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.