There’s nothing quite as riveting as a film about the end of the world. As scary as it is to watch, there’s a certain thrill we get by watching how our favorite characters respond in the face of fear. However, some movies are doubtlessly better than others and have left a more lasting impression on us viewers, and critics have certainly praised certain disaster films better than the rest. So which apocalypse movie takes the crown?
25. This Is The End
An all-star cast of actors joins forces in this unconventional comedy doomsday flick. Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and countless other stars go for their usual wisecracks while Los Angeles is falling apart around them. The movie starts with Franco inviting all of Hollywood’s biggest names over for a house party at his mansion (the stars portray themselves) — and soon the party gets interrupted by a fierce earthquake.
Eventually this earthquake makes way for something much more sinister, including a monstrous demon who wreaks havoc and shows us a bit more than we asked for. Let’s just say this movie isn’t for children, but not for the reason you might think. Hope you’re a Backstreet Boys fan!
24. The 5th Wave
When aliens known as “The Others” come down and visit Earth, they haven’t come to make friends. They’re there to release a sequence of “waves,” each one more horrific than the last. We watch Cassie, portrayed by actress Chloë Grace Moretz, meandering helplessly as the earth faces a handful of catastrophes.
From powerful earthquakes, to a fatal flu pandemic, to aliens inhabiting the life force of countless humans, there seems to be no victory in sight. But while this movie is action-packed, the critics felt it had a bit more bark than bite. One reviewer called it “generic apocalyptic science fiction,” and it ended up with a sad Rotten Tomatoes rating of 15%. Whatever, we still enjoyed it!
23. The Happening
As a rule of thumb, if director M. Night Shyamalan is at the helm, creepy twists are generally in order. Such was the case with 2008’s The Happening. The movie tells the story of a mysterious toxin in the air that is causing people to lose their power of speech — among other things — and ultimately forcing them to take their own lives.
Starring in the film are Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, who race to find a solution to this mess while everything unravels around them. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t too well-received, receiving an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, with New Yorker movie critic Anthony Lane calling it an “awful letdown.”
22. Seeking a Friend For The End of the World
Unlike most apocalyptic movies, the characters in this film welcome the end of days like it’s a regular walk in the park. Early on in the movie, citizens are informed that a meteor will hit earth in three weeks, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Steve Carrell stars as down-on-his-luck Dodge, who was already unhappy before the earth-shattering news (no pun intended).
But things turn up when he meets the jovial Penny, portrayed by Keira Knightley. Even though it’s a movie about the end of the world, the plot is strangely upbeat. For although the whole world has accepted their impending doom, the touching moments between Carrell and Knightley provide a certain warmth amidst the chaos.
The incoming onslaught of disasters that takes place in this film is overwhelming. From the earthquakes that uproot streets and floods that render skyscrapers moot, this is one of the most horrifying apocalyptic films out there. The concept was based around a real-world belief held by the Mayans, which states that our impending doom was coming on December 21st, 2012.
But while the visual effects certainly made a strong impression on us, the movie critics were less impressed with the overall plot. 2012 received a meek 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviewers feeling like it dragged on too long without enough depth in the screenplay. That being said, there’s still some jaw-dropping visuals in this film we can’t get out of our heads.
NEXT: Some more horrific doomsday films are around the corner — and oddly enough, we can’t get enough of them.
20. The Day After Tomorrow
Actor Dennis Quaid portrays Jack Hall, a paleo-climatologist who predicts the end of the world before anyone else does. Very soon thereafter, a monumental climate shift ushers the earth into some periodical ice age, which leaves Hall hellbent on getting to his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s stranded in a frozen New York City.
Although The Day After Tomorrow brings us some touching moments, some of the critic reviews were icier than the film itself. In fact, New York Magazine writer Peter Rainer commented, “Many of the clichés in this movie predate the last Ice Age.” Nevertheless, we certainly believe it was entertaining enough to achieve a spot on this list.
