Updated in August 2018. If you’re anything like me, you love “end of the world movies,” you know, the type of movie where the world actually ends and is not saved during its third act.
Many of these movies are considered old cult classics. I did sit down and watch all of them before writing this article.
Some of these films can be hard to find because of their age, so there will be an Amazon link for each movie at the end of their description.
Because I will be discussing plot details of these films, SPOILER ALERT! This is why I added the movie trailers so you can simply watch the trailer and not read if you do not want to spoil the film.
Best Apocalyptic Films You Need to Watch
1 – Interstellar
The earth, in this Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic, is no longer a lush and vibrant planet. Food growth has become nearly impossible, and the future of humanity is in jeopardy. This survival movie follows the crew aboard a spaceship as they desperately search for a new inhabitable planet via interstellar travel.
Earth is facing blight, food shortages, and lack of oxygen. According to the book The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, the film imagines a future where a combination of catastrophes reduces the population of North America tenfold or more, with similar consequences for the rest of the world.
In this world, society has moved to an agrarian existence (everyone’s a farmer). The crops are failing due to blight from a plant disease caused by pathogens. Blight is also reducing oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere – as Professor Brand (Michael Caine) observes: “the last people to starve will be the first to suffocate.” In other words, Earth is no longer a suitable home, and humanity is facing extinction.
Interstellar is a visual masterpiece that will keep you guessing along every move and will hit you at an instinctual level. Interstellar is a worthy addition as humankind is forced off its home permanently. You might have to watch this film a couple of times to fully grasp the scope that Nolan is trying to project.
2 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
While the two main characters are sitting in their vehicle, a radio announcement is telling them; “Once again if you are just tuning in, the CSA Space Shuttle deliverance has been destroyed. The final mission to save mankind has failed. The seventy-mile astroid known commonly as Mathilda is set to collide with earth in exactly three weeks time.”
After humanity finds out they only have three weeks left to live; Carell and Knightly’s character befriend each other and try to make each other’s final week happier. In his case, he’s trying to find “the one that got away” while she is just trying to get home to England to be with her family.
They find that they are the missing ingredients in each other’s lives. Their story may have a grim ending, but at least these two did not face the end of the world alone.
3 – Miracle Mile (1988)
As a man finally finds the woman of his dreams, a phone rings, and he finds out that nuclear war is imminent. At times Harry is uncertain that the end is in fact near and that the information he received was in fact accurate.
He becomes increasingly worried that he alone sparked the mass panic around him. Harry still tries to find a way to escape his impending doom and finds himself going to great lengths to do just that.
It would certainly not surprise me if you’ve never heard of this cult film, but while maintaining the feel of an 80s comedy while tackling a horrific situation, Miracle Mile stands as exceptional to some.
4 – These Final Hours
At fourth in our end of the world movies, These Final Hours is another Meteor Impact film. When a Meteor strikes the opposite side of the planet sparking a global firestorm, an Australian named James leads his lover to travel across the city where anarchy rules; In an attempt to reunite a girl with her family and to join his girlfriend to enjoy one huge party.
This is an Australian film that is mostly unknown in some parts of the world. These Final hours deserves a great deal more acclaim and notice.
The characters in this film a far from being innocent; and a goal that seems fruitless, the performances, story, and situation have you rooting for them despite the odds.
5 – The Day After
“The Day After” is undoubtedly one of the best “made for TV” movie ever made and is still the highest rated; That makes The Day After a product of its time.
The movie takes place within three timelines (Past, present and after the war destruction) during the cold war and showing a worst-case scenario outcome of the nuclear conflict. They introduce the audience to a world we know well and a wholly unfamiliar one at the same time. One world where failing to find food and shelter means your very survival.
The movie ends with a single stark voice calling over the radio. “Hello, is anybody there? Anybody at all?”. As scary as it may seem to most people, The Day After feels entirely possible.
6 – This Is the End (2013)
When a group of self-obsessed celebrities gathers for a housewarming party on the same night as the apocalypse, the results are hilarious.
This Is the End features some of the most popular comedic actors of this generation with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, and Emma Watson.
I think this movie is underrated. You need to have the right sense of humor for this type of film to truly appreciate it. This Is the End is rated R for a reason and might be why this movie is not going to be your cup of tea if;
- You are expecting a horror film – this is much more like “Shaun of the Dead.”
- Blasphemy is offensive to you.
- You have a low vulgarity threshold.
- Your knowledge of pop culture is not great.
- If You do not know who these celebrities are.
- You do not like neurotic humor.
Watch it already, it’s funny, and in this crazy world we all live in, we certainly need some humor once in a while.
7 – On the Beach (1959)
On the Beach follows the aftermath of World War 3, a brief but devastating nuclear war. A deadly radiation fallout cloud is quickly spreading across the world. Australia is the last place where humans are still alive but they must come to terms that the deadly radiation cloud is heading their way, resulting in the end of humanity.
I first read the book and I honestly have to say that I found it very disturbing because everything that happens is something that could actually become our reality. The movie was a bit different in the way that we never find out who started the war and why. One quote I have to share sums up a World War 3 event very well.
