A graphic casually informs us that "World War IV lasted a few days" and now we're stuck with a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape. Based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, the film focuses on a Vic (Don Johnson), a boy who communicates telepathically with his dog, Blood. The two scavenge for women and food, and end up in an underground society where they want the Vic's sperm. But that doesn't turn out to be quite as fun as it sounds. It's directed by character actor L.Q. Jones.
The middle film in the Mad Max trilogy is the epitome of the post-apocalyptic film. This was also back in the day when Mel Gibson kicked ass as Max. In Road Warrior, gas is the commodity that's hardest to get but that doesn't stop a feral punk gang from burning up fuel to engage in some of the most exciting car chases and stunts ever committed to film. The post-apocalyptic landscape is bleak, but humanity and a sense of civilized society has survived.
Creating a futuristic world where mankind has nearly annihilated itself is a bit easier to render in the animated world where anything can be drawn. The Japanese Akira is the best and most devastating, but two other animated examples can be found in Wizards and the more upbeat Wall-E. Since Japan was hit by two atomic bombs its science fiction is heavily influenced by that destruction. Akira refers to a secret government project that leaves a test subject with immensely destructive powers. This post-apocalyptic world is brutal and harsh.
There are plenty of zombie apocalypse films but none has done a better job of showing what surviving it might be like. George Romero used a recently built mall as a symbol of consumerism and his band of survivors has a field day looting the stores and creating a perverse version of the American dream.
Obviously inspired by Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Comet reduced the age of the characters to make this into a kind of teen comedy take on the apocalypse. There's even a mall scene that's almost identical to that in Dawn. Like loads of fun, you know!
Alfonso Cuaron's thoughtful and compassionate film tweaks sci-fi conventions by focusing on the humanity of the characters and making all the sci-fi gimmickry something to adorn the background. Like so many post-apocalyptic films, people tend to turn on each other easily and violence is commonplace, yet there's also a sense that good will manage to survive.
Like Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Richard Lester's film tries to turn a comic and satiric eye on very serious issues. Set after World War III (which lasted mere minutes), the film presents a post-nuclear holocaust England. In typical English fashion the small band of survivors try to carry on in the wasteland as if nothing has happened.
In a post-nuclear wasteland, the Russians have taken over a nuked USA, and Lost Vegas has become the rock and roll capital. Buddy is a new age hero who is as good with his guitar as he is with his samurai sword. A very quirky, very low budget indie film with a kick ass score by the Red Elvises. The future may not be that great, but it will move to a rocking beat.
The quintessential infection film. Danny Boyle resurrected zombies as fast-moving infected people and delivered a tense, bleak portrait of a world reeling from a rapidly spreading infection that may have been man-made. This is a fast-paced horror film but one that has a true heart and soul. You grow attached to the characters who have to cope not only with the infected but with survivors who have created their own dangerous power structure.
Another quirky take on the post-apocalyptic world, this time it's food and especially meat that's the hot commodity. The Marc Carot/Jean-Pierre Jeunet collaboration focuses on one apartment building with a delicatessen on the bottom floor. And sometimes the deli's butcher turns to a human specimen to provide meat for his tenants. A wickedly funny surrealist black comedy. Who says the end of humanity can't be a hoot?