A global crisis might seem like the worst time to watch movies about the end of the world. The apocalyptic genre has boomed in cinema since the start of the Cold War, and plenty of classics have set the template for what a ruined, dystopian future might look like. Think of the barren wastelands of Mad Max, the emptied-out cities of The Omega Man, the zombie-overridden Dawn of the Dead, and other classics such as Escape From New York, 28 Days Later, Children of Men, and WALL-E.
But what I’ve always loved about the genre is how it also radically envisions new societies and imagines the best of people, highlighting humanity’s resilience in the toughest circumstances. Postapocalyptic movies are filled with memorable heroes and striking landscapes, and they can offer fascinating insights into life as we know it by conjuring up entirely different modes of existence. Here are some of my favorites, including romantic comedies, sci-fi masterpieces, horror hits, and quiet dramas. Some of my picks fit neatly into the “end of the world” category, and while other selections might be surprising, they’re no less resonant. All are available to watch online.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, directed by Dan Trachtenberg)
Originally titled The Cellar, this taut thriller was branded as a spiritual sequel to the 2008 disaster film Cloverfield. But while its forebear portrayed outright destruction, with a monster leveling New York City, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an even better presentation of an apocalyptic mindset. Set in a fallout bunker, it’s about a battle of wills between Howard (played by John Goodman), a survivalist who insists that the city outside has been destroyed, and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman who worries that he’s invented the whole scenario to keep her captive. The ensuing drama encapsulates both the cabin fever and paranoia that can come from living in lockdown.