Post-apocalyptic worlds have been the stage for countless books, movies, comics, television shows, and more. These foreboding futures explore potential futures for a world where humankind’s mistakes and worst impulses have finally resulted in a world that has crumbled.
People fight for survival, try to rebuild, and hope against all odds. They’re terribly depressing but are so incredibly enjoyable when done right.
While these dark futures may frighten, they aren’t without their positives. Tired of the current world you’re living in? These bloody, fire-filled, and desolate futures may be right for you! So if you’re worried about the future of planet Earth, just take a look at these terrifying possibilities and their possible upsides.
Mad Max’s Wasteland
The Cause: Oil shortages and water scarcity caused wars and the breakdown of society across the world. Then nuclear wars helped turn most of the planet into a wasteland.
The World: Governments everywhere have collapsed, humanity has broken down into groups of marauders, desperate tribes, and wandering nomads. Water and fuel are in short supply and high demand across the wasteland, meaning that whoever controls these commodities has unrivaled power, but many of those who do are tyrannical warlords. High powered vehicles turned into engines of war are used for high speed battles as enemies speed across the wasteland. Also, leather and punk rock motifs are fashionable everywhere.
The Upside: Chances are that if you survived to breakdown of society, nuclear wars, and attacks by vicious gangs, you will get a really awesome car! You’ll probably need it to escape from others or take out as many people as possible. Plus, you’ll be able to remake society according to your own ideas should you come into power.
28 Days Later’s Rage Island
The Cause: An outbreak of a rage-causing virus in ape experiments spreads across England, sending rage zombies rampaging across the country and wiping out most of the survivors. Exposure to a single drop of contaminated blood means transformation into a psycho within seconds.
The World: Survivor numbers dwindle quickly as crazy mad weirdos dash across abandoned Piccadilly Square, beating up non-infected with flailing fists and generally vomiting a lot of blood. The outside world may or may not be infected, but it’s hard to know when everything everywhere has broken down all at once.
The Upside: If you wait out the infection (hint: the key is in the title) you’ll have a nice and quiet English countryside all to yourself and your fellow PTSD-affected survivors. Perfect for recovering from all that trauma!
The Road’s Nuclear Apocalypse
The Cause: Vague nuclear war breaks out without known cause, sending radiation, fallout, and ash across the planet, slowly choking out the life that survived.
The World: Grey. Very, very grey. But that’s what happens when nukes have been dropped everywhere. It’s also getting colder and colder due to nuclear winter and the chances of becoming ill and dying from a combination of radiation poisoning, starvation, and exposure to the elements is only getting higher by the day. Most survivors live by embracing their worst instincts, but let’s not get into the nightmarish details here.
The Upside: I guess if you really don’t like the sun, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice, grey, and gloomy rest of your life. Yeah, there are no real positives here.
12 Monkeys’ Infected Future
The Cause: A virus of unknown origin sweeps across Earth, swiftly wiping out most of humanity and sending the survivors scrambling for a way to stop it by travelling back in time.
The World: With 93.6% of the human population dead, most people are not very happy. Plus, everyone has to live underground due to the threat of infection. It’s quite the dreary and bleak existence. No sunshine, no parks, and probably no remaining loved ones. But that’s what happens when Terry Gilliam gets the chance to create an apocalyptic future.
The Upside: Time travel exists! So maybe if you get your hands on a device, you can transport yourself and your loved ones to a better time where you’ll be long gone before the apocalypse. But you’ll probably just die in some ironic and tragic manner.
I Am Legend’s New Society
The Cause: Depending on your preferred version, a worldwide plague has turned the population into either vampires, albino mutants, or zombies. In any case, you’re left with just a few survivors who live on their own trying to stay alive and kill as many freaks as possible!
The World: The present day world has completely broken down, with abandoned cities and wildlife run amok being the typical environment. The infected population is far from being mindless monsters (at least in the more interesting versions of this story) and is building a new society that may be more barbaric in certain ways, but is the future for Planet Earth.
