It seems as if every year, there is at least one sizable movie about the end of the world in some shape or form. The end has come in countless ways: rapture, alien invasion, zombies, Mayan predictions, global warming, collision with a giant planet, collision with a giant asteroid … I’m tired of listing them. I get it. The world ending can be scary stuff for audiences to think about.
While there are many ways to portray the world ending, these movies usually lean heavily on spectacle. Check out that building blowing up! Look, a tidal wave! Watch out, alien mothership! Often, the ones you hear about are the summer blockbusters with huge budgets. And what are those budgets used for? Blowing crap up! It seems as though every major landmark has been turned into rubble within the last two decades. The Statue of Liberty, the Pyramids, New York City as a whole, and the Eiffel Tower have been frequent targets of Roland Emmerich and his ilk. However, if you pay attention long enough, you’ll have seen most every famous building or landmark float by/explosioned/melted on screen at one point or another.
Hollywood Loves Them Some Exploding Monuments
Speaking of the last two decades, let’s just name off a few of the end of the world movies that have filled our screens with explosion porn in the last 20 years and the reasons why we’re all dead.
- Armageddon (Big Asteroid)
- Deep Impact (Big Asteroid That Splits into Two Asteroids)
- End of Days (The Devil)
- Independence Day (Big and Small Alien Spaceships)
- The Terminator Series (Sentient Machines)
- 2012 (Mayans?)
- 28 Days/Weeks Later (Zombie-ish Dudes)
- Children of Men (Infertility)
- The Day After Tomorrow (The Weather)
- The Happening (Plants!)
- I Am Legend (Zombie/Vampire Virus)
- Land of the Dead (Zombies That Learn!)
- Resident Evil Series (Regular Zombies)
- The Road (Nuclear War)
- Shaun of the Dead (Funny Zombies)
- Zombieland (Fast Zombies)
- The Book of Eli (Nukes …?)
- Melancholia (Giant Planet)
- Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Asteroid)
- Skyline (Aliens! And Bad Acting!)
- This Is the End (The Rapture)
- World War Z (Tidal Waves of Zombies)
- The World’s End (Not Sure, I Don’t Wanna Spoil It!)
- Contagion (Gwyneth Paltrow Disease)
- Oblivion (Tom Cruise!)
- The Host (Ghost Aliens)
Now, not all of these are as heavy on the destruction as the others, but they all deal with the world ending, or almost ending, in some manner or another.
It seems as if starting in the 70s, Hollywood really delved into its fascination with the end of the world. And it makes sense. Paranoia, the Cold War, the nuclear bomb, World Wars, and more became parts of daily life at one point or another. These thoughts of massive destruction and the growing capabilities of man to end the world in moments have only caused us to become more worried about the planet being destroyed and the common man having nothing they can do about it.
In addition, advancing technology, further exploration of space, and evolving diseases have only given us more fertile ground to till for ideas on how to end the world. Maybe one day, a movie will have a robot from outer space land on Earth and unleash a disease that turns everyone into zombies! Bingo. That’ll be coming to a movie theater near you soon enough. Take a look at a more complete list showing all the apocalyptic movies that have come out, the 2010s are on track to put all other decades to shame in the sheer volume of apocalyptic films that will be on screen.
But Wait! I Like Some!
Often, I find myself only enjoying these types of movies that take place AFTER all the buildings and people have been blown up. In the end, the world ending can only look so many different ways. Building topples, crowds run, monuments get destroyed. It doesn’t really matter WHY they’re falling/running/being destroyed, most movies just want you to see the explosions and say “Wow!” while being a little scared.
But the human experience can be different from person to person. Rather than looking at the big picture, why not focus on a small group of people. And no, not a ragtag group of heroes out to save the world. Really, these groups are just vehicles to show us more explosions that are happening around the world. I’m looking at you, 2012! Your logic was FAULTY!
Movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland have a focus on comedy, and not at the expense of frightening us. They also hone in on a small group of people that we like and are relatable in some manner. Other films like Oblivion use a post-apocalyptic setting to give us a narrow focus and a smaller setting. I liked that film a lot, but I did start to have some problems with it when its focus started to become too large and the story incorporated one too many sci-fi concepts.
I love sci-fi films because of their ability to focus on the human condition and introduce one or two fictional concepts that help us to explore humanity and our lives. However, apocalyptic movies take that same free reign and use it to try and destroy as much on screen as possible. Giving yourself carte blanche within a sci-fi film does not mean you will end up with an eye-popping spectacle. Usually, the amount of destruction on film bores me while also making me concerned about the future, rather than entertained.
That, and my parents took me to see Independence Day when I was 7 and ½ years old. That’ll mess a kid up.