Sure, the nightly news might already feel like an end-of-the-world movie. But if it is, it’s a B-movie. You can do better. There aren’t too many better genres to binge away the weekend than apocalypse cinema, so we’ve got you covered.
What makes an apocalypse movie … apocalyptic? Does the world have to literally end or can it just be, ya know, threatened? And if it’s the latter, doesn’t that make, like, every Marvel movie an apocalypse movie? These are harder questions than you might think.
For the point of this list, we’re going to assume both—that is: movies after the end of the world and movies in which the world is either actively ending or has a probable threat against its existence. (Do Marvel movies every really put us in doubt about the world’s salvation? No.)
But we’re also cutting out films that better represent other genres. So “dystopia” fiction—though sometimes set after an apocalypse event—might not be as concerned with the end of the world as it is with other themes.
Therefore, films like Sunshine, Children of Men, 12 Monkeys, Akira, and Snowpiercer we’ve classified as science-fiction (and put them into their own ranking). We felt those films’ themes and motifs were more clear expressions of that other genre. So there.
Now let’s get down to the real end-of-the-world centric end of the world movies. Here are the 31 best apocalypse films ever.
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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
We promise it’s the only romantic comedy on the list, and while it may have been a box office bomb, it’s probably the best end of the world film to watch with your SO. Unless your SO would rather just watch Independence Day for the umpteenth time. If so, marry them.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
A delightful film that mixes black comedy with science fiction, A Boy and His Dog sets the duo scavenging across a nuclear wasteland. It’s bizarre and funny and a little messed up and we love it.
I Am Legend (2007)
Michael Bay’s anti-asteroid team of apocalypse-preventing heroes features all the large scale, ahem, Bayhem we miss watching on the big screen. Bring it into your living rooms.
This Is the End (2013)
You’ll either love this movie and find it hilarious or hate this movie and find it obnoxious. If you thought Seth Rogan comedies died out earlier in the decade, you are wrong, sir.
The Rover (2011)
What was Robert Pattinson doing after Twilight? He was appearing in absolutely amazing independent cinema. The Rover finds Edward injured on the side of the road at the end of all law and order. It’s a slow burn with some violent payoffs.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero basically invented the modern zombie. Thirty years after The Night of the Living Dead, Romero gives us zombies attacking a shopping mall in maybe the best film of that genre.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What George A. Romero is to zombies, Edgar Wright is to zombie comedies. It would take a while for zombies to be scary again.
Somehow, even after Shaun of the Dead, came another amazing zombie apocalypse comedy—and one that’s particularly American.
An imaginative tale of rag-doll horcruxes venturing forth to save rescue a destroyed earth, 9 is just a load of fun.
The Quiet Earth (1985)
A solid post-apocalyptic film with the genre’s typical array of wasteland drama—but not without some great wasteland moments.
Bringing the Edgar Wright zombie comedy to Canada, Pontypool is darker, weirder, and definitely a lot scarier.
It Comes At Night (2017)
Post-apocalyptic cinema is having a renaissance through so-called “post horror”—a smaller-budget genre of scary movies focused on realism and unconventional storytelling. What “it” is that comes at night is best left unknown.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Remember, Stanley Kubrick made Dr. Strangelove just after the Cuban Missile crisis (which could have marked the actual end of the world.) A sardonic articulation of Cold War nuclear fears, the film remains equally absurd and, at times, sadly still relevant.
The Road (2009)
It’s one of the most depressing films you’ll ever watch, and so, in other words, a really great interpretation of Cormac McCarthy’s blistering novel. If you’re into that kinda thing.
A Quiet Place (2018)
First time director John Krasinski debuts one of the scariest films in recent years and a reminder that you can do end-of-the-world monster horror well without resorting to genre conventions.
Independence Day (1996)
Iconic speech, iconic White House shot, iconic Will Smith being iconic. Be honest: Your Fourth of July movie tradition is either this or National Treasure.
At times, it’s a toss-up between waiting for the world to end and waiting for the film to end, but controversial director Lars Von Trier rescues you enough with some of the most engaging visuals of any film on this list.
The Day After (1983)
Before the Cold War came to an end, ABC broadcasted this hypothetical nuclear scenario that probably terrified so many kids watching at home.
Last Night (1998)
More Canadian black comedy gold that’s also pretty thought-provoking and features North American treasure Sandra Oh.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
The best of the new trilogy, War finds the series at the height of its visual effects and storytelling powers while also featuring some incredible Oscar-worthy motion-capture work by Andy Serkis. Give the man an Oscar, damnit.
Take Shelter (2011)
Take Shelter is not a conventional end-of-the-world film, and that’s probably what makes it one of the genre’s bests. More about trust and belief than superstorms and wastelands, the film is a ride worth taking. Trust us and just watch.
The Day After Tomorrow(2004)
This film has just about every end-of-the world trope (read: cliche) you can imagine. (Just look at this poster, a reference to another film on this list.) But we don’t care. It’s icy fun and maybe the best movie to watch in a snowstorm while surrounded by burnable books.
When the Wind Blows (1986)
It’s an animated story about an elderly English couple preparing for the bomb. Poignant, hilarious, and beautifully animated.
From the directors of Amelie, Delicatessen is a post-apocalyptic dark comedy and one strange, strange film that, like the directors’ previous works, is just wonderful.
On the Beach (1959)
Just before the Cold War heated up, On the Beach imagined a group awaiting nuclear Armageddon. Just look at this cast list: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire. Hollywood royalty.
Wall-E is Pixar at the height of its animating powers. It’s a story of friendship and acceptance in a world shot through (and literally destroyed) with mindless consumerism. Brought to you also by Disney. (No connection between those last two sentences …)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind(1984)
Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa was partly inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune. It depicts a post-apocalyptic toxic wilderness and explores one of Miyazaki’s most salient theme: ecological destruction.
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later ushered in an era of the sprinting undead. It’s one of the more terrifying zombie films and also one with a lot of prescient things to say about order, chaos, and civilization in the post 9/11 world.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
A mix between sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and comedy, the original Planet of the Apes made a big splash, imagining a futuristic voyage through a familiar world gone to hell, and featuring one of the most chilling final shots of all time.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max is quite simply the reason we watch movies. Its high octane balls-to-the-walls stunt work and practical effects. Its unapologetic celebration of sound and visuals. Its critique of itself and its male-studded genre. What a lovely film.
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