The upcoming release of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 got me thinking about the many ways in which Hollywood has imagined the End of the World. Said apocalypse could take place in any number of ways, including asteroids; nuclear disasters; climatic devastation; plague; alien invasion and even flesh-eating zombies. Here are some of my favorite movies about The End of Days:
When Worlds Collide (1951)
Rudolph Mate directs producer George Pal's special effects Oscar-winning movie about an asteroid headed for Earth and the effort to evacuate those deemed worthy of survival to another planet. Richard Derr and Barbara Rush star.
The Day of the Triffids (1962)
Steve Sekely directs this version of the novel about a meteor shower which not only blinds most of the world's population, but brings ambulatory man-eating plants intent on wiping us out. Howard Keel and Janette Scott star. This movie is probably most well-known as a reference in a song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "And I really got hot/When I saw Janette Scott/Fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills!"
Mars Attacks! (1996)
There is little love for this hilarious Tim Burton movie about gag-loving Martians who invade just because they can. Maybe because it was inspired by a series of bubblegum trading cards. I still thinks it's funny every time I see it. Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, and Annette Benning lead an all-star cast.
The Crack in the World (1965)
Most doomsday movies don't involve attacks from space, but are the result of man's hubris. In Crack in the World, scientists try to harvest geothermal power by igniting a nuclear bomb deep inside a volcano. The result is noted in the title. Dana Andrews joins Janette Scott (she saw the world end a lot) in this movie from director Andrew Marton, which has terrific score by Johnny Douglas.
On the Beach (1959)
Director Stanley Kramer examines what happens to the only folks left after nuclear war, the Australians, and how they deal with the fact that fallout is going to kill them all, too. Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins star. Forget the lamentable TV remake from 2000.
Two very different films from the same year tackle the same subject - the accidental release of nuclear weapons against the USSR. Stanley Kubrick's brilliant satire features an amazing performance from Peter Sellars as both Strangelove and the President, and Slim Pickens in an iconic end shot as he rides the A-bomb down like a bronco-buster. Sidney Lumet's much darker film is just as scary, but a whole lot less fun and features Henry Fonda as a worried President. I've paired them together so you can compare these two clips of basically the same scene, but with very different tones.
The Day After (1983 - ABC TV Movie)
Parents were warned to not let their young children watch this movie, which explores what happens to America after the bombs are dropped. It was scary stuff and fuel for many people's nightmares for a long time. Nicholas Meyer directed Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, JoBeth Williams and John Lithgow.
T2: Judgment Day (1991)
James Cameron's sequel is really more about trying to stop the end of the world from taking place at the virtual hands of an artificially intelligent supercomputer. Then state-of-the-art CGI effects and lots of explosions made this Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner a summer juggernaut.
Silent Running (1972)
The world has ended already and Bruce Dern has been sent into space to care for the last of the world's vegetation in this pre-global warming warning about ecological responsibility. Aided by three little robots (Hewey, Dewy & Louie), Dern takes matters into his own hands when he's ordered to destroy the space forest because of lack of funding. Douglas Trumball, the FX pioneer from Kubrick's 2001, directs.
The Stand (1994 - ABC TV Movie)
Sometimes, it's disease that brings about the end. In Stephen King's epic The Stand, it's a superflu called 'Captain Trips' that has been accidentally released from a bioweapons facility in the desert. Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald are among the good-guy survivors.
28 Days Later (2002)
In Danny Boyle's 'fast zombie' flick, the virus is called "Rage" and it's spread by do-gooders who release infected test animals from their cages. Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson try to survive in an England gone mad. Creepy, creepy stuff.
Dawn of the Dead (1979)
No one knows what causes the zombie plague in Romero's masterpiece. Our heroes just hole up in an abandoned mall and hope for the best. Ken Foree and Gaylen Ross are among the survivors in this essay on consumerism and brainlessness.
And among the worst of the genre:
Left Behind (2000)
Born-Again actor Kirk Cameron stars in this insipid movie about what happens after the Rapture, when all the 'good' people are assumed into heaven. Based on a ridiculous novel, it's meant to scare people into going to church. Pure crap.
The Happening (2008)
M. Night Shamalama-ding-dong's latest movie about killer trees is so bad, I couldn't bring myself to post a clip, so instead, enjoy this "South Park" parody.
As always, more, anon.