End of the World: Post-Apocalyptic Movies You Have to See

Kevin Costner
Waterworld | Gordan Company

So what happens after the bomb hits, the zombies arrive, disease ravages the population, and the earth floods? If you take dystopia just one step further, what do you end up with? The end of the world, of course — and all the fantastic cinematic interpretations that we’ve made while pondering our ultimate demise. Post-apocalyptic films are an interesting genre, usually combining utter degradation and human devolution in the struggle for survival with hope, and the bonds of love and friendship.

Seeing a destroyed version of a city we know and love can certainly put life and politics into perspective, as is often the intention of filmmakers. With Mad Max: Fury Road  reinvigorating the genre, let’s  take a look at eight other post-apocalyptic movies that ended the world in style.

1. Waterworld

Waterworld follows a pretty obvious premise: the ice caps have melted and the entire planet has become one gigantic ocean. Surviving humans live on floating make-shift civilizations and boats, fending off pirates. Kevin Costner stars as an outcast, born with marine mutations, who befriends a woman and small girl on the run from criminals who know their secret: a map tattooed on the child that could lead to a fabled dry land.

Released in 1995, Waterworld is something of a classic post-apocalyptic film, though it faced a great deal of criticism when it first hit theaters — a result of its budgetary problems, since water isn’t as easy to film on as some expected. Some of the costuming is a bit corny admittedly, but the set and special effects were rather well done for the 90s, and if all else fails, you get to see Deb from Napoleon Dynamite (Tina Majorino) as a little tattooed girl.

2. 9

Sometimes a simplistic story line can be all the more creepy, as is proven in 9, a disturbing animated film from Tim Burton, very much in his style, released on September 9, 2009. While it’s not exactly a light touch with the symbolism, and we see our first human corpse not far into the film’s wasteland, the movie is visually striking and well-designed.

The monsters are terrifying creations of bone and rusted metal, and the characters are somehow both sweet and creepy — named after numbers, missing bits and pieces, and with plenty of patchwork, they’re exactly what you’d expect with Burton producing. Recognizable voice actors included Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, and Jennifer Connelly.

3. The Road

Cormac McCarthy’s novel made the national bestseller list, and while the movie wasn’t quite as successful, it still retained some of the dark desperation the book offered. The Road, not to be confused with On the Road by Jack Kerouac, tells the story of a father and his son’s fight for survival in a cold, wintery world, with starvation all around and dangerous human predators on watch for easy victims.

The film looks at what people will do to survive and what drives us. ”I’ll kill anyone that touches you, cause that’s my job,” says Viggo Mortensen, who plays the father, to his son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In). Also starring are Robert Duvall (Secondhand Lions), Guy Pearce (Momento), and Charlize Theron (Monster).

4. The Salute of the Jugger (aka The Blood of Heroes)

This 1989 film is more likely to appeal to a cult audience. Salute of the Jugger was written and directed by David Peoples, who wrote the screenplay for 12 Monkeys, Ladyhawke, and Blade Runner, and it’s somewhat in keeping with the same style — even starring Rutger Hauer, who also had prominent roles in Ladyhawke and Blade Runner.

In a destroyed, desert-like world, people have come to love a violent and bloody game, competing for the title of Jugger. Hauer’s character, Sallow, seeks to gain back his honor after a terrible loss in the games, and takes Kidda — played by Joan Chen — under his wing and onto his team as they compete with others in the nine remaining cities on earth.

5. 12 Monkeys

There are a lot of theories about how the world will end. 12 Monkeys addresses a popular one, taking us to a world destroyed by disease where humans are unable to live on the surface. In order to discover how the virus was released and prevent the destruction before it happens, a criminal (Bruce Willis) is convinced to go back in time with the offer of a reduced sentence.

What follows is a confusing and sometimes rather disturbing plot, with conspiracies, mental hospitals, and a constant feeling of time running out. Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe also star, with Pitt playing a fellow patient at the insane asylum, and Stowe a doctor who begins to believe the stories of a dystopic future after things start adding up.

6. Mad Max

Mad Max is classic post-apocalyptic cinema. Made in 1979, it’s basically a futuristic automobile-style western, with Mel Gibson as Max, the Australian police officer out to get revenge on those who went after his wife, son, and partner. The movie influenced much of the dystopic and post-apocalyptic film that came after, and gave young Mel Gibson one of his first roles.

Mad Max eventually led to Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and of course 2015’s stunning Mad Max: Fury Road.

7. 28 Days Later

There are a long list of zombie movies to pick from when it comes to a flesh eating end to the world. 28 Days Later is one of the more disturbing and well-crafted of the recent films, a uniquely high quality horror film, not to be confused with its sequel, 28 Weeks Later. The former received an 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer,” while the latter received 71 percent.

For those familiar with The Walking Dead, the beginning of the film will be a familiar one, with a man waking from a coma after the world has already ended around him. He then very quickly has to come to terms with the dangers around him, find fellow living friends to team up with, and make a plan to survive.

8. Children of Men

Children of Men puts a unique spin on the death of the human race by simply ending pregnancy. It pairs the potential for life and a future with war when a young refugee finds herself the first pregnant woman in many years, and she’s suddenly caught amidst violent civil war and in considerable danger.

Other films are somehow more distanced from reality and therefore less disturbing than Children of Men, which hints at past horrors and genocides, while showing conflicts that are all too familiar with what we see on the news. Place a newborn child in the scene and the film is both heartbreaking with hints at being hopeful.

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