Apocalypse…Now and Then (a Supplement)

A recent post by fellow Watcher Hube on movies with an apocalyptic theme caught my eye so I thought I’d contribute to the project by adding a few notable movies with an apocalyptic theme that Hube missed. I’ll use the same basic format as Hube used but contribute a few thoughts of my own.

The Movie: Things to Come (1936)
Cause of Apocalyse: War then plague
The Threat: Luddism
The Hero: Raymond Massey in two roles
The Payoff: “And if we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness, and live, and suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this, or that. All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?”
Classic Moment: Ralph Richardson’s scenery-chewing performance as “the Boss”.

A William Cameron Menzies adaption of H. G. Wells’s novel of the future. Its special effects look pretty laughable now but in 1936 they were state-of-the-art.

The Movie: The War of the Worlds (1953) and (2005)
Cause of Apocalyse: Invaders from Mars
The Threat: Invaders from Mars
The Hero: Gene Barry/Tom Cruise
The Payoff: Martians get a cold
Classic Moment: Paul Frees’s opening voiceover

Effective George Pal special effects.

The Movie: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
Cause of Apocalyse: Radioactive dust
The Threat: One woman; two men; one of the men is black.
The Hero: Harry Belafonte
The Payoff: Ménage à trois
Classic Moment: Aren’t Harry Belafonte and Inger Stevens gorgeous? Mel Ferrer is no slouch, either.

Movie adaption of M. P. Shiel’s remarkable novel, The Purple Cloud, with a soupçon of 1950s race relations, this time with Harry Belafonte in the Sidney Poitier role.

The Movie: Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
Cause of Apocalyse: Cosmic plague
The Threat: Violent mutants
The Hero: Robert Clarke who had an extensive career as a bit player, a B movie hero, and in television. Probably best known for his recurring roles in both TV versions of Dragnet
The Payoff: Our hero returns to our own time, not entirely whole
Classic Moment: The director’s daughter as Arianne channels Laurence Olivier’s Henry V in a speech inciting the mutants to revolt.

A movie with incredibly low production values that takes itself and its subject remarkably seriously.

The Movie: Day of the Triffids (1962)
Cause of Apocalyse: Meteor shower-induced blindness
The Threat: Carnivorous plants
The Hero: Howard Keel
The Payoff: They find a rather disappointing way of defeating the triffids in an echo of War of the Worlds
Classic Moment: Janette Scott fighting triffids.

A not particularly faithful adaptation of John Wyndham’s novel. The first part of the movie in which people are struggling to survive their new blindness is by far the most effective. Try as you might you will never get the tune they use to lure the triffids out of your head.

The Movie: The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Cause of Apocalyse: A plague that kills most of humanity or turns them into zombie-vampires
The Threat: Loneliness and being killed by the zombie-vampires, in that order
The Hero: Vincent Price
The Payoff: It doesn’t look too good for the human race—the remnants would rather kill than be cured.
Classic Moment: Vincent Price’s dying speech

This is by far the most atmospheric of the adaptations of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The black and white photography and Vincent Price in one of his best performances convey an overall sense of foreboding unmatched in the later adaptations (which Hube did list). This is a highly influential motion picture, the immediate inspiration for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It’s pretty clearly the first “flesh-eating zombie” picture.

The Movie: Children of Men (2006)
Cause of Apocalyse: Female infertility of unexplained origin
The Threat: Social and economic collapse, extinction of the human race
The Hero: Clive Owens
The Payoff: A baby is born to a West African refugee
Classic Moment: The crowd parts in wonder at the sight of a baby

Although allegedly a loose adaptation of P. D. James’s novel Children of Men, it also borrows liberally from Brian Aldiss’s Greybeard.

14 comments… add one
  • Good stuff, Dave!

    I purposely avoided movies like War of the Worlds as there are many “apocalypse” films involving aliens. FWIW. (Day of the Triffidswouldn’t count as that’s the result of a meteor shower.)

