Whether it be the zombie apocalypse or the end of the world, there is a post-apocalyptic film for everything. And as morbid as it may sound, there is something entertaining in a deadly virus or natural disaster wiping out the human race (only on-screen, of course). This is probably because everyone has fantasized about being the main character in a post-apocalyptic world. However, the chances of an actual apocalypse are slim, so all one can do is live vicariously through the characters on screen. And choosing an excellent post-apocalyptic tale can be extremely hard. Do you want to see a bizarre alien invasion or a climate change horror where the United States sees the beginning of a new ice age? Well, continue reading to find the best movies from the post-apocalyptic genre.
Did you know that some of the best post-apocalyptic movies are based on novels or video games? And many of these films have famous actors/actresses in the lead role, carrying the narrative. This list will look at some of the best post-apocalyptic movies of all time. The films will be ranked, and the entries might contain some mild spoilers for the plot. So, without further ado, here is a list of the best post-apocalyptic movies.
15. The Book of Eli (2010)
So, you have Denzel Washington in a barren wasteland that was once the United States of America following a nuclear war. Written by Gary Whitta and directed by the Hughes Brothers, it also sees roles by Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman. Washington stars as Eli, a nomad on a mission to deliver a mysterious book across the country. Other people are also vying to get this book, resulting in Eli being actively hunted throughout the runtime. This does result in some great action sequences, with Washington giving a fantastic performance.
The film received mixed reviews from critics, with some believing it to be too similar to other dystopian films. However, other critics have praised the film’s ability to entertain and hold the audience’s attention despite its flaws. Specifically, Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington’s rivalry throughout the film is something fans can look forward to.
The Book of Eli is definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time.
14. WALL·E (2008)
Well then, you probably were not expecting a Pixar movie to make this list at all, were you? However, this movie is one of the more realistic takes on what Earth could look like in a few decades if the world’s population were wiped out. This computer-animated science fiction film was directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton and follows the story of a lonely robot called WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) on an uninhabitable version of Earth in the distant future. It is 2805, and he has been left to clean up garbage when a starship Axiom sends a robot called EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) to Earth. WALL·E falls in love with her and pursues her into out of space.
The film offers a bleak outlook on what humanity’s future may look like, and for once, the robots aren’t trying to take over humanity. WALL·E was praised for its look at darker themes such as consumerism, waste management, and human environmental impact and concerns. It also touches on the global catastrophic risk resulting from obesity/sedentary lifestyles and corporatocracy. It was also praised for how the robots could only communicate through body language due to their lack of voice. Much of the sequence at the film’s beginning does not contain any dialogue. The film won multiple awards and grossed $521.3 million worldwide.
13. I Am Legend (2007)
If you have seen this film, then you know that the Darkseekers are absolutely terrifying. If not, you are about to find out why. Directed by Francis Lawrence, the film is based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, in addition to his 1964 novel The Last Man on Earth and 1971’s The Omega Man. The film sees Will Smith as Robert Neville, a U.S. Army virologist and the last man left in New York City alongside his trusty German Shepard, Sam. This results from an engineered cure to cancer that caused a virus to take out most of humankind. The remaining population carries the virus, which has turned them into nocturnal cannibalistic mutants vulnerable to sunlight.
Neville attempts to find a cure to the virus, and the only way to do so is by capturing these creatures in elaborate traps and running tests on them. The film opened to the largest box office but received criticism for veering from the source material. Will Smith received critical acclaim for his performance, as he interacts with no one but his dog for the first half of the film, wherein audiences can feel his grief. The Darkseekers are still one of the most original forms of ‘zombies’ in cinema.
I am Legend is definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time.
As one of the best zombie movies of the 2000s, it is surprising that this film is a post-apocalyptic comedy film. Nevertheless, the film was a critical and commercial success, becoming the top-grossing zombie film in the U.S. following its release. And this is understandable when looking at the cast, which includes Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. The film follows Eisenberg as Columbus, an awkward college student trying to make his way to Ohio to find out if his parents are still alive following the outbreak. The virus was caused by a mutated strand of Mad Cow Disease that became known as the ‘Mad Person Disease’, turning all its victims into flesh-eating zombies. He meets three strangers along the way, and the group travel across the country to find a safe haven at a Pacific Playland.
