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If a movie starts with Earth being destroyed within the first 10 minutes, it’s good!
From asteroid impacts to pandemics and alien invasions, apocalyptic end-of-the-world movies have always fascinated moviegoers.
So here are the 20 best apocalyptic and dystopic end-of-the-world movies of all time – ranked for you to disagree with.!
20. War of the Worlds (2005)
The 2005 update to the famous H.G Wells’ sci-fi classic about an alien invasion threatening humanity.
Writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp and director Steven Spielberg decided to tell a more personal -, and I guess emotional – tale, as we follow Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his daughter Rachel Ferrier (Dakota Fanning) as they try to survive the aliens’ attack.
Did it work? No! But the opening scene with the lightning strikes and the alien tripods is bloody cool. And so is the feeling of helplessness and the sense that the human race is no match for these aliens.
19. 2012 (2009)
Geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) meets with astrophysicist Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) and discovers that neutrinos from a huge solar flare are heating Earth’s core and making the earth’s crust unstable.
The governments in the world’s most powerful countries know this and have, in secrecy, built nine arks, each capable of carrying 100,000 people, ensuring the species’ survival. The rest of the earth is doomed.
Meanwhile, writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) stumbles on the same information and now tries to get to the arks together with his family.
2012 has an interesting backstory based on the Incan calendar myth that the world would end on December 21st, 2012. It’s then sprinkled with awesome CGI (that scene with the plane escaping a crumpling Los Angeles still holds up to this day).
18. WALL-E (2008)
The Earth has been turned into one giant landfill with trash from the globe-spanning Buy N Large corporation due to rampant consumerism and environmental neglect in the distant future.
The only one left on Earth is WALL-E, an old garbage-collecting robot, who has been left to clean up humanity’s mess.
One day, a probe called EVE lands on Earth looking for signs of vegetation and sustainable life, and WALL-E is instantly smitten with the new beautiful robot.
As the two begin to connect, WALL-E shows EVE a small living plant. However, EVE immediately goes into standby and returns to the starliner Axiom, which hosts the last of the human race. WALL-E attaches himself to the rocket and follows along for the ride.
In the centuries since the Axiom left Earth, humans have degenerated into fat, lazy, and helpless individuals who rely on technology for even the smallest things.
The ship’s captain discovers that the plant acts as a catalyst for bringing humans back to Earth and restarting the population. However, the robot AUTO operates according to a secret no-return directive issued by Buy N Large, who have concluded that Earth could not be saved.
Thus, a battle follows where humanity must learn to stand on its own two feet – literally!
WALL-E is an uncharacteristic dystopic but, at the same time, a charming film from Pixar with a strong message.
17. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), a paleoclimatologist, finds evidence that an accelerated Ice Age is about to occur.
No one within the government believes him, so he teams up with an oceanographer and a NASA meteorologist who find similar signs to work on a model that can predict the spread of the new Ice Age.
Things are set into motion as the weather turns nasty. A series of superstorms pulls freezing air from the North, tsunamis spread across the globe, a hailstorm ravages Tokyo, and Los Angeles is laid bare by a sudden tornado outbreak.
As it happens, Jack’s son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in New York as a tsunami sweeps through Manhatten, which is then turned into a big deep freezer. So Jake must make a daring trek from Washington to New York City to save his son.
I really like the CGI in this movie, and the story is not too bad. Plus, it’s cool to see Manhatten flooded with massive waves and turned into a nightmarish winter wonderland.
16. Outbreak (1995)
A white-headed capuchin monkey is the host of an extremely contagious and deadly virus. The monkey is smuggled to the US from Africa and ends up in the hands of a pet store owner, who gets infected by the virus.
The pet store owner releases the monkey into the wild before taking a plane to Boston, where he develops symptoms and spreads the virus to his girlfriend. The couple gets hospitalized and manages to infect a hospital technician.
Now, the race is on to find the host to develop a vaccine and stop a full-fledged pandemic. Colonel Dr. Sam Daniels leads the race to find a cure (Dustin Hoffman).
Outbreak is a scary reminder of how far the military might go to contain a deadly, highly contagious virus.
