There’s no shortage of movies that depict the end of the world, from all sorts of angles: ones that stem from dystopian sci-fi roots, ones with prophetic religious overtones, ones that just happen, and more.
Filmmakers have stretched their imaginations far and wide to explore all the various possibilities, from natural disasters to zombie apocalypses. And in our current global climate, we may feel closer to these movies than ever before.
Whether you’re seeking a thriller, a comedy, a drama, or even a mixture of them all, you should check out some of the best end of the world movies ever made about our planet.
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Imagine if society collapsed and you didn’t even know about it. Carl Tibbetts ponders this question in his gloomy thriller Retreat, starring Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton, and Jamie Bell.
Tibbetts’ directorial debut takes place on a small and uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland, where an unhappy couple go to try and rekindle their marriage. Then a bloody, half-conscious man washes ashore and informs the couple of an airborne disease that has broken out all over the world.
Argromoto Flu has a 100% fatality rate, but with the stranger’s behavior becoming increasingly erratic, the couple begin to question its authenticity. Retreat is focused into a claustrophobic setting, made to broil in suspense under a dramatic score.
11. This Is The End
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg provide another knee-slapping comedy, this time taking place at the end of the world. This Is The End is particularly funny because all the actors play a not-quite-true-to-reality version of themselves.
A huge gathering of celebrities come together for a party at James Franco’s house in Hollywood. Suddenly, an apocalypse of Biblical proportions erupts and traps a bunch of the guests in Franco’s house, where cabin fever begins to brew.
James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera team up along with star cameos from Emma Watson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart…. the list is endless.
This Is The End gets more and more insane as the movie goes on. Rogen clearly ran free with this story, and in turn, the audience have fun with it. A truly bonkers movie, devoid of any rules.
10. Deep Impact
Mimi Leder directs this classic 90s sci-fi movie where a deadly comet is found hurtling towards Earth.
Morgan Freeman is America’s President Tom Beck, who devises a plan to alter the comet’s path with nuclear bombs. When that fails, a nation-wide lottery is put in place to select 80,000 people to live securely underground while the rest of humanity meets their end.
Deep Impact follows multiple narrative strands: the teenage astronomer who spots the comet (Elijah Wood), a journalist covering the story (Téa Leoni), and the astronauts sent into space to destroy it.
It’s a sturdy movie that reliably provides good, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment that pretty much everyone will enjoy.
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It’s 1959. Students of an elementary school is Massachusetts put their conceptions of the future into a time capsule. Most provide fun crayon drawings, but one girl fills her page with numbers.
Fast-forward 50 years. Astrophysics professor John Koestler figures out the numbers are a code—one that predicts the end of humanity.
Nicholas Cage stars in this nail-biting thriller directed by Alex Proyas. The concept is smart and intriguing, gripping viewers from the get-go. Symbols and imagery litter the screen, inviting us to use our heads and crack the code alongside our widowed protagonist.
8. Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright is the king of creative visual humor—a modern Buster Keaton, if you will. We had to include his apocalyptic comedy Shaun of the Dead on this list, where he teams up with familiar actor duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Shaun of the Dead tells the story of directionless salesman Shaun, who is one day faced with an onslaught of zombies at his door. The concept was developed from a scene in Spaced—Wright’s earlier TV sitcom—where Tim Bisley (Pegg) hallucinates a zombie invasion.
Buckle in for a very British ride, with appearances from Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, and Dylan Moran. Set in London, Shaun and his slacker best bud Ed seek refuge at the local pub (I told you it was British), but there’s no escaping the dead wandering outside.
7. The Road
Taking a much darker tone than most movies, The Road stars Viggo Mortensen in a post-apocalyptic world as a father who’s trying to protect his young son from cannibals.
Though the cause of humanity’s near-extinction is never explained, it’s not important. What’s clear is that the world is no longer a safe place. The frigid, bleak, and derelict landscape is studded with savage gangs, forcing the father and his son to travel south to find warmth.
