Post-Apocalyptic movies can be immensely fascinating to watch in that they depict a dystopian world, wrecked by the absolute chaos that eventually wipes out humanity in its entirety, as far as its depictions are concerned. Most post-apocalyptic movies follow a plot where a group of survivors struggle to cope up with the harsh brutalities of a world where human lives are destroyed by a deadly virus or the likes of zombies or any other apocalyptic event. However, filmmakers often come up with more exciting and original storylines using wildly different settings which is what makes this genre so exciting. Really good filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Miller have come up with some gems of post-apocalyptic movies.
Believe it or not, we’ve also witnessed some beautiful love stories and mind-blowing horrors as far as the dystopian movies are concerned. While almost always there’s a sci-fi angle involved in such movies, apparently the bleakness of the future of humanity is something filmmakers have all figured out. As far as the box office revenues or the popularity is concerned, these movies rake in quite a lot of collections, still, they rank far below than your regular superhero or the action, horror, or thriller genres. Also, casting-wise, we haven’t seen many major league actors venturing into this sub-genre for reasons unknown, except a few big names, notably Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Tom Cruise etc. Also, it is undoubtedly the need of the hour for filmmakers to explore this sub-genre a little deeper, and moving ahead of the regular zombie-themed movies. So with everything that’s been said until now, let’s take a look at the list of top post-apocalyptic movies ever made. If you are lucky, you can find some of these best post-apocalyptic movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu.
30. Stake Land (2010)
A horrific plague turns America into a dystopian land of vampires as a hunter and an orphan wander across the land, trying to survive the deadly creatures and looking for a shelter. The film isn’t as atmospheric power and emotional depth of some of the other flicks on the list but still comes off as a highly engaging thriller with some shockingly violent moments that are intensely thrilling and exciting. ‘Stake Land’ is still pretty much of a genre flick and that’s exactly why it works really well as it doesn’t get frustratingly over ambitious and self-indulgent as many dystopian sci-fi thrillers do. It’s slick, instantly thrilling and wildly entertaining.
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29. This Is The End (2013)
Imagine a party which has been bombed by an apocalyptic event. ‘This Is The End’ is the narrative of a group of real-life actors – Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill – to begin with, who are at a housewarming party hosted by Franco at his house. Right after the party begins, Seth and Jay witness a blue light beam sucking people in, like how it happens in the “alien” movies. Sensing danger, they head back to Franco’s house when an earthquake strikes and the mayhem follows. Crazy yet illogical set of events follow, with acts of exorcism, demons, gods and references to heaven. If there’s one stoner comedy movie you want to watch this weekend, it is this. In a post-apocalyptic “heaven”, we could see all the actors dancing on one of the Backstreet Boys’ number.
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28. Time of the Wolf (2003)
Austrian auteur Michael Haneke is known for his deeply thought-provoking, emotionally disturbing movies. The man has directed some of the greatest movies of this century including ‘Cache’, ‘The Piano Teacher’ and ‘Amour’. ‘Time of the Wolf’ isn’t among his most famous works and doesn’t really hold up to his classics but is still an incredibly daring, brutal piece of cinema. The film is set in post-apocalyptic France where a family arrives after a holiday and discover that their house is already occupied by strangers. One of them kills the husband and the others are left to survive under trying circumstances in a world that has made a mockery of civilization.
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27. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
This cult classic sci-fi drama is totally different from most post-apocalyptic movies in that there’s a bizarrely fascinating blend of comedic, dystopian and sci-fi elements. ‘A Boy and His Dog’ follows a teenager and his dog who work out ways to survive a dangerous post-apocalyptic desert in the Southwestern United States. The film takes its time to grow on you and it may initially put you off with its eccentric tone and bleak vision of the future but its humour slowly claws its way on to you and the cleverly crafted dialogues are strikingly intelligent and funny and hit you more on repeat viewings.
