Apocalypse. A nasty little word that conjures the thought of everything from fire and brimstone to cosmic collisions. Scientists talk about it, religious leaders preach about it, and the movies… well that’s where the end-of-the-world theory really goes from the mildly comprehensible to wildly implausible. The environment, mad science, aliens, Satan, and asteroids are all great arch villains for films of this sort. Today we won’t be discussing any of the contemporary Hollywood views on the day of reckoning. This is the unique lot of celluloid nightmares that we’ll take from the 1960’s through the 80’s, chock full of marauding tribes, desolate landscapes, wickedly cool anti-heroes, zombified survivors and an Earth where overpopulation ushers in cannibalism. Not all in the same story, but all part of our 5 must-see classic interpretations of the world’s end that you absolutely have to see.
Kurt Russell was known for family and comedy films both before and after John Carpenter’s (Halloween, The Fog) foray into an ultra-strict future world where Manhattan was a walled up free-for-all prison. In the role of Snake Plisken, a former special forces soldier turned criminal, Russell upped the badass ante for antihero characters, sporting a cobra torso tattoo and a menacing eye patch. As Plisken is being processed for his new confinement, word is out the President’s plane has gone down within the walls of this prison, so the top cop brass makes a deal – get the President out alive and a complete pardon awaits. Trouble is, the ‘inside’ is full of equally badass characters basically running their own little society, and the Prez is also their ticket out. While the film doesn’t detail what the entire world resembles now, nor what took place to make things so bleak, but Carpenter did one helluva job with the atmosphere, the intensity, the soundtrack and ensemble cast, so you get the picture anyway.
Not one, but two films on the list actually star the outspoken pry-the-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands actor and NRA activist Charlton Heston. This guy was in enough of these genre-specific movies – we could have made a list just dedicated to him. But, we’re not that crazy! But here’s gist of our first Heston offering: It’s 2022 and just about everything naturally growing, you know – fruits and vegetables – well, they’re extinct and the Earth is overpopulated. No food? Sure there is! A company rations out an interesting treat called Soylent Green, but once the CEO gets knocked off, and Heston’s detective character digs deeper – voila! A secret ingredient is uncovered, far more gruesome than the current living conditions.
Based on a book of the same name, the 1976 film depicted a genuine dystopian society, one where overpopulation was managed simply by mandatory death by age 30. But on the other hand, many pleasures were afforded the citizens in the three decades life was permitted. Michael York, or Basil from Austin Powers as you may know him, plays Logan – a Sandman – whose job is to hunt down and kill anyone who tries to run when that special time comes up. A change of heart turns Logan into a runner himself, so he proceeds to find a way out with the help of a female citizen. In the course of escape, the couple encounters strange surgeons, robots, and eventually a world outside.
Long before Mel Gibson was labeled as prejudiced or crazy, he was Australia’s greatest independent movie actor. Following the cult craze of the pre-apocalyptic Mad Max, director George Miller took the Max character into the post-apocalypse, where gas was gold and having it was worth more than life itself. Teaming with only his loyal dog and his nitrous oxide supercharged car, Max likes to stay solo. But once he encounters some of the nomadic bad guys, and a makeshift fort of petrol-pumping good guys, he decides to lend a helping hand. This film, though not as depthy in plot as Mad Max, was definitely the most kick-ass of the trilogy (sorry, but Beyond Thunderdome was just silly). Violent and bizarre landscapes and characters make the future very unappealing, though highly entertaining.
If this isn’t the worst case scenario of Armageddon, what is! Considering all our selections of films center around some sort of survival after Earthly catastrophe, i.e. the movies don’t end with everyone dead, then what could be more frightening than the premise of we humans now on the bottom of the food chain, society’s lowest, and basically nothing more than fodder for twisted experiments. Planet of the Apes may seem merely a cheesy action movie with cool makeup effects. Not by a long shot! This 1968 film touched on more than sci-fi adventure, this was a lesson in prejudice, tolerance, and fear… all the things dividing our culture during the sixties and beyond. The story goes a little something like this: A group of astronauts get caught in a time warp and land on, what they think is, another planet. Three survive the crash (unfortunately the only female on board is DOA), and begin to explore the land. Soon enough, they realize Apes rule the area, enslave humans, and worship a god that preaches Apes came before mankind. It isn’t until the very end that Charleton Heston’s character Taylor sees the cold hard truth – essentially demonstrating how capable humanity is of destroying itself.
There is an almost unlimited number of films depicting the end of days, in fact that being one of the titles (and a damn good choice too!), so here are a few more, modern and otherwise, worth examining: A Clockwork Orange, Independence Day, The Omega Man, The Last Man on Earth, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Pandorum, Night of the Living Dead, Death Race 2000 (the original and remake), Brazil, 1984, and Farenheit 451