no signs of going away. AQuiet Place part 2 was set to be released later this month, but it has also been effected by the Covid-19 pandemic that seems to be grinding the entire world to  a halt.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some of This Couch Thing’s favorite apocalypse movies:

Children of Men (2006) -  Director Alfonso Curon transformed P.D. James’ didactic, and slightly dumb anti-abortion novel into a remarkable, nuanced tale about government failure, the dangers of religious extremism,  fascism, and racism. He does this in the frame of an exciting, fast-paced action tale built upon the Hero’s Journey. It stars Clive Owen in a career best performance with great supporting roles provided by Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Road (2009)- Cormac McCarthy’s most desolate, depressing novel is turned into a desolate and depressing film by director John Hilcoat. A man and his son travel cross country fighting for survival in a ruined world following an unnamed apocalypse (the novel strongly hints that this was a nuclear war, but it is never specified).

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)- Who knew that the end of the world would be so damned funny. Stanley Kubrick and his co-writes Terry Southern and Peter George mined the culture for every absurdity and focused their rage like a laser. Peter Sellers fills three roles, George C. Scott does a half-turn on his Patton, and Sterling Hayden embodies the sociopathy inherent ion the system.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – George A. Romero’s best ‘Of the Dead’ movie is an anti-consumerist screed, as well as a reminder that even when flesh eating zombies rule the earth, the real danger is always other people. 

Day of the Dead (1985)- Romero’s follow up to Dawn of the Dead has a lot to say about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, as well as how fascist regimes can rise in times of crises. 

In the Mouth of madness (1994)- John Carpenter had dealt with possible apocalypses  before (The Thing, Prince of Darkness), but this one actually happens. In this Lovecraftian tale a horror novelist has tapped into the old gods and anyone who reads his books is driven mad. These new acolytes then work to spread his gospel of madness.  Sam Neill stars as an insurance investigator trying to track down the missing novelist. Via strange clues he tracks him to a very strange New England village that (as expected) seems to be pulled directly from the works of Lovecraft.  He movie also has some strong connections to The King in Yellow (if you haven’t read Robert W. Chambers’ classic short story collection, then go do that today).

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)- Most of this list is made up of high quality, intelligent, artfully made movies. It felt like we needed one stupid, action oriented, fun movie. The Day After Tomorrow is that.  Roland Emmerich made a movie that he thought was a smart take on climate change, but really it’s just a big pile of ridiculous. Maybe the best quote from the movie is: “The storm is rotating so quickly that super-cooled air is being pulled down from the troposphere causing the ambient temperature to drop at a rate of ten degrees per second!”.  How can you not love that?

WALL-E (2008)- Pixar’s lovely tale of a lonely robot still cleaning up trash long after the humans responsible for all the mess are long dead. This sweet little movie is smart in all the ways that The Day After Tomorrow isn’t.

Bird Box (2018)- Susanne Bier turned Josh Malerman’s weird little Lovecraftian monster story into something quite lovely. This tale of motherhood after the end of the world is much better than it gets credit for being. Sandra Bullock plays a woman trying to adapt after an invasion by creatures that drive people to suicidal madness with their very appearance. The monsters themselves remain quite vague and that lets the movie focus on the character’s journey. 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)- What is there to say about the best film of the 2010s that hasn’t already been said at length? Mad max: Fury Road is a remarkably timely film. George Miller reimagined his postapocalyptic wasteland in a way that somehow presaged our current moment. This is a tale about the struggle for freedom from an authoritarian rule. 


  1. Replies
    1. Love all but the weird soggy vegas one. They don't quite reach the level of the films on this list (other than The Day After Tomorrow) though.


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