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26. Divergent (2014)
Of the entire franchise, that was touted to be set up in a post-apocalyptic world where the people were ruled by factions instead of governments, ‘Divergent’ presents a very novel and intriguing storyline at the outset. The movie starts with Tris, a girl who is born to a father who’s in the Abnegation – the ruling faction. As the Choosing Ceremony nears for Tris, it appears that she has rare qualities which qualifies her to be a ‘Divergent’ – a factionless group of people who remain unrecognized by the ruling councils. Wary of the consequences, Tris enrols for Dauntless, the warrior faction. The movie follows with Tris’ struggles in keeping up with the Dauntless while falling in love with Four, the instructor, all the while when she has to deal with her true nature of being a divergent and fight the evil Erudite leader Jeanine. If not for the sequels that followed, ‘Divergent’ could’ve made for an amazing and successful franchise.
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25. The Maze Runner (2014)
Despite the many similarities between the movies of ‘Divergent’ franchise and that of the ‘Maze Runner’ franchise, the latter turned out to be performance and premise intensive and thus turned out to be more successful – both critically and commercially, than the former. ‘The Maze Runner’ starts with Thomas, who wakes up inside a glade with no memory whatsoever of the past events, not even his own name. Turns out, the glade is attached to an elevator which opens into a maze with many teenage boys already living in there. As Thomas gets to know their ways, he also notices that there’s a group of people designated as maze runners who run across the maze during the day to create a map that would help them escape. Thomas becoming a maze runner after a dramatic rescue, the first “female” entrant and the technical “glitches” which keep the maze open to let the vicious Grievers enter the glade form the rest of the story. Thomas’ dramatic escape from the maze, along with his friends makes for an edge-of-the-seat conclusion of the movie. During their escape from the maze, it is shown to the viewers that the maze is sort-of-an-experiment in the dystopian world, while the rest of the planet is struggling for resources.
24. The Quiet Earth (1985)
‘The Quiet Earth’ is one of the most fascinating, inventive sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. The film centres around a man who wakes up to discover that he is alone in the world. he wanders around the streets to find vehicles, telephones and buildings but there’s absolutely no sign of human life. The plot eventually intensifies as he manages two more survivors and they gradually develop relationships which further complicate things. ‘The Quiet Earth’ is darkly atmospheric and hauntingly creepy and it brilliantly manages to construct a dystopian world that is both frightening and fascinating.
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23. Annihilation (2018)
Set in a distant future, in a designated ‘Area X’ in the US, Lena – a professor of cellular biology is leading a team of experts into the Shimmer – a quarantined zone with restricted access. As it turns out, Lena and her husband would be the only persons to make out of the Shimmer unscathed. As the team enters the Shimmer, they witness inexplicable phenomena, mutations, otherworldly beings, doppelgangers, and chaos. While the sci-fi thrills and the visuals have been impeccably laid out across the film, the movie was questioned for a “lethargic” second half. More or less, ‘Annihilation’ garnered critical and commercial success globally and is touted to be one of the best dystopian movies with brain-teasing puzzles and inexplicable logic all around. And P.S. – Natalie Portman is out of the world as usual.
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22. The Book of Eli (2010)
Set after thirty years of a nuclear apocalypse which had wiped out most of the earth’s population, the movie revolves around Eli, a nomad hunter, gatherer who is on a prowl looking for resources when he lands in a town which has Carnegie as its overseer. Apparently, Eli is looking for a book which is nothing but the last remnant of the Bible and it can help rebuild humanity as we know it. The rest of the story is a two-front war that Eli has to fight – to safeguard the book at all costs and to move ahead with his journey. ‘The Book of Eli’ was meted with an average response from both critics and audiences, owing to its overly simplistic and predictable storyline and familiar visuals which seem overdone from other similar movies.
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21. Warm Bodies (2013)
Nicholas Hoult plays R, a zombie who meanders around inside of an airport, eight years after a zombie apocalypse. Although it is shown to the viewers that as a zombie he can only grunt and cannot speak, he still communicates with his fellow zombies with moans and grunts. Enter Julie, a young girl, along with her boyfriend and a few other fellas who think of R as a threat and try to “kill” him. Instead, R kills Julie’s boyfriend Perry and eats his brain, thus getting to see more and more memories of Julie. As he’s attracted to Julie and his heart starts beating yet again, slowly and steadily he becomes more and more human and Julie falls for him by the conclusion. ‘Warm Bodies’ is a non-violent, romantic take on a zombie apocalypse which is unique on its own. It is this uniqueness of the premise that wins us all over.
