As far as movies go, post-apocalyptic movies are probably my favorite types and so I find myself remarkably forgiving of films that have other faults as long as they give me a good dose of Apocalypse! There are a couple of different types of post-apocalyptic movies and I happen to like them all -- so let's take a look at what we're talking about, staring with a few different series of films within the genre.
The Mad Max Movies
Might as well start off with the post-apocalyptic film series -- first up, Mad Max. I love all three of these movies, but The Road Warrior, is by far my favorite. This was the first movie I ever saw Mel Gibson in and it may even be one of the first post-apocalyptic film I've ever seen. I saw it when I was 17. At the time I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick, but I don't think I was reading much post-apocalyptic stuff, except for maybe Lucifer's Hammer? I dunno. At any rate, this film probably had a strong influence on my love for the genre. Of that, I'm sure.
While some people hate Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I personally think it is gloriously cheesy fun. Tina Turner is awesome! Also, the scene with Max unloading all of his weaponry is classic and is frequently copied by other movies.
Plans are afoot for a 4th movie, to be called Mad Max: Fury Road. I haven't quite decided how I feel about this yet. It is unlikely that Gibson would be in it (he's getting a bit old to play the part, don't you think?), so I don't have quite the same trepidation about it that I have about the new Indiana Jones movie, but still... do we really need a 4th Mad Max film?
Planet of the Apes
The first Planet of the Apes film, starring Charles Heston, is a classic of the genre, but I think at least a few of the other movies are pretty awesome as well. In fact, the only thing that is not awesome is the remake of The Planet of the Apes, starring Mark Wahlberg. That movie is quite wretched and dull. No, trust me, stick with the original 1968 film.
There are a total of five Planet of the Apes films and the timeline over the course of the five movies is essentially circular due to time travel and the time loops that are triggered. The movies are:
- Planet of the Apes
- Beneath the Planet of the Apes
- Escape from the Planet of the Apes
- Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
- Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Besides the original, my favorites are the third and fourth movies - Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the third movie, the two apes, Cornelius and Zira, travel back in time to the present (1973) and basically set the chain of events that lead to the first film in motion. In the 4th movie, Escape, the ape Caesar, who was born in the 3rd film and protected by a human,emerges as a leader of the apes who are currently used as slave labor by humans and he starts the revolt that will eventually turn Earth into the "Planet of the Apes" (after a nuclear war of course!)
Several years ago, Frontier magazine did an excellent retrospective of the entire series (plus the tv shows) that you can read at Media Circus. It provides a great overview of the entire franchise.
Attack of the Computers!
Yes, your computer really does hate you and has plans to either kill you or use you for its energy supply soon.
The two major franchises that involved apocalypses brought on by articial intelligence are The Terminator franchise and The Matrix franchise. In some ways, they both fit a bit uneasily into the genre. The Terminator franchise can be thought of more as being pre-apocalyptic, since while we get fleeting glances of what life is like after the Rise of the Machines, the bulk of the story across all three films is set before this occurs. Of course, the fourth movie which will star Christian Bale as John Connor, will actually be, finally, post-apocalyptic.
As for The Matrix, is it post-apocalyptic if most humans are unaware that anything has changed? Okay, I guess it truly is. After all, ,most humans are nothing more than battery banks for the machines and the humans who aren't have to live underground because the world above ground is just a wreckage.
I like to think of the Matrix trilogy as a sequel to the Terminator movies. The Matrix is the evolution of the intent of the machines, after they stop fighting with petty annoyances like John Connor. At any rate, both series please me immensely, especially The Terminator, and I can barely stand to wait for the next movie.
Also, check out this fun exploration of the insane number of time loops and coincidences (or lack of them) in the Terminator movies.
The Post-Apocalyptic Vision of Kevin Costner
Okay, so you know how I said at the top of this hub that I tend to be very forgiving of flawed movies in this genre? Well, I might have been talking about Waterworld and The Postman *g*
Honestly, while I think The Postman suffers from some serious flaws, when it comes to Waterworld I don't think Kevin Costner has anything to apologize about it. The movie is somewhat derivative -- call it Mad Max on Water -- but it is still worth watching for its own sake. It is an entertaining movie with a cool premise and Kevin Costner is great in it.