“The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained; By arranging to defend themselves with weapons, they couldn’t possibly use; Without committing suicide.”
That quote stands true, there will be no winners post World War 3 when everything is either destroyed by bombs or contaminated with radiation.
The people in this movie has to come to terms with making the difficult decision of letting radiation sickness kill them or ending their lives themselves. This film loomed heavy when it came out in 1959 and is still relevant today.
8 – Last Night (1998)
Last Night is a low budget Canadian film that revolves around a society that knows their world will end at midnight. The movie details how a different bunch of people will spend their last night on earth.
Two strangers agree to take each other’s life at midnight by gunshot.
A mother that throws a big Christmas party with her family in hopes to relive their happiest moments as a family.
And then there’s a man trying to experience as many different sexual experiences as possible before the end of the world. He goes on to tell someone “I just don’t want to risk having bad sex today. Just don’t want that to be the last thing on my mind.”
It may never be evident in the film what deadly force will end them but what is clear is the films strong direction, script, and cast makes this an excellent end of the world movies.
9 – Melancholia (2011)
Melancholia is arguably the artsiest end of the world movie on our list and probably of all time as well. A newfound planet is on a collision course with earth which is an obvious metaphor for the inevitability of depression.
This doomsday portrayal is certainly a majestic vision told through the eyes of various different types of characters; all of which are relatable. While that may sound depressing in itself, it does achieve to hit you in a deep emotional level, for me anyway. The movie does have a great cast like Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland.
Melancholia does end on an oddly hopeful note having some of their characters believing in a magic cave that will keep them safe. Melancholia then fills the sky as the world comes to an end.
Many critics and film scholars have considered Melancholia to be a personal masterpiece, and one of the best films of 2011.
10 – Dr. Strangelove
In fairness to all other “end of the world movies” that didn’t make our Top 10 list, it’s quite difficult to beat a Stanley Kubrick directed film. This movie gets going when an Air Force general order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, an Air Force officer and the President of the United States comes together in the “war room” in hopes of preventing an apocalypse. Unfortunately for humanity’s sake, the war room proves to be full of idiots; As these people are not exactly a cool-headed bunch in the face of such an impending doom.
By the end of this end of the world movie, you can just imagine what goes down. KA-BOOM!
I have to admit that the Cold War fears and detonating nukes have never been so hilarious. Ya, it’s kinda corny but it does make for an interesting watch none the less. I did also mention this movie and a couple more on this list in our “Learn How to Survive a Nuclear Blast Through Television and Film” article, make sure to check that one out!
11 – How It Ends (2018 Netflix Original Movie)
How it ends follow the story of Will (Theo James), a lawyer trying to reunite with his girlfriend Samantha (Kat Graham) while facing the apocalypse. Will was visiting Samanthas parents in Chicago when he received a frantic call from Samantha telling him that something is wrong. While on the phone, Will hears rumbling noises in the background and suddenly the phone goes dead.
Will goes to the airport to catch his flight and finds out that all flights are canceled. He proceeds to go back to Samanthas parents house and sees her father Tom (Forest Whitaker) saying goodbye to her mom. Tom tells Will he’s going to Seatle by car to find Samantha, Will joins him, and this is where the film truly begins.
As they are driving toward Seatle, they encounter many desperate and dangerous people while trying to avoid the natural disasters occurring around them. These natural disasters are never fully explained in the film, but I can pretty much confirm they are a result of a Magnetic Polar Shift.
The only reason I know that is because I write a lot of articles about the end of the world situations. It was clear to me that a polar shift was indeed happening. Click on this link to learn more about the reality of a polar magnetic shift occurring in the years to come.
It is not clear if Will and Samantha survived in the end but what is clear is that the world is ending around them and if the natural disasters don’t kill them, very dangerous survivors probably will. Many did not like the ending, but I found the entire movie accurate of the representation of humanity in light of a global catastrophe, unfortunately.
12 – The Road (2009)
Of course, I had to include The Road! It’s not only one of my favorite end of the world movie but its one of my all-time favorite movie. Think of it as like The Walking Dead but without the zombies.
The Road is based on a 2006 novel of the same name by American writer Cormac McCarthy. This movie begins with a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son struggling to survive after a global cataclysm has nearly wiped out all life on the planet.
We get to see in flashbacks the man’s wife giving birth to their son not long after the catastrophe. The mother (Charlize Theron) is gradually losing hope and eventually commits suicide by removing her jacket and hat, walks into the cold woods, never to be seen again and leaving the father alone to take care of their son.
The story follows the man and his son while they venture on the road towards the coast where it might be warmer. This movie is somber in the sense that I’m pretty sure that if there were a world-ending event, it would not be too far from what happens in this film. The “good guys” survivors are far and few between; And between our characters and the good guys, there are gangs of cannibals looking for their next meal.
The man eventually dies after being shot with an arrow, leaving the boy to fend for himself; but before too long a family approaches the boy and convince him that they are the “good guys” and takes him with them.