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20. World War Z (2013)
Perhaps the flagbearer of most of the zombie apocalypse movies, ‘World War Z’ boasts of a compelling yet unpredictable storyline, stellar performances and gripping visuals, things which were never seen before in a standalone zombie movie. Set in an apocalyptic premise, the zombie outbreak happens all of a sudden and former UN employee Gerry and his family are taken aback and are on a run, away from the infected zombies. UN then asks for Gerry’s assistance and Gerry sets himself on a quest to try and find out the source of the outbreak and how to curb it. As he goes places and the outbreak spreads on its way, we get to see some really captivating action sequences and Brad Pitt has done tremendously well in a leading role. The entire drama culminates in the WHO building in the UK when Gerry apparently finds out a camouflage to help humans stay among zombies undetected. Easily one of the best zombie movies ever made.
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19. Oblivion (2013)
‘Oblivion’ depicts a man’s journey across a post-apocalyptic land, experiencing strange things and would later discover that he has a much bigger in purpose in life than merely existing as the future of humanity lies in his hands. It’s a beautifully flawed film and albeit the tonal inconsistencies hamper the film from fully realizing its vision, the visual aesthetics and atmospheric quality make for an emotionally engaging experience. Cruise is simply outstanding in the lead role and carries the film forward with an incredibly powerful performance; moving, vulnerable and magnetic.
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18. Snowpiercer (2013)
Bong Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic movie depicts an ice age that has nearly wiped out humanity as the remaining survivors board a globe-spanning super train. Whilst the plot is flawed in parts, the world Joon Ho creates is mesmerizingly mysterious and strange and involving enough for you to emotionally invest in it. Hong Kyung-Pyo’s cinematography is the soul of the film as he gets Joon-Ho’s vision masterfully across, creating a memorable experience which manages to raise well above its plot. It’s beautifully dark, emotionally powerful and staggeringly ambitious.
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17. Escape from New York (1981)
Perhaps one of the most realistic post-apocalyptic movies made till date, the film is set in late 90’s (which was the apparent post-apocalyptic period) and shows huge cities being converted into prisons, a steep rise in the crime rates and a hijack of Air Force One, thus leading its protagonists to rescue the President who’s been taken as a hostage. The film received critical acclaim upon its release and especially the character of Kurt Russell as Snake was lauded for being layered and one of the best characterisations in recent times. ‘Escape from New York’ has often been described as a “trip worth your time”.
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16. The Hunger Games (2012)
Katniss Everdeen’s selfless act of volunteering for her sister in District 12 led to a whole different ballgame altogether. If it had not been for Katniss and her never-quit attitude, we’d have witnessed a less exciting movie with more number of killings in the annual Hunger Games, if you know what I mean. Set in the post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem, the nation is divided into 13 districts, with District 12 being the poorest. Known for its brutality and the fact that District 13 was completely destroyed following a rebellion, all the remaining 12 districts are required to send a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 years of age every year for the annual killing pageant known as The Hunger Games. The winners are supposedly given food, accommodation and other facilities for the rest of their lives. The characterizations, the gritty action, the stunning visuals, the pace and the performances were critically acclaimed and Jennifer Lawrence was supposedly the best choice for playing the leading character as always.
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15. I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith certainly looks a perfect fit to play the hero in a post-apocalyptic movie. ‘I am Legend’ centres around a man surviving in post-apocalyptic New York City where a deadly virus has managed to wipe out the entire human race. Smith plays a scientist who tries to find a cure that would reverse the effects of the deadly virus that was originally created to cure cancer. The film raises some profound questions about the future of humanity and civilization and whilst the story seems pretty messed up and over-ambitious in parts, the underlying emotional element makes for a thoroughly involving experience.
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14. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Often regarded as one of the best zombie movies ever made and with one of the highest box office collections for a zombie movie, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ was way ahead of its time, at the time of its release. More or less, the pop culture in the United States was influenced to a large extent by the movie. The premise is set around a group of staff members of a television studio and SWAT officers who hatch a plan to steal their station helicopter and elope the city but are taken aback by the presence of the zombies in the vicinity. They have to fight their way out before the situation turns worse. A perfect combination of horror and gore, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ will keep you at the edge of your seat.
