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Everyone loves a good end-of-the-world movie! The genre goes back, well, to the beginning of storytelling probably and it’s been a part of Hollywood since the beginning too.
Classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951 and Night Of The Living Dead in 1968 have become firmly entrenched in the zeitgeist of American movie culture. As this list shows, the reasons and results of the end of the world or the impending apocalypse can be as varied as any other trope in Hollywood. In fact, while the films don’t always work, when they do, they often become instant classics.
So, of course we've decided to compile some of these classic movies. Please note: all are pretty different from each other, but have common themes – either mankind causes the end of the world, or another force does, like mother nature or even aliens. The first one on the list is the latter.
War Of The Worlds (1953)
War Of The Worlds, originally a book published in the 19th century by sci-fi legend H. G. Wells, has been brought to life in almost every form of media in the 20th and 21st centuries. There is, of course, the famous radio broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938. There was the Tom Cruise movie in 2005 and there was even a short-lived TV show in the '80s.
Still, the best is the 1953 movie that, even for its age, is still pretty darn scary. If you aren’t familiar, in the flick the world is invaded by aliens that destroy pretty much everything in their wake and earth’s weapons -- including a nuclear bomb! -- do nothing to stop them. As they maraud their way through America, the main characters are chased from location to location before finally being saved by… mother nature.
Does the world actually end? It doesn’t. Eventually the aliens don’t succumb to the fighting will of humans, but to the treachery of biology. They are not immune to Earth’s bacteria.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2012)
Proving the subject of the end of the world can work in any genre, even rom-coms, there is Seeking A Friend For The End Of World. The movie stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as neighbors who break up with their respective significant others and end up falling in love with each other as an asteroid rapidly approaches earth.
It doesn’t seem like it should, but somehow, Seeking A Friend For The End Of World works, both as an end-of-the-world movie and as a slightly corny, but still sweet romantic comedy. It’s actually a fairly plausible story, and the encounters that Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s characters have as they make their trek “home” are also pretty believable, like the orgy in a diner scene. You have to assume that people could easily react like that to the end of the world, right?
Does the world actually end? It does. Or we can assume it does, as the last scene features the two leads lying in bed, lamenting the short time they had together as (we can guess) the world ends when the asteroid strikes it. Yet, we can feel good about it, because these two love birds found each other before the end.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worry And Love The Bomb (1964)
Back in the Cold War days, many people were convinced that a man-made atomic apocalypse was going to happen at any moment. This was never truer than it was in the early and mid-sixties. The Soviets had the bomb and they were putting missiles in Cuba. The end was near and Stanley Kubrick was all over it with the farcical and brilliant Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worry And Love The Bomb.
With an all-star cast that included Slim Pickens, George C. Scott, and Peter Sellers playing three different roles, Dr. Strangelove is disturbingly hilarious. It’s as harrowing as any other movie set during the end of the world, with the world on the brink of nuclear destruction and no one seemingly competent enough to stop it (and not wanting to stop it). Peter Sellers' brilliance is on full display, playing three different and messed up characters, including the diabolical Dr. Strangelove and the straight forward and dour President Merkin Muffley.
Does the world end? We can assume it does, yes. The final scene, after Slim Pickens rides his nuke to destruction over the Soviet Union, is a classic movie moment, and the men in the war room know the end is near and have made plans. The movie ends with dozens of mushroom clouds rising around the world, meaning certain destruction.
The Wandering Earth (2019)
Did you know that the third highest grossing movie of 2019 is a movie The Wandering Earth? Only The Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel have made more. It’s a pretty astonishing feat, considered it wasn’t made by Hollywood and it only made about $5 million at the box office in the United States. It made an incredible $690 million in China though, where it was made.
The Wandering Earth is also pretty good as this genre goes, though like many movies set during the end of the world, the plot is completely ridiculous. Set in 2061, the sun is dying and about to explode and mankind, led by the Chinese, of course, come together to build giant engines that will push Earth out of the solar system and safely away from the sun. So, yeah, you need to suspend reality completely and just let the CGI flow over you.
