Human storytelling is obsessed with happy endings and a hopeful existence in one end, and attracted to destruction on the other end. And in that destruction narrative, there will always be the storylines about humanity being wiped out. When that happens, the stories of a post-apocalyptic nature ensue.
We have seen a lot of these kinds of stories in novels and in the movies as well. These are the stories where almost the entire human race was wiped out or became extinct, save for a few survivors who lived to tell the story. There are also stories about how survivors try to survive in a reformatted world, now alien to them.
There have been quite a few of these narratives in cinema in the past years. While many have their favorites, let us help you find the best post-apocalyptic movies out there today. Get ready for this ultimate journey!
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
When we say post-apocalyptic, perhaps there’s nothing more post-apocalyptic than Mad Max: Fury Road. How about a world where water doesn’t easily exist? The earth is a desert wasteland, save for a special oasis controlled by a tyrant and ruthless person. And this happened because of a nuclear holocaust in the distant past.
Taking away human being’s access to the most basic of needs – in this case water – earns this film its rightful place in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. Tom Hardy plays Max, a survivor of this deserted wasteland of a planet. He gets imprisoned by the ruling tyrant’s henchmen, where he also meets a fierce female named Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.
More than a fight for water, Mad Max: Fury Road is also about how the smarter humans are still trying to fight for their dignity and basic right to exist in this suffocatingly dry world. There’s also a hopeful journey to finding a once pristine part of the earth. So go watch this film if you can. It’s truly enjoyable for a post-apocalyptic movie.
2. Planet of the Apes
What could be more post-apocalyptic than having humans as second-class animals without the agency to speak nor to exist freely? And then you have apes, supposedly our inferior, as the superior race now, in this topsy-turvy world. Welcome to the Planet of the Apes, the very apt contender in this list of best post-apocalyptic movies.
Yes, we know Mark Wahlberg and the others have been reviving this franchise lately. But this 1968 original is still the stellar example of them all. Imagine Charlton Heston as the astronaut who discovers this topsy-turvy planet where apes rule and humans are hunted down. And he tries to fight it out with the ruling powers that be. This original film is still a classic, and it stands the test of time. Go watch this if you can.
3. I Am Legend
When almost 94% of humans get wiped out by a dangerous virus, what happens next? The post-apocalyptic world is now the earth as we know it, but without humans. And there’s only one left, unaffected by the virus. Then, there are those affected by it, who mutated into elements of the night, out to become predators later on. This is basically the premise of the 2007 film I Am Legend.
The story revolves around a US Army scientist, played by Will Smith, who found himself immune to this deadly virus. His wife and child died early on, so he is left alone with their dog. He is also left alone in New York City. This is where he tries to survive, alone, day in and day out. But at night, it’s a different story when the mutants come out. Go watch this film and see why it deserves its spot in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. It’s worth it!
4. The Road
When you’ve got a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a post-apocalyptic world, Hollywood always discovers it – and turns it into a film. This is what happened to novelist Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, made into a film in 2009.
The story revolves around a small family who survives a global meltdown. The earth suffered a catastrophic event wherein the cold settled in everywhere. The objective of this family now is to walk towards the coastal lands to hopefully have warmer climates.
At first, the small family is just a couple, a husband and wife team who had a baby boy shortly after the global catastrophe happened. Thus, the kid grew up not knowing the real life of the earth. Worse, food supplies are low, so one of the most dangerous enemies they will face are fellow humans who are now cannibals.
These elements alone earn this film its rightful spot in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron turn out great performances here. So go watch it!
5. The Book of Eli
A creative turn to the post-apocalyptic human life is offered by the 2010 film The Book of Eli. The film begins 30 years after a nuclear apocalypse destroyed much of the earth, save for a few survivors, as usual. One of them is Eli, a wandering nomad on a mission.
Just for these elements alone, this film earns its place in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. It’s a great film that questions what happens to the world’s literary and artistic creations in case of a global holocaust. This film offers some samples.
In particular, Eli has a special task at hand: to bring this one special book into the west coast of the US, or what was left of it. This book is said to be powerful, that’s why bandits want it, too. So go see this film to find out what happens next.
The 2013 film Oblivion is one of those post-apocalyptic films that’s a bit dragging at times, but the story picks up after elements of utmost interest and importance are introduced, usually after half the film has ran.
This is the case here. In the story, we meet Jack Harper, a technician who’s in charge of safeguarding the earth’s generators. He now lives in a world that was destroyed from a war with aliens a lifetime ago. All of earth’s survivors are in a moon of Saturn, and his mission is to protect the earth generators that power up the Saturn colony.
However, Jack is disturbed by unfamiliar memories in his dreams. It is revealed that his memories were wiped out before. He only remembers this reality now, surviving on earth in this manner. But something inside of him tells him otherwise.
And this is why the film is in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. When our protagonists start to question the reality of things in this refurbished world, we try to see what kind of newer humanity would emerge. Plus Tom Cruise is okay here as the protagonist, so go see it.
7. Terminator: Salvation
Of all the Terminator films in its series franchise, it’s the 2009 film Terminator: Salvation that earns its rightful spot here in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. Now why is that?
We are already familiar with the basic storyline of this series. John Connor is an important figure of the human rebellion in the near future, after earth gets devastated by a war against artificial intelligence machinery and frameworks. The earlier movies had an older John sent a robot protector to shield his younger self from assassins. They also focused on preventing the war to happen.
Alas, this film finds the eventual happening of that war. And of course, it devastates the earth. But humans persist, as we do all the time, so John Connor finds himself battling it out with the machines in the post-apocalyptic world. Go watch this and see what happens! The series is actually good.
When the earth suffered so much from climate change that it turned out to be one giant snowball, where will humans live after that? Good thing that one huge train was built to travel around the globe, and survivors could eke out a living there as much as they can.
This is basically the premise of the 2013 film Snowpiercer. This obviously post-apocalyptic reaction to climate change is an impressive international collaboration. You can see Hollywood actors with Korean actors here. And the story is also very impressive. That’s why it earns its spot here in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies.
9. The Day After Tomorrow
What if a film showed the world right before an apocalypse happened, and what happened immediately after? Granted that only half of its post-apocalyptic discourse happened in the story, we’ll still count it – because it has a good story, first and foremost. This is the case with the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow.
The film is about scientists warning the US officials in the United Nations about the impending climate disaster that’s about to happen. While this is all in theory, scientists get laughed at. But when the theory becomes reality, then all hell breaks loose on earth.
Soon, the US is evacuated, but much of the world is destroyed. Half of the film tells the story of how the survivors tried to find each other, and tried to gather whatever’s left to live. Go see it and find out why it’s here in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies. This one is somewhat ringing closer to home – and reality as we know it.
10. Mad Max 2
Since we already mentioned the beauty of Mad Max: Fury Road, we also have to mention its predecessors, of course. In particular, it’s Mad Max 2, the 1981 film, that earns its rightful place in our list of best post-apocalyptic movies.
Starring Mel Gibson in a role that made him a sensational global name, he plays Max. This Australian production still features his law enforcer persona. Only this time, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world where gasoline is much coveted. And he also finds himself the unlikely hero that tries to protect the smaller people being bullied by evil bandits.
This film somehow connects to Fury Road, and both have their own aesthetics. Even if it’s basically made by the same team, the generations gap somewhat complements both films. And they do both serve all generations well. We suggest you see the entirety of the series. It’s interestingly fun, in a post-apocalyptic way.