19. The Core
This film deserves credit for taking a slightly more unique approach to a possible end of the world scenario. In this movie, the problem isn’t so much what’s happening on the planet, but rather what’s going on inside it. When the Earth’s core stops spinning, it rids the world of its electromagnetic field, and thus puts the planet in grave danger of destruction.
A team of specialists (Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci) must then travel deep inside the Earth’s core and make it spin again to save all of humanity. Although The Core received lukewarm reviews, there were audiences who still appreciated its unconventional take on a possible apocalypse.
18. Bird Box
When Netflix started coming out with their own original content, we knew it was only a matter of time before they delivered their own apocalyptic flick. So in 2018 we were introduced to Bird Box, a movie where people must blindfold themselves to avoid laying eyes on mysterious and horrific creatures.
As viewers, we never see the creatures themselves, but we know that every time a character sees them, they feel compelled to end their own life right there on the spot. The film centers around Sandra Bullock and her little ones, who she calls simply “Girl” and “Boy” — adding to the extremely grim, stark vibe.
The world has been exposed to a deadly virus that has wiped out most of the population. A group of uninfected young friends drive around this barren wasteland, seeking a place to hide from the horrible epidemic. Naturally, they encounter some hiccups along the way, from infected individuals to hostile fellow survivors — and ultimately the most daunting fate of all.
Carriers was praised heavily by critics, who believed it to be a step above other apocalyptic films. With a 66% Rotten Tomatoes rating, Variety critic Rob Nelson said the movie possessed “moments of genuinely communicable horror, and thus deserves better than a de facto theatrical quarantine.”
16. I Am Legend
Any time you have a film with Will Smith against the rest of the world, you’re bound to have some memorable moments. However, amidst Smith’s plethora of heartwarming flicks, this is one of his most depressing movies. In I Am Legend, we watch as he explores a New York City wasteland, riddled with shrieking zombies who are out for blood.
After a deadly virus has contaminated most of the population, it appears that Will Smith’s character and his loyal pooch are the only living beings left out there. While the film received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, it feels solidly placed on this list for its emotional grab.
NEXT: You’ll be more than surprised about which apocalypse films made the top 10! Question is, will you agree?
Armageddon received a critic rating of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes — but its 73% audience rating earns it a higher spot on this list. So why did fans love this film so much? Well, perhaps it was the outstanding cast of Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, and many others. Or perhaps it was because of the heartbreaking plot.
When a Texas-sized asteroid threatens to end all of humanity, our main characters ultimately band together to save the day — but not without some hard losses. If all that’s not enough, perhaps this movie was so adored because of its theme song, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith, and the other hit its soundtrack generated, “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls.
14. Independence Day
Here’s yet another Will Smith film, although in this one he at least has a group of friends helping him in his effort to stop the forces that would bring about the end of the world. In this 1996 sci-fi disaster film, a menacing alien race hellbent on destruction comes down to threaten the entire existence of mankind.
When these aliens attack the White House in possibly one of the most famous shots in modern cinema, our main protagonists (depicted by an outstanding ensemble cast of Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum) must find a way to save humanity. Independence Day was very well-received upon its release, but has since grown even higher in stature, signifying a turning point in the sci-fi disaster film genre.
Although vampire films and shows have become pretty common nowadays, they’re generally more like teen dramas and less apocalyptic. In Daybreakers, however, things get rather frightening far quicker than we expect. In a universe comprised of 95% vampires and 5% humans, humans are rapidly disappearing by the day.
Although some vampires are sympathetic to the humans, most of them are feverishly out for blood. Like many films on this list, Daybreakers also received mixed reviews, though many critics were pleased with its fresh new take on the vampire genre. Movie critic Debbie Lynn Elias called it: “Slick. Stylish. Creative. Original. Beyond cool.”
