This is the way the world ends

Favorite post-apocalyptic scenarios.  Let’s not worry too much about the quality of the movie, what I’m looking for is ideas — is it a virus, a nuclear war, invaders from Mars?  What are the symptoms of that apocalypse?  Is it flesh-eating bacteria, zombies, intelligent insects, people living underground?

Bonus points for uniqueness.
Extra-special bonus points for a surprise twist ending.

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59 Responses to “This is the way the world ends”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    “Those bastards! They finally did it!”

    I’m interested by post-apocalyptic scenarios where it’s kind of debatable whether it’s apocalyptic or not (also those where the apocalypse is merely looming) — for example, the 1979 Body Snatchers — is it really a worse world? Certainly, it’s a less human world, but is that necessarily apocalyptic? It does make sense to define good as “good for humanity as we know it”. But perhaps that’s too facile.

    For contrast, consider Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series where the aliens come down to transform humans into something more like them. they seem well intentioned (they say it’s the only way for humanity to survive), but naturally this seriously freaks out the humans who naturally define themselves by their humanity. Anotehr example — Clarke’s Childhood’s End. Sorry, I know these aren’t movies, I’ll try and think of some movies.

    P.S. I was talking to some Korean exchange students a couple of years ago about movies they liked, and one was enthusing about the latest Spielberg movie… eventually we realized she was talking about The Day After Tomorrow, which she’s simply assumed was by spielberg.

    • Todd says:

      Re: “Those bastards! They finally did it!”

      By the standards you’re citing, no apocalyptic scenario is truly bad. From an ecological or biological standpoint, anything that wipes out humanity is at worst a lateral move and at best a positive boon for Planet Earth, which would certainly be better off without us.

      I was watching a Nova special a few years back where they mentioned that every 60 million years or so there is an “Extinction Level Event.” They listed the last few and then wondered what the next one might be. And all I could think was, “us.” We’re the extinction level event, the biological accident that gave us these big brains long before we were equipped to do anything intelligent with them. Like Agent Smith says, we’re a virus and the planet is doing everything it can to wipe us out, to hit the reset button.

  2. eronanke says:

    Creepy immaculate births, a la The Midwitch Cuckoos.

    John Carpenter is forgiven for everything else in my book for scaring the bejezus out of a younger version of me with the movie “Village of the Damned”.

  3. goodtoast says:

    Well, I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re looking for, because there’s no dramatic fight to re-take the world, but On the Beach has always resonated with me and been a favorite of mine. Maybe it’s because I adore the cast, or just love some of preformances, or that I really like the story. It doesn’t matter.

    I’m going to be terribly surprised if you have not seen this film. Basic plot line- a nuclear war has killed off everyone in the world except for people in Australia. The few people who remain are going to die soon because of the radiation circulating the globe. Instead of focusing on some action, the film is more about their acceptance of their inevitable death. And, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner’s romance. That’s another issue, though.

    • eronanke says:

      On the Beach is one of the few movies that make me cry every time I read it.

    • gretchdragon says:

      Oh God. There was a remake of On The Beach that aired on TV back in 2001. Why do I remember this date?

      Because I watched the damned thing the night before 9/11. And when I was woken up with the news of the Twin Towers, I thought for about a half hour that I was dreaming a twisted version of On The Beach and that I was still dreaming.

      Unfortunately even after I finally figured out that I was NOT in fact still asleep, I spent most of the day waiting for the damn bombs to start dropping.

      Eeeeeg. It still makes me shudder to remember it.

    • Todd says:

      I’m going to be terribly surprised if you have not seen this film.

      Prepare to be terribly surprised — I haven’t seen the film. I’m familiar with the scenario, but both book and film have escaped my notice. And my local video store sold their copy. Thanks for the tip.

  4. beartech420 says:

    “hmm zardoz, the wizard of oz!”

    Well for a Book I really love Greg Bear’s Blood Music, where biological nanotech takes over all of north america. I love the concept of their concentrated intelligences changing the laws of physics around them!
    But for a Movie you really can’t beat Zardoz. It’s got full frontal nudity and sean connery in a white wedding gown!
    best regards,

    • eronanke says:

      Re: “hmm zardoz, the wizard of oz!”