This movie makes you wonder how humanity would act when facing starvation and its ultimate extinction.
13 – 28 Days Later (2007)
28 Days Later might not be an end of the world movie because of its sequel 28 weeks later, but I figured I would choose this movie because it is where the end began. At the end of its sequel, you pretty much know that the world’s population will become infected with a highly contagious rage virus and ultimately die.
The movie 28 Days Later begins with a group of animal right activist breaking into a lab to free a caged chimpanzee. Little do the activist know the chimp is infected with what is known as “the rage virus.”
Let’s make this clear, this movie is not a zombie movie. There are no zombies, and people do not come back from the dead.
The rage virus is very different than anything zombie related. It appears that primates are the only animal capable of carrying the rage virus and most other animals would probably not be affected by the virus.
After a host is exposed to the rage virus, they almost instantly begin bleeding from the eyes and nose and uncontrollably vomits. The infected’s eyes turn red, and the infected suffers from extreme and uncontrollable anger and aggression coupled with the loss of higher intelligence. From that point out the infected will viciously seek out and attack anyone they find. Unlike zombies that walk around slowly while decaying, the people infected with the rage virus can rampage through miles and miles of territory with almost no limitations.
I find that the rage virus is much more frightening than zombies because you will never be able to outrun them, they will run and run until they catch their prey no matter what.
Whats worst is that a virus of this sort is not far from the realm of possibility. We have no clue what these secret biological labs across the world are working on and what they might one day unleash.
14 – Threads (1984)
Threads is a British made for TV movie that many reviewers nominated as the “film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture.”
You will certainly know what that means after you watch it because it is still very relevant in today’s world almost twenty-five years later.
What we see in this film is the downfall of modern society and the long, hard road attempting to piece it back together to what it once was.
I have to admit that at the time of updating this article, Threads is the most depressing “what If” movie I’ve ever seen. It is such a bleak, depressing look into what our society could become just because we are unable to get along with each other due to different cultures and power hungry leaders.
I am an 80’s child, so I was never dragged into the paranoia of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union; but after watching this film, and with the state of our geopolitical climate, it is something I fear could actually happen at a moments notice.
The movie has been described as a docudrama as it doesn’t follow one set of characters through their struggles. It instead jumps from character to character whenever it feels necessary, and I have to admit that it works very well.
I can almost promise you that Threads will hit you right in the soul when you see the struggles some of these men, woman, and children have to go through during the nearly two-hour runtime of the movie.
We also get a glimpse of what a Nuclear Winter would look like after a nuclear war, that is something you almost never see in a movie.
If you’re interested in anything “End of the world,” then Threads is definitely for you!
15 – Deep Impact (1998)
Deep Impact was the first of two astroid themed movies released in the summer of 1998. The second Astroid apocalypse movie was Armageddon. I found Deep Impact a lot better and much more realistic, and it also pulled on your heart strings a lot more.
Leo Biederman played by Elijah Wood; an amateur astronomer discovered a mysterious object while looking into his telescope. He gives this information to an astronomer that soon realize the object is, in fact, a comet heading for a collision course to Earth.
With a 7-mile-wide comet barreling towards Earth, only those allowed in specialized fallout shelters located deep underground will survive; Unless of course a team of American astronauts can destroy the comet first.
One year later, the United States and Russia have been busy constructing spacecraft in order to intercept the comet. The astronaut’s mission is to alter the path of the comet using nuclear weapons.
You should know by now if their mission was a success just by taking a second look at the title of this article. Indeed this is an end of the world movie where the world actually ends. The comet’s impact on the earth is done in a way that would resemble how an event like this would occur.
One big difference, however, is that we would not be able to watch the comet making landfall like in the movie. The comet would, in reality, be traveling thousands of miles per second. Click here for more information on this subject.
All in all, this is an excellent movie in its own rights, and people should give it more credit.
16 – The Cabin In the Woods (2012)
You’re probably wondering how a movie such as this one could end up on a best apocalyptic movie list right? Well, you just need to watch the movie to find out, or you can simply keep reading.
This movie was a surprise hit at the box office and for good reasons, its good!
It all begins with five teenage friends head off into the wilderness to spend the weekend at a secluded cabin, hence the title of the film of course. As the night of drinking goes on they notice the cellar door swing open. Since this is a teen horror film you would expect them to go down into the cellar to investigate right? well, you’re right and while they are down there they find an assortment of ancient artifacts and also a book.
One of the characters begins to read from the book and then, of course, everything goes downhill from there after waking zombies and werewolves and more. I can’t seem to bring myself to explain more because the movie is so complex that you will just have to watch it and find out.
As the ending approaches, you’re kind of going to be a bit spoiled by the title of this article of the end of the world movies. You will know more when you get to that point of the film.
There you have it my fellow survivalist movie buffs. Please let us know in the comment section below if you agree or disagree with our list; and what other movies you would have added that we may have forgotten.
Make sure to check this article frequently. I will be updating it on a monthly basis as I learn of some great end of the world movies to add to this list.