Human existence, life on earth: the one thing that we hold as a universal truth. People populate this planet, and we live on it, now and forever, right? But what happens when the unexpected happens? We're talking, of course, about the end of days, armageddon, the apocalypse. How the world will cease to exist—it's a terrifying thought that has been depicted in movies and popular culture seemingly since the beginning of the movie industry.
But not all end of the world scenarios are created equally. And they hardly have a universal premise. All ends of the world are not created equally. But by taking a look at how the world ends/ended/will end/is ending/could end in television and film, one may get a better understanding of how the human mind processes such an unbelievable event. Such a large-scale tragedy would have to be huge. It could start off small: pollution, a single mutated gene creating a virus. Or it could be huge: angry gods, meteor attacks, or even aliens. When it comes to creating fear and anxiety in your viewing audience, look no further than putting the earth's proverbial life on the line. It doesn't get bigger than that.
So we've compiled a list of every film (yes, we do mean every) film and TV show wherein their main plot revolves around the saving of, escape from, or rebuilding of the earth. That's all your pre-, post-, and ongoing apocalyptic schemes. Turns out? There's a lot of them!* And a lot of interesting patterns and ideas to discuss.
So click forward and begun your journey! Let's take a look at the end-of-the-world options we have to face tomorrow, eh? Movies always tell the truth AND the future, right?
First Up? The Beginning, of course!
* Please note that some films have dates attached. This is because they were either made several times throughout history, or were remade or rebooted in some way.
Between the beginning of the film industry and the 50s, films rarely dealt with the thought of a world in peril, and when they did, it seems to have gone one of two ways: either via a natural disaster or comet ...or women. Don't look at me like that, I'm just the messenger! It's true, though: the films of this early era often focused on either a disease (masculitis or male-itis depending on the film), or a robot woman. Ladies be ruining everything!
By the time the 50s rolled around, iconic films like The War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers brought the idea of an alien takeover into the fold, causing terror about the great beyond. The 50s is also when the idea of a nuclear fallout come into play, likely due to The Cold War. Tensions between the US and Russia were high, and it seems likely that the very real terror of a possible nuclear war, or atomic bomb, seemed a very real possibility for the end of days.
The 60s only strengthened the 50s trend trend of atomic and nuclear fallout, with nearly all 13 of the films created in that 10 year span focusing on atomic bombs, mass warfare, and nuclear explosions. But it wasn't all Dr. Strangelove, as 1968 brought us our first instance of the now-staple-scenario of a zombie apocalypse in Night of the Living Dead. Overall, though, the world's end was still just a minor player in the movie landscape. Though some films worked within the idea of social commentary through a world-ending scenario (i.e. The Time Machine), most kept it straight and to-the-point: there was fear in the world, and these films planned to capitalize on that.
1900 - 1949
Deluge - NATURAL DISASTERS
The End of the World (1916) – COMET CAUSES NATURAL DISASTERS
End of the World - COMET
It’s Great to Be Alive (1933) – MASCULITIS/WOMEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD
The Last Man on Earth (1924) – MALE-ITIS/WOMEN TAKE OVER THE WORLD
Metropolis - A ROBOT WOMAN/LUST
1950 - 1959
The Day the Earth Stood Still - ALIENS
The Day the Sky Exploded – METEOR
Day the World Ended – ATOMIC WARFARE, MONSTERS
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – ALIENS
On the Beach - NUCLEAR FALLOUT
The War of the Worlds (1953) – ALIENS
When Worlds Collide – WORLD EXPLODES
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) – ATOMIC POISON
1960 - 1969
The Bed-Sitting Room – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST
Crack in the World - ATOMIC BOMB
The Day the Earth Caught Fire - NUCLEAR BOMBS
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – NUCLEAR BOMB/WORLD EXPLODES
Fail-Safe (1964) – NUCLEAR WAR/A COLD WAR
In the Year 2889 - NUCLEAR WAR
The Last Man on Earth (1964) – PLAGUE/VAMPIRES
The Last War – ATOMIC BOMB
Night of the Living Dead (1968) – ZOMBIES
Panic in Year Zero! – WORLD WAR
Planet of the Apes - APE TAKEOVER
The Time Machine - THE DEATH OF INTELLIGENCE
The War Game - NUCLEAR WAR
Next up? The 70s and beyond...
