Top Five Post-Apocalyptic Movies

Chris Van Deelen

This week I will be discussing my five favorite post-apocalyptic movies. As those who know me and my work know all too well, I have been a fan of this genre since I was about 10 years old. During the 80’s I read every single post-apocalyptic novel I could get my hands on and watched all the terrible movies that were made back then.

Most of the time the genre cannot be called science fiction. Frankly, in most post-apocalyptic scenarios, the apocalypse was caused by a nuclear holocaust between the States and the former Soviet Union.

Today we have most of the apocalyptic scenarios involving zombies, but I have seen a few that were based upon deadly diseases, the sun growing too bright and heating up the earth, even a vampire apocalypse.

The following movies are in order of my preferences. These are only a fraction of the movies available to watch but they are my favorites and probably will remain so for a very long time to come.

Oh, and this is my personal opinion – feel free to disagree with my choices here but if you think of any that I may have not seen, let me know! I’m always looking for something new (well in some cases, old) to watch.

And no Zombie Apocalypses, please. This list is for a different genre entirely.

  1. The Road Warrior Even thirty plus years later, this movie stands the test of time. I could be wrong but it was what catapulted Mel Gibson to stardom. The premise is very simple, although the reason behind the apocalypse has always been a little vague. I’m guessing it was all about war between the States and the Soviet Union over resources. Anyhow, you all know the story – a loner wanting to keep to himself but always on the move gets involved with a battle between a group of survivors who have a refinery. Their opponents want the refinery in order to keep their hodge-podge vehicles juiced so they can continue to do what they like to do, which I assume is murder, rape and mayhem. There is a great deal of action and some really, REALLY impressive car chases and the end scene is still one of my favorites. My only real quip about the movie was the lack of firearms. After all, if you can keep these cars up and running, surely you can make ammunition! That does not seem to be the issue with the upcoming movie ‘Fury Road’.
  2. Book of EliI’m biased, but you can’t go wrong when you have a movie starring Denzel Washington. This movie is essentially the story of a man who is for all intent and purpose the last bible on the planet. He has memorized it and is on a quest to bring it back to the survivors, as the earlier survivors blamed the bible, and to another extent, religion for what happened to the world. They ended up destroying all copies of the bible. The movie has a ton of great action and really shows what life could be in such an environment, including how folks revert and react to cannibals. If you haven’t seen the movie, then I won’t spoil it for you, but how things came together at the end really took me by surprise – although if you pay close attention throughout the movie, you can catch the hints that are peppering the film.
  3. TerminatorSo this classic has spawned four sequels (with the next one coming out this summer), as well as a two season TV series, video games and numerous comics. Some of the comics have been great, others… I will keep my opinion to myself. It involves a homicidal computer bent on the destruction of mankind. This computer has also been able to create a great deal of technology in order to achieve its goals of genocide, of which the most powerful tool has to be the ability to travel through time. When I first saw the movie, I really wanted to see a film that was set after the apocalypse and was all about the war between Skynet and the human resistance. Pity that the only two really good movies in the series were the first two, but isn’t that almost always the case?  And for those of you who don’t already know, Cameron had planned on T2 being the end for the series. A two movie deal. Maybe that should have happened…
  4. The RoadThis is on my top five list because of how incredibly bleak and heart-breaking the movie is. Imagine a world where pretty much all life has ceased to exist, all animals, plants and so forth. Mankind still lives, but has been reduced to savagery and worse. A father and son are simply living day to day, trying to find food to survive and to stay away from the other survivors. The problem is the father knows he is dying, and from the look of it, it’s probably cancer. He needs to find a way to get his son somewhere safe, or let him become food for the other survivors. The movie captured the novel perfectly in how it depicted the bleakness and hopelessness that prevails in this post-apocalyptic world. Watching it I felt cold and could almost feel the pain the survivors had to endure. And it IS heartbreaking. So be warned. Still, it’s an excellent movie to see.
  5. Damnation AlleyFinally we get to one of the first post-apocalyptic movie I ever saw. This is a classic nuclear war scenario with a small group of soldiers who survived the attack in a bunker. The world outside holds few survivors and lots of bizarre weather and mutant monsters. Giant Scorpions, cockroaches that eat ANYTHING and more. I have never read the novel, but someday I will find it and see how it differed from the movie. This movie was what got me interested in my first RPG ever, Gamma World. Here nearly 40 years later I still love the movie and was so inspired by it I am constantly creating new material for old-school post-apocalyptic games.

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.