Apocalypse Now! Classic Films About The End Of The World

Depending on who you speak, to the end of the world is always nigh, but before the whole show falls down around your ears, why not take a seat, grab some popcorn, and prepare for a quick trawl through five of the best apocalyptic films ever to explode onto the screen.

What happens when civilization crumbles, reason fails, and the world as we know it is dragged bloodied and screaming into the abyss? Well, in the English language, we have a word for it and that word is the apocalypse! Visions of the end of the world and what sort of crazed and deranged scenarios take place in its aftermath have long been a firm favorite of filmmakers wishing to make movies that question man’s place in the universe and how the human spirit would respond to having all its preconceived notions of society, religion, and humanity irrecoverably shattered.

So, take a deep breath, brace yourself, and keep your powder dry as we take a quick tour of five of the wildest, weirdest, and most captivating films that begin their story at the end of time.

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The Road

John Hillcoat’s 2009 film based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel is set in a bleak, barren, and savage land where a nameless apocalypse has completely destroyed all signs of mother nature and left only a covering of toxic ash and small tribes of flesh-crazed cannibals in its wake. In this desolate landscape, there exists only one small beacon of hope, and that is the love between a dying father and his son. The film tells the pair’s tale as they travel through the wasted landscape towards the sea in the hope of encountering others who still posses a small semblance of humanity and have not resorted to eating human flesh.

Along the way, they battle starvation, the elements, disease, and constant attack, but as the father (Viggo Mortensen) repeatedly tells his terrified son, “We are the good guys who are carrying the fire.”

And the film’s true beauty lies in the fact that neither man or boy ever let the flames go out.

When the Wind Blows

Based on Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel, the animated film When the Wind Blows will be familiar to anyone growing up in the 1980s when the powers that be thought it was essential to educate school kids on what would happen in the event of a nuclear war. The film tenderly portrays how a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, cope when their ordinary lives in rural Sussex fall are turned upside down after the Soviet Union decides to launch a nuclear attack on the U.K.

The couple are overwhelmed by their situation and fail to appreciate its full gravity. Their staunch belief in the establishment’s power to protect them and “sort things out for the best” is touchingly pitiful. As the film progresses it becomes clear to the viewer that Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs are dying from radiation sickness, but they remain ignorant of the fact because their trusted government never told them that such a thing would ever happen.

The Apocalypse
Shaun of the Dead

If you’re going to stick around for the apocalypse, then you might as well enjoy it. In Shaun of the Dead, zombies have never been more entertaining. No matter how scary the flesh-eating undead can sometimes appear, there’s always been something inherently amusing about zombies. Perhaps it’s the way they walk around like someone permanently smashed on fortified cider, or maybe it’s the way they grunt and groan like over-enthusiastic X Factor candidates who have just received an appreciative nod from Simon Cowell.

There are no two ways around it: zombies are a bit of a laugh. And in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s 2004 film about a young loser waking up one morning to find he must battle against a town full of zombies and win, the humor compliments the horror to perfection.

The Birds

You’ll probably never coo “Whose a pretty Polly then?” to a caged budgie or parrot again after watching Alfred Hitchcock’s apocalyptic vision of what happens when our little-feathered friends finally use their heads and decide it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to band together and take over the world. Hitchcock’s 1963 masterpiece makes anyone who watches it view innocent little sparrows and blue tits with an unhealthy strain of paranoia for weeks after.

The Matrix

People have called the plot of The Matrix pretty confusing, but, in fact, it’s apocalyptic vision is really pretty simple and also very plausible in an age where we depend more and more upon computerized technology.

It’s 2199 and most of the human population are being kept in a docile, sleeping state while being force fed a simulated reality of the world. Why? Because the machines who now rule the planet are harvesting our bioelectrical energy to keep themselves in a position of power. This is all jeopardized when Keanu Reeves wakes up to save the day and tells us all “anything is possible.” Which is a fair point when you think of his acting abilities and the career he’s made for himself.

The Apocalypse
[Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images]