Actually, I was asked to do “Apocalypse Movies” – best films about the world ending. But I’m restating it as “Movie Apocalypses” – my favorite ends of the world to show up in a movie. There’s a small difference that I hope you can appreciate.
(Incidentally, this is #11 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
I normally don’t gravitate toward things that are really depressing, so a lot of the films that I’ve picked don’t actually show the end of the world, but the nearly-averted end of the world. But still, I’ve tried to make sure there’s some variety here…
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – Directed by Ted Post
“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”
Means of Apocalypse: A doomsday device set off by a depressed time traveling astronaut with his dying breath, who deems that man and ape alike have no right to live due to their inevitably self-destructive natures.
But there’s hope: Three movies later, we see a time earlier than this when ape and man are living side by side, in the hopes that they can overcome their differences and avoid the eventuality depicted in this movie.
Of all the apocalypses depicted on this list, the one in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (the second in the series of original films) is by far the most thorough and most depressing. The climax of the film shows all the main human characters getting killed, and then Charlton Heston’s Taylor, the star of the original film who returned here for a reduced role, finishing off what those maniacs began all that time ago and blowing up the earth good and proper. Redemption only comes three movies later, and when it does it’s only a possibility for hope, and not a certainty.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2003) – Directed by Garth Jennings
“My whole planet destroyed because you thought someone wanted your autograph!”
Means of Apocalypse: Destroyed by a Vogon Constructor Fleet to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass
But there’s hope: The same aliens who built the earth in the first place (turns out it was actually a supercomputer designed to calculate life’s ultimate question) have got some clever people building the Earth Mark II
The destruction of the earth in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is as thorough as the previous entry, but much less depressing. The whole thing is tender but humorous, and of course redeemed by the idea of a recreated earth at the end of the story. Before that, adding insult to injury is the revelation–new to this incarnation of the story–that one of the main character’s, President Zaphod Beeblebrox, had unknowingly signed the order for the earth’s destruction thinking he was giving someone an autograph.
Wall-E (2008) – Directed by Andrew Stanton
“Rather than try and fix this problem, it’ll just be easier for everyone to remain in space….Let’s get the heck out of here.”
Means of Apocalypse: Overrun by pollution by unsustainable practices and rampant consumerism.
But there’s hope: After many many years, the earth has begun to be capable of supporting vegetation once more, and thanks to the determination and plucky courage of Wall-E, EVE, and the Captain of the Axiom, humans have returned to earth to reclaim their lost planet.
Wall-E of course is an eco-conscious storyline, where mankind is entirely responsible for our world’s destruction, thanks not to our penchant for war (see Beneath the Planet of the Apes) but to our passivity and laziness. As such, it’s one of the few of this sort where the apocalypse has not been caused by an act of violence, sustained or otherwise. And, as the message goes, if man is responsible for his own downfall, he can also be responsible for his own salvation, which we see with the imagery of the world recovering at the end.
Pacific Rim (2013) – Directed by Guillermo del Toro
“Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them! Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!”
Means of Apocalypse: Giant kaiju monsters come through a dimensional breach in increasing numbers and strength, threatening to destroy the entire earth
But there’s hope: The Jaeger program, where humans pilot giant robots to fight the giant monsters in a story that is in equal parts ludicrous and awesome.
Out of all of the alien threats who have tried to bring the destruction of the earth, the giant monsters of Pacific Rim are amongst the most memorable, simply because they are so different than what we normally see–at least for American audiences. The Japanese, of course, have been making movies about giant monsters that threaten the earth for decades. Pacific Rim is obviously influenced by these stories, and does it in a way that makes it easily accessible to people like me who only have a passing familiarity with Godzilla and his ilk.
The Day of the Triffids (1963) – Directed by Steve Sekely, plus Freddie Francis (uncredited)
“Keep behind me. There’s no sense in getting killed by a plant.”
Means of Apocalypse: Man eating plants…from space!
But there’s hope: Fortunately, the man eating plants are easily killed with sea water
If the apocalypse from Pacific Rim is one of the most memorable, then the one from The Day of the Triffids is amonst the most outrageous. What happens is this: an unprecedented meteor shower dazzles the earth, but also results in just about everybody who looked it going blind! That causes plenty of problems already, but things are worse when it turns out the meteors have also brought to earth fast-growing, poisonous, carnivorous, aggressive and mobile plants! So, that’s pretty bad, and a pretty weird apocalypse as well. It is, however, all undone by quite a simple solution.
Runners-up: Amongst the biggest films that I didn’t include is Dr. Strangelove, which tells the tale of another man-made apocalypse, and the ultimately futile attempts to stop it, which is probably, in all honesty, a better movie than any on my list. I also came close to including The War of the Worlds (the 1998 Spielberg version) which in spite of its flaws tells one of my favorite alien invasion stories. It’s just that neither of these stood out to me as movie apocalypse’s go, in the same way as the ones listed. I also considered Seeking a Friend for the End of the World which has a very different take on the subject.
Rejected: Lots of superhero films, like Man of Steel, The Avengers, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Superman II, etc. Also the Terminator films, especially Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, where nuclear armageddon actually takes place. Speaking of which, I also rejected Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and Snowpiercer, even though the latter one is certainly interesting. And of course, X-Men Apocalypse, which though appropriately titled I could not include, because it’s terrible.
Full Disclosure: I have never seen Fail Safe or all of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (either version). I’ve also pretty much never watched any zombie movies, because I hate the concept. There’s also an interesting sounding movie called Fish Story that maybe I should check out someday.
Bonus: Amongst the worst apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen are Knowing and the first 20 minutes or so of The Happening.