After the apocalypse, in whatever shape or form it rears its ugly head, lays the death touch upon our planet, evolution shows us that only the strong will survive. The most physically dominant or the most intelligent definitely have an advantage, but the ones most likely to still be standing after the dust settles are those who know how to deal with change. Perhaps that is why we’re fascinated with post-apocalyptic movies. We want to build ourselves up to be survivors of a ravaged world, which is the ultimate exercise in dealing with change. Of course, post-apocalyptic movies also have some of the best action scenes and reflections of the human condition in comparison to other film genres.
We know you’ve probably feasted on the entire Mad Max series, but there are other post-apocalyptic movies that deserve to be seen. Diving into the gritty, war-torn and desolate section of the cinematic world, we’ve come back with the very best post-apocalyptic movies ever filmed. When considering the endless sea of films, we made sure these movies take place mostly after the collapse of society. To make our list truly focused, we also avoided zombie films (for the most part), as there are enough amazing flicks about the undead to take over the list like a horde of flesh-eaters. Get your sawed-off double-barrel shotgun, slip on your all-terrain boots, and get into your armored pickup truck to get through our post-doomsday lineup of films.
10 Cloverfield Lane
In this loose sequel to Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, a young woman is trapped in an underground shelter with two strangers while an alien invasion is supposed to be happening above. What this movie does so well is set-shift between tense-filled scenes and dark humor, taking you on a roller coaster ride to the epic finish line. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fantastic and John Goodman gives the performance of a lifetime in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. When you’re done with the experience, you’ll feel an odd mix of terror and inspiration, especially with the final shot that will linger in your mind.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Trivia: Bad Robot Studios did all the visual effects in-house.
28 Days Later
Although this film is placed in many zombie movie lists, the creatures infected by the rage virus are never referred to as zombies and don’t drag their bodies along like George A. Romero’s classic monsters. This post-apocalyptic film stars Cillian Murphy as Jim, a patient who wakes up in a hospital four weeks after the virus spreads. The vanished London society that kicks the film off evolves into a battlefield of survival where humans are still just as vile as the tenacious monsters sprinting in every direction like crazed marathon runners hunting for flesh. Danny Boyle’s horror masterpiece spawned a sequel that fails to reach the level of the original.
Director: Danny Boyle
Trivia: Athletes were hired to play the infected.
In a future where the world is powered by an invention known as the Great Machine, the world’s mechanisms have wiped out the human population. In an effort to save civilization, a scientist gives life and hope to small creations. With a cast voiced by the likes of Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, Elijah Wood, and Jennifer Connelly, the movie is well-acted and boasts stunning design to complement the talent. The puppet-like creatures are the only ones left with souls in this disturbing take on a dark future.
Director: Shane Acker
Trivia: The film was released on 09/09/09
A Quiet Place
If you make a sound above a whisper, you’re dead in this world ravaged by unknown beasts. The simple premise is so effective and executed with expert precision by Jim from The Office aka John Krasinski. The original script is more of what Hollywood needs to help bring balance in a box office stuffed with reboots and sequels. Tension is constant in this film and you won’t want to make a sound throughout the entire runtime because you get so invested in the safety of the characters. The most haunting part about this film is the use of silence, as it opens your eyes to intricate details within the frame. More than just a monster movie, the film deals with regret and finding redemption in a near hopeless world.
Director: John Krasinski
Trivia: In a few scenes, John Krasinski played the monster in a motion capture suit.
Children of Men
In 2027, women have become infertile and the youngest person, who’s 18 years old, has just died. Former activist Theo Faron, played by Clive Owen, runs into a woman who is miraculously pregnant and has to transport her safely to a ship of that provides sanctuary. Alfonso Cuarón’s film is a hard-hitting, post-apocalyptic experience with realistic combat that will shake your core and a familiar world that looks tired and broken. The reluctant hero and the mother have to fight through a dangerous world to ensure hope stays alive.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Trivia: Director Alfonso Cuarón wanted to make a film where the ending is really the beginning of the story.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The new Planet of the Apes trilogy is solid but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is simply the standout of the three installments. Once again, Andy Serkis delivers a masterful motion-capture performance as the head ape named Caesar, and he’s joined by the wonderful supporting cast including Gary Oldman and Keri Russell. A decade after the devastating virus is unleashed, the war between man and ape wages on, as they fight to determine which species will inherit the remains of Earth. With riveting battles backed by emotional connections, this the perfect mix of summer blockbuster fun and intriguing social commentary.
Director: Matt Reeves
Trivia: The orangutan named Maurice is named after Maurice Evans, who portrays the orangutan in the original 1968 film.
If you love eerie, weird flicks, the surrealist black comedy entitled Delicatessen was made especially for you. In a ravaged world, the landlord of an apartment building is known to create a delicacy for his peculiar tenants every so often. However, nobody knows what the landlord uses for ingredients. The film is truly a bizarre experience that’s unlike your typical post-apocalyptic flick with a muscle-bound survivalist beating up the totalitarian opposition. It contains gross-out scenes, dark humor, and extravagant design, resulting in a movie that never bores.