15. Deep Impact (1998)
Teenage amateur astronomer Leo Beiderman (Elijah Wood) discovers an object in the sky. His friend, astronomer Dr. Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith), concludes that it is a big comet on a collision course with Earth and about to cause a mass extinction. As he races to sound the alarm, he dies in a car crash.
A year later, journalist Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) discovers that the US and Russian governments have known about the comet for some time and created a secret mission to nuke it and change its trajectory. However, the mission fails, and the comet is split into three.
As a result, a million Americans are selected to take shelter in special underground facilities. Leo is selected, but his girlfriend Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski) and her family are not. The rest of the movie follows Leo, Sarah, Jenny, and humanity as they struggle to survive the three impacts.
Deep Impact came out the same year as Armageddon, also about a space rock on a collision course with Earth. But where Armageddon is more about action, Deep Impact tells a compelling, personal, and emotional story from several points of view. It also has some great CGI for its time.
14. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day follows disparate groups of people as they scramble to survive in the aftermath of a global attack by a hostile alien race.
There’s satellite technician David Levison (Jeff Goldblum) who discovers a secret signal within alien radio frequencies, which is a countdown to the attack. He alerts President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) of the United States, who scrambles to unite the world leaders and lead a counter-attack.
And then there’s Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith) manages to outmaneuver superior alien fighters in his fighter jet, get it to crash-land, and capture the alien. The three lead the effort to find a way to beat the aliens and save humanity.
Independence Day is one of those movies that I love to hate and hate to love. It is filled with memorable dialogue, great humor, one-liners, and great CGI moments that still look awesome today. It’s so US-centric and over-the-top patriotic that it’s almost sickening, yet even POTUS Whitmore’s speech to the troops makes me smile every time.
The first film in a planned series of sequels called Independence Day: Resurgence was released in 2016. And while it featured many of the same cast, it didn’t have the same mojo as Independence Day.
13. The Road (2009)
The Road is a post-apocalyptic survival film that follows an unnamed man (Viggo Mortensen) and his unnamed son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in the aftermath of an unnamed cataclysmic event that kills the planet.
The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by American writer Cormac McCarthy from 2006.
We follow the pair traveling across the country to the coast on foot, hoping to find a more hospitable environment.
The Man has a gun with only two bullets, which are meant for him and his son if they find themselves in the hands of cannibals who roam the country searching for food.
The Road is a dystopic but mesmerizing tale about a father and son’s hardships in a – mostly – dead world.
12. Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max takes place in a dystopian Australia where society has broken down and beserk motorcycle gangs rule the roads.
We follow Main Force Patrol (MFP) officer “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) in pursuit of gang member Crawford “Nightrider” Montazano, who has killed an officer of the MFP.
During a high-speed pursuit, Nightrider dies. Later, the gang kills Max’s fellow officer, Jim Goose, his wife Jessie, and his infant son “Sprog.”
Driven with rage, Max quits the MFP and sets out on a personal vendetta in a black Pursuit Special to kill the gang.
You could argue that Mad Max 2, and Mad Max: Fury Road are better films, but they would not exist without the success of the original Mad Max movie, which is why it has earned a spot on this list.
11. The Postman (1997)
Set in a post-apocalyptic “future” USA in 2013, we follow the unnamed nomad (Kevin Costner) as he escapes from the ranks of a neo-fascist militia led by General Bethlehem (Will Patton).
In the escape, he stumbles upon a postman uniform and a mail bag and sets out to deliver a mailbag to the nearby small neo-Western town of Pineview.
He tricks the townspeople into feeding him by giving them hope that the US government has been reinstated. Over time, he becomes a symbol of hope for the town.
During a town raid, Bethlehem learns of the tales of a restored government and fears losing his power. Thus begins a hunt for the postman to extinguish people’s hope and remain in control. However, the seed of hope has already been planted and begins to spread.
Kevin Costner, who also directed the film, surely is no stranger to playing a loner who inspires hope in a hostile environment. But where Waterworld (1995) was just as incredibly expensive as it was boring, The Postman is actually a good movie.
The Postman is based on David Brin’s 1985 novel of the same name.
10. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
A big object is discovered traveling rapidly toward Earth, and the impact will end all life on Earth. Scientists Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and Michael Granier (Jon Hamm) are summoned to a military facility in New York City to devise a survival plan.