      And he shot-puts a lady.

    • greyaenigma says:

      Re: “hmm zardoz, the wizard of oz!”

      Blood Music! Another good example of what I was talking about above. I read that as a teen and actually bought another copy a couple of years ago to re-read it.

    • Todd says:

      Re: “hmm zardoz, the wizard of oz!”

      Blood Music is certainly a brilliant title, my God.

      If only we could get full-frontal nudity and Sean Connery in a white wedding gown into it.

  5. eronanke says:

    A Did You Know? moment:
    Did you know that “The Day After Tomorrow” was considered so ridiculous in premise and dialogue, so very proposterous in its writing by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame, that they had considered optioning the script to make with marionettes. After finding out that it had been optioned to be made as a real action movie, the two promptly set to writing the more political “Team America: World Police”.

    • greyaenigma says:

      That helps explain why they made their global warming episode as awful as it was.

      • eronanke says:

        They pretty-much just re-made “The Day After Tomorrow”. It’s stupid. And awesome.

        • greyaenigma says:

          Trouble is — they made fun of the concept of global warming itself as if that’s really what people thought it was. And they strongly implied that not only was it not catastrophic, but that it wasn’t even real.

          • eronanke says:

            While I agree that evidence points to human involvement as *the* a mitigating factor in the rapid heating of the planet, I have to say that, at the end of the day, the word ‘catastrophic’ applies to very little in terms of geological and long-term ecological ramifications.

            I’m not easily swayed by neither ‘ignorists’ (Republican policy-makers) or alarmists (like Greenpeace, Al Gore, etc.), and I think that’s where Matt and Trey fall as well.

            • greyaenigma says:

              Whether it’s happening at all and whether it’s human-caused are different questions. And a lot of people are using the question of whether it’s human-caused as a fauz straw man for the mere existence of global warming — we can’t easily prove that it’s human caused, ergo it doesn’t exist. I’m not easily swayed by that. And it’s true that the ice age isn’t likely to harm the Earth, but neither would a plague of zombies. That doesn’t prevent the lost of the majority of our coastlines from being catastrophic, even if it is over the period of years.

              The tragedy of The Day After Tomorrow and the South Park episode is that they themselves are huge gigantic straw men — they’re so obviously preposterous that it’s easy to ridicule the “alarmists” for arguing this, even though no one is saying anything of the sort. (It’s true that TDAT was inspired by one scientist’s theories, but he himself was horrified by how they distorted his predictions beyond any reasonable degree.) The point “alarmists” like Gore are trying to make is that this stuff is happening, it’s observable. And if we don’t start doing something about it, we’re going to be very sorry indeed.

              • eronanke says:

                But what can we do?
                Scientists have already shown that the hole in the ozone layer is already repairing itself since the abolishment of CDCs in household products (in the 1st world, at least).
                Is it methane, then? If so, do we shoot cows for farting? (I don’t mean to sound facetious, but that’s a theory as well…) Or just stop farming cows?
                Stop using fossil fuels? (and how the hell do you intend to implement that for the 3rd world?!)
                I don’t think there IS a human solution right now, unfortunately.
                The main thing I enjoy about South Park is that they make fun of both sides – always. If they picked and chose with their own political views, the show would rapidly degenerate into political humor instead of topical.

                • greyaenigma says:

                  That episode seemed to be the one where they didn’t make fun of both sides, which is probably why it’s so frustrating to me.

                  And by do something, I don’t mean “solve everything”. There’s another straw man used too often when this issue is discussed. I do mean things like reducing fossil fuel use — we can’t eliminate it, of course, but we’ve known for a long time we should be reducing it (for a number of reasons going well beyond the issue of global warming). Also, when I was talking about doing something, I also meant preparing for the possibility of rising ocean levels. It may very well be nothing we can do to stop what’s already going on, but we can at the absolute minimum be aware of what’s happening to the environment.

                  • eronanke says:

                    I’ll buy more swim-suits. 🙂

                    • Todd says:

                      All right, all right, everybody sit down and keep a civil tongue. Grab some coffee, we’re going to stay at these keyboards until we all agree on what’s causing global warming and how we can stop it.