Zombieland is most famous for its list of rules provided by the main character on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. Many of the rules are jabs at the cliché tropes that often occur in other, more popular zombie films, such as the ‘double tap’ rule (make sure the zombie is dead). And if you want more from the gang, then you will be happy to know that a sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap (2019), was released a decade later with all the main characters reprising their roles.
11. Bird Box (2018)
What is scarier than fighting flesh-eating zombies in a post-apocalyptic scenario? Well, fighting creatures you cannot see tops this pretty easily. Bird Box follows Sandra Bullock as Malorie Hayes, a woman travelling alongside two children in a post-apocalyptic setting. As far as can be seen by the audience, Earth has been taken over by creatures that are invisible to the naked eye until one looks directly at them. Once this happens, the victim will kill themselves with the nearest available weapon. Directed by Susanne Bier and written by Eric Heisserer, the film is based on Josh Malerman’s book of the same name. The film received mixed reviews from critics but went viral when it became the most-watched film on Netflix within the first few weeks of its release.
Taking the flash-back approach, the film provides some background on how Malorie ended up travelling alone with two kids in such a dangerous world. Unfortunately, despite seeing performances from the likes of Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, and even Sarah Paulson, the film still disappointed critics. Their performances were praised, but the movie’s apparent fault lies in its unreached potential.
10. A Quiet Place (2018)
In the near future, sightless aliens with hypersensitive hearing have descended on Earth, killing anything that makes a sound. This has caused many of the remaining population to go into hiding. The film follows the Abbott family attempting to survive the apocalypse, communicating in American Sign Language to stay off the creatures’ radar. The film stars Emily Blunt as the mother, Evelyn Abbott, and John Krasinski as Lee, the husband of Evelyn and father of their deaf daughter, Regan (played by Millicent Simmonds), and sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau. This horror film was directed by John Krasinski and written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and Krasinski.
The film received critical acclaim and grossed over $350 million worldwide, claiming a spot as one of the top ten films of 2018. It was nominated for multiple awards and contains some of the best visual effects seen today. Further than that, Krasinski and Blunt’s on-screen chemistry is tangible, making their devastating predicament even more heartbreaking.
As the second film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, this movie sees a post-apocalyptic setting as it takes place more than ten years after the first film’s events. Directed by Matt Reeves from a screenplay by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, it sees the human population significantly impacted by a pandemic. The Simian Flu is a deadly virus that has caused the societal collapse of human beings and benefitted Ceaser and the rest of the apes. They have been granted genetically enhanced intelligence due to the virus and have formed their own colony in Muir Woods.
The film sees Andy Serkis reprise his role as Ceaser alongside a star-studded cast like Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell. It was the franchise’s highest-grossing film, receiving critical acclaim for its performances, visual effects, emotional depth, action sequences and fantastic score.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time.
8. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
While zombies and nuclear warfare make for a fun premise as the cause of the apocalypse, nothing is scarier than Earth deciding it has had enough. A natural disaster causing the apocalypse brings a different level of foreboding to some of the other causes on this list. Based on the novel, The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, the film stars Dennis Quaid as Jack Hall and Jake Gyllenhaal as Sam Hall, a father-son duo attempting to reach each other following a natural disaster striking.
Jack is an American paleoclimatologist who has discovered that climate change could result in a new ice age. However, his concerns are dismissed by the President when he discusses his research at a U.N. conference. Meanwhile, his son, Sam, is in New York with a group of friends as the weather goes haywire and disaster strikes. As the highest-grossing film in 2004, it was a commercial success for its special effects and the actor’s performances. However, the film was heavily criticized for its writing and scientific inaccuracies.
As Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debuts, the movie is based on the 2007 short film Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse. The comedy film stars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera and Emma Watson as themselves in a fictional world where the apocalypse has descended upon them. James Franco hosts a housewarming party wherein he invites many celebrities to celebrate. Upon arrival, everything seems fine until Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel head to a convenience store to purchase cigarettes. Then, chaos descends as they witness blue lights sucking people into the sky.
Many people are killed at the party, leaving only the celebrities mentioned above left alive. They have to scourage for supplies and fight to survive as demons are actively hunting them outside. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing $126 million worldwide. It was praised for the cast’s flamboyant and self-deprecating performances, with critics labelling the film as ‘incredibly audacious.’