As the object approaches the Earth, it unexpectedly slows down, and a sphere lands gently in Central Park.
A human-like alien, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), and a giant robot – GORT – of immense power emerge from the ship, but Klaatu is accidentally shot as Dr. Benson approaches it. The alien is then taken to the military facility and saved.
Klaatu tells the government officials that he is sent to save the planet and manages to escape the facility with the help of Dr. Benson.
As he reconnects with Dr. Benson and her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith), he tells them that he must finish his mission, which means destroying the human race.
He then orders smaller spheres worldwide to begin collecting specimens of animal species so that they later can be reinstated on Earth. Meanwhile, GORT transforms into a swarm of winged nano-machines that self-replicate as it starts to spread across the globe and consume every artificial object made by humans.
The race is now on to try and stop the process.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is loosely based on the Harry Bates short story Farewell to the Master from 1940 and an adaptation of the 1951 movie of the same name.
9. The Wandering Earth (2019)
The Wandering Earth is a Chinese science fiction film based loosely on the novella of the same name from 2000 by Liu Cixin.
In 2061, the sun is about to expand into a red giant and devour Earth. To save the planet and human civilization, the governments on Earth unites and creates “The Wandering Earth Project” to move the Earth to the Alpha Centauri star system.
Humankind builds 12,000 huge engines to propel the earth out of our solar system. However, as Earth nears Jupiter, things begin to go bad as several engines are destroyed due to gravity. And the A.I. called MOSS, which commands the assisting space station, has other plans.
I will not give away any more. You have to see it for yourself.
8. Children of Men (2006)
In 2027, the human race is on the brink of extinction because women have mysteriously become infertile.
Britain is the only remaining somewhat civilized society with a government but has turned into a police state to control the waves of immigrants who seek refuge in the country. The refugees are either placed in refugee camps or executed.
We follow Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist and now sour bureaucrat, as he is approached by the deemed-terrorist group called the Fishes.
It turns out that the Fishes is lead by his former wife, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore). The couple split up after the loss of their infant son during a flu pandemic. Julian asks Theo to help get transit papers for a young immigrant woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), the first woman to be pregnant in eighteen years
The hope is to smuggle Kee and her unborn baby to the Human Project ship, the Tomorrow, which will take Kee to a secret scientific group in the Azores, working to cure humanity’s infertility. However, the Fishes have other plans.
Children of Men is based on the 1992 novel The Children of Men by P. D. James.
7. I Am Legend (2007)
A virus intended to cure cancer has wiped out most of humankind and turned others into cannibalistic nocturnal mutants called Darkseekers.
In an empty New York City, a lonely survivor, military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith), is trying to survive and defend himself against hostile mutants’ attacks while working on a cure.
Later Neville is saved by two immune survivors, who’ve heard the radio broadcasts Neville has sent in the hope to find other survivors. They want to take him to a survivors camp, they’ve heard of, but Neville don’t believe such a camp exists.
Instead, he continues to work on a cure and try it out on a female Darkseeker, he has captured. But the Darkseekers are on to their hiding place.
I Am Legend is the third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1964 novel of the same name.
6. Contagion (2011)
Beth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) returns to her husband and son from a business trip to Hong Kong and begins to feel ill. Soon thereafter, she and her son both die from the infection, but her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) seems immune.
Soon the virus begins to appear all over the world and quickly develops into a deadly pandemic. A race against the clock begins to find a cure, as society and order begin to break down as people panic.
Contagion is the best and most realistic medical disaster movie ever made, and it bears a striking resemblance to events following the 2020 pandemic.
5. 28 Days Later (2002)
A group of naive animal activists releases a chimpanzee infected with a virus called “Rage.” The virus quickly spreads among the populace in Great Britain, turning the population into aggressive “zombies.” Society quickly collapses.
Twenty-eight days later, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma in a hospital in London and finds that the entire city has been deserted.
He gets attacked by some infected with the virus but is saved by survivors Selena (Naomi Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). The group later meets cab driver Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns).
Frank tells them about a military broadcast about a place in Manchester where they can get protection. The group travels to Manchester only to find the blockade deserted.
Later they get discovered by soldiers who take them to a fortified mansion. The base is under the command of Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), but the safety comes at a great price.
