The Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies Ever

The post-apocalyptic movie genre was born out of the paranoia of the Cold War, in which the end of the world as we knew it seemed likely to drop at any given moment. But even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the genre continues to thrive. Because if history has taught us anything it’s that empires eventually crumble, and that a Dark Age is always just around the corner.

This weekend, one of the best post-apocalyptic movies ever made arrives in theaters: Mad Max: Fury RoadBut is THE best? We asked our film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – to present their picks for The Best Post-Apocalyptic Movie Ever Made in this week’s edition of CraveOnline’s most conflict-oriented series. They can’t agree on anything most of the time, and this week is no exception.

Find out what they picked, let us know your favorite post-apocalyptic movies, and come back next week for yet another highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!

Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies of All Time

Witney Seibold’s Pick: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes 1968

One of the things I like best about Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 classic Planet of the Apes is how inextricably over everything is. Our human hero, played by Charlton Heston – the whitest, squarest, most heroic actor to ever stride on tanned taut thighs – lands on a distant planet after a technical problem strands he and his crewmates in the year AD 3978. That’s over two thousand years after they left. There was no time portal (at least not until Escape from the Planet of the Apes), and there is no chance of returning. In many post-apocalyptic movies, there is a small klatch of humanity hiding out somewhere, waiting to reunite and repopulate. There is a hint of oncoming utopia from such films. Planet of the Apes presents a future so distant – and a future so bizonkers – that no utopia can be had. Charlton Heston is doomed to remain the only intelligent human on a planet of talking intelligent chimps. I admire the go-for-broke hopelessness of that setup, and the 100% devotion that the filmmakers give it. 

Planet of the Apes rides a delicate line between deep, salient political commentary (it’s likely you already know the famed twist ending), and utterly campy weirdness. Every piece of sociological commentary, buried notions of race relations, and on-the-sleeve nuclear tut-tutting, are all resting oddly comfortably on top of a cartoony premise about talking ape men from the future. It’s a film of extremes. Silly sci-fi oddness on the one hand, and hard-hitting essay on the other. And yet, the film manages to work as both. As such, Planet of the Apes is one of the more entertaining sci-fi films to come out of the 1960s, and is easily one of the best sci-fi films of all time. 

The wacko premise was so alluring, in fact, that four sequels, two remakes, and a sequel to one of the remakes (not to mention two TV series) were all structured around it. Perhaps the films tap into a weird evolutionary suspicion of our most immediate genetic predecessors, tapping into what amounts to evolutionary survivor’s guilt. Sorry, chimps, but we got the big brains. We sincerely hope you don’t evolve past us some day, take control of the planet, and eventually start keeping humans as mute pets. 

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William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Divide (2011)

file_181167_0_Divide_Milo_Ventimiglia

Hate. That’s the emotion that tends to come up most when most people talk about The Divide, a low-budget post-apocalyptic thriller from messed up director Xavier Gens. Here is a film that is so confrontational, so morally bankrupt, so thoroughly doomed that the only rational reaction most people can muster is absolute hatred towards the filmmakers for making us sit through any and all of it.

And that’s brilliant. The fundamental underlying story of every post-apocalyptic movie is one of dissolution, with society and moral convention crumbling either in front of us or just barely in the background. But whereas even brilliant motion pictures like The Road Warrior and Planet of the Apes use the end of civilized life as we know it to question whether or not mankind can be saved, The Divide dares to show it gradually evaporate in the first place. We watch as a small group of survivors wait out the initial nuclear holocaust in an urban bunker. And they wait, and wait, and wait and wait and wait until they finally realize that there’s nothing to wait for.

When hope dies, fatalism snakes in to fill the void, and grotesquery begins to slime over everything and every person like a fungus. Grief devolves into hedonistic escapism, and disagreements give way to murder because… why the fuck not? The only people standing in the way of the new natural order are the poor bastards clinging to the ethics and morality that we take for granted today. The Divide argues that they are weak, and deserve their own destruction. Even if the “heroes” “win” they can only do so by abandoning their philosophy and entering the violent psychological desolation they original opposed. Old horror movies used to come with a complimentary barf bag. The Divide should have come with a shower. 

While you could argue that The Divide isn’t any fun – I myself would shudder to imagine what type of person might have a total blast with it – I can’t find anyone who denies that it’s effective. You should hate the events that transpire in The Divide. It’s the ultimate in horror, tearing down everything you hold dear and mocking you for ever having a soul in the first place. If it makes the viewing experience any easier, try imagining that Gens’ film is the origin story of Lord Humungous from Mad Max 2. You might have a little more sympathy for the poor maniacal bastard, and you might finally understand what the post-apocalyptic genre is really all about.

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Brian Formo’s Pick: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max Fury Road Tom Hardy

When William sends out these weekly assignments a month in advance I always fill it out for myself early. It gives me time to think. Maybe even re-watch a few movies that pertain to the subject. Originally I slotted 12 Monkeys here. But now I have no time to think. I saw a movie last night that shattered my brain. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it left a brain crater. What was left of my best movie ever brain, was left to think: I’d never seen a post-apocalypse like this before. 

It is perhaps more than just a little absurd to choose Mad Max: Fury Road as the best post-apocalyptic film of all time when it technically isn’t even released until tomorrow—but Fury Road it certainly is the most apocalyptic post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen. And since it hasn’t even come out yet , I will keep my analysis brief and entirely spoiler free.

Fury Road is the type of film where it feels like the apocalypse is happening—even though we’re supposed to be technically past it. None of the Mad Max movies have ever been about saving the earth, but Fury Road feels like it is wiping it entirely from existence. Many action films provide ridiculous scenarios where it is implausible that characters would risk their lives every second just for the sake of the audience witnessing stunts. But somehow George Miller has created such a shitty, toxic barren wasteland of a world with these films, that that very reckless impulse somehow makes sense. This is truly the end. Go for broke. As an action film is truly a marvel. It is gorgeous. Orange is already the new black, but brown might overtake it in 2015 due to Fury Road.

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Apart from the amazing stunts, cinematography, and an extremely tight tension-chain of dread—by essentially being a two-hour chase scene—Fury Road also deserves kudos for obliterating the damsels in distress narrative. Max (Tom Hardy) has his name in the title, but Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the one at the wheel of this beautiful machine. She has stolen cargo from a warlord because the cargo are women who’ve been forcefully kept away from the post-apocalyptic elements and therefore are healthy, docile, and are now of child-bearing age—and the warlord wants a son. These surviving men see women as a way to continue their legacy of lineage and it makes women objects. Max is there and he fights against the warmonger and his minions—but it is Furiosa who is ending a legacy: mankind be damned. Now that’s a fucking apocalypse movie. 

As for 12 Monkeys? You know what? They spend most of the film on a pre-apocalypse scavenger hunt. I’ll have to save it for a more appropriate selection. Because Fury Road (and I do feel a little silly saying this so early, but this isn’t a film where the dust settles—no, the dust is driven) has set the bar for the apocalypse action film. From day one.

Don’t forget to tell us what you consider the best Post-Apocalyptic movies of all time in the comments below!