No list of apocalyptic wastelands would be complete without 2000AD, and in particular, Old Stony Face. You may remember the painfully Hollywoodized 1995 adaptation with Sylvester Stallone (which holds a surprising charm 25 years on), but you might not remember the 2012 film. In this stylized romp, Judges Dredd and Anderson attempt to wrest a 200 storey tower block from a psychopathic druglord (played by Lena Headey of Cersei Lannister fame). With a script from Alex Garland (author of the addictive The Beach and screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go), and pressed on by Karl Urban’s steely jaw, this film should have been a hit. Unfortunately, it only scraped even with its earnings. It’s since become a cult film, and there’s still hope to break the curse of 2000AD adaptations never succeeding.
Mad Max 2 (1981)
I could do a whole post on Mad Max films, from the crazy Master Blaster fight in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, to Brendan McCarthy’s demented War Boys in Mad Max: Fury Road. Yet my favourite of all the Mad Max films is the second. In its first true outing in the brutal outback plains, with wacky vehicles and bondage-bedecked villains, the fight for “guzzoline” is at its best. No character is invulnerable, and the wasteland is merciless, particularly if you have people to look after. One of the most interesting takes ever on the Western genre, Mel Gibson cements Mad Max as one of the legendary antiheroes.
Train to Busan (2016)
Zombie fans can be real snobs. There’s a big movement of purists that frowns upon the modern “fast zombie” as being a bit of a cheat, and a sort of corruption of the genre. Tell that to the Koreans. Set mainly on a train speeding to Busan – the “last safe place” – it sees a troupe of characters try and escape as a zombie apocalypse swiftly overwhelms the country. Proper nail-biting fare that avoids the tropes endemic to Western film, Busan will have you hooked. Spoiler alert, not all of them survive.
This South Korean-Czech co-production was the first English-language film of Bong Joon-Ho (director of 2019 Oscar best picture Parasite), and has a cast that includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt. On a train that hurtles round a frozen earth, the class segregated passengers (think J.G. Ballard’s High Rise) become discontent with their brutal subjugation, eventually leading a revolt. The film was originally adapted from a French graphic novel, and a TV adaptation is also coming out later this year. With Busan and this, I’m steering well clear of Korean train rides.
28 Days Later (2002)
This noughties horror is one of the most notable culprits of the “fast zombie” crime, and another film with a stellar cast (Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston are three of my favourite actors). Danny Boyle’s direction is intensely claustrophobic and chilling, and the soundtrack is brilliant. If you’ve seen this, 28 Weeks Later is a worthy sequel, featuring one of the best openings in cinema.
When done right, apocalypse comedy can be very fruitful. In the case of Zombieland, the bar was set high. The film has a great cameo (I won’t say from whom), excellent comic timing, and a very specific set of rules about how to survive the apocalypse (NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS). You’ll find yourself asking “What is a Twinkie?” and “Where can I find one?” by the end of the film, as well as being surprisingly touched by the character relationships. Just remember, NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
In all honesty, you could pick any of the Marvel films for a list of apocalyptic films. It’s their schtick. The problem is though, often the jeopardy seems too contrived, you don’t care enough about the characters, and the heroes seem too overpowered ever to be really threatened. This, however, is easily the best of the lot, and works as a standalone film. Directed by Kiwi genius Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows; Hunt for the Wilderpeople; Jojo Rabbit), the film is great fun, and one of the freshest takes on superherodom yet.
Akira’s one of those films where you can’t spend too much time thinking about the film, because you’ll only confuse yourself, and it’s best just to revel in the strangeness. Set in a dystopic 2019 (lol) in “Neo-Tokyo”, this cyberpunk anime involves a biker gang, the military, and telekinesis. I couldn’t even try to explain any more than that. The film has a dedicated cult following (particularly for its influential aesthetic), and its second half is like a fever dream. The final scenes are incredibly animated (and very perplexing), and you’ll be trying to work the whole film out for months (I still haven’t).