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road depicts a grueling journey that leaves little room for anything but sheer survival. John Hillcoat’s slow-burning drama-thriller isn’t for everyone, but it’s a must-watch for anyone who can stomach it.
6. I Am Legend
In I Am Legend, Will Smith stars as the leading man… or should we say, the only man. A virus that was meant to cure cancer has wiped out the globe, making Robert Neville the last man standing in New York City. Well, him and some cannibalistic mutants.
Since Neville is immune to the virus, he spends his days hiding out with his dog, experimenting for cures and monitoring the radio for any signs of other survivors, all while avoiding the zombie-like “Darkseekers.”
Francis Lawrence’s sci-fi drama-thriller was a hit with action fans, immersing viewers enough to overlook the questionable special effects. Smith brilliantly carries the movie on his shoulders, making us long to reach out and end his incessant loneliness.
Even if the sight of Jude Law in a face mask makes you recoil (although how could anyone recoil at Jude Law?), Contagion is a scintillating and must-watch apocalypse movie.
Steven Soderbergh directs the suspenseful drama, in which a rapidly-spreading virus destroys any sense of social order in the world. There’s a lot going on, but we’re gripped and left hanging on to every character’s every word.
An ensemble cast stars in this multi-narrative “hyperlink” story. Marion Cotillard sets on finding the source of the MEV-1 pathogen; Kate Winslet fights for public health resources; Matt Damon is naturally immune but grieving the loss of his family; and Jude Law blogs about his conspiracy theories.
4. A Quiet Place
A family fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where blind aliens have invaded and wiped out most of humanity. These creatures have hyper-sensitive hearing, forcing the surviving family to lead a life of secluded silence.
A Quiet Place only has around 25 lines of spoken dialogue, instead relying on using sign-language and subtitles to carry information. Every sound puts the family at risk. Get ready to hold your breath through tormentingly tense scenes.
John Krasinski directs and stars, alongside his wife Emily Blunt, smashing the box office upon release. If you had the chance to watch this at the cinema, count yourself lucky. The big screen, a dark quiet room? That’s how this thriller was meant to be seen.
3. 28 Days Later
Cillian Murphy clearly loves his end-of-the-world movies—and we haven’t even mentioned Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. But Boyle also directed this low-budget indie flick that became a cult icon.
Reviving a stale zombie genre in the early 2000s, 28 Days Later arguably triggered the making of popular TV series The Walking Dead, which opened with an eerily similar premise.
Much like Rick Grimes, Jim wakes up from a coma and wanders the deserted London streets in confusion. It seems the world as he knew it has collapsed due to a highly contagious virus. He’s attacked by zombies and rescued by survivors, who travel to Manchester for safety.
2. The Day After Tomorrow
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A fresh-faced Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this iconic Hollywood disaster movie. Giant hail storms, tornadoes, and tsunamis plague the globe, eventually entering the world into a new Ice Age.
Despite warnings from paleo-climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), the government dismisses his claims—and it’s humanity that has to pay. We could learn a lot from this movie.
If you put aside the fact that this really could be Earth’s future with every passing day, The Day After Tomorrow is an enjoyable watch that’s full of visual splendor.
1. Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón directs Children of Men, which is now recognized as one of the best movies made in the 21st century by critics.
Children of Men follows Clive Owen as Theo Faron, a disillusioned civil servant in a dystopian 2027. Humanity around the world is infertile, and the UK is one of the only nations left with any sense of government—which causes an influx of refugees fleeing from global depression.
But one day, after 18 barren years, a woman discovers that she is with child. She’s the only known case in the whole world. Faron becomes her reluctant savior as he navigates her through a devastated, war-torn world on his quest to escort her to safety.
Religious imagery and interwoven themes of faith and sacrifice elevate Children of Men beyond a simple apocalypse thriller. It’s a sophisticated, cautionary tale that’s crafted by a master.