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This is a comprehensive list of the top 10 post-apocalyptic movies of the 21st century, based on aggregated opinions of critics, as well as personal preferences.


The 10 Best Post-Apocalyptic Movies of the 21st Century


Title of the Movie
Year / Country / Director / Cast
Movie Description
1 Mad Max: Fury Road Release Date:
2015

Country:
Australia, USA

Director:
George Miller

Cast:
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Howard, Richard Carter
Rightly lauded as one of the best action films of all time, Mad Max takes part in a post-nuclear holocaust apocalyptic future. Civilisation has completely collapsed, and the surviving humans now roam the earth, trying to survive in the face of brutal violence.

Max Rockatansky is one such survivor. He is captured by the War Boys, a thuggish army led Immortan Joe. Within their citadel, Max is used as a blood donor by an injured War Boy named Nux. He is then taken on the road by Nux to retrieve several of Joe’s concubines, who have escaped the citadel, along with one of his most prominent lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa.

The two parties come to blows, but ultimately decide to escape from Joe’s clutches in unison. They head out on the road again, with Joe and the remaining War Boys in hot pursuit. A gang of bikers agree to give Max and the motley crew safe passage, turn on them when Joe’s forces approach, but ultimately come good by blocking off their route.

Furiosa tells Max about the ‘Green Place’; a utopia she remembers from her youth. This is where Furiosa intends to take the group. However, upon being reunited with the clan of her birth, she realises to her distress that they have already passed the Green Place; now an uninhabitable swampland.

Left without a goal and unsure what to do next, Furiosa directs the team back to the citadel. They are attacked on the way by Joe and his forces, and Furiosa is gravely wounded. Thanks to a transfusion from Max, she survives. Still, Furiosa, Max, Nux, and the wives must defeat Joe to secure their freedom; an almost impossible task.

Mad Max: Fury Road benefits from a great script, excellent action, and beautiful cinematography. It’s not to be missed!
2 The Road Release Date:
2009

Country:
USA

Director:
John Hillcoat

Cast:
Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Molly Parker, Guy Pearce, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charlize Theron, Bob Jennings, Garret Dillahunt, Agnes Herrmann, Jack Erdie, Buddy Sosthand
An extinction event has paralysed civilisation. An unnamed man and his son are simply trying to survive, avoid violent gangs, and eventually make their way to the coast. The man keeps a gun in his possession, containing two emergency bullets.

Through flashbacks we begin to understand the background of their story. The man’s wife gave birth to the boy just after the apocalyptic event, and sinks into a deep depression. The man uses one of three bullets to shoot an intruder, but she does not believe him; thinking instead that he discharged the bullet to prevent her from committing suicide. She leaves the house and does not return.

When we re-join the present, in a seemingly abandoned building, the man shoots a cannibal that has stumbled upon him and his son, leaving him with just one bullet. They discover that the basement of the building is full of humans that will be used as food. Realising that they will be next, the man prepares to shoot his son to spare him. Instead, escaping captives provide a distraction that allows the two to flee.

They reach an underground shelter, filled with supplies, but their visit is short-lived due to activity above ground. When father and son finally reach the beach, their supplies are stolen. Enraged, the man chases and humiliates the thief but, conscious of the example he is setting to his son, relents and shares their scant supplies.

The coast provides only a brief respite, however, and a violent turn of events places the father back in an impossible dilemma.

The Road is tense, thrilling, and filled with probing ethical questions. What would you do in the face of unthinkable decisions?
3 Snowpiercer Release Date:
2013

Country:
South Korea, Czech Republic

Director:
Joon-ho Bong (as Bong Joon Ho)

Cast:
Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, Octavia Spencer, Vlad Ivanov, Ewen Bremner, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Adnan Haskovic
Messing with Mother Nature is never a good idea. In this movie, an attempt to eliminate global warming goes awry when the climate engineering technology fails spectacularly, plunging the planet into an ice age that claims almost all life on Earth.

For those aboard the Snowpiercer, there is a reprieve. The enormous train, invented by Minister Wilford, travels around the Earth on a single track, powered by a perpetual motion engine. Its inhabitants are split according to status. The elites travel at the front, whilst the ‘scum’ are banished to the back, in terrible conditions. ‘Protein’ bars are their only sustenance; we’re not talking premium whey here, either. Rather, crushed up insects. Compared to the cannibalism that was rife just after the climate catastrophe, insect bars sound quite decadent!

Curtis Everett has always lived in the back section of the Snowpiercer. Alongside his mentor, Gilliam, and deputy, Edgar, Curtis plans to stage a coup of the giant train, and deliver justice to those who have oppressed and mistreated his people for years.

