The Top 10 Post-Apocalypses in Pop Culture History
By Brian Walton on March 18, 2014
This week’s premiere of The Hundred on the CW ushers in a fresh perspective on how life as we know it on the planet will come to a halt. The show’s focus is on life after the end of days, and in that vein, they’re in some good company. Check out our ten favorite post-apocalypses in pop culture history to see which disasters you should be preparing for sooner rather than later.
10) Waterworld (1995) - “Mutation!” Kevin Costner’s watery apocalypse left entire cities to become the ocean floor. Any post-disaster scenario that ends with Dennis Hopper wearing an eyepatch and throwing “smeat” to a crowd of oil enthusiasts is worth your time. Maybe not your money, but definitely your time. The movie also features Costner drinking his own filtered urine. Half the beauty of the apocalypse is how you survive.
9) Batman: No Man’s Land (1999) – When a cataclysmic earthquake destroys Gotham City, the government calls the island empire a lost cause and cuts it off. Left to fend for itself, Gotham becomes a warzone as the underworld steps up to claim the wasteland. The bat-event would go on to inspire at least part of The Dark Knight Rises and is seen as a potential influence on Batman Vs. Superman‘s storyline focusing on the rebuilding of Metropolis. Gotham may have come back from the brink, but The No-Man’s Land still holds up as a post-apocalyptic fantasy land for Bat-family fans.
8) Y: The Last Man (2002-2008) – Alas, poor Yorick. We knew him well. Few comic book series have managed to realize their vision as fully and completely as Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s phenomenal Y: The Last Man. The premise is simple: a mysterious global pandemic kills every mammal with a Y-chromosome on Earth, save for one man (Yorick Brown) and his pet monkey (Ampersand). Stalked by rogue Israeli commandos, militant Amazonian cults, and government agents, Yorick’s journey to reunite with his girlfriend Beth and the memorable people he meets along the way are elevated to the stuff of comic book legend thanks to the viscerally realistic hellscape that Vaughan and Guerra brought to life.
7) Fallout (1997 – present) – Anyone who has ever experienced the sheer terror of rounding a corner and coming face to face with a Deathclaw can tell you that the The Wasteland in the Fallout series is one of the most immersive, incredible pieces of apocalyptica around. Imbued with an oddball sense of humor, littered with dangerous creatures, and populated by all manner of religious zealots, scurrilous knaves, and haggard travelers, the Wasteland is a wild, deadly place, but one which you won’t want to leave. I mean, where else are you going to have a cybernetic dog and a mentally unstable mutant follow you around? So grab your Power Fists and turn up the radio because Three Dog is howling and you’re going to want to set the world on fire.
6) The Last of Us (2013) - It may be one of the newer entries on our list, but Naughty Dog’s vision of plague-and-monster-ravaged post-apocalyptic America remains one of the most vivid, harrowing experiences to date. We experience this funhouse mirror version of the world through Joel and Ellie’s eyes as they sneak past Cordyceps-riddled monsters, packs of ravenous bandits, and freedom fighters with an ulterior motive in order to carve out a better life for themselves.
5) Doomsday (2008)- The United Kingdom sure becomes a dangerous place in Neil Marshall’s violent adventure film, inspired by movies like The Road Warrior and Escape From New York and Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness. Thirty years after a horrible virus killed or mutated most of the people in the British Isles, the virus surfaces again. Now it’s up to a small group of mercenaries led by Rhona Mitra to cross into the quarantined Scottish countryside to find the one man (played by the great Malcolm McDowell) who might be able to cure it. This movie has it all: cannibalism, car chases and sword fights. There’s literally nothing else you could need.
4) The Last Man on Earth (1964) – It would certainly stand to reason, in our minds anyway, that the last man on Earth would be Vincent Price. The very first (and still most faithful) adaptation of Richard Matheson’s brilliant novel, I Am Legend, the film is a stripped-down, creepy black & white film with only small amounts of dialogue and a hell of a bleak ending. The entire world has become vampires and Price’s Dr. Robert Morgan (changed from Neville) is alone trying to determine why this happened and how he can rid the world of their undead, garlic-fearing carcasses. It’s also the only one of the film adaptations not to turn the main character into a messianic, superhero figure. The book’s title was ironic, everyone.
3) WALL-E (2008) – Leave it to Pixar to make what is probably the most believable and disturbing post-human Earthscape committed to cinema. The first half of the movie plays like Silent Running with the robot acting as Bruce Dern. It portrays an Earth bereft of natural resources, where piles of garbage create skyscrapers for our lonely trash-compacting robot to sift through. When humans are finally shown, aboard a massive automated pleasure yacht, they’re so incredibly fat, they can’t even move without the aid of hover-recliners. Its worldview is dour, but the love story at the film’s heart is enough to keep us from killing ourselves.
2) Planet of the Apes (1968) – Were it possible to accurately type a Charlton Heston impersonation, we would be doing that a lot here. Surely the least plausible but most awesome way the world could end would be for hyper-intelligent apes to rise up against the humans who’ve enslaved them for too long. Good for them, really. The film is one of the best allegories created for the screen and has the benefit of some astonishingly good makeup effects which, by and large, still hold up today. The ending is also one of the most shocking in cinema history: We were the maniacs; we blew it up. Also, “It’s a mad house! A MAD HOUSE!!” We couldn’t help ourselves.
1) Dawn of the Dead (1978) – This is the one for which everybody’s been preparing, unfounded or not. While he’d already given us a glimpse of zombies (or “ghouls”) in Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero officially set the standard for what a zombie apocalypse might look like with his late-’70s masterpiece. We stay with his four hapless survivors as they try to secure one of those massive newfangled shopping malls for their very own, and the hardships and fleeting calms they experience along the way. If not for this movie, Max Brooks and Robert Kirkman would not be names we recognize and we wouldn’t know how best to quietly dispatch a “walker.”
What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic pop culture setting? Let us know in the comments below!