Best in Class: Top Apocalypse Movies by Genre
The end of the year is nigh! Instead of braving a sea of inebriated humanity on (possibly) the world’s last night, why not huddle in front of your computer and catch up on some of the best Apocalypse movies ever made. Or we could all just head on down to the Winchester for a nice cold pint and just wait for this thing to all blow over…
This week we continue the good work by running down Doomsday films about aliens, giant rampaging monsters, shambling hordes of brain eaters, and my personal favorite, the miscellaneous category! That’s right, when the end of the world is so confusing, you can’t even wrap your mind around what the heck is killing you, it ends up in the good old miscellaneous bin, a treasure trove of inexplicable fates, most of which are worse than death. Enjoy!
Aliens attack and things go boom in a film that surprisingly has nothing to do with Michael Bay. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum add swagger and pyrotechnics to a movie that manages to be an homage to the iconic War of the Worlds and the best disaster porn film ever made. This film couldn’t have been a bigger ode to American jingoism unless the nuke used to thwart the aliens had been disguised inside of an apple pie.
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
We must have landed on the secret “Double Goldblum” square, because Jeff is back, with the help of Donald Sutherland in one of the most iconic alien invasion films ever made. Invasion of the Body Snatchers manages to begin with a delightfully unnerving slow-burn, despite the whole plot of the movie being given away by the title. It’s hard to be subtle when you’re called “Invasion of the Body Snatchers“, but this film manages to keep the audience in the dark about the sinister aliens, and we all know that in the dark is where you find the best scares. Grappling with one of the oldest bogey men in humanity’s closet, this modern take on the doppelganger/shape-shifter is terrifying and terrific.
1. War of the Worlds (1958)
The mother of all alien invasion flicks. Often imitated (Signs, Mars Attacks, Independence Day,) and even shamelessly remade (cough, Tom Cruise,) this classic has never been duplicated. Instead of suffering from age, the 1958 adaptation of H.G. Well’s story only gets creepier with time. The practical effects for the aliens and their murderous machines still inspire dread, and the matte paintings used prolifically throughout the film are some of the best ever created. The soundtrack and effects are remarkably timeless. Skip the remakes and go for the original, as it is one of the most enduringly potent sci-fi flicks ever made.
3. Shaun of the Dead
Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, perhaps the Abbot and Costello of our generation, Shaun of the Dead is a love letter to the zombie film, and a righteous send up of all the silliest parts of the genre. Deep down, we all know the tropes of the zombie movie have become a little musty with over-use, and the genius of director Edgar Wright was to turn audience expectations into both laughter and screams. A hilarious romp, Shaun still has teeth, and reminds viewers why we still love to be hunted by these rotten ghouls intent on eating our faces.
2. 28 Days Later
Very nearly placing on the top 3 of both this category and the plague category, 28 Days Later re-invented the genre, and brought a whole new angle of terror to the zombie film collection.
While zombies have always been feared for their bite, the mechanics of infection have always been a little janky. If you get chomped, well, you’re a goner…eventually (you always have enough time before turning to royally screw over the party of survivors, count on it,) but if you shoot a zombie with a shotgun or feed it into a wood chipper and get absolutely soaked with cadaver fluids, you’re probably OK.
Danny Boyle called bullshit, and created a new species of zombie, which was faster and more lethal. Just one scratch or drop of blood meant your card was punched, instantly. This ratcheted up the stakes exponentially. It doesn’t hurt that the scenes of completely desolated London are a horror movie in their own right.
1. The Romero Trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead.)
We’ve discussed our due appreciation of George Romero’s original opus, Night of the Living Dead. That film single-handedly put zombies on the map, and made the genre what it is today. That being said, Dawn of the Dead has always had my vote as the best Romero zombie flick. The stakes are higher, the zombie menace is more fleshed out (heh heh,) and the setting manages to turn the urban sprawl of an American mega mall into a claustrophobic house of horrors. Romero really widened the scope of his vision of the zombie apocalypse. While Day of the Dead is the weakest of the three, it brings to a logical conclusion the whole series, showing us a completely depleted and devastated humanity. It also has Bub, the talking zombie, so you have to give it credit there.