12. World War Z
Based on the 2006 novel written by Max Brooks, World War Z is yet another fictional doomsday scenario where conditions on Earth get supremely out of hand. Starring Academy Award-winner Brad Pitt, the film tells the unfortunate and nerve-wracking tale of a global zombie pandemic.
Pitt, who plays the role of a former UN worker named Gerry Lane, undertakes the task of trying to get to the bottom of how this catastrophe arose in the first place. Naturally, Lane encounters some grisly horrors along the way. World War Z was met with a solid 72% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has since remained one of the most well-known and popular apocalyptic films of the millennium.
11. War Of The Worlds
Here’s yet another disaster movie that was based on a classic novel — and in this case, the original author H.G. Wells released his story in 1897, over a century earlier. In fact, War Of The Worlds was one of the first known pieces of literature to depict a human battle with extraterrestrial beings.
With that said, it set the stage for the 2005 film adaptation to be an instant classic. Nonetheless, star Tom Cruise still had his work cut out for him. He plays the role of Ray Ferrier, a father who must protect his children when aliens invade earth, creating ample destruction and threatening the entire human race as we know it. Regular moviegoers weren’t particularly impressed with the film — but the critics heavily disagreed, giving it a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
NEXT: Before we get closer to the highest revered films about the end of the world, see if you can predict which ones they are!
10. The Road
Although a powerful film, The Road was based off of an extremely popular novel. Written by author Cormac McCarthy, it tells the story of a weary man and his son who navigate the harsh conditions of a new, post-apocalyptic world.
In this 2009 film adaptation, the father is played by Viggo Mortensen (perhaps better known as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings), and he is utterly determined to protect his son from violent cannibals. The film is dark and hard to watch, but also moving and well-respected among critics. Movie reviewer Paul Byrne wrote, “It calls on all of one’s powers of emotional endurance but it rewards the brave.”
9. 12 Monkeys
Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt star in this ’90s classic that people are still calling one of the all-time classic apocalypse films. In this freakish scenario, a new virus that was said to be started by a mysterious “army of 12 monkeys” wipes out billions, leaving only 1% of the population alive.
The year is 2035, and people must now live underground in order to survive. However, they have a plan to fix things. Convict James Coles (Willis) volunteers to travel 40 years back in time before the virus originally struck in order to hopefully prevent it from occurring. With thrilling twists around every corner, this film was hailed by fans and critics alike, with a high score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
After the sudden death of Beth and her young son, a mysterious virus begins to spread rapidly — and the doctors struggle to contain it. The reason this film works so well is because it focuses in on the way viruses are easily spread, from a simple handshake to touching a public escalator.
As we watch Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beth go through flashbacks and we find out how she became patient zero, it reminds us in the real world just how important it is to wash our hands. This movie was very well-received with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating, with critics hailing its fearsome yet intelligent screenplay.
7. Children Of Men
It’s the year 2027, and not a child has been born in the last 18 years. Humans have miraculously become infertile, and scientists can’t understand why. As the world’s population dwindles, humanity faces a mass extinction if things don’t turn around soon.
When the youngest person in the world dies, chaos continues to run rampant and hope is nowhere to be found. But when a woman randomly becomes pregnant out of the blue, she must be protected at all costs. Academy Award nominee Clive Owen as well as Academy Award winners Julianne Moore and Michael Caine star in this thriller, which received a generous 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. The Quiet Place
John Krasinski (known best as Jim from NBC’s The Office) both directs and stars in The Quiet Place, an eerie yet brilliant take on the apocalypse. We follow a lone family living in an empty town, as they try to stay safe from long, monstrous creatures we only are able to glimpse momentarily.
The family must stay extremely quiet, for these monsters have hyper-sensitive hearing, and come out of their hiding places at the sign of any small peep. Krasinski stars alongside his wife in real life, Emily Blunt, and the pair provide a warm chemistry while they try to keep their family safe. Sometimes less is more, and silence is golden — and with a 95% rating, this film proves that quite well.