Before the offensive can begin, Wiliford’s second-in-command, Minister Mason, suddenly arrives to collect two children from the back of the train. Incensed, the kids’ father tries to prevent it from happening, but Mason uses extreme force to stop the protest. This only serves to embolden Curtis and the revolutionary forces.

They begin their offensive. Of course, Wilford’s forces put up a strong counterattack, but Curtis eventually does make it to the front of the train to meet its maker. An unexpected offer is made, before events turn fatally disastrous. However, the audience is granted a final morsel of hope, right at the end. Snowpiercer benefits from an interested concept, and it’s certainly well-delivered.
4 The Maze Runner Release Date:
2014

Country:
USA, UK

Director:
Wes Ball

Cast:
Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Dexter Darden, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Alexander Flores, Chris Sheffield, Jacob Latimore, Joe Adler, Patricia Clarkson
Thomas doesn’t know his name. Nor does he know why he’s been dropped in a strange grassland, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Thomas is told that he and the other boys, known as Gladers, are trapped, and that their only possible means of escape involve navigating a large maze that surrounds them. Some of the group, the Runners, go out to find an escape route to deliver to the other boys. They can only do this during the day, as the entrance closes at sunset.

Alby is the leader of the group, and whilst out running the maze, he is stung by a Griever, a large creature enhanced by technology. A Griever bite is usually fatal, and Alby is not expected to survive the night. No boy ever has. Thomas tries to help Alby and another boy named Minho back into the entrance before sunset, but fails. The three face an impossible task; to survive the night.

Despite several potentially fatal attacks, the trio make it to sunrise. They re-enter the safe area to find that the first girl, Theresa, has arrived. She is carrying a limited supply of an antidote to the Griever virus, some of which she uses to heal Alby.

The next night, the normal routine suddenly changes. The maze entrance doesn’t open, leaving Thomas and Minho to attempt another night in the maze. Formerly unknown doors open, allowing Grievers to enter the boys’ area of safety. Several are killed.

Over the course of the first instalment in the Maze Runner series, we discover that a solar event has ravaged Earth, and the virus that followed, the Flare, has wiped out swathes of the population. The boys and Theresa are part of an elaborate experiment to find the cure. Will they eventually find freedom? Whilst we might not find out in this movie, we are set up for an exciting series.
5 Blindness Release Date:
2008

Country:
Canada, Brazil, Japan

Director:
Fernando Meirelles

Cast:
Yûsuke Iseya, Jason Bermingham, Don McKellar, Eduardo Semerjian, Lilian Blanc, Ciça Meirelles, Antônio Fragoso, Douglas Silva, Yoshino Kimura, Joe Pingue, Daniel Zettel, Susan Coyne, Danny Glover
An unnamed ophthalmologist’s office is busier than usual. It begins with a young professional, who turns up having spontaneously lost his sight whilst driving. The doctor is perplexed by the man’s sudden blindness, as nothing seems to be physically wrong, but the day takes a strange turn when three more people arrive with the same condition.

The next day, the doctor is struck down by the same sudden blindness. Throughout the city, the condition spreads like wildfire, and those afflicted are hastily herded and thrown into an old, abandoned asylum, which acts as a makeshift quarantine.

The doctor is amongst those taken away, and his wife feigns blindness in order to go with him. The people that visited the doctor on the first day of the pandemic are all present in the quarantine, and as time passes, the decrepit building becomes stuffed with hundreds of those afflicted by the ‘white sickness’. The government crackdown becomes increasingly brutal, to no effect; the disease is out of control.

Within the compound, supplies are scant, which causes escalating violence and depravity. One man becomes the effective leader after acquiring a handgun. Under his rule, women are used as commodities, theft is rife, and extreme violence becomes the norm. After a woman is murdered, the doctor’s wife, who still has her vision, cannot tolerate the carnage any longer; she stabs the man with the gun, which leads to a devastating riot. The survivors emerge into a city full of suddenly-blind citizens.

After a torturous experience, the end does provide hope and relief – to both the characters and the audience! – but the speed with which civilisation collapses is extremely alarming. Blindness does what all good post-apocalyptic movies should; change just one aspect of the world, and allow the carnage to play out. A terrifying prospect!
6 The Day After Tomorrow Release Date:
2004

Country:
USA

Director:
Roland Emmerich

Cast:
Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Jay O. Sanders, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Tamlyn Tomita, Austin Nichols, Arjay Smith, Sasha Roiz, Ian Holm, Carl Alacchi, Kenneth Welsh, Nassim Sharara
A terrifying story with contemporary and perpetual relevance. A climatologist, Jack Hall, witnesses an Antarctic ice shelf breaking apart whilst on a research trip. He presents a stark warning at a subsequent climate change conference, but is dismissed by the Vice President of the United States. However, other research scientists agree with Jack’s conclusions, and work to build a forecast model based on his research.