While some purists may object to the big screen adaptation of the depraved and stylish John Constantine, I have just two things to say: one, hi dear, happy new year; two, I’ll be goddamned if I don’t get Keanu onto my list somehow.
All joking aside, this film about a deal between the archangel Gabriel and the demon Mammon that threatens humanity with hell on Earth has three things going for it.
1. Keanu Reeves. His take no shit, ass-kicking Constantine is different from the comics, but remains a pretty cool anti-hero.
2. Tilda Swinton. Her androgynous Gabriel is self-righteous and imperious, and just about ten pounds of villain in a nine pound bag.
3. Shia LeBeuof. As in this movie not only kills Shia, but has an invisible demon literally beat him to death. I can get down on that action any day of the week.
Did you ever wonder what would happen if you switched out the vampires in Dusk Till Dawn with killer angels? Me neither, but they made it into a movie anyway, and it is just as slick and enjoyable as the original. The archangel Michael disobeys God, relinquishes his wings, and heads to Earth to protect an unborn child who holds the key to saving mankind from God’s wrath. The big guy upstairs is tired of humanity, and has given the thumbs-up for his legion of angels to wipe the world clean…through horrific violence. Holed up in a greasy spoon diner in the middle of the desert, Michael and a group of casualties, oops, I mean survivors, attempt to punch, kick, and shoot the hell out of heaven’s host.
1. The Prophecy
Coming out of nowhere, The Prophecy is gritty, disturbing, and stylish, and helped to cement Christopher Walken’s 90’s resurgence, which often saw him as a terrifying villain whose only hobby besides murder was choreographed dance numbers. A second war in heaven is lead by the archangel Gabriel, who wants to overthrow humanity’s central place in God’s creation. Man, archangels do not like us, is what I’m getting from these films.
On Earth, Gabriel must find a completely evil soul in order to shift the balance of power in heaven in his favor. Standing against him is the angel Simon and a police detective who quit the priesthood after receiving ghastly visions of the carnage the second heavenly war would bring to heaven and Earth. Also lurking around the periphery is Lucifer, played with somber malevolence by Viggo Mortensen, who wants to retain his title of most rebellious angel, and therefore willing to thwart Gabriel…for a price.
The Prophecy channels shades of The Omen, Se7en, and noir detective stories. Walken and Mortensen are excellent in this film, adding style, swagger, and great dialogue to the project. Well worth a viewing, just tread lightly if you want to see the hole series…each of the four sequels manages to be a little worse than the one that came before it.
(normal sized monsters need not apply.)
3. Pacific Rim
Giant monsters from another dimension attack Earth, and humanity must punch them with gigantic metal fists. Or giant swords, if they remember they have them.
You can catch yourself up on the full review of this gem here, but the short take is that Pacific Rim manages to capture all of the fun and mayhem of the Kaiju (giant monster) genre while still creating a sense of dread and fear. Ron Pearlman is a bad ass too, just for completeness’ sake.
2. Destroy All Monsters!
There are certainly better Godzilla films…but none that serve up such a concentrated dose of destruction. Sexy alien dominatrix invaders (say what?) have mind controlled all of Godzilla’s sparring partners, and unleashed them upon the Earth. If their demands are not met (I assume it involves whips and ball-gags) they will wipe humanity out. Scientists manage to thwart the alien control of Godzilla and his friends/enemies/frenemies? but the combined might of seven dudes in latex monster costumes may not be enough to vanquish the aliens’ trump card: King Ghidorah, the three headed dragon.
Monster mayhem at its zaniest pinnacle, Destroy All Monsters is the Wrestlemania of Godzilla monster fights.
1. In the Mouth of Madness
Sam Neill is a mental patient whose story is too awful to believe: hideous Lovecraftian monster’s exist just next door to our reality, and Neill has heard them knocking to be let in.
Told in a frame narrative as a series of psychotherapy treatments, John Carpenter is at the top of his form, creating suspense and horror by refusing to show the monsters. As the film becomes more chaotic and hallucinatory, the audience begins to hope that our protagonist is actually insane…but we may not be so lucky…
Death by stupidity! The human race stands on the verge of breeding itself out of existence, and one man of completely average intelligence, aided by a reluctant prostitute of slightly higher intelligence, are all that stand between mankind and annihilation via Mountain Dew (hey, at least its got electrolytes!)
