Apocalypse Now-ish: Top 10 End of the World Movies

This is the end . . . or is it the beginning of the end . . . or maybe even the end of the end . . . I guess it all depends on whether you’re a pretribulationist, or a midtribulationist, or a pre-wrath tribulationist, or a posttribulationist. Anyway, the point is: according to Reverend Harold Camping’s calculations, today is Judgment Day.

We here at Shooting the Script just want to assure you that after the mighty earthquake shakes the dead from their graves, and after the remains of the righteous are transformed into spiritual bodies, and after Christ returns to take his holy children home to Paradise, movies will still be here. And given what godless heathens we are here in La-La-Land, we’ll probably still be here too. Verily, I say unto thee, be ye not afraid.

Of course, being the movie geek that I am, rather than running for the hills or ducking for cover beneath my desk, I’m taking this “end times” hullabaloo as a chance to make a list of my favorite end of the world movies. And we’re talking actual end of the world movies, none of this Roland Emmerich, “the world is ending, but not for everyone” shit. We’re talking the Dread Pirate Roberts version of the end, no survivors . . . ok, maybe a few survivors, but no movies featuring a post-apocalyptic world with any semblance of hope for the future of humanity. The end of the world isn’t “just like starting over,” it’s the end . . . at least eventually. Cheery, I know.

Still, to lighten the mood, I differ to the advice of one of my favorite stories dealing with the end of the world: Don’t panic.

10. Miracle Mile (1988) – Dir. Steve De Jarnatt

What starts off like a romantic comedy with Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) playing star-crossed lovers, abruptly turns into a surreal apocalyptic nightmare when Harry receives a call telling him of an imminent nuclear strike. Convinced that it’s the real deal, Harry races to find–and somehow save–Julie.

Yeah . . . Miracle Mile is kinda amazingly ridiculous. There a so many insane leaps in logic in this movie that you’re constantly questioning what anyone is thinking. Still, I love it. Miracle Mile is so enjoyably bizarre.

9. Planet of the Apes (1968) – Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner

You knew this was coming eventually . . . you had to . . . finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!


8. The Road Warrior (1981) – Dir. George Miller

The world of the original Mad Max never seemed all that apocalyptic to me, just desolate. And in Beyond Thunderdome, Bartertown is a thriving post-apocalyptic metropolis, with electricity and a large population that seems to be on the rise. But The Road Warrior, now that’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian hellscape.

7. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
Dir. – Ranald MacDougall

I love this movie. This is one of those rare gems that I discovered watching Turner Classic Movies late one night. It wasn’t even available to own, in any format, until this year. The world is wiped out by radiation. The last three people on the planet, played by Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer, survived the fallout, but can they survive each other. This movie is an amazing blend of Jean-Paul Sartre and The Twilight Zone (specifically “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”) dealing with fear, hate, jealousy, and racism.

6. On the Beach (1959) – Dir. Stanley Kramer

Another classic. This one stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. All the world seems to have been wiped out by nuclear war, save for Australia and the crew of the USS Sawfish. But the survivors aren’t out of the woods yet, air currents are carrying the nuclear fallout to them. So, as the people of Australia wait for impending doom, the crew of the USS Sawfish goes to investigate a mysterious signal coming from America. Could there be survivors? Is there hope for the world yet?

5. 12 Monkeys (1996) – Dir. Terry Gilliam

Bruce Willis is sent back in time to learn about the virus that wiped out civilization, in hopes of finding a cure. That in and of it self sounds good to me. But with Terry Gilliam directing and Brad Pitt turning in an Oscar-nominated performance as a deranged mental patient, 12 Monkeys is cinematic classic.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Dir. Philip Kaufman

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, let me say this: I love the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The reason the 78 version is on this list instead is because it takes things a step further. The invasion and subsequent fall of man are on a much larger, much more frightening scale . . . and that ending . . . come on!

3. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Dir. Zack Snyder

Again, you had to know this was coming. Did you really think I’d have a zombie-free list of my favorite end of the world movies? Of course, purist might complain that I went with the remake instead of the original, or that I went with Dawn instead of Night, but it’s my list and I can do what I want. And besides, the reason I went with the remake is it has the bleakest ending of all the Romero-related zombie movies. It seems the most like the actual end of the world. I still love the original Romero Dead trilogy the most.

2. The Day After (1983) – Dir. Nicholas Meyer

Sure, it’s a made for TV movie, but it doesn’t pull any punches. I don’t remember how young I was when I first saw this movie . . . too young, I know that much. The Day After is probably one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. This movie of the week shows, in graphic detail, the devastating effects of a nuclear attack in small-town America. We’re talking full on radiation poisoning, skin-melting, nuclear holocaust. I think what made it all the more disturbing to me as a young child was watching Steven Guttenberg suffer the effects of nuclear fallout. I was a big Mahoney fan growing up.

1. Last Night (1998) – Dir. Don McKellar

On a much lighter note . . . well, as light a note as one can reach when dealing with the end of the world . . . Last Night is a wonderfully humanistic look at the end of the world, where time just runs out. It’s beautiful and funny and touching. It’s just a great movie.

Bonus – Poltergeist II (1986) – Dir. Brian Gibson

Ok, this isn’t exactly an end of the world movie. But it is apropos, because not only are Harold Camping and Henry Kane dead ringers, Kane is also a zealot who led his followers to believe the end of the world was nigh.

God is in his holy temple / Earthly thoughts be silent now . . .


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3 responses to “Apocalypse Now-ish: Top 10 End of the World Movies

  1. You’ll still blog post-apocalypse, right? Because I would miss these. Everyone knows I’m not going to Paradise.

  2. Wow Harold camping does look like that Henry Kane from Poltergeist 2.

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