6. The Midnight Sky (2020)
Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the film is a gem of the post-apocalyptic genre that is often overlooked. Directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, this science fiction film follows the story of Augustine Lofthouse, an academic, endeavouring to find a habitable planet where human beings can live. Thirty years later, he finds himself as the only person in an Artic base after an unspecified disaster wiped out most of the human race. Earth’s surface is now contaminated with ionizing radiation, and Augustine has to find a way to warn an interplanetary craft called Aether returning to Earth about the apocalypse.
The film was nominated for multiple awards and won a few for its visual effects and score. Despite this, it still received mixed reviews from critics who saw issues with the pacing and the narrative shortcomings. However, these were forgiven by the cast’s performances and the visually stunning effects.
This American apocalyptic film sees Brad Pitt as a former United Nations Investigator named Gerry Lane. As he is stuck in traffic alongside his wife and two daughters in heavy traffic, chaos ensues as rabid zombies begin attacking people around them. Finally, they are rescued by Thierry Umutoni, the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General, who sends a helicopter to their aid. From here, Gerry is sent on a worldwide mission to discover a cure for the virus. Based on Max Brooke’s novel of the same name, the film replaced Zombieland (2009) as the top-grossing zombie film.
The film was praised for its fast-paced action sequences and terrifying display of zombies. Furthermore, Pitt’s performance as Gerry was highly praised. The writing was criticized because it greatly divulged from the source material. The large-scale production saw the film nominated for multiple awards following its release.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Co-written, co-produced, and directed by George Miller, who collaborated with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris on the screenplay, it saw Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in the leading roles of the Australian post-apocalyptic action movie. As the fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise, the film follows Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy) as he wanders across the barren wasteland that is now Earth following a societal collapse and then warfare to secure resources. He joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron), a rebel warrior who helps him overthrow the tyrannic force controlling the land’s water supply.
As the highest-grossing film in the franchise, it was praised for its directing, acting, writing and action sequences. It further received praise for its musical score and technical aspects, having been nominated for eight Academy Awards and winning six of them. In addition, this film is an excellent look at the apocalypse and how humans can be scarier than zombies.
Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time.
3. Children of Men (2006)
Based on P. D. James’ 1992 novel of the same name, the film was co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It takes place in 2027, wherein the world is on the brink of societal collapse following the war and global depression after almost two decades of human infertility. The narrative follows Clive Owen as Thelonius “Theo” Faron, the movie’s titular character. He is a former activist who lost his child during the flu pandemic years prior. Theo teams up with Julian Taylor (played by Julianne Moore) to protect the only pregnant woman in the world. The film touches on themes such as hope and faith within religion and the human race. And this is part of the reason the film has found critical acclaim for its depiction of what would occur if reproduction were to be lost.
The dystopian film’s technical complexity and long chase scenes were praised, and saw it as the winner of multiple nominations. Out of twelve nominations, the film won five for its cinematography and production design.
2. 28 Days Later (2002)
With direct inspiration from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead film series, this is one of the most iconic and terrifying zombie movies to date. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, it follows the classic trope of a highly contagious virus spreading that has turned most of humanity into aggressive, flesh-eating monsters. However, it takes a refreshing angle, following Cillian Murphy as Jim, a bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma to discover that he has slept through the apocalypse. Set in Great Britain, the film watches as he teams up with Selena, a chemist, played by Naomie Harris, and a taxi driver named Frank, played by Brendan Gleeson.
The film saw critical and commercial success, grossing more than $82.7 million worldwide. It was praised for its brilliant screenwriting, direction, and performances by the cast. It won multiple awards and had a huge cultural impact on the zombie genre in both cinema and the world of graphic novels and writing.
The number one spot on this list easily goes to this absolute masterpiece. Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the film follows Viggo Mortensen as an unnamed man who must survive alongside his unnamed son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. No reason is provided for the current state of the Earth, but a significant extinction event has caused the death of all plant and animal life. The film is a bleak look at what the world would come to if the stakes were that high. The pair must avoid many dangers, including cannibals who have formed rape gangs. Supplies are scarce, and they must do everything they can to survive. One scene, in particular, sees the father having his son taste Coca-Cola for the first time in a simple yet heartbreaking display.
The film follows the source material very accurately but excludes some of the novel’s more brutal sequences. However, it is one of the reasons critics granted the film such high praise. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee’s performances were also praised alongside the fantastic cinematography. Having been nominated for more than twenty awards, the film won two for Best Cinematography and Best Actor.