The 1970s saw the end of the world/apocalypse film really take off, with nearly double the number of movies made in the 1970s as compared to the 1960s. It's an interesting shift, and one that doesn't necessarily follow a pattern or theme: movies from the 70s where the world ends/ended/is ending, have a veritable smorgasbord of reasoning behind them. For some, it's an ape takeover—Planet of the Apes premiered just a few years prior in 1968. Others? It's nuclear war, aliens, zombies, or even the antichrist.
One of the interesting developments is that of the environmentally-based breakdown of planet Earth: famine, the Greenhouse Effect, a second Ice Age, and human over-consumption of our natural resources all come into play. Finally, the end of the world is rooted into an oh-so-logical place, perhaps making for all the more of a terrifying viewing experience. Either that, or all the hippie talk of the time was finally getting to movie producers.
1970 - 1979
A Boy and His Dog – NUCLEAR WAR
Alien – ALIENS
The Andromeda Strain - EXTRATERRESTRIAL VIRAL WARFARE
Battle for the Planet of the Apes - APE/HUMAN WARFARE
Beneath the Planet of the Apes – WORLD EXPLODES
Beware! The Blob – THE BLOB
Black Moon - CIVIL WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Colossus: The Forbin Project - A SUPERCOMPUTER
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - APE TAKEOVER
Damnation Alley – DOOMSDAY via NUCLEAR MISSLES
Dawn of the Dead - ZOMBIES
Escape from the Planet of the Apes – NUCLEAR WARFARE
Holocaust 2000 – ANTICHRIST/NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – ALIENS
The Last Days of Man on Earth (The Final Programme) - EUGENICS
Logan's Run - COMPUTERS
Mad Max – DYSTOPIAN SOCIETAL BREAKDOWN
The Noah – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST
No Blade of Grass – GLOBAL FAMINE
Omega Man – BIOLOGICAL WARFARE
Quintet – SECOND ICE AGE
Silent Running – TOTAL ENVIRONMENTAL EXTINCTION
Soylent Green - GREENHOUSE EFFECT/HUMAN CONSUMPTION
The Ultimate Warrior – INFECTIOUS DISEASE PANDEMIC
Zardoz - EUGENICS
Next Up? The totally tubular 1980s...
The world ended a whole bunch in the 1980s, and the fever pitch of world relations played a huge role in how the world ended in film. It is with 1980's The Apple that we see religion take its turn as the bringer of the end of days: the rapture is here! And while the oft-discussed return of main dude Jesus Christ makes its debut in the 1980s, the overall idea of a religious wave of death doesn't take center stage in films much after that. Surprising especially once we get to present-day, when it seems every year there is a new date for the end of days and the second coming, to bring all the good souls to heaven.
In the meantime, war is a widely-used scenario for how the world ends in films in the 80s: whether it be nuclear war, World War II, general warfare, a war of the sexes, biological warfare, or just plan old weaponized weather, humans were getting greedy, immoral, and angry—and it was causing the planet big, big problems.
1980 - 1989
20 Years After – NUCLEAR WAR/PLAUGES
Aliens – ALIENS
The Apple – THE RAPTURE
Das Arche Noah Prinzip (The Noah’s Ark Principle) – WEAPONIZING THE WEATHER
Bunker Palace Hôtel - CIVIL UNREST/WARFARE
Cherry 2000 – THE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE/WOMEN/SEX/ROBOTS
The Day After – NUCLEAR WAR
The Dead Zone - NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST
Le Dernier Combat – UNKNOWN INCIDENT, RENDERS SOCIETY MUTE
Def-Con 4 – NUCLEAR WARFARE/WORLD WAR III
Cyborg – PLAGUE
Escape from New York - CRIME/HUMANS
Land of Doom – WARFARE
Leviathan - CREATURE CREATED BY DISEASED HUMANS FUSING/VIRUS
Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) - GLOBAL WAR/COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - GLOBAL WAR/COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION
Malevil – NUCLEAR WAR
The Martian Chronicles (TV miniseries) – NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST
Millennium - HUMANS DESTROY EARTH
Miracle Mile – WORLD EXPLODES
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - HUMANS
Night of the Comet – METEOR
Omen III: The Final Conflict - ANTICHRIST
Proini peripolos (Morning Patrol) – CATASTROPHIC WORLD EVENT
The Quiet Earth – WORLD EXPLODES
The Seventh Sign – JUDGMENT DAY
The Terminator - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Testament - NUCLEAR WAR
Threads (TV series) – NUCLEAR WAR
Virus – BIOLOGICAL WARFARE
When the Wind Blows - NUCLEAR WAR
World War III - WWIII AKA NUCLEAR WAR
Next Up? The 90s! And it's not all Y2K like you'd think...
