The Ten Spot: Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies (Video Edition)

With OBLIVION opening today, I spent some time reflecting on my favorite post-apocalyptic movies. As a sub-genre, the post-apocalyptic story can take the mode of everything from a comedy like ZOMBIELAND to a stark drama like ON THE BEACH. Sometimes, it can even be a family movie like 9 or an action movie like CYBORG. But, in all of the history of film, these films are the ones that I remember best. This is by all means not a comprehensive list, just my ten best. If you have any others that didn't make the cut, share it in the Talk Backs below.

#1 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day

THE TERMINATOR series takes intricate time travel (12 MONKEYS), a powerful story of parents and children (THE ROAD, CHILDREN OF MEN), a badass title character (MAD MAX, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), a story ripe with subtext about how humanity acts (WALL-E, WATERWORLD), and an unstoppable army of monsters (DAWN OF THE DEAD). Combine all of these together with the amazing visual prowess of director James Cameron and you have the scariest and most entertaining view of the apocalypse ever put on the big screen. I urge every single person to take out their copy of T2 and watch it again because, people, it doesn't get much better.

#2 - Mad Max

What makes MAD MAX so good is that it just happens to take place in a post-apocalyptic world. The same story of vengeance from a vigilante cop could easily be told if it took place in current-day New York or even the back-roads of Texas. What makes MAD MAX special is that it tries to retain law and order in a world without rules, which leads our main character to go on a rampage with no equal. THE ROAD WARRIOR works in the same way, while MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME goes off the rails of the first two movies and becomes something else entirely.

#3 - Escape from New York

It should not be a surprise that the top three picks on this list are the "fun" kind of apocalypse movies. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is a shitload of fun. With New York converted to a prison, only badass Snake Plissken can save the President from the bad guys. The setup is so perfect and ripe for the big screen, it amazes me we have only gotten one sequel, ESCAPE FROM L.A.. There is nothing in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK that should really hold up today (the "future" is 1997), but it does. Like STAR WARS, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is a science fiction movie that achieves a higher level of quality over 20 years after initial release.

#4 - Children of Men

Much like THE ROAD, CHILDREN OF MEN is a hard movie to watch. Alfonso Cuaron's masterful camera work should have gotten this movie a Best Director and Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. If I ever hear someone say they have never seen it, I demand they view it as soon as possible. CHILDREN OF MEN is a dystopian masterpiece full of heartbreaking moments of acting brillance from Clive Owen and Michael Caine. As far as cinematic views of society go, this movie gives us the world on the brink of collapse and the miracle that may save everyone. Movie perfection.

#5 - Dawn of the Dead

Zombies, by definition, would be signals of the apocalypse. But, there is truly no other zombie movie that can compete with George A. Romero's masterpiece. Sure, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the one that started it all, but it is DAWN OF THE DEAD that took the political subtext to another level. Movies like incorporate zombies as cannon fodder miss the huge message that can be carried by what the undead represent. THE WALKING DEAD and WORLD WAR Z would not exist without DAWN OF THE DEAD. It remains one of the only horror movies that you can truly discuss on a visual and philosophical level.

#6 - Planet of the Apes

PLANET OF THE APES is the movie that M. Night Shyamalan always wanted to make after THE SIXTH SENSE: an intelligent movie with a trick ending that stands the test of time. Written by Rod Serling, PLANET OF THE APES plays like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which is to say it is smart and holds up after many, many viewings. While the sequels are all fun in their own right, it was not until RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES that we finally got to see the fully realized uprising of the apes over the humans. As far as visions of the future end of days go, PLANET OF THE APES is one of the only ones that can be simultaneously scary and a helluva lot of fun.

#7 - Waterworld

Despite being labeled as one of the biggest bombs of all time, WATERWORLD is actually a very entertaining action movie. Much like WALL-E, WATERWORLD carries an environmental message about global warming. Whether you believe in it or not, the possibility of the ice caps drowning the world makes for an interesting vision of the future. WATERWORLD is like MAD MAX on the high seas, or THE POSTMAN without mail. If you haven't seen it in a while, give WATERWORLD another chance, I bet you will change your opinion.

#8 - 12 Monkeys

I am pretty sure that 12 MONKEYS may hit almost every Ten Spot I write because it is one of those rare movies that successfully spans multiple genres. The film balances an intricate time travel plot device with a look at how the spread of a pathogen could easily derail everything we have in modern society. Terry Gilliam's film could almost be the seedy underworld that exists in his movie BRAZIL. I love how this movie takes us from the post-apocalyptic world back to before the release of the virus and then just to the brink of annihilation.

#9 - The Road

As a novel, THE ROAD was one of the most emotionally draining books I have ever read. As a movie, it is one of those films that you can only watch sparingly because it is a gut-wrenching experience. Viggo Mortensen's character will be instantly relatable for any father who would sacrifice anything for their child to live. What THE ROAD lacks in action sequences it makes up for in a gritty and realistic depiction of what our world could be like after everything has gone down to tubes.

#10 - WALL-E

WALL-E may be a kid's movie, but it is also the only film I can think of that depicts an Earth completely devoid of human life. For the first half of the film, as the title character traverses a world nearly devoid of any verbal communication, I was left to contemplate how utterly foreign our planet could be after no longer supporting living beings. The movie is at once an indictment of what people can do environmentally as well as a signal to hope in the future. That is something you don't often get in post-apocalyptic movies.

Honorable Mention - Night of the Comet

I stumbled across this movie as a kid on a Saturday afternoon and loved it. The entire time I watched it, it never occurred to me that it was a zombie movie wrapped in a romantic comedy. Looking back on it years later, I still love the concept of these two girls being amongst the only living left on the planet. Plus, I had a huge crush on Catherine Mary Stewart. NIGHT OF THE COMET is still a fun movie all these years later.

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