Happy Apocalypse Day everyone! As you all know, the ancient Mayan calendar lists today, December 21, 2012, as the end of all things. We don’t know how you plan to spend your last day on Earth, but in case you need some inspiration, we’ve broken down some of the best end-of-the-world movies for your viewing pleasure. They’re organized by the exact type of apocalypse, allowing you to tailor your last few hours to fit your proclivities. Enjoy!
We’ll start with the obvious candidate, and the one that still defines post-apocalyptic mayhem. Mel Gibson cuts a swath of destruction through the crumbling remains of modern society, into a desert wasteland where rats fight among the ashes, and finally to the seething pit of Bartertown where humanity slowly starts over. All three films feature some of the most spectacular chase scenes ever filmed, along with an appreciable amount of grunge and an ongoing cavalcade of the transmundane. It’s also nice to know that we’ll still have Tina Turner after the bomb drops… smoking hot in that chainmail dress as always.
If bombs aren’t your thing, then Terry Gilliam provides a kinder, gentler end of the world. It’s really more of an end of humanity, actually, as a bio-plague wipes out 99% of the population and leaves the survivors clinging to a squalid existence underground. Not even time travel can save them, since the future is immutable and will not change. At least the animals turn out okay… and hey, with a free run of the place, they may ultimately do a better job than we ever did.
It’s hard to imagine the end of the world as whimsical, but never underestimate Pixar at their best. The invite us to share an Earth that has become a giant trash heap, covered in pollution and occupied only by a dogged little robot still doing his best to clean it up. It’s a lonely existence, but we can only hope that – if we were in his shoes – we’d keep ourselves occupied and entertained as well as he does.
I was tempted to go with War of the Worlds here, since it pretty much defines the genre. I could also go with Don Siegel’s original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, still powerful after all these years. But both of them end on hopeful notes, with the idea that we could rebuild after shaking off our otherworldly oppressors. Not so Philip Kaufman’s chilling Body Snatchers remake, updated for the post-hippy 1970s still recovering from the fallout of Watergate and Vietnam. The aliens’ relentless incursion takes on a despairing quality unseen in most invasion movies… and the last shot leaves no doubt as to which side ultimately wins this battle.
Technically, H.P. Lovecraft is more of a sci-fi author than a supernatural author. But if you’re going to end the world in a terrifying way, his name goes at the top of the list. John Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca riffed on his themes (while adding a few of their own) to create a head trip of an apocalypse in which Lovercraft’s Old Ones take over the world with the help of a bestselling author.
The best part? We the audience become a part of the story, as the in-film book that drives everyone mad turns into the movie we’ve just been watching. I can’t imagine a better way to ring in the destruction of the world than that.