The apocalypse feels a little too real right now, but if anything will motivate you to get involved in our country’s climate, environmental, and political issues, it’s these films. These lesser-known apocalyptic movies paint a devastating portrait of our future — and, ok fine, they’re really good films, too. You might just sit on the couch and escape into a disaster flick or two in the coming weeks, but hopefully these movies will also inspire you to take action in some way and keep Mother Earth at the forefront of your mind.
On the Beach
Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins stave off global catastrophe in Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach. From Blu-ray.com:
This film from the great director Stanley Kramer emerged at a time when the world was divided by two superpowers with similar ambitions. It had a clear message that they could easily destroy it even if they learned to trust each other. Nearly sixty years later, however, this message remains as relevant as it has ever been. After a quick nuclear war Australia is the only place with survivors, but its atmosphere has started changing. Informed military leaders and scientists have determined that there are only a few months left before the deadly radiation from the northern hemisphere reaches the continent.
Where Have All the People Gone
A solar flare initiates the end of it all. Earth’s few survivors try to start over in a strange new world. From Quiet Earth:
Before The Road Warrior steered the genre towards mohawked mutants and hockey masked Humunguses, apocalyptic films enjoyed a period of severe cultural examination. Particularly during those heady days of the 1970s, when the new cinema movement vowed to make movies about only “serious” issues, was it rare to see a film about Armageddon that didn’t try to offer some pedantic lesson on the evils of pollution, corporate greed, or the devastating effects of the atomic age. So you can imagine my surprise when, sitting down to watch this ultra-rare relic of 70s television, I realized I wasn’t going to get hit over the head with Peter Graves doing his best Charlton Heston impression exclaiming what fools we were for ‘blowing it all up.’ No, Where Have all the People Gone? is another beast entirely.
Night of the Comet
Horror fans have appreciated Thom Eberhardt’s 1984 cult film for years, and now it’s your turn. Heavy on the atmosphere, clever, and at times completely unnerving, Night of the Comet influenced Joss Whedon when he was creating Buffy for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From critic Heather Wixson:
On the surface, Night of the Comet seems like just another silly, sci-fi flick that revels in all everything that made 80’s movies fun: cheesy dialogue, big hair, outrageous clothes, witty banter, several music-infused montages and of course, a shopping spree at the mall. But what solidifies Night of the Comet’s cult status as a truly great film of its generation is that when you take a look at the story beyond all the silliness. Eberhardt’s story tries to keep things fresh for viewers and there are some undeniably great performances and character moments at play that make it all the more engaging and infectious whether you’re watching it for the first or 30th time.
The Quiet Earth
Scientist Zac Hobson wakes up one day and finds out that he might be the last person on Earth. From critic Scott Weinberg:
A strangely satisfying low-budget mind-bender, and certainly one of the coolest flicks to come out of New Zealand (before Peter Jackson showed up), The Quiet Earth has lived for two decades as one of those “buzzed about” movie-geek movies. It’s one of those titles that was available on VHS back in the day, and you probably never got around to seeing it, but every time someone mentions “that sci-fi flick where the guy discovers he’s the last man on Earth,” it’s probably The Quiet Earth they’re talking about. The Quiet Earth was more or less Geoff Murphy’s coming-out party, and seeing as how the guy went on to direct stuff like Young Guns 2, Under Siege 2, Fortress 2, and Freejack, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by calling The Quiet Earth Mr. Murphy’s finest film.
When the Wind Blows
From critic Jonathan Rosenbaum on this animated spin on nuclear disaster:
Director Jimmy Murakami and screenwriter Raymond Briggs’s English 1986 animated feature gets us to think the unthinkable—to imagine the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust—by creating a very funny and believable elderly English couple, still mired in memories of World War II. Rather than stretch this fable out to a global scale, the filmmakers make all their essential points by sticking to the isolated couple in their country cottage, aided by a realistic style of animation that incorporates some live action, by occasional stylistic changes that allow for more abstraction in some fantasy interludes, and by the speaking voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft. It’s rare that a cartoon carries the impact of a live-action feature without sacrificing the imaginative freedom of the pen and brush.
Damnation Alley was 20th Century Fox’s science-fiction blockbuster hopeful. It didn’t deliver the numbers — but Star Wars, which the distributor didn’t throw a ton of money or publicity at, wound up taking its place in pop culture. From Electric Sheep Magazine:
As the action takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is evoked through desert locations and superimposed radioactive skies, Damnation Alley could be generously described as a decent B-movie if it were the product of American International Pictures or New World. However, this was actually a 20th Century Fox production that carried the hefty price-tag of $17 million and was intended to be a summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, production delays caused by the inability of the special effects team to successfully realise mutated insect life resulted in the planned 1976 release being postponed to 1977. During this time, another Fox science-fiction project by the name of Star Wars (1977) opened to phenomenal business, making the desert-bound heroics of Damnation Alley immediately obsolete when compared to the saga of a galaxy far, far away. Yet in other respects, Damnation Alley is actually ahead of its time: it fitted the definition of ‘straight-to-video’ before the rental market actually existed, predicting countless low-budget action films that passed off wide open space as post-nuclear wasteland. While the aforementioned stock footage is easy to spot, the special effects that show the effects of radiation on the Earth’s eco-system are simply embarrassing; the ‘giant’ scorpions appear with the assistance of blue screen and never pose a serious threat to the motorcycle-riding Tanner due to the lack of spatial continuity, although the armour-plated cockroaches briefly take Damnation Alley into the realms of eco-horror by eating the flesh of one team member and trapping Tanner in a department store.
Day the World Ended
“King of the Bs” Roger Corman directed this 1955 mutant monster movie about a scientist who battles a creature after an atomic war wipes out civilization. Perhaps a must-see only for Corman completists. From She Blogged By Night:
The Day the World Ended was not Corman’s first film. It was not even Corman’s first sci-fi film — that credit goes to The Beast With a Million Eyes. (Golly, that’s a lot of eyes.) But it is arguably the first film were one can see the trademark Corman B-movie approach in full force, less defined but still polished and unmistakeable.
A strange phone calls informs one man that nuclear war is set to destroy the planet in just 70 minutes. From Roger Ebert:
Miracle Mile has the logic of one of those nightmares in which you’re sure something is terrible, hopeless and dangerous, but you can’t get anyone to listen to you. Besides, you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be mistaken. The film begins as a low-key, boy-meets-girl story, and then a telephone is answered by the wrong person and everything goes horribly wrong. Much of the movie’s diabolical effectiveness comes from the fact that it never reveals, until the very end, whether the nightmare is real, or only some sort of tragic misunderstanding.
The Third Part of the Night
More on Andrzej Żuławski’s nightmarish 1971 film from DVDBeaver:
World War II Poland: a man gets a second chance. Michal’s wife and child are killed by German soldiers, but in a nearby town he discovers and stays with a woman in labour who looks just like his dead wife. A complex and surreal work, the film is obsessed with the distinctions between love as self-preservation and self-sacrifice. But it’s just as much the hallucinations of a dying man. Images of death are everywhere: endless corridors, figures framed in doorways (and later in coffins), a couple gunned down in bed. Not an easy film to come to terms with because of its cerebral nature and its self-consciousness; a haunting first feature, all the same.
From Tron director Steven Lisberger and produced by Star Wars collaborator Gary Kurtz. More from TV Guide:
If you can cut through all the mystical mumbo-jumbo about wind-worship and if you can stifle a yawn over the too-familiar post-apocalyptic setting, you may enjoy this mildly diverting action flick. Playing like a western set on the lawless frontier of an environmentally damaged future-world, Slipstream unfolds its derivative plotline with some ingenuity.