5. The Matrix
With a movie so jam-packed with airborne karate fights, sensational bullet-dodging, and wall sprints galore, it’s easy to forget that The Matrix is, without a doubt, an apocalypse film. For while Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the gang are aboard the Nebuchednezzar plugging into the system, there’s an entire population of real-world citizens living in the underground recluse city known as Zion.
This all took place after losing a hard fought battle against the machines, during which the sky was scorched, rendering the earth uninhabitable. With the existence of the One signifying all but Messianic undertones, suffice it to say we’re happy the Oracle at least has a plan.
4. 28 Days Later
This movie starts with a group of animal rights activists sneaking into a laboratory and seeing a group of caged, violent chimpanzees. As they are about to release them from their shackles, a scientist warns them that the chimps are infected with a dangerous virus — but the activists release the chimps anyway. 28 days later, fittingly enough, our protagonist Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma and is shocked at what he finds.
His beloved city of London seems completely empty — that is, until he finds bodies that have been infected from the virus and have since perished. 28 Days Later certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it has certainly been appreciated by critics and fans alike for its rawness.
How easy is it to make a zombie apocalypse film that mixes gruesome imagery, fear, warmth, and humor all at once? It’s been tried before, and it’s not easy at all — and yet Zombieland manages to strike the perfect balance. With a cast boasting the likes of Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Emma Stone, we follow our heroes as they navigate an American wasteland that’s been riddled with zombies.
With such a horrific setting, it’s a wonder that the movie strikes such a positive tone. This is especially evident during one hilarious scene where the gang visits Bill Murray’s house, and they find him pretending to be a zombie (as he says earnestly, “Zombies don’t attack other zombies”).
The concept behind Snowpiercer was so creative and well-done that it received a rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, with movie critic Ryan Gilbey describing it as “alive with ideas and imagination.” Indeed, this is far-removed from being your typical film about the end of the world.
A new ice age has forced humanity to find their new home in an elevated train that never stops moving, coursing blindly through a snowy desolate landscape. On this train, the people are separated (literally and figuratively) by class — but not everything is as it seems. When protagonist Curtis (played by Chris Evans) attempts to break through to the front, he finds some answers that he doesn’t anticipate.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
There have been multiple Mad Max films made over the years — so please note that this ranking applies to every single one of them. The most recent adaptation, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, was so lauded that it received an esteemed 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!
Perhaps the reason these movies are so appreciated by critics and fans alike is because there really isn’t a film franchise quite like it. It paints a bleak, dystopian future where sand is all the eye can see. It’s a brutal world where relentless, savage, monster car chases with futuristic guns and guitar heroes on the hood are actually pretty normal. Hey, might as well have fun, right?
Honorable Mention: Shaun of the Dead
While rare and maybe somewhat improbable, Shaun of the Dead is a 2004 horror film that seamlessly mixes a zombie takeover and a rom-com. It follows the hilarious adventures of an under-achiever named Shaun and his best friend Ed as they deal with a zombie invasion that takes over London.
The film was well-received by viewers and earned a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not only that, but Hollywood’s A-listers such as Quentin Tarantino and Jim Broadbent allegedly name drop the movie as one of their favorites. For all those who have yet to see it, it’s a must!
Honorable Mention: Waterworld
The post-apocalyptic film from 1995, Waterworld takes place in a world plagued by climate change. When the polar ice caps melt, the majority of the globe gets covered by water and people are forced to adapt to ocean life by way of growing gills and such.
The plot is thickened when Mariner (played by Kevin Costner), Helen (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola (played by Tina Majorino) flee from an island only to be pursued by the Smokers in hopes of finding Dryland. While packed with good action sequences, the film received a meek score of 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Honorable Mention: Resident Evil
Viewers have loved the Resident Evil films so much, there have seen a total of five sequels. Woah! The plot of the movies is based on the Capcom video games of the same name and stars Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez as they lead a team of people to break into an underground genetics lab called the hive.