Director: Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Trivia: Jean-Pierre Jeunet got the idea for the film while vacationing in America and thinking the food tasted horrible.
Making up for Sylvester Stallone’s train-wreck attempt in the ‘90s, Dredd is a proper adaptation of the gritty comic book series. Karl Urban embodies the tough-as-nails lawman, as he serves justice in violent fashion to those who deserve it in a collapsing Mega-City One. Opposite Dredd is the main villain named Ma-Ma played in a sinister fashion by Lena Headey, who you might know as Cersei in a little TV show called Game of Thrones. Watching the movie, you’ll feel grimy and on-edge, as there’s a threat around every corner.
Director: Pete Travis
Trivia: Karl Urban actually drives the Lawmaster motorcycle himself.
Escape From New York
If you’ve played Metal Gear Solid, you may think that the main character in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York looks familiar. Well, that’s because Kurt Russel’s Snake Plissken inspired the Solid Snake. Set in a 1997 Manhattan that’s been transformed into a maximum security prison, a lone wolf ex-soldier and criminal is sent to rescue the president. It’s a B-movie all the way through to its core with Sergio Leone archetypes and captivating art design. Snake Plissken is one of the coolest anti-heroes who has ever graced the silver screen, as he runs wild in a flick with badass action and social satire.
Director: John Carpenter
Trivia: The model of the city in the film was repainted and used for Blade Runner.
I Am Legend
Based on Richard Matheson’s famous book of the same name, I Am Legend is about the last survivor on Earth after a vampire plague has infected all human beings. Although this film isn’t as effective as Matheson’s novelette, as it deviates from the incredible ending of the original work, Will Smith’s one-man show as Robert Neville is praiseworthy. It’s also jarring to see what New York City would look like if we weren’t here to maintain it. For most of the runtime, it’s just Neville and his dog hopelessly roaming the empty streets while trying to find any sign of human life, allowing you to feel his isolation.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Trivia: Will Smith spent some time with former prisoners who spent time in solitary confinement to understand what it’s like being completely alone.
The story is simple: an Australian police officer takes the law into his own hands when a motorcycle gang murders his family. Set in a barren wasteland, George Miller’s classic film has spawned three sequels and influenced several post-apocalyptic flicks. The cold-blooded ending also influenced a little cult-classic called Saw. Mad Max launched the career of Mel Gibson and put George Miller on the map as one of the most ballsy directors on the planet, as he filmed most of the stunt driving illegally. Not to mention, it has one of the most famous cars in cinema history: the black Interceptor.
Director: George Miller
Trivia: George Miller raised money for this movie by working as an E.R. doctor.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
For a long time, The Road Warrior was the best of the Australian wasteland trilogy by George Miller. Mel Gibson’s Max has become seemingly heartless since the events of the first film, roaming the Australian wasteland as a cynical drifter until he decides to help defend a gasoline-rich rich community against criminals looking to milk them dry. Miller orchestrated even more insane stunts in this one thanks to a bigger budget, including a near-fatal accident involving a motorcycle crashing into a car. The film is filled with exhilarating, kinetic energy you just can’t deny.
Director: George Miller
Trivia: Mel Gibson only has 16 lines of dialogue in this film.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Although this is the weakest link in George Miller’s series, it still provides you with insane stunts and dives deeper into the character of Max. Yes, Max is helping a bunch of abandoned children rebel against the town’s Queen, who is played by Tina Turner, but there are more positives than negatives. Despite the somewhat silly premise and the lack of insanity, the movie still delivers in the action department. This makes sense, as Miller only directed the action scenes.
Director: George Miller and George Ogilvie
Trivia: The sandstorm at the end of the movie is real, and a cameraman was sent to fly into it for some shots.
Mad Max: Fury Road
After all the copycats tried to emulate the Mad Max films, George Miller came back to show the kids how it’s done. Mad Max: Fury Road is arguably the best of the entire series. Starring Tom Hardy in the lead role and Charlize Theron as Furiosa, this movie is pure adrenaline put on celluloid. Every single shot in the film is achingly gorgeous, depicting a wasteland scorched by the sun and infested by delinquents. The costume and vehicle designs are the stuff of beautiful nightmares and the stunts are incredibly insane. This film won’t keep you at the edge of your seat; it will knock you over it and laugh deliriously as you plummet to your death.
Director: George Miller
Trivia: More than 80% of the effects in the film are practical.
A film with redemption at its core, Oblivion follows the journey of a security repairman who’s sent on a mission to extract Earth’s remaining resources in 2077. Along the way, he starts to question the mission and aspects of his own life. The movie is filled with striking visuals from the visionary mind of Joseph Kosinski, who also directed Tron: Legacy. Also starring Morgan Freeman and Andrea Riseborough, this sci-fi film will keep you on your toes throughout its runtime.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Trivia: Since Tom Cruise is a licensed pilot, he advised the team designing the controls on the bubble ship.