Some of the other performances leave a bit to be desired, but even Dennis Hopper who is frequently way too over the top, is quite watchable in this movie. It's also worth mentioning that this movie looks positively glorious on DVD, just as it did on laserdisc. It's a really good looking movie and it looks amazing in Hi Def, so if you have an HD player, grab it. And if you have Blu Ray, wait for its release :)
Also, if you do end up liking it, I think you'll find it holds up to repeated viewing quite well. I've probably watched it about 20 times over the years.
As for The Postman, guess what? I really enjoy this movie too! It has a couple of major flaws, the main one being that the movie is too long and needed some serious editing to make the pacing a bit tighter. It also could have used some judicious excising of some of the more self-indulgent Costner moments in the movie and I could have done without him casting his own daughter as a teenager that had a crush on him (so icky, Kevin!). But overall, this is a pretty good example of the post-apocalyptic genre and even David Brin, the author of the novel its based upon, was pretty happy with the movie.
The Postman Trailer
Zombies are coming to get you!
28 Days and Weeks
Okay, there's one major set of films that I'm not going to be talking about simply because I haven't actually sat through them all. To some it may be inexcusable, but somehow I could never get myself even remotely interested in the Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Whatever of the Dead series of films by George Romero. I've seen the first one and it didn't really do it for me.
I have seen the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and I actually thought that was pretty entertaining, but I think there's a much better movie in this sub-genre of post-apocalyptic films and that movie is 28 DAYS LATER.
28 Days Later is cleary derivative of the book, I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson (and I'll talk about that movie next), but I think it does a great job of being its own thing as well and there's something truly chilling and glorious about watching the main character, Jim, wander around an empty deserted London.
Directed by Danny Boyle, of Trainspotting fame, and starring Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later is a pretty gripping post-apocalptic treat and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, is worth a watch as well. I don't think it is quite as good as the first movie, but it is far more downbeat, so if you prefer your post-apocalyptic genre to remain downbeat and disheartening to the very end, you might actually like 28 Weeks Later more. My only real complaint about the sequel is that it feels far less British with the introduction of American cast members (and of course the whole American military angle that goes with it).
I Am Legend on Film
I Am Legend
I already mentioned I Am Legend on my hub about post-apocalyptic fiction. The book by Richard Matheson has now been adapted for screen three times. The first movie, The Last Man on Earth, stars Vincent Price as Robert Morgan, who spends his days hunting and killing his neighbors who are now vampires, fortifying his home against their nightly attempts to enter and trying to figure out if he can cure the "disease". Shot in b&w, the movie is quite downbeat and moody and rather affecting.
The second movie based upon I Am Legend is The Omega Man, starring Charleton Heston. While all three film adaptions of Matheson's work depart significantly from the text, The Omega Man definitely features the most differences and is very much a 60s film. Worth watching if you are really a completist, but if not, stick to the Vincent Price and Will Smith versions of the movie. I find The Omega Man just a bit to campy and corny to take seriously.
Of the three movies, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, is my favorite and while it does make one incredibly significant departure from the book (I will not spoil) which annoys virtually everyone who is a fan, I still think it is a great movie. And it is definitely a great looking movie! New York in its empty barren beauty is a wonder and Will Smith can easily carry a movie like this on his back, which is important because for much of the movie, he's the only person on screen.
The Day After Tomorrow
Okay, when it comes to cheesy post-apocalyptic flicks, The Day After Tomorrow is waaaay cheesier and sillier than either Waterworld or The Postman. It has a few great things going for it though and so its defects are easily forgiveable.
Firstly, it has Jake Gyllenhaal. For many of us, that is probably enough right there. But it also has Dennis Quaid, massive ecological destruction, wolves, and a bunch of people trapped up in the New York Public Library (main branch) trying their best to survive! Did I mention it has wolves? What could be more awesome?!
Also, it has a cargo ship in the middle of a Manhattan street and Dennis Quaid is on a trek across the miles to save his son, Jake Gyllenhaal. Yes, despite the obvious problems, i.e. a stupid script, a ridiculous scientific premise (and zombies are more realistic?) and some really cheesy special effects featuring wolves, The Day After Tomorrow is just about the perfect post-apocalyptic movie. Directed by Roland Emmerich, it features what every Emmerich movie features, truly outstanding special effects (except for those wolves!) delivered with extreme gusto.
So that about wrap's it up
There are hundreds of other movies out there, but I just haven't seen them all. Feel free to name and defend your favorites in the comments.