Inside the hive, the almighty Umbrella Corporation created a deadly virus that essentially turns half humanity into zombies. With only three hours to shut down the facility, the girls have to act fast before the virus takes over the world. Can they do it?
Honorable Mention: Planet of the Apes
The Planet of the Apes franchise centers around Pierre Boulle’s novel, La Planète des Singes, which dates back to 1963 and portrays a world where apes overrule humans. It was first adapted into a Hollywood movie in 1968 and has since seen a total of four sequels.
In February of 2020, word got out that Disney is planning another Planet of the Apes reboot but fans are everything but excited. While some argue that the three-film series, which was released between 2011 and 2017, should see the addition of prequels or sequels, other argue that anything new is much too soon and the franchise should wait another 5 to 10 years before introducing anything new.
Honorable Mention: Deep Impact
For all those who enjoyed the 1998 sci-fi action film Armageddon, you are bound to like Deep Impact, which was released the same year and also follows the efforts of mankind to keep a comet from totally desecrating all of planet Earth. Yikes!
Comparing the two films, Deep Impact is a bit more serious than its counterpart, Armageddon. It portrays Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States and Elijah Wood as the one who first catches wind of the deadly comet that is about to strike. All in all, it received a score of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Honorable Mention: Knowing
The 2009 sci-fi thriller, Knowing takes place in 1959 and starts when a group of students are asked to draw images and place them into a time capsule. When the capsule is uncovered some 50 years later, a professor by the name of John Koestler (played by Nicolas Cage) realizes that one of the pictures inside is a coded message that represents the dates of people’s deaths over the last 50 years.
All but three of the deaths had actually happened with perfect precision. And the only reason the other three hadn’t happened was because they were expected to happen in the future. With that said, John does everything he can to disrupt the impending chain of events.
Honorable Mention: Immortals
Now this one is a bit different, but nevertheless noteworthy. Released in 2011, the action fantasy film, Immortals follows a power-hungry King called Hyperion who leads his army as they march through Greece in search of a mystical weapon known as the Epirus Bow.
It is with the Epirus Bow that Hyperion will be able to get rid of all the other gods in Mount Olympus and thus become the King of the world. But in order to do that, he must first fight off Teseus, who is determined to put an end to the King’s bloodthirsty and destructive ways.
Honorable Mention: Melancholia
The 2011 sci-fi drama, Melancholia stars Kristen Dunst as she plays a bride whose wedding reception goes haywire after news erupts of Earth’s impending collision with a planet called – you guessed it – “Melancholia.” If a colossal collision isn’t one way to ruin what’s meant to be the happiest day of a woman’s life, then we’re not sure what is.
While the film is supposed to be about the end of the world, it also touches on a totally different subject: chronic depression. The film’s dramatic ticks were well-received by viewers and Rotten Tomatoes gave it an overall rating of 80%.
Honorable Mention: Battleship
Inspired by the famous Battleship board game, the 2012 action film of the same name centers around a fleet of ships that come into contact with an army of aliens. Unsurprisingly, the two opposing groups end up battling each other everywhere possible: on sea, land, and air.
The film didn’t receive that rave of reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a meager 34% rating. Why? People didn’t think the movie was all that different from what they had seen before. But one thing that is unique about the humans-fighting-aliens film is that it was pop star Rihanna’s on-screen debut. Cool!
Honorable Mention: The Day the Earth Stood Still
The science fiction thriller, The Day the Earth Stood Still first hit theaters in 2008. Loosely based on Harry Bates’ 1940 short story, “Farewell to the Master,” the film follows a group of scientists who are called to investigate an alien who lands in Manhattan with its spacecraft.
It doesn’t take long for one of the scientists, Dr. Helen Benson to realize that in order to save humankind from an alien invasion, she must help the alien in question to escape. While a classic alien invasion movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still was given a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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