Gothtober: Bleak but brilliant movies about the end of the world
Whatever your thoughts about climate change, you might be interested to know June 5 was World Environment Day, the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of the planet’s environment. Many joined forces and launched initiatives to promote and fight the “War on Plastic”.
Adding a healthy dose of signature Film Daily cynicism to honor the day, we’re here to rank the best end-of-the-world films – because when armageddon hits, no amount of recycled plastic is going to save the death and destruction of everything and everyone you hold dear. On that cheery note, let’s dive in!
The Quiet Earth (1985)
As a play on its title, the apocalyptic sci-fi helmed by New Zealand director Geoff Murphy (Utu) approaches the end of the world in a very quiet way. Following a man named Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) as he awakens to find himself alone in the world, while he does eventually meet two survivors, he soon discovers they have their own agenda.
Shot on deserted New Zealand streets, the setting provides an eerie backdrop to Zac’s own apocalyptic journey on a plane that comes to its end with an eerily terrifying peacefulness.
When the Wind Blows (1986)
Based on the Raymond Briggs graphic novel, this British cartoon movie about a nuclear attack is equal parts heartfelt as it is heartwrenching. Following an elderly couple as they deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack, they maintain their routine but eventually perish from radiation sickness.
While the narrative presents the resilience and love between a husband and wife, it also highlights the futile Protect and Survive advice provided by governments for the onslaught of nuclear attacks.
Night of the Comet (1984)
We’re trying to avoid zombie flicks on here because that’s a whole other kettle of undead fish, but we thought Night of the Comet deserved a mention because it involves a comet, it’s post-apocalyptic, and it’s totally bomb!
A truly enjoyable throwback to 50s sci-fi and one of the ultimate feminist horrors, Thom Eberhardt’s (Without a Clue) 80s hit sees the big-haired heroines Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Sammy (Kelli Maroney) fighting against cannibal zombies and a sinister group of scientists after a comet wipes out most of the Earth’s population.
This is the End (2013)
Although many of the movies on this list paint aptly bleak, dreary portraits of what the rapture might look, This Is the End turns the whole thing into a riotous rave, showing best buds James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jay Baruchel (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and many other celebrities as they’re are faced with the Biblical Apocalypse.
The Road (2009)
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s disturbing 2006 novel, The Road is a stunning post-apocalyptic journey of a father and son across a desolate America. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) paints a picture as bleak as you’d imagine the end of the world to be; a grey desolate hue and eerie soundtrack provide the backdrop for a film that’s as much about a fight for survival as it is a heartwrenching study of parenthood.
The third and final flick in director Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, Nowhere is a colorful, surrealist journey following a day in the lives of a group of Los Angeles high school students and the bizarre lives they lead. Starring James Duval (Donnie Darko) and Rachel True (The Craft) as Dark and Mel – a bisexual, polyamorous teen couple – the black comedy is a loudly nihilistic love letter to America’s doomed youth.
The end of the world plotline is studied through Duval’s alienated Dark Smith – a teen so obsessed with the apocalypse, he’s desperate to find his one true love before it’s too late. The narrative culminates in one of the most batshit final scenes in movie history.
Take Shelter (2011)
In Jeff Nichols’s (Midnight Special) drama thriller, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) gives a solid performance as a man plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions. As a young husband and father, he questions whether to shelter his family from a coming doomsday storm, or to shelter them from himself. Overall, Take Shelter is a sinister masterpiece that successfully evokes the dread and apprehension of impending doom.
One of the more overlooked Danny Boyle flicks (competing against such hits as 28 Days Later, 127 Hours, and Trainspotting), Sunshine is an astonishing (albeit scientifically inaccurate) film about a team of international astronauts who are sent on a dangerous mission to reignite the dying sun in the year 2057.
To this day it remains one of the bleakest and most visually beautiful sci-fi films ever made, held up with a script from Alex Garland (Annihilation) and a stunning performance by Cillian Murphy (Inception). Dream team alert!
Auteur Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark) used this film to explore his own experiences with depression with a story that follows two sisters – Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg – who must deal with their lingering sibling issues when the end of the world is announced. In the end we learn that sometimes it is the most psychologically damaged who deal best with situations of crisis and chaos.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
A.k.a. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Stanley Kubrick (The Shining) had a finesse for visual grandeur, proving method in his madness with this black comedy about a group of people hell-bent on self destruction. A film pondering what would happen if the wrong person pushed the wrong button, perhaps this masterful satire on Cold War fears is more relevant now than ever before.