You'll likely be shocked to learn that films surrounding the Y2K phenomenon were scarce—only one (Last Night) managed to discuss the hysteria surrounding a world where everything shuts down because people were afraid computers couldn't count from 1999 to 2000. The environment comes into play heavily in the 90s, as the Greenhouse Effect and global warming take center stage. Growing concerns for the earth's habitability in the future loom large in the thoughts of everyone, from Al Gore to your grandmother. While we have all the makings of a varied outlook on the future of our planet that still involves aliens, satan, meteors, and nuclear war, the scenarios wherein humans destroy the earth through their lack of foresight rings heavily at the end of the millenium. Be it pollution, food shortage, or global warming, movies were now dissecting the role in which human consumption disrupts the natural order.
12 Monkeys – VIRUS
Alien 3 - ALIENS
Alien Resurrection - ALIENS
Armageddon – METEOR ALMOST HITS EARTH
The Arrival - ALIENS
Blue Gender (TV series) – INSECTOID HUMANS, VIA VIRUS
By Dawn's Early Light - WORLD WAR III
Dead or Alive – WORLD EXPLODES
Deep Impact – METEOR HITS EARTH
Delicatessen - WORLDWIDE FOOD SHORTAGE
Dogma – RELIGIOUS BREAKDOWN
End of Days - SATAN
The End of Evangelion - AN AMBIGUOUS GIANT BEING
Escape from L.A. – EARTHQUAKE IN LA/CRIME/HUMANS
The Handmaid's Tale – POLLUTION-INDUCED STERILIZATION
In the Mouth of Madness – MUTANT CREATURES
Invasion – VIRUS TURNS HUMANS INTO ALIENS
Last Night – Y2K APOCALYPSE/WORLD EXPLODES
The Matrix - CYBERSPACE
Night of the Living Dead (1990) – ZOMBIES
Neon City – SOLAR DISASTER
The Omega Code – ANTICHRIST
The Postman – UNSPECIFIED APOCALYPSE
The Rapture – WORLD EXPLODES/RAPTURE
Six String Samurai – NUCLEAR WAR
Solar Crisis – SOLAR FLARE
The Stand (TV Miniseries) - VIRUS
Tank Girl – COMET-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE
Terminator 2 – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Waterworld - ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE
Without Warning (TV Movie) – METEOR
Next up? The Aughts!
In the early 2000s, everything was going great. The world was on an economic uptick, but more movies than ever were being made where the world met its end. 59 films, in fact! More than any other time in history. Most notable is the increase interest in zombies. Oh yes, the almighty undead have been around for ages, but the thought of a zombie apocalypse gripped tightly at the pop culture microcosm. They were everywhere! On TV, in movies—heck, they were even showing up en masse in random locations to dance, sometimes! The trend continues today, but was perhaps most notably so in the aughts.
2000 - 2009 showed us a huge variety of apocalyptic endings to the world, from the rise of viral pandemics (often including our fair zombie friends), nuclear explosions, general war, global warming, aliens and even dragons and a loss of intellect. Even Kirk Cameron got in on the action with his Christian film, Left Behind. The aughts saw the beginnings of a more philosophical discussion about the end of the world and what that may entail beyond just explosions and mayhem. What happens when the entire world goes blind? What about the effects of pollution on human sterilization? Even Disney gets in on the fun, serving up a thoughtful yet kid-friendly discussion of how humans are ruining their home in WALL-E. Times look grim through the lens of the world-ending scenarios of the 2000s.