28 Days Later was a great new spin on the zombie horror genre and received great success. It also has a unique look and was shot on the cheap Canon XL1 Mini DV camcorder.
4. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
U.S. Air Force General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) thinks that the USSR has been fluoridating American water supplies to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people.
So he orders the Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers to commence a nuclear attack with hydrogen bombs on the Soviets. He gives the order as “Wing Attack Plan R,” which means that it is impossible to stop the attack since a combination of CRM codes is needed that cannot be achieved in time.
In a War Room meeting at Pentagon, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) orders the US Army to arrest General Ripper. With the help of Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull), he warns Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov about the impending attack.
The Soviet ambassador tells the President, that if the USSR is hit by nuclear weapons, it will trigger a “Doomsday Machine” which will destroy all life on Earth. However, this threat is dismissed by the President’s scientific advisor, former Nazi German Dr. Strangelove, who thinks such a machine makes no sense.
Now the race is on to stop the nuclear attack and the possible activation of the Doomsday Machine.
Dr. Strangelove is directed by Stanley Kubrick, and it’s clear already from the trailer that the movie was ahead of its time. It’s based on the Book “Red Alert” by Peter George, and the screenplay is written by Kubrick, Sellers, and George.
3. Snowpiercer (2013)
In 2031, a failed climate experiment to stop global warming has sparked a new global ice age. The only survivors are those aboard the Snowpiercer train that has been traveling along a globe-spanning track for 17 years.
The train is a micro-society on its own with its own class system, with the rich traveling in luxurious front cars and the low class traveling at the back. Also, for reasons unknown, lower-class children are taken when they reach a certain height.
Low-class citizen Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) and others from the train’s tail start a revolt to get to the front of the train to share the wealth and stop the segregation.
As Curtis and the group battle their way through the train sections, they discover new secrets and surprises – not at least about the reclusive Wilford (Ed Harris) who runs the train. Meanwhile, there are signs outside that the ice has begun to melt.
2. Planet of the Apes (1968)
A spacecraft crashes into a lake on an unknown planet in the year 3978 (2006, years after they departed), and the three surviving astronauts escape and abandon the vessel.
The astronauts George Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), and Dodge (Jeff Burton) travel through a desolate wasteland before they encounter primitive human beings.
Soon after, they find themselves hunted by armed apes on horses. Dodge is killed, and Landon and Taylor are taken as prisoners and brought to Ape City (Landon is later lobotomized). Taylor learns that an advanced civilization of apes rules the planet while humans are primitive and viewed as slaves.
Taylor is held captive with the human female Nova (Linda Harrison) and placed under the custody of two apes: animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) and manages to convince her and her fiance Corneliu (Roddy McDowall) that he is as intelligent as they are.
Later, Zira and Cornelius free Taylor and Nova and take them to the Forbidden Zone, a forbidden region outside Ape City.
Cornelius and Zira have found proof of an earlier, more advanced human civilization and want to prove it to be cleared of heresy. And Taylor wants to prove he comes from a different planet and not some unknown tribe outside Ape City. However, they are hunted by gorilla general Zaius and his soldiers.
Based loosely on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des singes, Planet of the Apes from 1968 is the first movie in a long-running popular film franchise that spawned several sequels and has been rebooted several times. I still find the original from 1968 to be the best, though.
1. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
In 1996 a deadly man-made virus wipes out almost all of humanity. The rest is forced to live underground. An environmentalist activist group known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is believed to be the one to have released the virus.
In 2035, a group of scientists chooses prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis) to travel back in time to help find a cure. By accident, he travels to 1990, Baltimore, where he is arrested and put into a mental hospital and diagnosed by Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). Here Cole meets mental patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), who shares strikingly similar views to the Army of the 12 Monkeys.
Cole is then transported to 1996, where he kidnaps Dr. Railly and forces her to take him to Philadelphia, where they confront Goines. Goines, however, denies any involvement with the 12 Monkeys group.
Instead, Goines says that Cole sparked the idea in 1990 of wiping out humanity with a virus from Goines’ virologist father.
I won’t give away the ending. You have to watch yourself.
So that is the 20 best end-of-the-world movies ranked.
Do you agree or disagree? Did I not mention an important one? Let me know in the comment section below.