Mike Judge throws away the subtle mallet of satire that made him famous in favor of the jack-hammering pistons of the dil-dozer. Inadvertently frozen by the military in a secret experiment, Joe (Luke Wilson) and Rita (Maya Rudolph) sleep 500 years, only to awaken to a humanity so mentally deficient that garbage landslides and crop failures caused by forgetting to water the plants threaten the whole world. Now the two 20th century rejects must solve all of humanity’s problems, all in time to catch tonight’s episode of the hit show, “Ow, my balls!”
Funny, snarky, and all too believable, Idiocracy is a must watch for fans of social satire comedy like South Park or Team America: World Police.
Slow paced and unsettling, Blindness stars Julianne Moore in an excellent adaptation of Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago’s excellent book about a world that nearly perishes from blindness.
A mysterious ailment afflicts 99% of the world with a form of blindness that turns the world into a white haze. The audience is subjected to the quiet desperation of ordinary citizens as they watch neighbors and friends, and eventually themselves, all fall victim to the disease. News reports and government statements shed no understanding upon the disaster, and outside, the world has become a police state, as the hysterical fear of blindness has caused the sighted to round up and imprison the afflicted. Julianne Moore poses as a victim despite her ability to see in order to safeguard her blind husband through the hell-scape that the internment camps become.
Blindness is masterfully paced, with long stretches of dread and anxiety that erupt into action and violence, all centered around a cautionary tale about man’s inhumanity to man in the face of uncertainty.
1. Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind
Hayoa Miyazaki established Studio Ghibli as the Disney of the East. If so, then Nausicaa is Miyazaki’s Fantasia, a gorgeous blend of beauty, fantasy, myth…and terror. More accurately, Nausicaa is like Disney deciding to spend the whole of Fantasia on the theme of “Night on Bald Mountain”…you know, that scene where the fucking devil is as big as the mountain and is wreathed in writhing, spectral creatures? Yeah, that one.
Set in a world long devastated by man’s nuclear ambition, humanity lives in a precarious balance with the new, irradiated sister of Mother Nature. Giant spore forests of radioactive mutations continually press upon the struggling remnants of mankind. Inhabiting these forests are giant pill-bug like creatures that generally steer clear of mankind…but aren’t shy about wrecking anyone’s day who encroaches upon their territory. As viewers of Princess Mononoke know, of course a certain faction of mankind is anxious to encroach like crazy, having learned nothing from their sad history. To this end, they begin reviving a living super-weapon, capable of laying waste to the nearly impervious bugs. Against this war-happy faction, stands Princess Nausicaa, a gentle but adventurous young girl, who explores the forest peacefully, hoping to learn more about how the world was before mankind blew it all to hell.
Nausicaa and the Vally of the Wind is lush and beautiful, with truly inspired settings. The creature designs are gruesome and exciting, truly some of the best sci-fi imaginings put on film. The plot would entertain a young audience, but hides many heavy themes, and even some pretty violent moments that feel lifted more from William Shakespeare than from Walt Disney. If you are a fan of Miyazaki, or of excellent story telling, you owe yourself a trip to the Valley of the Wind.
*Bonus Prize for Most Ridiculous End of the World Movie!*
1. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
A cult classic, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes went on to inspire several sequels, and even a short lived cartoon (back when Saturday morning was so filled with wild ideas and half-baked animated features that a show about murderous fruit was considered totally normal.) This is not a good movie, and some might argue not even a “so bad it’s good” movie, but it certainly is unique. When people begin mysteriously dying, often covered in tomato juice, a special team of government investigators (including a master of disguise who can only disguise himself as dead historical figures) soon discover that sentient tomatoes are behind the killings, and that one mad government agent is attempting to harness their murderous, yet nutritionally balanced rage to rule the world. Yup. That’s the plot.
That raps up our stroll through Armageddon. We hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the end of days, and will join us next year as we start the year off strong, looking forward to the Most and Least anticipated movies of 2015. Happy New Year!…unless of course we all get blown to bits by any of the world-ending fiascoes listed above. Happy Viewing!