                      My position: I have no doubt that it’s happening and I’m prepared to blame Republicans and corporations for just about anything.

                      I will say, however, that I also remember, twenty-odd years ago, there were many very serious, scientific reports about the coming ice age, also with attendant predictions of world-ending. What happened to those people?

                    • eronanke says:

                      Good question.
                      Here’s the thing- scientists are the same people as Republicans; they just use Science instead of morality as a weapon.

                      Sometimes you have to make up/skew evidence to get more funding and grants.

    • Todd says:

      The Day After Tomorrow certainly raised the bar on preposterousness. I saw the movie on its opening night and the audience was in stitches, actively taunting and jeering at the absurdity of it.

      My favorite plot twist: in Act I, the zookeepers notice that the wolves (which the Central Park Zoo does not have) have escaped their cages. The wolves survive the flooding of New York and the instant-arctic conditions so that they can chase Jake Gyllenhall around a Russian freighter outside the Public Library. That one made my head spin. I spent the evening trying to figure out how the people responsible came to the decision of going so far out of the way of logic and probability as to put wolves on a Russian freighter outside the Library. I imagined Roland Emmerich reading the script and sitting back and thinking about it, and then slapping the desk and saying “You know what this script needs? Wolves on a Russian freighter!”

      In the theater, when the wolves appeared on the freighter, an audient (a fellow screenwriter, probably) shouted out, delightedly, “Hey! The wolves are paying off!” to riotous laughter. We were all thinking it, but he said it.

      • eronanke says:

        I haven’t actually seen it, but a friend who did had the SAME comment. It appears as though the movie would be MUCH less ludicrous if it had kept the wolves out of it.

  6. edo_fanatic says:

    It has to be the scenario from Six String Samurai. Nuclear war. symptoms: music and lots of death/ Russian army staying in U.S. Includes people living underground and cannibals.

  7. greyaenigma says:

    Night of the Comet — nearly everyone on Earth is disintegrated, except for a few humans and zombies.

    Day of the Triffids – the plants come alive!

    Waterworld – the discussion above reminded me. (This could be considered another straw man, but I’m not sure if they dwelt on why it happened.)

    Thundarr the Barbarian – The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin! Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn… A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. (Savagery, super-science and sorcery each by themselves might be dull, but together? Rock on!)

    I keep thinking of A Boy And his Dog, which I don’t remember especially liking, but it did have a underworld overlord Jason Robards, so it’s got that going for it. And, of course, there’s Road Warrior and the others in that series, but I never remember whether Mad Max itself was post-apocalyptic, or just Australian.

    • ghostgecko says:

      Dear lord, Thundarr. I love that show – it’s the one thing I think actually would make a good translation into feature film.

      I like the idea in “AI” of organic intelligent life spawning inorganic intelligent life, however, I didn’t like the movie even slightly. It would only be the end of the world for us, much the same way aerobic life killed off the majority of anaerobic life way back in the primordial soup days.

      Both “Omega Man” and “The Last Man on Earth” have their charms. Again, it’s humanity evolving into something very different – not being destroyed, but not being human by the way most people tend to define “human” or “proper way of life”.

      Ditto John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. It’s strongly implied that the shapeshifter will triumph. And like the pod people, it can imitate living beings while remaining essentially itself. Eventually, one assumes it will go on to imitate all life on earth . . . there will still be leopards eating gazelles eating grass, but leopard, gazelle and grass will all be part of the shapeshifter organism.

      For books, there’s so much to choose from – my first thought is Vonnegut’s “Galapagos” (the only humans to survive war end up evolving into something like seals but still manage to find fart jokes funny), or Baxter’s “Evolution” which starts with little ratty creatures in the dinosaur days and ends bizaree human-descended critters symbotic with huge carnivorous plants. Dougal Dixon’s “Man, After Man” covers the same territory, with graphics. In his vision of the future, humans are sickened by environmental poisons and totally dependant on technology, and all die after the earth’s magnetic pole shifts and screws up electronics. Two groups survive: one astronauts on slow ships to another star, the other humans who have been genetically modified to take the place of animals that have been driven extinct. They evolve happily for 5 million years, some even evolving consciousness again, until their alien cousins return and destroy the environment for their machine dependant technology, never realzing this was their home planet and the animals they exploit are their distant relatives. Deeply depressing, but one species living around steam vents in the ocean survives to start the whole game over again.

