For no particular reason, ModCon has gone and compiled a list of movies that follow a certain theme. You could even say they have an “end of days vibe”. Yes, comrades: it’s the Apocalypse. Now!
Say what you will about 2016 – that it’s nasty, brutish and seemingly on a mission to kill off our greatest musical icons – but it certainly hasn’t been dull. Or much fun. 2016 has been a dumpster fire on a meth binge of a year right from day one. That may be why, as we hurtle inexorably towards it’s finish, I found myself thinking about that most beloved of movie genres: The Apocalypse.
This is not a definitive list, by any means. It’s not even the “best”. But these are some of my favorite cinematic imaginings of the Apocalypse – both pre and post.
1: Planet Of The Apes (1968)
Ever since I was a small child, I have been fascinated by the great apes. Especially the gorilla family. So I guess it was inevitable that I would end up being fascinated by the “Apes” movie series. I probably saw them all out of order on some Saturday afternoon “Creature Feature” show. All I thought at the time was how cool it was that gorillas and chimpanzees were riding horses and wearing strange armor. And talking! It was loony-tunes but I ate it up. Years later, when I finally saw the original all the way through, I was surprised by just how great a movie it was. I can only imagine what a shocker the ending must have been for audiences of the day. It still packs a wallop.
Ironically, kid-me thought that this apocalypse was pretty darn cool. If it meant that apes got to be in charge and ride horses I was all for it. I admit it’s message may have eluded me.
2: Wall-E (2008)
One of Pixar’s finest moments in a catalog that is overly stuffed with fine moments. A lonely robot dutifully wanders a barren wasteland looking for signs of returning life. The apocalypse happened a long time ago, and we are seeing the inglorious aftermath. There’s plenty of warmth and humor, but under the Pixar whimsy is a stark, uncomfortably probable scenario of mankind’s ultimate self-destruction.
Honestly? Wall-E might just be the darkest movie on this list. And it’s the only one suitable for small kids! Go figure.
3: Zardoz (1974)
Wall-E may be the darkest, but Zardoz is definitely the goofiest. Set in a firmly post-apocalyptic world populated by savage “Brutals” and elite “Eternals”, Zardoz does conform to many of the genre’s tropes. But attempting to describe this movie is akin to sculpting with smoke. There might be a “point” in here somewhere, but one look at Sean Connery in his posing pouch and your brain shuts down in self-defense. Do I need to say that there’s a shocking twist? Well, there is. And trust me when I say you truly will not believe it.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Zardoz is that director John Boorman was a genuinely fine and eclectic filmmaker. Watch Deliverance or Hope & Glory and be amazed that those are the work of the same man who made Zardoz.
4: Night Of The Comet (1984)
There was something kind of amazing about the way movies in the 80s could just be whatever the hell they wanted to be. Night Of The Comet is a perfect example: a horror/sci-fi/teen comedy that’s also a satire of horror/sci-fi/teen comedies. But it never once feels forced. It’s like director/writer Thom Eberhardt didn’t know he was doing anything that weird. The apocalypse here is the result of a strange comet that turns most of the residents in a California city into piles of dust. The ones it doesn’t, become zombies. Two sisters just happen to escape that fate and before long are running around the empty city, fighting off zombies with automatic weapons and pipe wrenches.
All told, it’s oddly empowering. To borrow a line from Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Crow T. Robot, Night Of The Comet is refreshingly itself.
5: The World’s End (2013)
Starting with Shaun Of The Dead in 2004 and continuing with Hot Fuzz in 2007, this is the final act of a loose trilogy directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright with star Simon Pegg. The 3 movies are a sort of postmodern meditation on genre movies and the geek culture that obsesses over them. God. That makes them sound crap, doesn’t it? Never mind. They are, to a one, brilliant. Funny. Weird. Oddly affecting. Beneath it’s parody of sci-fi, The World’s End is a rather dark look at Gary King (Pegg); a very sad man who never got over his youth. In this movie, rather like Night Of The Comet, the end of society is a restorative, healing event for Gary.
Up to now, I’ve presented apocalypse movies that are mostly, in their own perverse way, kind of fun. This next one, however… well… Let’s see.
6: The Last Wave (1977)
Some people might argue against this being included on a list of end time/apocalypse movies, but I stand firm. While avoiding nearly every single cliché of the “apocalypse” genre, Peter Weir’s story of an Australian lawyer defending an Aborigine against murder charges is one of the most disturbing visions of a world’s end ever put to screen. The mood of inevitable doom, heightened by never-ending rainfall, crescendos in a finale that’s on par with 1973’s The Wicker Man for surreal shock. Add in Richard Chamberlain as the lawyer, and you’ve got cult-movie meets arthouse perfection.
Fair warning: that finale puts The Last Wave firmly in the camp of movies that will absolutely piss off some viewers while thrilling others. Even the apocalypse isn’t safe from critics, I guess.
7: The Quiet Earth (1985)
From Australia we hop over to New Zealand for this cult favorite. In Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth, science rather than nature has brought on the end of the world. A project to create a global energy grid results in all of humanity disappearing. All except for three people who were at the point of death when “the incident” occurs. The apocalypse here is as much metaphysical as it is practical, with enough ambiguity to keep a David Lynch fan busy for years. Interestingly, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a big fan of The Quiet Earth.
I have one more for this list. I couldn’t very well throw together a list of movies about society ending and the world going “foom” without having at least one of this series on it.
8: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
One of the appeals of the post-apocalyptic genre is that I suppose it lets us imagine a world rebuilt from almost scratch. This allows filmmakers and audience to play the “what if?” game to their heart’s content; shaping a whole new civilization out of the semi-familiar and vaguely remembered.
Or you can be George Miller and make one of the most explosive, bat-shit crazy action movies ever, while also engaging in a pointed and insightful critique of modern society. Fourth in the Mad Max series, Fury Road sees a ragged group of unlikely allies challenge a despot who rules through a combination of violence and indoctrination. Immortan Joe is in fact a sickly, bloated wreck of a man; but the illusion he’s created is so powerful no one dares question it. Suffice to say I saw this movie 5 bloody times in the theater and every time I picked up some new little bit of subtext and detail. For a movie so brutal, it’s also staggeringly lovely. If I have to end any list of apocalypse movies with one that best sums up everything the genre can be, it’s gotta be Fury Road.
And yeah. Seeing a megalomaniac serial rapist get his jaw ripped off is oddly comforting to me these days. Why? Who knows! I’m sort of a weird guy.
So there are just a few suggestions to get you started. The apocalypse is so damn cinematic that this list could easily have been twice as long. For now however, I’m off. If you like, feel free to leave any and all suggestions below.
See you at the barricades, babe. Watch out for comets and hyper intelligent apes!