12 Apocalyptic Movies To Learn From As a Filmmaker


Dystopic movies are more than fancy ways to say, “The sky is falling.” Often, they have a hidden message or push the barrier regarding narrative, cinematography, or action that fans of the genre and filmmakers can learn from.

Here are 12 of the best apocalyptic and dystopic end-of-the-world movies of all time – that both fans of the genre and filmmakers can learn from.

1. On the Beach (1959)

What to Learn: On the Beach showcases a global catastrophe’s emotional and psychological impacts. You can learn how to create tension and drama in a slow-burn narrative while dealing with themes of hopelessness and the human condition.

2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

What to Learn: Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this satirical take on the Cold War’s nuclear paranoia showcases how comedy and satire can be powerful tools in discussing serious topics like the apocalypse. Filmmakers can learn the art of blending humor with critical commentary while fans gain a new perspective on the absurdity of nuclear tensions.

You might also like to learn the art of filmmaking through these inspiring movies.

3. Planet of the Apes (1968)

What to Learn: With its groundbreaking makeup effects and twist ending, this film teaches the importance of innovation and surprise in storytelling. It effectively demonstrates using visual effects to serve the story and create a believable post-apocalyptic world.

4. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

What to Learn: George Miller’s sequel set the standard for post-apocalyptic action films. It demonstrates the importance of visual storytelling and world-building using minimal dialogue. For filmmakers, it’s a master class in creating a believable post-apocalyptic world with limited resources. Fans can appreciate the evolution of the genre and the influence this film has had on subsequent movies.

5. The Terminator (1984)

What to Learn: James Cameron’s groundbreaking film combines elements of science fiction with the apocalyptic genre. Filmmakers can study its innovative use of special effects, tight pacing, and how to blend genres effectively. Fans can delve into its thematic exploration of technology, destiny, and human survival.

6. Akira (1988)

What to Learn: This Japanese animated film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo is pivotal for its detailed animation and complex narrative structure. Filmmakers can learn about the potential of animation to tackle grand, apocalyptic themes with depth and nuance. Fans can explore its richly imagined world and consider its commentary on power, technology, and society.

7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

What to Learn: Another James Cameron masterpiece that expanded on the original’s themes, showcasing groundbreaking CGI and a deeper emotional core. Filmmakers can draw inspiration from its technological innovation and character development. Fans are treated to a film that enhances its predecessor’s themes while exploring the consequences of humanity’s actions.

8. 12 Monkeys (1995)

What to Learn: Directed by Terry Gilliam, this film is noted for its intricate narrative structure and unsettling vision of the future. It teaches filmmakers the power of nonlinear storytelling and the use of visual motifs to enhance narrative complexity. Fans can appreciate its exploration of time travel, memory, and the nature of reality.

12 Monkeys is heavily inspired by the French science fiction artistic short film La Jetée (1962). It also inspired the spin-off series 12 Monkeys (1995), which I recommend.

9. The Matrix (1999)

What to Learn: The Wachowskis’ film is a landmark in visual effects and philosophical storytelling. Filmmakers can learn about integrating complex ideas with high-octane action, while fans can delve into its exploration of reality, freedom, and the human spirit’s resilience.

10. Children of Men (2006)

What to Learn: Alfonso Cuarón’s film is renowned for its long takes and realistic portrayal of a dystopian future. It offers lessons in creating tension and immersion through cinematography and directing. Fans can explore themes of hope, despair, and the importance of fighting for the future.

11. The Road (2009)

What to Learn: Based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, this film, directed by John Hillcoat, provides a stark, unflinching look at post-apocalyptic survival. Filmmakers can learn about the power of atmosphere and the importance of emotional depth in storytelling. Fans can contemplate the film’s exploration of the human condition and parental bonds in extreme circumstances.

12. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

What to Learn: George Miller returned to his franchise with a visually stunning and action-packed film that redefines what an action movie can be. Filmmakers can learn about innovative action choreography, practical effects, and feminist themes in a genre often dominated by male heroes. Fans can appreciate the relentless pace, visual storytelling, and rich world-building that offer a new vision of the apocalypse.


So that is 12 of the best end-of-the-world movies that should be mandatory viewing for filmmakers and fans of the genre alike.

These films contribute uniquely to the apocalyptic genre, offering valuable lessons in storytelling, visual effects, thematic depth, and genre-blending.

Both filmmakers and fans can explore these movies to gain insights into the creative process and the enduring appeal of apocalyptic narratives.

Do you agree or disagree? Did I not mention an important one? Let me know in the comment section below.

Up Next: See if you can beat The FilmDaft Hardcore Sci-Fi Movie Quotes Quiz.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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