2012 – THE MAYAN PROPHECY/A SERIES OF NATURAL DISASTERS
28 Days Later - ZOMBIES /THE RAGE VIRUS
28 Weeks Later - ZOMBIES /THE RAGE VIRUS
9 – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
A.I. Artificial Intelligence – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Babylon A.D. – CORRUPTION AND WAR
Blindness – BLINDNESS EPIDEMIC
Carriers - VIRAL PANDEMIC
Children of Men - WORLDWIDE STERILIZATION VIA ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES
The Core – NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS
The Dark Hour – WAR
Dawn of the Dead – ZOMBIES
The Day After Tomorrow - GLOBAL WARMING/ENVIRONMENT
The Day the Earth Stood Still - ALIENS
The Day the World Ended (2001) – ALIENS
Doomsday - THE REAPER VIRUS
Dragon Head - UNKNOWN NATURAL DISASTER
Dreamcatcher - ALIENS
Earth 2100 - ENVIRONMENTAL: CLIMATE CHANGE, RESOURCE DEPLETION, AND OVERPOPULATION
Fail Safe (2000 Teleplay)– NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST, TECHNOLOGY/THE COLD WAR
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - ALIENS
The Happening - PLANTS
Happy End (2009) - VIRUS, BOMBS, EARTHQUAKE
I Am Legend – LETHAL MEASELS CREATES VAMPIRES
Idiocracy - THE LOSS OF INTELLECT
Impact (2008) - ASTEROID/THE MOON
The Invasion – ALIENS
Knowing – WORLD EXPLODES VIA PROPECHIES/ALIENS
Land of the Dead - ZOMBIES
Left Behind - THE RAPTURE
Lost Souls - THE ANTICHRIST
Mercano the Martian– WORLD EXPLODES/ALIEN
Meteor - METEOR
Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 - BIBLICAL NATURAL DISASTERS COME TRUE
Night of the Living Dead (2006) – ZOMBIES
On the Beach – WORLD EXPLODES VIA NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION
Pandorum - OVERPOPULATION, ALIENS
Reign of Fire - DRAGONS
Resident Evil - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES
Resident Evil: Apocalypse - T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES
Resident Evil: Extinction - T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES
Returner - ALIENS
Right at Your Door - BOMBS EQUIPPED WITH BIOLOGICAL AGENTS
The Road – LOSS OF THE SUN/ENVIRONMENT
Save the Green Planet! – ALIENS/WORLD EXPLODES
Shaun of the Dead - ZOMBIES
Solar Attack - SOLAR FLARES
Southland Tales – WORLD EXPLODES/NUCLEAR WORLD WAR III
Supervolcano - VOLCANO
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - NUCLEAR ATTACKS/JUDGMENT DAY
Terminator: Salvation ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
The Time Machine - DESTRUCTION OF THE MOON
Titan A.E. - ALIENS
Tooth and Nail - OVERUSE OF NATURAL RESOURCES, LEADS TO COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION
WALL-E – ENVIRONMENTAL BREAKDOWN
War of the Worlds - ALIENS
Watchmen - WAR
Time of the Wolf (2003) – AN UNKNOWN DISASTER
Zombieland - ZOMBIES
Next Up, 2010 to NOW!
Since the uptick in interest regarding the world's potential demise over the past two years (where we've seen two end of days scenarios within the same time period), everyone has gotten on board with their own apocalyptic vision of earth, and how the human condition can afford (or not afford) one with the capacity to deal with (or not) the ultimate end. Whole TV series (Revolution, Falling Skies) are being created with the sole purpose of dissecting a world post-apocalypse.
We see more zombies, more aliens, and also a lot more films with religious connotations to them—including The Book of Eli and Legion. Is the world pissing off a higher power? Could the Mayans have been right all along? No, probably not, but if the past two years are any indication, the rest of the teens will see a lot more of this. And of course a few zombies for good measure!
12 Disasters of Christmas – THE MAYAN PROPHECY/JUDGEMENT DAY
4:44 Last Day on Earth – WORLD EXPLODES FOR UNKNOWN, POSSIBLY ENVIRONMENTAL REASONS
Arctic Blast - SECOND ICE AGE
Battle: Los Angeles – ALIENS
The Book of Eli – NUCLEAR FALLOUT
Cabin in the Woods – ANGRY GODS
The Darkest Hour - ALIENS
Daybreakers - VAMPIRES
The Divide - NUCLEAR WAR
Falling Skies (TV Series) - ALIENS
Hell (2011) – SOLAR FLARES/ENVIRONMENT
Kaboom – WORLD EXPLODES/NUCLEAR RED BUTTON
The Last Man on Earth (2011) – ALIENS/MISOGNY
Legion - ANGRY GOD
Maximum Shame - UNKNOWN
Melancholia – WORLD EXPLODES
Resident Evil: Afterlife – T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES
Resident Evil: Retribution – T-VIRUS/ZOMBIES
Revolution (TV Series) - LOSS OF ELECTRICITY
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – METEOR
Skyline – ALIENS
Stake Land – VAMPIRE PANDEMIC
Vanishing on 7th Street – SHADOWS SWALLOW THE EARTH
The Walking Dead (TV Series) - ZOMBIES
So how does the entertainment industry feel like the world is going to end? Let's break it down for you. Out of 191 movies and television shows that discuss the way in which the world will end, the majority feel that the way our world will go out is with a bang...a big, giant, life-ending nuclear bang, of course. 30 percent of the films made dealing with a world that has ended/will end/is ending believe that our time will come thanks to the terrible capacity of nuclear/atomic bombs. The second most popular theory generally involves some sort of environmental breakdown, and accounts for 20 percent of the movies made. In third place was the oh-so-ambiguous Other category, which includes things like shadows swallowing the earth whole, a nasty case of Dragon takeover, and The Blob.