      So what I think I like in these (and the direction the latest Living Dead movies) is that there will still be some kind of intelligent, aware lifeform – it just isn’t the middle american ideal of personhood. I don’t really care for the scenario where everything is totally reduced to cinders.

      • gretchdragon says:

        GhostGecko to the white courtesy telephone please…

        Nightspore, I have some info for you I think you can use…but I’m damned if I can figure out how to email you privately. Drop me a note off one of my pages, or hit me up in IM? Thanks!!!!

    • Todd says:

      a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery.

      Just like an episode of The Venture Bros!

      I keep thinking of A Boy And his Dog, which I don’t remember especially liking,

      My feelings exactly. I remember it has a young Don Johnson, people in clown makeup, and an unpleasantly cynical outlook.

  8. mcbrennan says:

    I heartily recommend Night Of The Comet, if you haven’t seen it. It’s a really excellent, witty end of the world movie. In this particular case the culprit is…yeah, a comet. I don’t want to give too much away in case you (or anyone else) haven’t seen it. There are zombies and shadowy scientists living underground and undead droog shopping mall clerks, really a panoply of post-apocalyptic movie archetypes.

    I think ice-nine from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is the end of the world scenario that gave me the most nightmares.

    • greyaenigma says:

      And I forgot about Cat’s Cradle. Ice-nine is the 1963 version of the grey goo scenario.

      And hmm, quite a few Vonnegut books deal with the end of the world in one way or another, don’t they?

      • goodtoast says:

        That’s Vonnegut for you. Just as daper as can be! : P

      • Todd says:

        It’s my thesis that Vonnegut spent many years trying to deal with the firebombing of Dresden in metaphorical form, and then finally found a way to approach it head-on with Slaughterhouse-Five. After that, his end-of-the-world scenarios drop off alarmingly.

    • yetra says:

      ice-nine was the first thing that came to my mind as well.

  9. noskilz says:

    How about Island of Terror?

    Island of Terror

    Scientists inavdertantly create radioactive, bone-sucking blob creatures that quickly overrun the island. Peter Cushing is in it. It’s end of the worldish because the ending has researchers elsewhere duplicating the experiment that started the mess.

    A cute film.

  10. craigjclark says:

    Got a couple for you.

    You have the poster for Night of the Living Dead up there, but it’s worth pointing you in the direction of Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies if you’re not familiar with it. The cause of the near-apocalypse in that film is a deadly virus accidentally released by the government into the drinking water of a small town. (If you get Turner Classic Movies, you’ll even be able to catch it Saturday, October 28, at 3:45 a.m. It’s being shown — along with Night as part of TCM Underground’s “Cult Movies” series.)

    Also, you should check out the British sci-fi/horro film Quatermass and the Pit (a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth). The less you know about it going in, the better, but you can take it on faith that it is unique.

    • Todd says:

      I saw part of The Crazies on late-night TV a long time ago BDVD (Before DVD). It and Night of the Comet are on my stack.

      Quartermass has a terrific head-spinning reveal — it’d be great if I could come up with something half as good.

      • Anonymous says:

        I saw Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell on TCM and it evolved/devolved into an end of the world scenario in its own way. It’s a Japanese science fiction/horror film from 1968 (referenced in Kill Bill, no less) that sort of begins like the 80’s Flash Gordon, moves into areas of Carpenter’s The Thing before ending up in another place entirely. I was really surprised at some of the cool places this weird little film went. It’s worth checking out if you get the chance.


        PS. Love the Venture commentaries. Great work!

        • Todd says:

          Wow, cool, never heard of it (except, unknowingly, in Kill Bill — jeez, how does Tarantino ever get anything done with all the movies he watches?)

          • Anonymous says:

            The shots of the 747 against the blood red sky in Kill Bill are pulled directly from Goke. Even the very last shot of the film, which does have some impressive how-the-hell-did-they-do-THAT moments, seems to be referenced in Mars Attacks in a big way. Yet another suprise from this movie.


  11. rfd says:

    What, no Tank Girl?!