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13. A Visitor to a Museum (1989)
Thematically similar to Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’, ‘A Visitor to a Museum’ follows a man who tries to visit the ruins of a museum but the road to the destination is incredibly hard and many people have drowned during their visits to the museums. The film’s depiction of a futuristic post-apocalyptic world is strikingly enigmatic and profoundly mysterious and Konstantin Lopushansky’s approach to world-building has a striking Tarkovskian influence. The film might seem like a tough sit through with its glacial pace and intellectual depth but could really be an overwhelming experience if you’re truly willing to emotionally invest yourselves in the film.
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12. The Road (2009)
Directed by John Hillcoat and adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, this engrossing post-apocalyptic drama tells the story of a father and a son who wander across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, struggling to survive. The film is gorgeously atmospheric and the dark tone pulls you right into its dreadful world. Viggo Mortensen stars in the lead role and delivers a haunting performance, complimented brilliantly by the young Kodi Smit-McPhee. It’s a must watch if you love atmospheric horror dramas.
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11. 28 Days Later… (2002)
This post-apocalyptic horror depicts a world wrecked by a highly contagious virus and how the survivors struggle to cope up with the brutalities of a world that seems alien to them. Danny Boyle’s direction here is remarkably brilliant as he masterfully captures the dreadful atmosphere of the world with some nerve-racking moments that would destroy your sleep for days. The film is credited with reviving the zombie genre and is today regarded as one of the best horror movies ever made.
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10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ picks up the story 10 years after from where it left in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ as people struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where a deadly plague has destroyed humanity and apes who’ve been the infected battle with the remaining human survivors. The film is impeccably crafted with stunning visuals and smartly constructed plot-line that never gets caught up in itself as Matt Reeves delivers the story with remarkable aplomb. The gargantuan vision is fully realized here as it crafts a viscerally powerful experience that would stay with you for a very long time.
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9. Delicatessen (1991)
Set in a dystopian future, there cannot be a more perfect black comedy than ‘Delicatessen’ which essentially is set in an apartment during a time when food is scarce and used as a trading currency. The owner of the apartment also owns an eatery downstairs and serves its residents with an occasional snack or delicacy, hence the name. The derived humour and the Charlie Chaplin stylized moments are the best takeaways from the movie, along with its simplistic subject matter. ‘Delicatessen’ went on to win several awards and accolades and was also nominated for a BAFTA award. Moreover, such combination of horror, science fiction, and comedy in this context has been considered rare and is a path less travelled.
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8. Zombieland (2009)
‘Zombieland’ is a surprisingly hilarious zombie apocalypse horror comedy flick that follows a college student who comes across two strangers in a zombie infested land as they look for ways to hide from these brutal creatures. It’s an absolute fun ride featuring memorably hilarious performances from Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and most notably, Bill Murray in that famous cameo appearance. What makes this film so endearingly special is that it doesn’t get carried away with the inherent blood and gore element of the zombie genre and brilliantly manages to strike a balance between comedy and horror.
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7. Children of Men (2006)
Yet another Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece, ‘Children of Men’ deals with a very different kind of apocalypse – global infertility. Set in 2027, almost two decades after the apocalypse had stuck humanity, because of no births, the humans are at the brink of extinction. Theo and Julian separated twenty years ago due to the death of their only son. They come closer yet again as Julian offers Theo money to pursue a young refugee named Kee into the country, who is supposedly pregnant. The rest of the movie follows Theo helping Kee to move to a sanctuary and safeguard her from tyranny and oppression in the chaotic world. Gritty action, groundbreaking performances (esp. Clive Owen, Michael Caine), and never-seen-before cinematography form the crux of the film, which garnered rave reviews and critical response from most of the reviewers.
