If there’s one thing we all love, it’s a horrific end-of-the-world movie. Whether these films focus on characters fighting zombies, biochemical warfare, a meteor, or cannibals, there’s something intriguing about watching the world burn from the comfort of your living room.
Perhaps this is because we think that it can never happen to us; that, in the end, everything will sort itself out. People have, after all, been predicting the end times since the beginning of times, but after everything that’s happened, we’re still here. The Earth has not (yet) ended. Aliens have not (yet) invaded. Zombies have not begun rising from the dead… (yet).
It seems that the more implausible these fantastical science fiction scripts are, the more we are drawn to them, and the more they make us question our universe. Do aliens exist? Will a meteor hit Earth and kill us all? Will the world actually end? There have been hundreds of apocalyptic films made in the past 70 or so years, attempting to interpret these questions, and some of them, though terrifying and tragic, have ended on a hopeful note with a promise for the future of mankind. Others… not so much.
Sometimes in movies with such dark themes, as the ones listed here, the world actually does end, and if it doesn’t, well, it probably might as well.
15. Deep Impact – 1998
When you’re watching a movie like Deep Impact, try not to get too attached to any of the characters because chances are you’re going to see them die. Especially if they’re the astronauts being launched into space, and even more so if they’re part of the civilian population left behind on earth, hoping that they’ll be saved by NASA. In this devastating apocalyptic thriller, Earth is threatened by a massive comet called the Wolf-Biederman comet. The comet is discovered to be on a collision course toward earth and if it hits will annihilate all human life. Luckily for the entire world, the American President Beck (Morgan Freeman) has been secretly planning a defense alongside Russia for over a year. The plan: to fly a spacecraft onto the comet and detonate enough nuclear bombs on it to divert its path from earth. However, this mission goes bad very quickly and only manages to break the comet apart, creating two comets, both hurtling toward earth. By the end of Deep Impact the death count is in the millions, if not billions, after one of the comets hits the Atlantic Ocean and half of the earth is wiped out.
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane – 2016
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, this science fiction psychological thriller is about a girl named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who crashes her car and wakes up in a strange man’s bunker. Howard, played by John Goodman, informs Michelle that the world has been attacked and that it isn’t safe to walk the surface of it. For these reasons, Howard believes that he and Michelle must remain underground indefinitely. Since Michelle was unconscious during this alleged attack and since the audience remains in Michelle’s perspective for the entire film, there is no way of knowing the truth of what has or has not happened on earth. Playful but absolutely terrifying, this film deals with the space under the ground versus the surface of the earth in an interesting way, both in flux, both at times coming to represent safety and danger. It was released in March 2016 and made a cool $108 million at the box office. If you didn’t get a chance to see this on the big screen, it’s the perfect film to watch on a dark, rainy night.
13. I Am Legend – 2007
In 1954, a writer named Richard Matheson wrote a novel titled I Am Legend, which considerably popularized the idea of a disease wiping out all of mankind. It also became the inspiration for the film adaptions The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007). Looking at the most recent adaptation of Matheson’s story, I Am Legend is the post-apocalyptic horror film starring Will Smith as Neville, the seemingly last human on earth who has not died from the virus or mutated into a “darkseeker.” He is accompanied through the apocalypse by his dog Sam and attempts to find a cure for the virus. In the daytime, he travels through the overgrown New York City streets looking for animals to experiment and possibly find other survivors. At night, he locks himself in his apartment to stay safe from the dangers lurching outside. Wrestling with his own sanity throughout the film, Neville struggles to find a will to live in a world where there’s no one left to share it with.
12. World War Z – 2013
Based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks and directed by Marc Foster, World War Z is one of those zombie films that you’ll really get a kick out of watching. Whether it has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes or not, this film delivers such fast-paced and thrilling zombie action that it has rightfully earned a place in the genre. Starring Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator, the film follows Lane through the zombie outbreak, first in Philadelphia, then South Korea and finally to Jerusalem where the zombies terrifyingly create a pile of more zombies to climb the city’s protective wall. Even though Lane is able to track down the source and figure out how to find cover amidst the zombie hordes, the film ends with the world under a full blown zombie siege. An absolute box office hit, World War Z earned $540 million worldwide and was created into a video game by Phosphor Game Studio.