Does the world end? We’re not going to spoil it, but the major drama occurs when earthquakes take out most of the engines pushing the earth as it approaches Jupiter, which the earth must whip around to gain the momentum out of the solar system. Will Earth make it or will it collide with Jupiter? The Wandering Earth is on Netflix, so check it out!
28 Days Later… (2002)
The zombie apocalypse is one of the most popular tropes in end of the world movies. 28 Days Later… is no different, but it does it better than any of the previous zombie movies. Danny Boyle’s classic 28 Days Later... is dark and scary and filled with dread, like any good end-of-the-world movie should be. It has set the standard for all zombie stories since.
Like many others, the end of the world in 28 Days Later… is caused by humans, when eco-terrorists unleash a virus that spreads rapidly through Great Britain, turning victims into zombies while the military tries to instill marshal law.
Does the world end? No, it doesn’t but that doesn’t mean this isn’t on the bleakest movies on the subject. The deep foreboding mood overwhelms viewers and sucks them into the story right from the start. 28 Days Later… is scary and tense and one of the best of the best in the genre.
This Is The End (2013)
This Is The End turns the genre completely on its head by making it all seem hysterically over the top. The cast is made up of a who’s who in Hollywood, all playing themselves, - over-the-top versions of themselves – that are attending a party at James Franco’s house when the rapture occurs. The cast includes Franco, Seth Rogan, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Kevin Hart, Raul Rudd, Craig Robinson, Rihanna, Jason Segal and many, many more.
The movie is filled with laugh-out-loud moments from the unbelievable cast, all of whom show a willingness to make fun of themselves and everyone else in the movie. Is there anything funnier (or grosser) than Danny McBride’s big moment in the movie? It’ll have you in tears.
Does the world end? Yep, it sure does, but don’t worry, it ends happily with the Backstreet Boys entertaining everyone in heaven.
The Road (2009)
On the complete other end of the spectrum is one of the bleakest movies ever made, based on one of the bleakest books ever written by Cormac McCarthy. The Road follows a man, played by Viggo Mortensen, and his son as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world after an undefined disaster. They face all kinds of threads in the dark, cloud-covered world where everything is basically just a shade of grey.
The movie’s modest budget but first rate cast, including Mortensen, Charlize Theron as his deceased wife, Guy Pearce, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Robert Duvall is a testament to how powerful the material the film was based on is. There is almost no hope throughout the movie, except for a brief moment at the end, and even then, it’s left very ambiguously.
Does the world end? Well, it basically has already ended and there is little evidence to suggest things won’t completely die off in the future. There are still some people still slogging through the bleak life, but it sure doesn’t seem like any of them will last very long. There is the possible hope at the end, but given how bleak the movie is overall, it’s hard to have much faith in that hope.
Children Of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón doesn’t direct a lot of movies, but when he does, they are almost always brilliant. His shelf is filled with awards for movies like Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Roma. Because of that impressive resume of films, his end of the world movie, Children Of Men, is often overlooked. That is a big mistake.
Set 18 years in the future, Children Of Men stars Clive Owen, who leads a cast that includes Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a future where it’s been 18 years since an woman has become pregnant due to a pandemic that struck humankind. While there are people hoping to reverse the situation, mankind seems doomed without a way prorogate the future. Kee, played Clare-Hope Ashitey becomes the first woman on earth to become pregnant and it becomes a race to escape the Great Britain and find people that can help her and possibly all of mankind by saving her and her baby.
Does the world end? Unknown. The movie, after a series of scary and forbidding events, does end with hope, so maybe Kee and her baby live and the knowledge learned from studying them saves the world. Of maybe it doesn’t, the film doesn’t give a definitive answer.
Of course, we could go on and on here, there will likely never be a shortage of end of the world films, but these are the cream of the crop as they stand today. What do you think? Let us know in the comments and vote for your favorite below!