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6. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Terry Gilliam’s eccentric sci-fi drama tells the story of a man who is sent back in time to prevent an apocalypse caused a deadly virus. The plot is exceptionally well constructed but what truly stands above the rest here is Gilliam’s impeccable command over the medium and his astounding vision of a dystopian future that seems frighteningly possible. There’s an eccentric quality to the film that drives the narrative and whilst it may feel a bit emotionally dry, the film certainly manages to raise some profound questions about the future and existence of humanity.
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5. Stalker (1979)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece pulls us into a world, devastated by broken dreams and shattered desires. This is what lays the foundation for, something the plot as we are introduced to the three main characters who seem to be searching for something unattainable, something constantly eluding them which is what drives them to the “Zone” where it is said that one could fulfil their innermost desires and wishes. ‘Stalker’ could best be described as a journey into own’s own soul. We often feel things we could never really find and it’s this sheer inexplicable strangeness of the human soul that Tarkovsky’s gorgeously enigmatic world so beautifully manages to reflect. ‘Stalker’ is undoubtedly the best post-apocalyptic movie of all time and one of the greatest movies ever made.
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4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Maybe about 30 years from now, watching ‘Fury Road’ would make us all proud because this is the movie of our times. I have to admit that when I first set out to watch it, I was expecting a decent entertainment at best with some pretty visuals to look at but by the time it ended I thought to myself, “Boy, that was an experience of a lifetime!”. The world seems to have destroyed and civilization is brutally wrecked and where gasoline and water are treasured resources and survivors struggle to battle the tyrant ruling over the land. George Miller’s vision of a dystopian future is dark and deranged and the film fully realizes his vision as it transcends the genre barriers to create something truly profound, something that would live with us for many, many years.
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3. V for Vendetta (2005)
A political thriller at the outset, another rare feat in spite of being a dystopian movie, ‘V for Vendetta’ is focused on a freedom fighter ‘V’ who roots for anarchy and who sports a Guy Fawkes’ mask to conceal his identity in 2027 neo-fascist Britain. He rescues Evey, an employee of the state-run British television network and takes her home and asks her to remain there for a year. It is later revealed in the movie that V was a subject of human experimentations and plans on overthrowing the fascist regime with the help of Evey and with the use of his exceptional skills as a fighter. The movie received positive reviews for its performances (Esp. Hugo Weaving as ‘V’ and Natalie Portman as Evey) and influenced the pop-culture in many ways, thus making the Guy Fawkes mask a symbol to fight tyrannical regimes in a peaceful manner.
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2. WALL-E (2008)
‘WALL-E’ has essentially proven it to the world that even animated movies with a heartwarming theme could be set in the dystopian future and address the human social stigmas associated with futuristic technological advancements in a non-human yet relatable manner. A blockbuster and one of the greatest movies of the 21st century, unarguably, the film is set in the year 2805 around WALL-E, a trash compactor robot who discovers a sapling amid all the trash and takes it home. WALL-E is also awestruck with EVE, a probing robot with a feminine demeanour which has just landed on Earth. As EVE goes on a standby mode and is called back to the mothership Axiom, WALL-E clings on and goes to the mothership along with EVE, which is full of partly dysfunctional, obese humans. The rest of the movie follows WALL-E trying to fix humanity and re-establish humans on earth while falling in love with EVE. ‘WALL-E’ proved to be a gamechanger of this sub-genre, as well as of the category of animated movies and set new benchmarks in the history of filmmaking.
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1. The Matrix (1999)
Although it has not been clearly called out, ‘The Matrix’ is essentially set in a dystopian future, where the reality is simulated in an environment called as ‘The Matrix’ which has mostly replaced the perceived reality and the humans, as we know it, are being used as an energy source to power the matrix. With a very futuristic outlook and scientifically accurate (possibly) depictions and outstanding action sequences and CGI which were termed the greatest in the history of world cinema, ‘The Matrix’ was leaps and bounds ahead of its other dystopian counterparts. With Keanu Reeves assuming the leading role as Neo, a computer programmer turned hacker who is introduced to the matrix by Morpheus, another hacker. Neo is asked to return to the matrix and fight the rebels known as ‘Agents’ – who’re essentially computer programs which are on a quest to wipe out the human population. Everything about ‘The Matrix’ is pathbreaking and nothing short of being called as legendary.
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