5 Apocalyptic Movies Done Right
I hate to be alarmist, but it appears the end is nigh…at least at the movies.
Hollywood has caught apocalypse fever (again). In the next three months alone, expect to see the world end via a rapture that leaves behind all the funny people (This is the End), an onslaught of mindbogglingly fast zombies that just won’t let Brad Pitt catch a break (World War Z), and a currently undisclosed, but sure to be hilarious event that makes a group of friends’ epic pub crawl more eventful than they bargained for (The World’s End). And those are just the films that let the apocalypse take center stage, if we dig a little deeper we’ll find a round of post-apocalyptic outings on the horizon including Neill Blomkamp’s much buzzed about Elysium and the Idris Elba starring Pacific Rim, not to mention Will Smith’s already in theaters belly flop, After Earth that are all also jockeying for our attention this summer.
You would think after we averted that whole Mayan apocalypse thing back in December, we would all be suffering from a serious case of apocalypse fatigue, but if there’s one thing Hollywood has proven over the years it’s that they know how to make the end of the world entertaining. To prepare you for the oncoming flurry of end of times flicks, I’ve listed five of my favorite past apocalyptic outings below.
Zombies are popular apocalypse-kick-starters, but I’m not sure the undead have ever been used to end the world quite as hilariously as they did in 2009’s Zombieland. The film focused on a rag-tag group of survivors which included Woody Harrelson as a deadly zombie fighter on the hunt for Twinkies, Jesse Eisenberg as a pre-apocalypse nerd with a handy set of survival rules, and a pair of con artist sisters played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. Together they traversed the country killing zombies (including an undead Bill Murray), forming an unconventional found family and searching for those elusive Twinkies. The subject matter was bleak, but the film is a delightful end of the world romp from beginning to finish.
I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes the end of the world is incredibly depressing. Such is the case in 1959’s On the Beach wherein a group of survivors hunker down in Australia as they wait for wind currents to carry waves of deadly radiation across the sea to their part of their world, post nuclear fallout.
The film boasts a bevy of heavy-hitters including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire, all of whom are at the top of their game as their characters live out their last days waiting for the right moment to down their government issued suicide pills to avoid the slow death of radiation poisoning. It’s an overwhelmingly depressing tale, but it’s also among the best the apocalypse genre has to offer.
Think of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove as the deranged cousin to On the Beach.
Here we get a ringside seat to the ineffectual government decision-making that leads to a massive, world-ending nuclear fallout. The biting satire is by turns silly, nonsensical, brilliant and infinitely quotable. Peter Sellers is the undisputed star as he takes on multiple roles in the film, including the wheelchair bound former Nazi Dr. Strangelove who serves as the President’s scientific adviser, but it’s also a treat to see the normally severe George C. Scott in the over-the-top role of General Buck Turgidson (although, according to a DVD documentary Scott himself wasn’t too pleased about Kubrick using the most outlandish version of his takes).
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men is nothing short of a modern masterpiece. It depicts a world on the brink of apocalypse as conception has become possible. With only the United Kingdom’s government maintaining some small measure of order, people from around the world attempt to immigrate to the country’s relative safe haven. Clive Owen stars as Theo, a bureaucrat who finds himself kidnapped by an immigrant’s rights group seeking safe passage for the first woman to conceive in nearly two decades. What follows is a brutal journey through a bleak landscape, but it’s not a story without hope as the central figure, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and her child offer the world a glimmer of possibility for survival, and Theo some small measure of redemption.
Pixar outdid themselves with 2008’s WALL-E, the charming and shamelessly heart-string-pulling tale of a robot left alone on an Earth covered in refuse. Despite his overwhelming loneliness, WALL-E remained an optimist and a curator of the treasured artifacts of the Earth that was. While it’s easy to play the end of the world for laughs or play up the devastation, it’s rare for an apocalyptic tale to find the delicate balance between humor, sadness and hope that WALL-E achieved– with an added side of romance tossed in for good measure.
That’s a smattering of my favorite apocalyptic films of the past. Which Hollywood sanctioned end of the world outings would make your list? And which films from the current crop of apocalyptic tales are you planning to see this summer?
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