11. The Mist – 2007
This chilling American science fiction horror film released in 2007 is based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King. Taking the idea that what we cannot see is more terrifying than what we can see, The Mist creates a horribly creepy apocalyptic setting after a thick, menacing, mist envelopes the town of Bridgton, Maine. Focused around a small group of locals who had traveled to the grocery store for supplies following a storm, the mist sets in, and anyone who dares go into it is killed by monstrous creatures. Although some believe that the mist is brought on as a sign of the end times, a soldier in the film explains that the government may have opened a doorway into another world. Directed by Frank Darabont, and starring Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden, The Mist is a suspense driven sci-fi about the end of the world that offers no help to the characters being attacked, leading to one of the darkest endings of any film, whether it be apocalyptic or not.
10. Children of Men – 2006
Set in the year 2027, this dark science fiction thriller is about human infertility and the extinction of the human race. The film follows former activist Theo Faron (Clive Owen) through the militarized world of the UK, one of the only remaining nations in the world, as he struggles to find meaning in his empty life without his wife (divorced) or son (deceased). It has been 18 years since the last baby was born and the future seems hopeless. However, Theon’s world is forever changed when he meets Kee, a pregnant refugee, and is pulled back into his old life, full of hope for the future of mankind. Although Children of Men is a story centered around hope for the human race, it is still a dark apocalyptic film filled with graphic violence, loss, and sadness. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) and with exquisite cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman), Children of Men is an apocalyptic film that successfully transports its audience into the dark and filthy world of the last generation of humans.
9. Mad Max: Fury Road – 2015
Directed by George Miller, the fourth film of the Mad Max franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road has a well-deserved place on this list of darkest apocalyptic films ever made. Set in the desert wasteland years after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization on earth, the wicked leader of the War Boys, Immortan Joe reigns his terror over the people. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) takes Joe’s five wives and drives her War Rig into the desert the film begins a lengthy and thrilling car chase as she and Max Rockatansky fight Joe’s army to get to what Furiosa calls The Green Place. Of course, there is no Green Place, just a swampland, and the characters in this film gain no real hope for the future. The film nearly swept the 88th Academy Awards with six Oscars, including Best Costume Design. It earned a worldwide gross of $375.8 million. The budget for the film, $200 million.
8. Twelve Monkeys – 1995
This science fiction film is about a man who must travel back in time in order to prevent a deadly virus from spreading. James Cole (Bruce Willis) lives underground in the year 2035 because in the years 1995 and 1996 a virus killed over 5 billion people. Since then the air above ground has been considered toxic, and underground, scientists work tirelessly to correct the course of humankind. When Cole is sent back in time to find the Army of the 12 Monkey, he is sent to the wrong time, and as Cole begins to jump through history, he begins to lose touch with reality. In Twelve Monkeys, the theme of sanity is prevalent as more than one character questions, whether they are crazy or not. Since the main focus of the film is time travel, the plot can get slightly over-complicated, but if you’re the type that enjoys watching a good movie more than once, you’ll be able to eventually piece it all together. Alongside Bruce Willis, Twelve Monkeys also stars Brad Pitt, Madeline Stowe, and David Morse, all delivering powerfully mad performances and making this film an apocalyptic classic.
7. 28 Days Later – 2002
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, the 2002 thriller 28 Days Later follows Jim (Cillian Murphy) after he awakens from a coma in a London hospital. When he wakes, the hospital and the city are all abandoned. He walks through the empty streets in search of people but only comes in contact with those who have become infected. He is saved from a zombie horde by Selena and Mark who take him to find his parents, who, they find, have committed suicide. Mark is bitten by a zombie and Selena teaches Jim how things work in a zombie apocalypse. The film gets even grittier after the military safe house the survivors arrive at is actually a trap set to lure people to them. From there the film gets darker and darker as the men are executed and the women are nearly raped. The film was so popular, there was a sequel made in 2007 called 28 Weeks Later.