A severe oceanic temperature drop piques the interest of the scientific community, and adds credence to Jack’s argument. This is followed by the development of an intense storm system, with three superstorms headed toward North America, Western Europe, and Siberia. These cyclones are unique, pulling cold air from the upper atmosphere and dropping it to the ground, causing flash freezing and associated weather events, including constant tornadoes and giant hail storms.

Jack’s son, Sam, is in New York City with friends to compete in an athletic decathlon. The superstorm hits suddenly, and Sam becomes trapped in the New York Public Library. The large group splits up, with the majority ignoring Sam’s warnings and moving to the south side of the library, eventually freezing to death. Sam’s smaller group make the difficult decision to begin burning books to stay warm.

Meanwhile, Jack begins his expedition to New York, joined by some of colleagues that believed his prediction. They are exposed to the full force of the storm, and some of the team are lost in the process, but eventually the storm begins to lose its potency, giving Jack the opportunity to draw closer to his son.

The current debate about climate change makes The Day After Tomorrow especially relevant, whilst the incredible visual impact of the movie stays with the audience long after the credits roll.
7 The Divide Release Date:
2011

Country:
Germany, USA, Canada, France

Director:
Xavier Gens

Cast:
Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Ashton Holmes, Courtney B. Vance, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Iván González, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn
A nuclear assault on New York devastates the city. Some of the residents of one apartment block make their way down to the building’s fallout shelter. The building’s superintendent, Mickey, assigns himself as the leader of the group, although this causes friction with many of the other survivors.

A young girl, Wendi, is taken from the shelter by a group of armed soldiers in biohazard suits. In the process of entering the shelter, they compromise the integrity of the door, which places everyone inside in grave danger. Incensed, the group attack the soldiers and kill three of them.

One of the survivors, Josh, volunteers to use a dead soldiers’ biohazard suit to go out and attempt to retrieve Wendi. When he does leave the shelter, he discovers the area has been sealed off by plastic tunnels, leading to a laboratory. Within this laboratory, children are kept in stasis chambers; Wendi is amongst them.

Josh is discovered as an imposter by one of the soldiers, who cuts the tube to his breathing apparatus, exposing Josh to extreme levels of radiation. Josh manages to return to the shelter, informing the group of what he saw.

The survivors begin to realise that Josh is not the only one suffering from the effects of radiation sickness. The broken door has left them without any protection. As survival chances are cut to zero, any semblance of civility within the shelter begins to break down, with violent, devastating consequences.
8 The Book of Eli Release Date:
2010

Country:
USA

Directors:
Albert Hughes (as The Hughes Brothers), Allen Hughes (as The Hughes Brothers)

Cast:
Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Ray Stevenson, Michael Gambon, Evan Jones, Frances de la Tour, Tom Waits, Chris Browning, Joe Pingue, Richard Cetrone, Lateef Crowder
In the years following a nuclear apocalypse, civilisation has collapsed, with roaming gangs and small tribes vying for power. Eli walks alone, simply trying to survive. He is a gifted fighter and hunter, managing to overcome a large group of bikers who try to kill him.

He meets a man named Carnegie in a ramshackle bar. Carnegie is the leader of a local town, searching for what he remembers as a powerful book. Realising that Eli can read, he forcefully enlists him to help.

Carnegie sends a woman called Solara to seduce Eli, but he refuses. Instead, they share dinner; before eating, Eli says grace. The next day, Solara repeats the prayer, which is overheard by Carnegie, who recognises the content as consistent with the book he is seeking; a bible.

Eli attempts to escape from Carnegie, who enlists his henchmen to capture Eli, who he suspects has a copy of the Bible. Solara finds Eli and the two flee together. Whilst travelling, Eli explains that his is the last copy of the Bible on Earth, and that a voice told him to carry it to the West, where it would be kept safe.

