There’s something strangely alluring to so many people about watching post-apocalyptic movies, much in the same way that there’s such an appeal to checking out abandoned places. Whether it’s the disquiet or desolation, there’s something inherently interesting about watching the expanses of nothingness and the scattered people within them.
I’m one such person, someone who will choose to watch the aftermath of the end more than almost any other genre of movie. Post-apocalyptic movies hit a note with me that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it all stretches back to my love of zombie movies. As worrying as it is to type this out now, I often daydream about how civilisation would look once it crumbles and how humanity would react.
I’m also keenly aware that, no matter how much training movies have given me, I would not survive long in the post-apocalypse. That might have something to do with why I enjoy watching others toil and struggle, then. I’m lucky that these movies are still in vogue, but I also have gaming fare like The Last of Us and Fallout to fall back on. It’s never been a better time to be a cinematic prepper.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to reel off some of the best post-apocalyptic movies you should watch. As a rule, only one post-apocalyptic movie from a single franchise can be included. We’re also going for movies that strictly take place after the end of the world and not during, hence why Day of the Dead gets the nod over Dawn of the Dead.
The Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies
25. Bird Box (2018)
Director: Susanne Bier
More polarising than the North Pole using inverted controls while being inside a magnet, Bird Box is a Netflix exclusive that’s been the center of plenty discussion since it hit the streaming service, as well as more than a handful of memes. No two people seem to be able to agree on this one, and while it does have its flaws, it certainly has something to offer.
When a mysterious “creature” makes people want to kill themselves with a simple glimpse, what’s left of humanity must do all they can to survive — and not look.
Sandra Bullock leads a strong cast that includes John Malkovich at his dastardly best. There are some seriously unforgettable setpieces (the burning car, anyone?), but try not to let the hype for this one give you unrealistic expectations.
It’s a great but not revolutionary thriller that might have you covering your eyes.
24. The Day (2011)
Director: Doug Aarniokoski
The Day deserves to be talked about not as the best post-apocalyptic movie ever made, or even one of the better ones on this list. No, The Day deserves recognition for being a part of an elite club of movies from WWE Studios that don’t totally suck.
While it does often smack of being a low-budget affair, The Day has a gritty and grimy hue to it that feels quintessentially “all hope is lost”. There aren’t any zombies in this one, just a bunch of morally questionable people doing morally questionable things. It also has quite a gripping villain, even if he does come from the Far Cry school of bad dudes.
23. The Book of Eli (2010)
Director(s): Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Taking a leaf out of the Mad Max book on the post-apocalypse, The Book of Eli offers a world where there is very little good left. If people aren’t killing each other, they’re eating each other — and sometimes even both.
Thirty years after a nuclear bomb decimates the planet, Eli, played wonderfully by Denzel Washington, takes it upon himself to travel across a ruined America to deliver a book. While it’s rather heavy-handed with the religious references, The Book of Eli offers enough surprising turns and unique ideas to make it one of the most underrated movies of the 2010s.
22. Carriers (2009)
Director(s): Àlex Pastor, David Pastor
Carriers shows pre-fame Chris Pine at his most disturbing as he bands together with fellow survivors to venture across barren America. A highly contagious virus has wiped everyone out, which leads to plenty of suspicion amongst Pine’s group that grows and grows until it’s almost unbearable to watch.
Carriers is the perfect zombie movie without any zombies, which may explain why so many were so underwhelmed by it. It’s seriously flawed and sometimes paced like it forgets people are supposed to enjoy it, but Carriers is still worth a watch, if only to see just how quickly friendships can deteriorate when every breath could prove fatal.
21. The Divide (2011)
Director(s): Xavier Gens
I don’t think director Xavier Gens has a lot of faith in humanity. In his The Divide, an unlikely group of nuclear survivors take shelter in the underground of an apartment complex and it isn’t long before they ruin what little’s left of each other’s lives.
As the radiation sets in, the group splits into factions of differing mental states and attitudes — you won’t even recognise some of the characters by the time the credits roll. The Divide is an utterly horrific and affecting movie, so maybe bring a bucket with you before you watch it.
Maybe some citalopram, too — it’s seriously depressing.
20. Cargo (2017)
Director(s): Yolanda Ramke, Ben Howling
Martin Freeman walks away from Fargo for Cargo: an interesting zombie movie that swaps gore and spectacle for a beautifully human story. Coming across like a blend between Maggie and The Dead, Cargo sees Freeman’s character trying to find shelter for his infant daughter in an infected-plagued Australian outback.
As well as having a gorgeous palate to let misery loose in, Cargo features fantastic performances from its cast, but especially the infant daughter, who is beyond adorable. The end of Cargo is foreshadowed from the off, but it’s unlikely that you won’t be devastated by it all the same.
Cargo is a slow-burn post-apocalyptic movie that’s one of the best Netflix Originals you will come across.
“A simple but effective story about fatherhood and sacrifice, Cargo is a zombie movie that you shouldn’t overlook on Netflix.”
19. Escape from L.A. (1996)
Director: John Carpenter
A box office bomb that proved that sometimes people just don’t know a good thing when they see one, John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. may not be as good as its predecessor, New York, but it’s definitely braver and more bombastic.
Kurt Russell returns as Snake Plissken (the character who later go on to inspire Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake) as he finds himself at odds with a totalitarian US President following natural disasters in Los Angeles.
It’s definitely an “out there” experience and one worth revisiting, especially as it’s turned out to be somewhat prescient.
18. Night of the Comet (1984)
Director: Thom Eberhardt
There are plenty of cult picks on this list, but Night of the Comet might be the very definition of a cult hit — I don’t think it would be right if you watched it on anything other than a VHS tape. The spirit of the eighties runs through its DNA, neon and all.
It’s not a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but Night of the Comet makes the most of its post-apocalyptic setting to be a whole lot of fun if nothing else. When a comet wipes out most of humanity and turns the unlucky few into zombies, a small group of survivors band together to survive and, erm, try on different outfits.
Inarguably inspired by Mad Max, Turbo Kid is a more whimsical look at the post-apocalypse, though that isn’t to mean it holds any punches with the gore. Set in an alternate 1997, Turbo Kid follows its titular character as he scavenges wastelands for comic books and stuff he needs to survive.
There’s a heartwarming romance and naivety at the core of Turbo Kid, like its director was hoping for a modern counterpart to films like Stand By Me but turned up to 11. There’s certainly a whimsical feel to this post-apocalypse.
It’s visually arresting as well, which is made even more impressive by it being made on a dime — most studios pour millions upon millions into making a movie look, and even feel, as good as this.
16. Stake Land (2010)
Director: Jim Mickle
If nothing else, the uncompromising Stake Land proved to people that vampires are much more effective when they don’t sparkle. Similarly to 30 Days of Night many years earlier, Stake Land showed just how unnerving a more visceral depiction of vampires can be.
After the death of his parents, a young boy pairs up with a vampire hunter to find a better life in New Eden and discover how to live life again along the way.
It has some moments of sincerity, but Stake Land takes you on a bleak and grim journey that’s beautifully shot despite the ugliness at its heart. It has a sequel, but this is the one you should be watching.
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