Nuclear War: 30%
Religion/The Rapture/Judgment Day: 5%
Artificial Intelligence/Robots: 3%
Phew! That was a lot of information all at once, huh? Looking for it all in a bit more of a digestible format? Check out this fun video featuring all sorts of massive earth destruction (world-ending and otherwise) for a blippy crash course in apocalypses.
What do you think the chances are the world will end on December 21st, 2012? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures (2), Universal Pictures, Embassy Pictures, American International Pictures, Magnolia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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Leave it to the insurance types with their legal babble to ruin everything -- and that's including "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
Reports today say that Buena Vista Entertainment, the ABC/Disney production wing behind the champion game show, has been taken to the British High Court of Justice by its London-based insurers. Why? The smarty-pants types at the insurance firm of Goshawk Syndicate feel that the quiz-show's questions have just gotten too bloody easy. So easy that, the Goshawk folks fear, the show will be minting too many millionaires -- a scenario equivalent to a depthless money pit for an insurer.
Simply put, the Goshawk camp wants out of its contract with ABC -- and nothing short of a ruling by the crown is going to stop the company from getting it.
Here's the breakdown of the financial implications for Goshawk if the ABC game show continues its streak of "less-than-challenging" questions and not-too-dimwitted players. Under the ABC policy, after the network covers the first $1.5 million in big paydays, the insurer is responsible to put up cold cash for anyone who wins more than $500,000, up to a maximum of $5 million.
In short, the more money people win on "Millionaire," the more Goshawk loses.
In the brief history of said show, three contestants have won the $500,000 prize and two have reached all the way to the top for the $1 mil jackpot -- a total of $3.5 mil that Goshawk is contractually bound to answer for. A little arithmetic here tells us that ($3.5 mil minus $1.5 mil deductible) a $2 million tab has already been picked up by the insurer to date. No wonder Goshawk's eager to cut its losses.
Potential "Millionaire" applicants can breath a collective sigh, though. ABC, in response to the lawsuit, is adopting a nonchalant "you-can't-touch-me, we've-got-a-contract" stance, stating clearly that it has no plans to change anything on the show.
"Unquestionably, the integrity of the show is above reproach, and nobody is claiming otherwise," an ABC spokeswoman told the Hollywood trade papers. "This is simply a dispute in which the company providing insurance is trying to get out of coverage on the basis of a conversation it had with a broker."
Leave it to the TV titan types to expose the doings of the insurance types ...
LETTERMAN DEFERRED: Reports of David Letterman's possible Valentine's Day return to CBS' "Late Show" were greatly exaggerated. Looks like the comic's going to be a no-show for yet another week as the network has decided to continue its "Late Show Backstage" run.
Consisting of interviews and reminiscences from past "Late Show" guests and celebs, the "Backstage" segments have injected new life into old shows during the all-important February sweeps.
Next week's "Backstage" will boast new stuff from Drew Barrymore, Ray Romano and possibly Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Kathie Lee Gifford and Alec Baldwin.
RANDOM BITS: Dana Reeve, the actress/wife of Christopher Reeve, is slated to join ABC News anchor Deborah Roberts as co-host of "Lifetime Live," a half-hour newsmagazine debuting March 6 on cable's Lifetime. ...
... Craig Kilborn, the host of CBS's "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn," is in the doghouse with Kentucky lawmakers for dissing Owensboro -- the Kentucky town recently ravaged by tornadoes. A state house resolution adopted this week asks Kilborn to apologize to the state's residents for calling the commonwealth "Kensucky," and for joking that replacement trailer houses were on their way to displaced Owensboro residents.
So, um, why's that not funny again?