    • Todd says:

      I enjoyed Tank Girl when it came out and cherished the soundtrack for years. How does the world end in that movie? Nuclear war, right? What else would account for Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo?

      • rfd says:

        I believe so. That’s why the ever-villainous Mr. McDowell controls the water supply or some such. It’s been a while for me too.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Did I miss something? Why is Planet of the Apes the elephant in the room no one’s talking about? Did a poster not load correctly?

    • Todd says:

      Well, it’s got the surprise twist but it’s not primarily an “apocalypse” movie because the “apocalypse” isn’t revealed until the very end. Up until that it’s a science-fiction movie.

      But as long as you bring it up, I’ll get up on my soap-box and say that Planet of the Apes is a ridiculous script that makes no sense at all. Charlton Heston lands on a planet run by apes who speak and write English, but it doesn’t occur to him until it’s shoved in his face that he’s actually on Earth. Up until that point, he’s perfectly okay with apes that he can converse with in English.

      And people say “Well, but it’s a convention of the science-fiction movie that the aliens speak English.” But Heston’s character isn’t in a science-fiction movie, he’s on what he supposes is an alien planet. Why on Earth (so to speak) would a bunch of English speaking-and-writing apes garner not even a double-take? His first words are “Get your damn stinking paws off me,” but they should be “Why the hell are you all speaking English?!”

  13. toliverchap says:

    with a whimper

    I like those last man left on Earth stories myself. I recently saw the entirity of one that I caught the last few minutes of years ago. The film was made in New Zealand in the 80’s it is called The Quiet Earth. It was pretty strange in a cool way and had a really cool ending shot.

    • yetra says:

      Re: with a whimper

      Ah, thank you! I was trying to remember the title of this, kept coming up with The Quiet Man, not The Quiet Earth.

      Apocalypse brought on by government project malfunction.

  14. I like John Wayne’s The Quiet Man myself, in which John Wayne finds himself exiled to a strange alien land as punishment for murdering a man in the boxing ring on earth. Then, after falling in love with one of the locals, me must adapt to the strange alien custom of beating the shit out of her and her nearest kin (while on a pilgrimage to her house–one of the rules of the strange contest is that you can never stop moving) in order to honorably win her hand. He never seems to grasp that they, too, speak English (and he is therefore still on earth, on a sort of prison island) but at least they have accents. It was later remade as Escape From New York, I think, by John Carpenter, who made sure he put his name on it.

  15. beartech420 says:

    as books go…

    As books go I enjoyed “The Earth Abides” wasn’t a death of mankind, seemed to be a 4000 year step back. And the group that survived had a lot going for them. they were still getting power from hoover dam for the longest period of time. The only thing the Protagnist was able to pass on was the bow and arrow.
    best regards,

  16. dougo says:

    Until the End of the World is one of my top 3 movies so I feel obliged to mention it, even though the apocalypse doesn’t actually play a big part in the movie and in fact turns out not to be much of an apocalypse at all.

    Final may or may not be a post-apocalyptic movie. Some sort of epidemic has happened, probably, but it might just be local and not worldwide. Or maybe Denis Leary is just going nuts.

    Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Not entirely sure if it’s post-apocalyptic or just dystopian. It seems sort of Chernobylish… except it was filmed in the ’70s.

    “People living underground” sound like you’re thinking of THX-1138. Again, unclear if there was ever an apocalypse at all, or just an Orwellian government that wanted people to think there was an apocalypse.

    I think the post-apocalyptic future that affected me most was The Time Machine (pick your version). Not just the Eloi/Morlocks thing but the various further futures after that. It’s not so much about apocalypse but about decay and entropy. Which I find much more depressing.

    The Mad Max franchise was fun. The world runs out of gas, devolves into anarchy and a Steve Jackson game. I’m surprised the recent “Peak Oil” fad hasn’t spawned a revival of this genre.

    The only zombie movie I liked was Shaun of the Dead. I think that was actually caused by a meteor or something?

    Douglas Adams blew up Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and then built a restaurant at the end of the universe. In fact the universe has disappeared and been replaced several times already. It’s comedy, just a bunch of gags, but it also kind of points out the futility/absurdity of worrying about apocalypses.