Welcome back! You already know I’m an author of post-apocalyptic fiction. Cinema has a wealth of unique dystopian settings that caught my attention. Some apocalyptic scenarios in films are more realistic while others are utterly preposterous. Regardless, I find it fascinating. Today, I’m covering 20 specific apocalyptic scenarios in movies. I could easily cover more, but 20 examples will keep me plenty busy.
It seems like violent alien invasions are a recurring fad in Hollywood. Aliens from a galaxy far away invade Earth simply to destroy everyone. I suppose annihilating planets is a hobby for some intergalactic travelers. The main story never changes, but I’ve seen many great creature effects in various films. Alien invasion movies range from classic horror to gigantic blockbusters. It’s not my favorite apocalyptic scenario, but it’s definitely popular.
Examples: Battle Los Angeles, Bird Box, The Blob, Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Mars Attacks, Pacific Rim, A Quiet Place, The Tomorrow War, Transformers series,War of the Worlds
Angels and Demons
Occasionally, apocalyptic movies will have darkly religious themes. In some cases, the Antichrist or the minions of Hell try to take over the world. Other times, God’s Angels from Heaven rebel against mankind. Either way, it’s a disastrous scenario for the human race. Endings vary between hopeful and totally grim.
Examples: End of Days, Legion, The Omen, The Prophecy series
People assume we’ll remain on top of the food change, but that can change. Rarely, an apocalyptic movie will feature significant animal evolution that knocks human beings down several notches. Sometimes, animals evolve very quickly, and other times the story takes place many years in the future after gradual changes. Planet of the Apes also features human regression with caveman levels of intellect. Whether animals become sentient like humans or powerful enough to overtake the human race, it’s generally a scary situation.
Examples: After Earth, Love and Monsters, Planet of the Apes series
What happens when a single individual or a small group predicts the end of the world? Everyone mocks them. Unfortunately, the crazy weirdos are always right in apocalyptic movies. A sequence of deadly predictions comes true, usually with bigger and more frightening consequences as the film continues. Sometimes the protagonist can change these events, but it’s usually inevitable in most cases.
Examples: Knock at the Cabin, Knowing, Noah, Take Shelter
Dragons Burn Down Civilization
I’ve only seen this scenario in Reign of Fire, but it deserves to be on my post. It’s an apocalyptic movie with dragons! When you think about it, a real dragon invasion could be cataclysmic for mankind. Luckily, dragons are entirely fictional. Reign of Fire features a group of dragons who woke up from hibernation and burned down the world’s largest cities. They easily took down our military forces and reduced the world’s survivors to frightened hermits. Becoming a successful dragon slayer is a difficult task in this apocalyptic scenario.
Example: Reign of Fire
This example is uncommon in cinema, even though it’s one of the most likely and realistic apocalyptic situations. Perhaps, filmmakers avoid this one for a reason. It seems like global famines in movies have very little hope, which creates an incredibly bleak scenario. However, people found creative food alternatives in specific titles, such as Soylent Green and Blade Runner 2049. I must admit, slowly starving to death is a frightening concept.
Examples: Blade Runner 2049, Soylent Green
Audiences are tired of this situation, but it generates ticket sales and plenty of views on streaming services. Geographic disasters vary from earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves, and more. It’s common to see this scenario in blockbusters with impressive VFX and bad writing. Granted, nobody watches these movies for the plot. We just want to watch crazy action scenes. The rare exception for storytelling is Snowpiercer with an arctic wasteland setting, but that film is just weird.
Examples: 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Geostorm, Mortal Engines, San Andreas, Snowpiercer
Children of Men put this scenario on the public’s radar. It’s a depressing setting where the human race will go extinct within the next several years because the population is virtually infertile. One day, mankind will grow old, frail, and die. There’s a little bit of hope when an individual woman becomes pregnant, although it’s a highly dangerous revelation. Could this scenario happen in real life? I hope not, but you never know.
Example: Children of Men
Even animated films can have apocalyptic settings. Earth became a gigantic landfill in WALL-E. It’s a Disney movie, for crying out loud! Our ravenous consumption created tons of trash throughout generations. Eventually, the world became completely uninhabitable and mankind found blissful refuge on a huge space station. Over time, human beings became entirely dependent on AI helpers. Again, this situation might be too realistic for comfort in Hollywood and that might be the reason why we don’t see similar films.
Burned out Earths from the results of nuclear disasters are one of the most typical scenarios in apocalyptic films. Usually, the story takes place years or generations after the world was obliterated. I’ve seen variable tones and styles. Some of these movies are huge blockbusters while others are smaller indie releases. They can have horror elements or pretentious arthouse themes. It all boils down to the last humans on Earth who are fighting savagely for scarce resources.
Examples: The Book of Eli, The Last Survivors, Mad Max series, The Rover, Steel Dawn, Z for Zachariah
Only the Young and Beautiful
How do you keep the human race young and beautiful without genetic diseases? You kill everyone when they turn 30 years old. Problem solved. Logan’s Run is a false dystopia where everyone lives peacefully in absolute comfort. At age 30, people take place in elaborate public executions with the naive belief of being reborn. Naturally, death is permanent and it’s entirely a method to keep the human population under manageable control.