6. Snowpiercer – 2013
Based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, the 2013 film Snowpiercer is set on a train called The Rattling Ark, a huge train that travels around the world. Using perpetual motion, the train contains the last human survivors on earth following a devastating accident with climate engineering causing an ice age. After 15 years aboard the train the remaining humans have created a class system and enforce this violently. The elite live in the front cars while the lower class live in the back. Of course, the lower class or “scum” revolt to overthrow the elite. In the end, the train is derailed and everyone but two people die. Signifying, perhaps, a rebirth for the world. The film was directed by Bong Joon-ho and is his first English language film. It stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer. It broke box office records in South Korea when it was released and grossed $86 million worldwide.
5. Dawn of the Dead – 1978
Directed by George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), the 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead follows the story of a few survivors who find refuge in a shopping mall after the dead began to rise up and eat human flesh. Although they barricade the shopping mall from zombie infiltration and enjoy their lives inside the mall very much, there small utopia is eventually destroyed by a group of bikers who allow the zombies to raid the mall. Instead of waiting out the attack, the survivors fight and die in the mall, while two escape in a helicopter. But since civilization has already collapsed and the helicopter has limited fuel supply, there is only so much hope the audience is left with when they watch them fly away. It was hailed by critics as one of the most entertaining horror films of its time with stellar acting throughout and iconic special effects. This is a film that horror movie fans won’t want to miss out on.
4. Equilibrium – 2002
Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, the film Equilibrium takes place after World War III when most of the world was destroyed. The survivors live in the futuristic society called Libria where all expressions and feelings are suppressed through a mandatory daily injection of Prozium II. Those who do not take the drug and allow themselves to experience emotion are quickly put to death via incineration. The main character in the story is Grammaton Cleric John Preston, played by Christian Bale, whose sole purpose in life is to root out those who hide illegal materials and execute the perpetrators. John Preston does not feel emotion, and he is a master in his profession. It is not until he puts a bullet through his own partner’s head that he starts to question the world around him. Quickly, Preston starts to fall apart, missing doses of his Prozium II, and triggering a series of events that make Equilibrium one of the most entertaining and underrated apocalyptic action films out there.
3. Stake Land – 2010
Instead of zombies coming for human flesh, in Jim Mickle’s horror film Stake Land, humans are hunted by vampires who attack and kill them at night. After humans were driven from major cities and forced to live on the outskirts of town, they try desperately to hide from vampires. Mister, a vampire hunter, meets a young man named Martin and together they travel through America in search of their own utopia. Along the way they encounter other humans and vampires, as well as a militia called The Brotherhood. The entire film allows the characters no rest from the violent world they live in, as they are forced to keep moving through their apocalyptic hell no matter what. Both Mister and Martin believe that they will find what they call the “New Eden” it’s just a matter of surviving long enough to make it there. Before the film was released, there were seven prequels that aired as webisodes, as an attempt to explain the apocalyptic world. The producers recently announced that there will also be a sequel to Stake Land.
2. Brazil – 1985
Another Terry Gilliam directed film, Brazil is a dark science fiction film that takes place in the dystopian world where the government reigns absolute control over their civilian population. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) works for the government and is assigned to investigate the accidental death of a man named Archibald Buttle. Throughout the film, Sam continues to have a recurring dream about a woman, who he thinks he meets in real life during his investigation. As Sam goes further down the rabbit hole of the investigation things start getting confused in his mind, eventually leading to a total mental breakdown. Terry Gilliam has been quoted saying that this film and some of his others are about the “craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible.” Also starring Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, and Bob Hoskins, this film was nominated for two Academy Awards including best Original Screenplay.
1. The Road – 2009
This post-apocalyptic drama is probably one of the darkest films ever made. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is about a man (Viggo Mortensen) and a boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they navigate through the dark apocalyptic land filled with thieves, murderers and cannibals, with their rickety grocery cart of supplies. As they try to stay alive in a world where everything seems to be pitted against them, they find a shelter where they are able to hide for at least a little while, but that too, ends, and they must continue down the road where nothing awaits them but their possible deaths. Stark in style and in theme, the film successfully creates a world devoid of any hope save for the few moments of happiness shared between the man and the boy and a couple bullets left in their pistol. The film was nominated for and won many different awards, and grossed $27.6 million at the box office.