The duo are intercepted by Carnegie, who steals the Bible and shoots Eli. Still, the two continue to San Francisco and row to Alcatraz Island, where they discover a small group of people looking to preserve the remnants of human culture. Eli recites the content of the Bible from memory, and it is preserved by the group, alongside other religious texts. When we return to Carnegie, an unexpected twist is revealed, which makes Eli’s narrative even more extraordinary.
9 Terminator Salvation Release Date:
2009

Country:
USA, Germany, UK, Italy

Director:
McG

Cast:
Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anton Yelchin, Jadagrace, Jane Alexander, Chris Browning, Ivan G'Vera, Michael Ironside, Dorian Nkono, Beth Bailey
Fifteen years after the events of Skynet’s ‘Judgment Day’ nuclear holocaust, John Connor leads an attack on a their headquarters, discovering a horrifying human experiment in the process. Skynet plans to include living human tissue in its next series of Terminators, the T-800. One of the prisoners, Marcus, survives the attack and heads towards Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the Resistance has discovered a code protocol that could potentially cause the permanent shutdown of the entire Skynet system. The Resistance decides to commence an offensive on Skynet’s San Francisco headquarters in four days, due to an intercepted message that indicates Skynet will imminently attack the Resistance. As well as John and the resistance leader, Kyle Reese is present on the list. John realises that Skynet have become aware of Kyle’s destiny; to travel back in time and become John’s father.

Kyle and a mute child named Star are kidnapped by Skynet, whilst Marcus is wounded by a magnetic land mine. The latter is rescued by John, who discovers that Marcus is a cyborg. In return for saving his life, Marcus agrees to enter Skynet’s HQ and help John to rescue Kyle and the other prisoners.

However, John is unable to convince his superiors to delay the attack on Skynet, and is relieved of his command. John and the Resistance disobey orders and make their way to Skynet. However, it transpires that John and the Resistance have been tricked, with potentially deadly consequences.

An unmissable episode in the Terminator series!
10 Oblivion Release Date:
2013

Country:
USA

Director:
Joseph Kosinski

Cast:
Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Zoë Bell, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Abigail Lowe, Isabelle Lowe
After a devastating war with aliens, humanity is forced to abandon Earth and evacuate to Saturn’s moon, Titan. They are carried by a space station, Tet, which is powered by the remnants of Earth’s water resource.

One of the few humans left on Earth is Jack Harper, a combat drone repairman. These drones are used to protect Earth’s resource from alien scavengers. His memory has been wiped, but he has occasional flashbacks of being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, alongside a mysterious dark-haired woman. His housemate, Vika, is concerned about Jack’s fascination with human artefacts, and questions whether he is in the right state of mind to continue their work. If not, they risk being left on Earth without a chance of joining the rest of humanity on Titan.

Jack finds out that the Empire State Building is being used as an antenna by alien scavengers. He also happens upon a pre-war spacecraft that has crash-landed near his secret lake retreat. Whilst exploring the spacecraft, he discovers the woman from his visions, contained in a stasis chamber. He revives the woman, Julia, and the two are captured by alien scavengers.

His captors are revealed to actually be human survivors. Their leader, Malcolm, instructs Jack to reprogram a captured drone to deliver a nuclear explosive to the Tet to destroy it. He refuses, and in an effort to convince him otherwise, Malcolm allows Jack and Julia to go to the Empire State Building, which lies within a restricted zone. They realise they were married, and it was at the Empire State that Jack proposed.

Armed with this knowledge, Jack and Julia return to Malcolm, who begins to dismantle the false narrative that had been programmed into Jack’s memory. He agrees to Malcolm’s plan, and sets about righting the wrongs inflicted upon him, his wife, and humanity. Watch out for a thrilling twist at the end of the movie!






What makes a great post-apocalyptic movie?

Like all good movies, a strong narrative, great acting, and compelling cinematography are essential components. But which additional features are uniquely important to this genre?

Plausibility
Dystopian movies are at their most devastatingly impactful when they are believable. When the audience are shown that only a few factors need to change to instigate an apocalypse, it’s genuinely terrifying.

The audience also needs to be able to make a connection with the characters and their stories; make the narrative too abstract, and that link is hard to find.

Visual impact
Post-apocalyptic movies should be bold and visually spectacular. Whether the film deals with warfare, catastrophic weather events, alien invasion, or any other plot component, it must be done on a grand, impressive scale.

Strong characters
The audience should be able to identify with the leading characters, and in most cases, root for them. Antagonists must be decisively diabolical. Whilst ambiguity of intent can certainly add to the tension and twists of a story, there’s no need for wallflowers.

Teamwork
The great post-apocalyptic films largely involve an adventure with at least two leading characters. Demonstrating effective teamwork is always attractive to an audience, particularly if the characters are charismatic in their own right. Teamwork makes the dream work! Or in the case of this genre, it makes the nightmare slightly less nightmarish.

Twists
We love a good twist! Dystopian films are full of them, and it’s certainly a plot device that works well with this genre. Once the audience has been placed in an alternate version of reality, and suspended their belief system, throwing them off again with a twist is an effective way to make a lasting impact.