Planet of the Apes
One of the best sci-fi post-apocalyptic films of all time, Planet of the Apes provides social commentary on civilized society. It’s dated a bit in some notions but not in its thought-provoking ideas. Penned by none other than Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, Planet of the Apes is a smart, satirical film that continues to influence other artists in cinema. It led to several sequels, one Tim Burton remake, and a rather successful reboot trilogy, but the first installment is still the king of the hill. And that final iconic shot never gets old.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Trivia: There were three other endings considered but the original was favored by Charlton Heston, influencing its eventual use.
Chris Evans isn’t just Captain America, as we root for him here playing the rebellious Curtis in Joon-ho Bong’s prolific film, Snowpiercer. After a failed climate change experiment kills off most life on Earth except for a lucky group on a train that travels the globe endlessly, the dictatorship onboard becomes unbearable. This is a rare, smart action film with a steam-punk apocalypse style, gaining momentum from scene to scene as it reaches full force in its climax, showcasing just how disturbing humans can be. Once you board the train, you never quite leave.
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Trivia: The movie is based on the French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige.
Charlton Heston does like appearing in post-apocalyptic movies, and this one happens to be another classic. In Soylent Green, our world is damaged by the greenhouse effect and overpopulation. After the CEO of a prominent company is murdered, a detective jumps on the trail, leading him to some devastating truths. Soylent Green is most famous for its twist ending, which has been parodied numerous times, but overall the movie is effective as futuristic exploitation that shows us a horrific future that seems more plausible every day.
Director: Richard Fleischer
Trivia: The Soylent Green manufacturing facility is the Chevron oil refinery in California.
Set in a devastating, unknown point in the future, three men try to trek to a place known only as The Zone, which is a place where your inner-most desires are realized. The movie is challenging, giving you time to soak in the visuals and think about the actions of the characters. It has a mesmerizing pull that influences you to consider multiple viewings to really grasp the layered piece of art.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Trivia: The fictional location called The Zone was based on a nuclear accident that took place near Chelyabinsk in 1957.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where machines breed humans for use as batteries that are distracted by a fictional representation of life, The Matrix is relevant art. Written and directed by the Wachowskis, this smart sci-fi hall of fame champ has embedded itself into pop culture so well that one may forget how amazing it actually is. The high-wire fight choreography, smart storyline, and murdered-out attire make this one of the most captivating and fun movies of all time.
Director: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
Trivia: The film was selected in 2012 by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry archives.
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s dark novel, The Road is a harrowing experience with tender moments. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee, who play the father and son, have terrific chemistry as the Man and Boywe follow on their journey through a charred America. The sky is dark, ash blows in the wind, and the people who are left have to tap into ruthless evil to survive. On their way to the coast, all they have is a pistol to defend themselves and hope that there’s something good waiting at their destination. The bleak journey mirrors the classic book well, moving at a slow, somber pace so you can absorb everything.
Director: John Hillcoat
Trivia: Viggo Mortensen prepared for the role by starving himself.
This Is The End
Dealing with life after Armageddon, six Hollywood celebrities have to survive on a hellish planet with beasts crawling around. The star-studded cast includes James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Jonah Hill. There’s a surprise at every turn, including celebrity cameos that pop up when you least expect it. The whole cast is clearly having a blast playing themselves in this ridiculous flick that you would even consider joining them for the end of the world. If only a post-apocalyptic world were this fun.
Director: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Trivia: Evan Goldberg created a game for himself during production where he would try to get each cast member to say, “No, I can’t do that.”
Influenced by Mad Max and Mega Man, Turbo Kid is a wasteland film that takes place in an alternate universe in 1997. The film tells the tale of a kid who takes the persona of his favorite comic book hero to help his energetic friend fight a tyrannical ruler. With plenty to get nostalgic about, the film is a blast to watch with no shortage of loopy fun clashing with gruesome, bloody violence. It will feel like you’re watching something from the ‘90s and we mean that in the best way possible.
Director: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Trivia: The film references The Karate Kid and other ‘80s films.
Directed Terry Gilliam, who is a former member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, Twelve Monkeys is a dark time-travel sci-fi film with Bruce Willis in acting mode. Willis plays a prisoner in 2035 who is given the opportunity to earn parole if he can travel back in time and stop a lethal plague from happening. When he jumps back to 1990, he’s thrown into a psychiatric facility because of his insane proclamations, which is a callback to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Twelve Monkeys is an intelligent spin on a dystopian fantasy that manages to be unsettling and poetic.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Trivia: Bruce Willis was given a list of “Willis acting cliches” to avoid during filming.
Pixar always knows how to craft an effective animated movie that touches the hearts of kids and adults alike. Wall-E is no exception, as it tells the story of a garbage-collecting robot on an abandoned Earth who embarks on a journey in space after meeting another robot named EVE. Painting a visually captivating picture of our universe juxtaposed with the trash-filled stink hole of Earth, which isn’t too far from the truth, Wall-E is a charming film that brings to light real-world issues. Playing out like a silent film for the first half, even taking cues from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, the Pixar project is heart-warming.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Trivia: The Pixar team watched every Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton film to enhance their visual storytelling.
20 Best Survival Films
Now that you’ve looked through our list of post-apocalyptic movies, you might still be yearning for even more thrilling flicks. Check out our list of the best survival films to maintain your adrenaline fix.