It is now eleven days until the end of the Mayan calendar and if you are anything like we are, you are getting ready to avoid grocery stores and the outside world on December 21st. We don’t want to get between some guy who has just watched his first episode of Doomsday Preppers and a can of soup. Of course this is just a “prediction” in a series of apocalyptic predictions that haven’t really panned out (Y2K anyone?). Besides Doomsday Preppers, you know what else really likes talking about the end of the world? Movies. And movies always manage to have shaky grounds when it comes to “science” and “reality” but that’s why we love them. Apocalyptic movies really take the cake when it comes to stretching the imagination.
This list includes post-apocalyptic films as well as close-apocalyptic films (thank you Bruce Willis). It covers some of the most common methods of destroying Earth.
10. Asteroids/Comets/Space Stuff
Notable Appearances: Deep Impact (1998), Armageddon (1998), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
Neil deGrasse Tyson has some very funny and excellent rants on this particular method of destroying the Earth that we will link below. This gimmick is used again and again in various science fiction/action films. Maybe it’s because the special effects involved in destroying various monuments all over the world (why does it always hit the Eiffel Tower?) are so fun to watch. And don’t even get us started on the space special effects. Giant things hurdling through space coming right towards us. These films almost always have a strong, white, male white who races in to save the day (thank you again Bruce Willis). They are fun to watch even though they tend to be both predictable and completely outside of scientific possibility.
Notable Appearances: Blindness(2008), Contagion (2011), Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Plague has dominated our thoughts about the end of the world since the beginning of time. These films are scary because of their realistic nature and the fact that we can’t see disease coming (as opposed to giant things falling from space). The most basic things in life may be the very things that kill us (touching a door knob, being on a plane). Most of these films follow a disease that originates somewhere “scary” and “exotic” (see Asia and Africa) carried on a plane by an unsuspecting victim to the United States. There the plague spreads and brings down humanity. We follow a lone survivor as they do their best to survive a world filled with this new plague. Sometimes they are able to save the world (with or without the help of other survivors). Not all films follow this formula but most do. And apparently we like them because they keep making them.
8. Nuclear Holocaust
Notable Appearances: Fail-Safe (1964), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Day After (1983)
These films are straight out of The Atomic Age. And during a time when mutually assured destruction hung over the world, these films were incredibly scary. These movies vary with the number of survivors. In some cases the entire world is wiped out after an epic standoff. We watch as bombs drop and we know the human race (and most of the rest of life) is no more. Sometimes we are left with survivors and we witness their post-nuclear lives. And these lives are horrifying. Their prevalence in apocalyptic films has decreased over the years. Maybe we just don’t find “the bomb” as scary anymore.
7. Planet Melts/Freezes/Floods
Notable Appearance: The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Waterworld (1995), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Something wacky is going on with the temperature of the Earth and it’s almost always the fault of humanity. If we hadn’t launched so many bombs, factories and Hummers we wouldn’t be in this mess. These films always have the moral message of being nicer to Mother Nature. And the audience feels bad about driving their Hummers to the theater four towns over and goes home and feels better by watching Family Guy. And of course because the films often take place in a limited time span, their science is usually a little creative (we’re looking at you Day After Tomorrow).
6. Mother Nature
Notable Appearances: The Happening (2008), Children of Men (2006), The Day of the Triffids (1962)
Cinematic Mother Nature really strikes humanity down in two ways – the geological apocalypse (seen above) and through more biological means. Of course this also involves plague but since plague films are so fun we decided they needed their own category. So this really covers killer plants, killer animals (usually giant) and other strange biological happenings. Sometimes this is because Mother Nature is punishing us for wrongdoing and sometimes it is something without a real explanation. Maybe we’ve created monsters that are coming back to haunt us. Maybe we’ve pissed off the wrong animals. Either way these films tend to be very fun to watch.
Notable Appearances: Night of the Living Dead (1968), 28 Days Later (2002), Zombieland (2009)
This one is a fan favorite! It’s also probably the least likely to happen (yes, you can keep preparing). If the dead come back it’s just gonna smell awful before they all explode because of the bacteria creating enormous amounts of gas in their digestive tracts. And then it’s probably going to smell even worse. But besides that and the awkwardness of the whole thing, we would probably be ok. These are creatures who can’t heal and are continuously rotting away. But the films. They are so fun to watch. There is nothing like shooting the personification of death in the face with a shotgun. George Romero started this whole zombie thing in the 1960s (we should say he started the MODERN zombie craze. Zombies are a West Indian legend). And we have worshipped this creation ever since. We almost think people WANT the dead to rise…
Notable Appearances: Independence Day (1996), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), War of the Worlds (1953)
Aliens are another fun staple of The Atomic Age. Of course people have been making alien movies since film was created. The first science fiction film made in 1902 was about space travel (Le Voyage dans la Lune). And aliens have been invading Earth forever. They come from the sky and they set upon us with technology greater than we could ever know. They colonize and destroy us. Of course aliens are often used as a metaphor for our fears regarding invasion, etc. and are a staple of Cold War films.
Notable Appearances: The Terminator Series (1984, 1991,2009), I, Robot (2004), The Matrix Trilogy (1999, 2003)
We’ve created a monster! These films generally focus on the rise of technology and the eventual destruction of humanity at the “hands” of the very thing we created to make our lives better. Like the aliens above, the robots/technology colonize and destroy their creators once they have become superior. Will this happen? Who knows. We like to think that if machines develop AI they will be better than humanity and will be peaceful. But instead we tend to imagine our creations as evil and hell bent on our destruction. Just look at Bender from Futurama!
Notable Appearances: The Seventh Sign (1988), End of Days (1998), Legion (2009)
Now we’ve really f**ked up. We’ve gone and pissed off God. And God is going to smite us with all of his/her omnipotent powers. And some badass angels thrown in. Or maybe it’s Satan who’s really to blame for this. Either way, humans end up being the chess piece in the ultimate throw down of good versus evil. And God and Satan can both open up a can of whoop-ass on humanity. Sometimes not even the believers are spared their Hell on Earth punishments. But usually all is corrected through some miracle, a couple Catholic priests and the right scripture being read. God is easy to placate and Satan is easy to chase off almost guaranteeing a happy ending for humanity.
1. Mayan Prophecy
Notable Appearance: 2012 (2009)
Oh my gosh. How did this one make the list?! The author must have been really sleepy during his first draft. Let’s go with it anyway. Yeah, the Mayan calendar. It is set to end in about 10 days. Of course your kitten calendar is going to end in 20 days so we aren’t really sure what the big deal is. Maybe the stars/planets/Smurfs are going to align and somehow that will kill us? Something about Planet X? This is a very strange conspiracy theory but they’ve managed to turn it into a film. Someday we will have to explain to our grandchildren what the hell this movie is about but for now we can enjoy it. As far as we know, 2012 is the only film made about this topic.