    I also purposely excluded Children of Men as I didn’t want to use too many of Entertainment Weekly’s entries … though it is a superb film for this sort of post, of course. Have you read Aldiss’s Greybeard? VERY similar to Men, although the focus is more on the elderly survivors. And the novel explained the cause of the infertility: Orbital nuke explosions caused the Van Allen Belts to hit Earth’s atmosphere, and their radiation caused sterility.

  • Yeah, I read it about fifty years ago, shortly after it was published.

    Greybeard is a great if unsettling novel.

  • PD Shaw Link

    One that I caught on t.v. several weeks that wasn’t bad:

    Daybreakers (2009), a vampire plague has turned most of the human race into bloodsuckers, which have re-created, a not-entirely unadmirable civilization in their image, but dependent on a dwindling food supply. Similarities to the Last Man on Earth, with the exception that the hero is a scientific-researcher vampire. Ending is not as interesting as the potential.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), ancient technological warfare has converted much of the world into a toxic jungle, with monstrous animals and plants. Man struggles to unleash ancient technologies to survive; what could go wrong?

  • The crowd parts in wonder at the sight of a baby

    Not just a crowd, but two groups fighting in very close quarters in a slum district. Both sides stop fighting and star in wonder and amazement as the woman carrying the baby passes through them out of harms way.


    Awesome addition. Recently saw that with my son at the Egyptian in Hollywood. Seeing Miyazaki’s movies on the big screen are indeed a treat.

  • Andy Link

    A few more to add that I remember from my youth:

    Night of the Comet
    Logan’s Run

    There seems to be an entire missing genre: Zombie apocalypse movies.

    I’ll also add: The Road (2009), which I haven’t seen but is on my very long “to see” list.

  • Andy: I have The Road on my list. 🙂

    I didn’t include Logan’s Run because, despite the undertone of apocalypse, it’s never revealed what caused it. Unless I missed it (it’s been some time since I’ve seen it). That, and the novel didn’t really have an “end of world” premise. Still, definitely could have been on the list!

  • PD: Daybreakers is a great call. Cool premise if a so-so- flick. Never saw your second offering. Sounds intriguing!

  • PD Shaw Link

    I looked at Logan’s Run on Wikipedia earlier, and thought it was dystopian, but not necessarily apocalyptic.

    I had thought the same about Matrix until I read Hube’s piece and saw that an apocalypse is established after the first movie, the only one I’ve watched. In my mind it will always be a more accessible Night City, in the genre of Philip K. Dick, Bladerunner and perhaps Brazil.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I happened to watch Hunger Games last night (*** out of 4). While not terribly innovative, it was well done, had a surprisingly subversive (for Hollywood) conflict between the “beautiful” city people and the exploited outlying areas that furnish the minerals and row crops. But the appeal, for the tween girls I watched it with, is clearly the great heroine, a girl action figure for today.

  • Speaking as someone who’s actually competed against the highest-ranking women blackbelts in the country (I was told to take it easy on them and let them beat me), I have a jaundiced view of female action figures. I think that girls should be told not to think they can beat up on boys.

    That being said I did like Haywire. Gina Carano moves right. She’s clearly tough.

  • Andy Link


    Whoops, missed that one, thanks!

  • TastyBits Link

    @ Dave Schuler

    … I think that girls should be told not to think they can beat up on boys.

    This is absurd. There are many movies documenting an unarmed 110 lb. female beating an unarmed 200 lb. male.

    I am guessing that you are not aware of the latest martial arts fighting techniques. A lighter female is able to run up the wall and do a back-flip easier than the man. A lighter female can glide through air better, and she can run across water. Again, these are well documented.

  • PD Shaw Link

    The heroine in Hunger Games doesn’t beat up on any boys; she’s more of a running, climbing, jumping, shooting (bow & arrow) action star, who out-thinks her competitors. Part of the appeal of the character is she doesn’t play the game the way the boys do.

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