Whether it’s zombies, monsters, or a climate disaster, movies have been tackling the apocalypse for decades. While there’s not much in terms of the four horsemen, the best post-apocalypse movies make for truly exhilarating cinematic experiences. Although sometimes outright terrifying, post-apocalyptic tales, in particular, often seek to show us a glimpse of what the future might look like. They can offer ideas – even warnings – as to what we might become. Yes, the alien invasion ones are a little far fetched, but hey, who’s to say a ship won’t crash land tomorrow morning?
The GamesRadar+, Total Film, and SFX teams battled in the wasteland to curate this list for your viewing pleasure, in which we balance thrilling classics with moving slow-burners and contemporary risk-takers. So, whether it’s an adrenaline fuelled car-chase through the dystopian deserts of Mad Max, or tip-toeing carefully through the sand paths of A Quiet Place, allow us to take you through the best 30 post-apocalyptic movies.
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30. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
With Mad Max 2, director George Miller orchestrated even more insane stunts – including a near-fatal accident involving a motorcycle crashing into a car – thanks to a bigger budget. Like the other Mad Max movies, Road Warrior sees Max Rockatansky traversing a desert wasteland when he finds himself moved to defend a group of settlers against a violent gang. Expect just as much exhilarating and energetic action as the first mind-blowing entry, but this time with more deadly boomerangs. After all, this is post-apocalypse Australia.
29. The Book of Eli
Taking a leaf out of the Mad Max book, The Book of Eli depicts a world full of bad people with no hope left for humanity. Thirty years after a nuclear bomb disaster, Eli (Denzel Washington) travels across the remains of America to deliver a book. He soon faces a classic post-apocalyptic wannabe dictator in the form of Carnegie (Gary Oldman) when Eli stumbles upon his town. The Book of Eli may be heavy-handed with its religious metaphors, but it has a striking sense of style thanks to its old-school Western influences, and features some underrated performances from its fantastic cast.
This 1988 classic is the perfect entry-point for anyone interested in anime. 31 years after World War 3, in a futuristic Neo-Tokyo metropolis, a secret military project threatens to endanger the city once more. When the government turns injured biker-gang member Tetsuo (Nozamu Sasaki) into a violent telepath, history looks to repeat itself. It’s a completely hand-animated cyberpunk epic worthy of its reputation as a landmark piece of animation.
Boasting an impressive cast that includes Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and more, Contagion is a thriller that tackles worldwide pandemic. The virus outbreak kills people within days of infection and provides for a tense, gripping thriller. Steven Soderbergh (known best for the Ocean movies) directs as we watch everyday people coping amidst crisis whilst medical professionals scramble to find a cure. Momentum increases and tensions stay high as Soderbergh asks how regular people would react when faced with an apocalyptic virus.
26. X-Men: Days of Future Past
While X-Men Apocalypse may feature a character who, yes, brings about the literal apocalypse, it's X-Men: Days of Future Past that truly takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The remaining mutants must send Wolverine back in time to warn the world of what will happen if Bolivar Trask's Sentinels are allowed to roam the world. By uniting both the old and new X-Men cast, Days of Future Past makes for a particularly thrilling watch.
No, not the Sylvester Stallone one from the '90s, but the gritty, tough-as-nails 2012 adaptation starring Karl Urban. In Dredd, the eponymous lawman brings about justice in the post-apocalyptic landscape of a collapsing Mega-City One. The film, adapted from the classic Judge Dredd comics, paints a terrifying picture of a future where police have the power to play judge, jury, and executioner. Drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) poses a deadly threat and Dredd seeks to put an end to her empire in this fittingly violent thrill-ride of an adaptation.
24. The Host
One of two Bong Joon Ho movies on this list, The Host follows a Seoul family as a monster emerges from the Han River and goes on a killing rampage. In a genre-bending plot that jumps seamlessly between sheer horror and black comedy, director Bong once again tells a story that’s much bigger than its characters. The Host is a post-apocalyptic nightmare that takes capitalism and unwanted Western influence head-on, as American scientists meddle with chemicals they shouldn’t and the government is apathetic and unhelpful. Bong’s enduring political message is prevalent in all of his work, but particularly so in the monsters of The Host.
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surrealist black comedy follows the story of a landlord trying to maintain the homes of his tenants, despite the remnants of a world ravaged by an apocalyptic event just outside. This delightfully twisted movie is full of deadpan humour and some dark and gory visuals when the butcher from the ground floor gets involved. Changing the tune a bit from your average dystopian future in which a rebel fights the government, the sepia-toned Delicatessen is a bizarre experience that must be seen to be believed.
22. Escape from New York
In John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, 1997 Manhattan has been transformed into a maximum security prison, and our criminal/ex-soldier antihero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent on a mission to rescue the president. Yes, it’s as cheesy as it sounds. One of the most iconic B-movies of all time, Escape from New York’s an action flick dripping with cool and great hair that more than deserves its cult status.
21. Mad Max
The daddy of all post-apocalyptic movies, George Miller’s 1979 Mad Max takes us on a frenetic ride through a futuristic Australian outback where society has crumbled. Biker gangs reign and Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a Force Patrol officer seeks revenge on the gang who killed his family before he retires for good. The movie truly put Miller on the map for his bold directing style, especially as most of the stunt driving was filmed illegally. Sequels, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, develop the dystopian desert world even further, while Fury Road reinvented the Mad Max formula. More on that later...