Example: Logan’s Run
Here’s another scenario that’s unique to a single film. Awake is a Netflix original movie that features a strange phenomenon. Somehow, every human being on the planet mysteriously loses their ability to sleep. Days pass and civilization slowly crumbles while people find desperate answers and solutions. For the record, sleep deprivation becomes fatal eventually, which means this apocalyptic scenario is downright alarming.
I’ve seen this scenario too many times. Many apocalyptic movies critique our dependence on technology with the rise of the machines. Various robots and AI devices rebel against mankind, which quickly becomes a losing battle for human beings. When people lose their technology, they become quite helpless against these machines. Most robot uprisings take the form of expensive blockbusters with elaborate action scenes.
Examples: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Matrix series, Terminator series, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Revenge of the Plants
This scenario might be one of the silliest apocalyptic settings, but it can be a fun watch. Once in a while, an apocalyptic film will feature sentient plants that try to wipe out mankind. Would this be a challenging task in real life? I’m not sure. Human beings have major fire power, but we shouldn’t underestimate nature. In cinema, sometimes the plants actually win.
Examples: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, The Happening, Little Shop of Horrors, The Ruins
Rising Sea Levels
I’m surprised this setting doesn’t appear in cinema more often. Granted, movies that feature water are often quite expensive. Global warming causes the sea levels to rise, sinking major cities and entire continents. Sometimes the entire planet is covered in water as seen in Waterworld. Other times, it’s a slow and steady change that’s gradually altering our way of life. In The Hunger Games, the last human beings on Earth live in a specific region of North America under totalitarian control. Overall, it doesn’t look good for mankind.
Examples: The Hunger Games, Reminiscence, Waterworld
A couple of movies explore this unusual concept. In one case, our shadows become homicidal and devour us in the darkness. That means you have to stay in the light! Another movie features a primordial entity of darkness that hibernates for centuries and wakes up periodically to feed. In both cases, these dark creatures are responsible for mass disappearances, including a large Mayan city, the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and several ocean liners. Now they’re coming for the rest of mankind.
Example: Phantoms, Vanishing on 7th Street
Uncontrollable Crime Rates
Sometimes the world is on the brink of collapse because crime is literally out of control. Good luck surviving when murder is around every corner. Many of these movies are commentaries about our current cultures of anarchy and hedonism. In these scenarios, the violence is incredibly high and the storytelling tends to be low, but the results are effective. You would think world government’s would contain this violence. Unfortunately, they’re rarely successful.
Examples: The Bad Batch, Bushwick, Dredd, Escape from New York, The Purge series, RoboCop series, The Warriors
Vampires Rule the World
Honestly, I prefer this scenario over zombies almost every time. It’s not a popular setting in Hollywood, but occasional vampire films go in an apocalyptic direction. Vampires populate through bites and it’s easy to gain millions of members in a short period of time. Also, vampires must drink blood to survive and that means the human race is on the menu. Vampires as a species can range from highly intelligent to completely feral.
Examples: 30 Days of Night, Daybreakers, I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth, Priest, Stake Land
Again, I wonder if this scenario is a less common apocalyptic setting because it’s too realistic for comfort. This setting endured for a long time and some films were more elaborate than others. However, they all share the same basic premise. A virus spreads rapidly across the world and threatens to kill nearly the whole human population. Our own brush with COVID-19 should hit pretty close to home. 12 Monkeys was over the top with time travel, but many were more grounded, such as Contagion.
Examples: 12 Monkeys, The Andromeda Strain, Carriers, Contagion, It Comes at Night, Outbreak, Songbird
I don’t understand why this apocalyptic setting is so popular. The zombie apocalypse reigns over the other settings by a landslide. These movies always begin with a patient zero who bites someone else, causing a widespread pandemic of flesh eating zombies within a few hours. Some zombie flicks are more in line with horror while others are comedic. They can be entertaining, but this setting has minimal variety. Regardless, the zombie outbreak is clearly the most successful apocalyptic scenario in cinema.
Examples: 28 Days Later series, Alone, Army of the Dead, Cargo, Dawn of the Dead series, Life After Beth, Little Monsters, Night of the Comet, Night of the Living Dead series, Open Grave, Pet Sematary, Pontypool, Quarantine, Resident Evil series, Shaun of the Dead, Splinter, Train to Busan, Warm Bodies, World War Z, Zombie Night, Zombieland
There you go! You should be ready to survive the Apocalypse! Later in the year, I might cover apocalyptic scenarios in other forms of media, such as comic books, novels, video games, and television shows. Apocalyptic trends might vary across the different mediums. What are your favorite apocalyptic settings in movies? Tell me in the comment section. I haven’t figured out next week’s topic yet, but you’ll find out soon enough. Take care of yourselves and have a great week!
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