The Upside: If you happen to be one of the infected, congratulations! You now control the world just by being one of the vast majority. Plus, it seems as though discrimination and prejudice are a thing of the past when everyone is a monster. Maybe infected governments are better, too?
Oblivion’s Desolate Beauty
The Cause: An invading alien force breaks apart the Earth’s moon to wreak havoc on the planet and then wages a war that destroys most of the population. The survivors have left Earth for a distant space colony. Or have they???
The World: World-renowned landmarks like the Chrysler Building in New York City now stick out of a desolated and abandoned landscape that no longer resembles the present day planet. Giant canyons have been carved into the landscape and a shattered moon glows in the sky. Also, terrifying drones and strange scavengers roam the planet. Also, a musical score by M83 plays over everything, so that adds to the beauty.
The Upside: Rather than turn the world into a smoking piece of rubble, the alien apocalypse has made it into a very beautiful and scenic world that is remarkable for its austere and expansive beauty. Hope you like Greenland-like vistas and a very small gene pool!
The Terminator’s Machine War
The Cause: The artificial intelligence network known as Skynet becomes self-aware, setting off a nuclear holocaust to destroy mankind and then creating a robotic army to wipe out the remaining survivors in all out war.
The World: It seems as though daytime is very rare in the future. Also, the ground is covered in at least two feet of human skulls no matter where you go! Plus, there are the death-dealing machines and lasers shooting everywhere. If you happen to be human, you’re going to have to live in a very cramped and rundown shelter with your fellow resistance fighters, which will be regularly infiltrated and blown up by human-looking Terminators. Also, time travel. But you probably won’t get to use it.
Redeeming Quality: Unity against an all-powerful enemy seems to have finally gotten humanity to band together! So racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice have at least been put on the backburner until this whole Skynet thing is sorted out.
Zardoz’s Insane Nonsense
The Cause: It’s either sex or a lack of sex. Or both. But maybe it’s men. Or women. Possibly both.
The World: Humans are divided into the mortal Brutals and the immortal Eternals, while a giant flying stone head called Zardoz commands a group of Brutal Exterminators to destroy the mortals. While the Brutals are savages and idiots, the Eternals are weak and bored all the time. So clearly, this is a world that needs to be shaken up, preferably by someone with the shockingly aggressive sexuality and overwhelming chest hair of a middle-aged Sean Connery. Somehow, guns, sex, and The Wizard of Oz will make this world a better place.
Redeeming Quality: If you’re a man who has always dreamed of wearing a leather bikini and freeing the world through sheer, improbable masculinity, I’ve got good news for you …
World War Z’s Rebuilt World
The Cause: Another zombie pandemic sweeps the world, breaking down governments and sending the world reeling in search of answers.
The World: Unlike other zombie apocalypse stories, we get to see the world rebuild and change. While there are still millions of zombies active (most of which roam the ocean floor), many countries have banded together to survive. Russia is a theocracy, China is a democracy, Tibet is free, and there is peace in the Middle East! Of course, life is far more difficult and shorter.
Redeeming Quality: There is hope here! Yes, most everyone has some sort of traumatic experience in his or her past, but the world has rebuilt. And after seeing the potential end of the world, everyone can see humankind at both its worst and best.
The Stand’s Last Remnant
The Cause: A weaponized strain of the flu known as “Captain Trips” is accidentally released, killing off 99.4% of the population (beat that 12 Monkeys!) and sending the world into widespread violence.
The World: While Captain Trips may have desolated the world, it is the battle in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is most important. Mother Abagail works to resurrect society for the better in the Free Zone while the evil and supernatural Randall Flagg controls his own weaponized society from Las Vegas. Most everything is just a trash-filled or strewn with long-dead bodies. Also, don’t go in the tunnels.
Redeeming Quality: There’s a clear line between good and evil here, even if people are still morally complex individuals, but that means you can really make a choice about the future of our society! But be prepared to make some tough choices.