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 in no particular order. There’s no ranking of worst and best here, it’s just numbered so you can keep track of it. 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. If you’re looking for the video game equivalent, we have you covered wit the ranking of the best post-apocalyptic games.
Speak of the undead devil, Day of the Dead is one of the late, great Romero’s most underappreciated works that simply might have just released at the wrong time. When Day of the Dead dropped in 1985, everyone and their parents had just about enough of zombies. It’s not perfect — the pacing is a little off — but it’s one of the best examples of just how murky the aftermath of an apocalypse can be.
The grainy, low-colour cinematography and the isolation of an underground bunker are just about as post-apocalyptic as it gets. By taking some of the attention away from hordes of zombies, Day of the Dead delivers a sombre but needed look at how quickly humans turn on each other, and one that’s overlooked . Plus, Bub is the greatest.
From one kind of zombie movie to something altogether more upbeat, Zombieland is how you depict the post-apocalypse with a smile. It’s infectiously dumb and packed with more graphics than an All-Time Low music video, but that doesn’t stop it from being any less entertaining.
Set in an undead-plagued America, Zombieland follows an unlikely band of survivors with the end goal to survive and make quips every other minute. It’s the perfect pick for someone who doesn’t even like the undead, bookended perfectly by one of the most unforgettable cameos in movie history.
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.
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.
The most recent entry on this list, A Quiet Place follows a family trying to lead a conventional life in an unconventional world where every sound could spell death. It’s just as tense as it sounds, made even more so by some of the best audio design in any movie -let alone horror- in years.
It’s a sparse and deliberately paced film that is as much about the family at its center as it is the jump scares. A Quiet Place could prove to do for horror movies in 2018 what Get Out did in 2017; it’s that good. Here’s the verdict from our review:
“A Quiet Place stands as a testament to what is possible with a camera and a microphone. Every detail and technical flash is meticulous in its construction, not a single flicker of light or loud crash is wasted. If John Krasinski continues down this path, we may have a modern horror great on our hands. If he doesn’t, his future contributions to the art will still leave us satisfied.”
If you had to pick one word to describe The Road, it would be “bleak”. There isn’t a moment of joy to be had in this faithful Cormac McCarthy adaptation, so it’s probably not the best choice if you’re feeling a little blue. Watch it in the right mood, however, and it may just be the most perfect post-apocalyptic movie there is.
A father and son walk (more so crawl) across a devastated America in the hopes of finding something, anything to keep them going. The commitment from both actors is outstanding, but it’s Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal as the patriarch which was too quickly glossed over by awards panels. If you want to see the least glamorous vision of the post-apocalypse, this it it.
While there’s no denying that the original Mad Max movies effectively inspired decades of post-apocalyptic movies and even games, its most recent installment is one that you can just sit down and watch over and over until you memorise Max’s six lines. It’s just that damn watchable — I might go watch it right now, actually.
The gateway movie to the post-apocalypse, Fury Road is a breakneck chase across desolate plains backed by some rather unconventional cinematography — it’s like the anti-blockbuster blockbuster. It’s hard to describe just how wild a ride Fury Road is unless you sit down and watch it yourself, so paint yourself in chrome and strap in for a lovely day.
Yep, The Matrix is really a post-apocalyptic movie. As filled in by The Animatrix, humanity was wiped out in a one-sided war with machines with the remaining people being used as Energizer batteries. Not sure how The Wachowskis managed to get the movie past the pitch stage, but I’m sure glad they did.
Despite releasing right at the end of it, The Matrix was one of the most inspirational movies of the nineties, its influence bleeding into action movies pretty liberally for the next decade. They will never be able to make something as weird, wild, and successful as The Matrix ever again, even if they do think they can naively reboot it.
An interesting take on the post-apocalypse, Snowpiercer tackles societal and class issues on a speeding train filled with the last remnants of humanity. If that isn’t enough to get you interested, how about Chris Evans being the exact opposite of Captain America?
Gritty, gruesome, and just a little bit silly, Snowpiercer is an often overlooked gem that should be watched by anyone who appreciates tight action and suspense. It’s directed by the almost always excellent Bong Joon-ho, who also helmed The Host: another underloved cult classic.
From one Chris to another, 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.