It’s 8 days until the Four Horsemen are released upon the world (or rather, a book called Four Horsemen comes out) and so I thought it would be time to pick my top 8 apocalypse movies of all time! Enjoy!
- Children of Men
With absorbing theatre-intensity cinematography, great dialogue and an interesting ‘quieter’ take on what the slow decline of human civilisation would look like, Children of Men comes in at number 8. Though some found the ending disappointing, I personally found the final image beautiful and haunting – a perfect encapsulation of humanity’s desperation that simultaneously echoed Greek legend: a hero’s final journey upon the river of death.
- The World’s End
Yes, I know you probably think it doesn’t count because it is a comedy, but Pegg, Wright and Frost’s witty and epic comedy pub-crawl to the World’s End does actually feature a earth-ending catastrophe. What’s incredible (and perhaps underrated about this film) is the razor-edged social and psychological observation and Pegg’s heart-rending portrayal of a man trapped in his past. The emotional impact of the world frazzling as The Network abandons it to savagery and a second Stone Age pales in comparison with the powerful catharsis one experiences following madman Gary King to the bitter end (or lager end).
- The Omen
The original movie might be considered ‘dated’ now, but there are scenes which will never date because their intensity doesn’t come from clever camera work or CGI, they come out of brilliant acting and a sound-scape worthy of charnel-house nightmares. With the right mixture of mystery (it’s a detective story in one respect) and horror and a slow build to a terrifying denouement, this will always remain THE Omen however many times they reboot it.
- The Road
Cormac McCarthy’s terrifying novel, upon which the film is based, is told in such stark and evocative prose it leaves the hair standing long after you’ve finished reading. It also leaves the tears running down your face. It was understandable for many to think this book would be unfilmable: much of the narrative drive comes from the language of the prose itself rather than any plot devices. John Hillcoat did sterling work adapting the film, however, capturing the elegant brutality of the prose in the cinematography and soundscape and faithfully retaining most of the chiseled dialogue. Viggo Mortensen delivers a potent performance, making the suffering and hope of the protagonist (known only as The Man) in the face of unbelievable adversity and despair compelling and hypnotic.
This might not technically qualify in some people’s books. It’s a super-hero movie, after all. But look closely and you see the end of the world is present in two forms: on the one hand it is a constant threat, but on the other, it is already a reality. Rorschach’s soliloquys about the corrupt and decaying nature of society conjure the image of a civilization morally collapsed into depravity. Regardless of whether the cities are toppled and World War III breaks out, the world is already a place where ‘the cold, suffocating dark goes on forever.’
- Omega Man
Before I Am Legend, there was Omega Man. Though not a fan of the former, the latter was a masterpiece of its era with an ending that shook you to the spiritual core. Okay, the special effects are awful now (more like something you’d seen in a play but even then not great compared to what theatres can do now) but the characters and dialogue are compelling; you actually care about the hero and his plight (you might even care about the villain too). There are no mawkish emotionally overwrought scenes so common to Hollywood and cinema in general now, and it also knows when to have a sense of humour, because it is often the contrast of humour and drama which makes the drama all the better.
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mad Max: Fury Road and if I’d had more room I might have put that on this list too. Stuff the rules! However, there was something magical about the second Mad Max film and its iconic road-chase scene (which, despite other parts of the film dating, still stands up due to the practical effects). The final twist of the plot is gobsmackingly good and revealed with understated pathos. The villain, Lord Humungus, instils a similar kind of menace to Vader and Mel Gibson turns in a surprisingly mesmeric performance as the determined (or perhaps insane, you’re never quite sure) Max.
- End of Days
Surprise! Yes, this film received terrible reviews, very nearly didn’t make back its cost and has been condemned by the oracle that is Rotten Tomatoes, but if you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that I’m a contrary fellow. I would describe this as a chilling apocalyptic drama and a masterful blend of action, intrigue and a portrait of pure evil in the theme of Stephen King. In this tale we get a rather grizzled and world-weary Arnold depressed and suicidal, going up against the anti-Christ himself (played by a malevolent Gabriel Bryne). Arny was nominated for Worst Actor by the Razzie Awards for this film, but I would regard it as one of his best roles; for once, he doesn’t play an invincible lead-headed commando. He portrays complex emotions, weakness and at appropriate moments, displays his natural flair for humour (‘Between God and my 9mm,’ he says, ‘I’ll take the 9mm.’) There are some scenes in this which have never left me. Maybe if I watched it again with those Rotten Tomato reviews in mind I would see its flaws – but as it stands I remember the chilling resurrection scene, and the heroic ending, an ultimate triumph of good over ill, but not in the way that you think.
So, what did you think of the list? Are there any other films you want to add? I purposefully did not put any Zombie films on there (otherwise 28 Days Later would definitely have had a mention) but was that right?
Please, your thoughts below!
As always, thanks for tuning in.