There are countless movies about the end of the world. Some take a realistic approach, while others are totally over the top. Here’s a rundown of each style and if any of them could actually happen.
The realist film
Last Night (1998)
The world is ending at midnight on New Year’s Eve (Toronto time) and actor/director Don McKellar just wants to spend his last hours alone. Instead, he spends it putting up with his family, helping Sandra Oh find a car and making out with his buddy Callum Keith Rennie (who is spending his time fucking everybody he never got to fuck). With appearances by David Cronenberg, Bruce McDonald and Jackie “Hetty from Road to Avonlea” Burroughs, it’s a Canadian classic.
Is it realistic? Very. It’s sad, funny, morbid and sweet all at once. The fact that they never address how or why the world is ending lets the audience focus on the characters.
The “world is screwed” film
The granddaddy of blockbuster flicks.
It’s got Ben Affleck eating animal crackers off of Liv Tyler’s belly (the romance), Will Patton being alienated by his ex-wife (the heartache), Steve Buscemi being a jerk (the indie wit) and Mr. Planet Hollywood himself, Bruce Willis.
Is it realistic? I don’t know - is sending a bunch of oil drillers into space to put a bomb into an asteroid realistic? Wouldn’t it have been more realistic to train astronauts how to drill? Either way - there’s a hilarious drunken Affleck commentary track on the Criterion Collection edition.
The “last man on earth” film
The Omega Man (1971)
The second of three I Am Legend adaptations gives us Chuck Heston as the last man on Earth, Rosalind Cash as his Black Power love interest and a whack of white-faced “albino” mutants who are hunted by (and in turn, hunt) Heston.
Is it realistic? It takes place in 1975 and wasn’t believable back then. It’s probably best to stick to Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth - campy, but at least fun.
The hopeful film
Children of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón’s devastatingly beautiful adaptation of P.D. James’s novel about a world in which women are unable to get pregnant was incredibly innovative in its use of one-take action sequences. Clive Owen winds up chaperoning a young woman who is able to conceive, making her humanity’s last hope.
Is it realistic? Set in a very believable 2027, the riots and post-apocalyptic feel are a lot like what is going on in many parts of the world right now - so, yes. That, and Michael Caine is the world’s best living actor, so you’ve got to at least believe him.
The “world is really screwed” film
Director Roland Emmerich has made a career out of shitty disaster flicks, from 1998’s Godzilla to 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, so hopes for this turkey were not high.
When your president is Danny Glover (the man can’t even get a cab!) then you know the world is already screwed.
Is it realistic? No. Solar storms? Mutating neutrinos? I took astronomy twice and don’t remember hearing about any of this. John Cusack as a struggling sci-fi writer/limo driver? Maybe.
The “we can prevent this” film
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
This superior sequel finds Edward Furlong learning that he’s the saviour of the world and that Robert Patrick is going to run very fast, morph into metal and kill any coffee-drinking security guards that get in his way.
Not much of the future is seen, but in the end, we’re left thinking the world might be OK (if you can forget the sequels/TV series).
Is it realistic? Taking place in the slight future (1995), Skynet was actually supposed to become aware and destroy us all last April, so it’s good that, you know, it’s not too realistic.
The “modern day ice age” film
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The second ice age is upon us and only climatologist Dennis Quaid can save us - but if I remember correctly, he’s too busy trying to save his son. Or something. The plot wasn’t very clear, and when I saw it, there was this couple next to me that kept making out and nudging me, so I couldn’t stop laughing for various reasons.
Is it realistic? No, just watch the South Park episode Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow, which is much more realistic.
The zombie film
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero’s masterpiece and sequel to the flick that invented the zombie as we know it finds a pair of SWAT team goons, a reporter and his lady friend holed up in a mall while the zombies take over the rest of the planet. Not just a great zombie movie, but a great movie in general.
Is it realistic? Surprisingly, yes (if corpses could be re-animated), and it’s the bible for zombie flicks.
The sacrifice film
This one finds Cillian Murphy and company attempting to re-ignite the sun, which is dying. The gang, which dissolves rapidly when its members go insane and start offing each other, is actually the second crew to attempt this feat, so the trek is seen as a suicide mission from the get-go.
Is it realistic? Within the context of the story, quite. That, and Rose Byrne is really cute in it.
The timing film
End of Days (1999)
Made in the death rattle of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career, this one has Arnie playing a suicidal bodyguard who is given a chance at redemption by protecting Robin Tunney from Gabriel Byrne’s hilarious Satan, all to the tune of Limp Bizkit.
Is it realistic? As it came out in 1999, it was somewhat timely with the whole Y2K scare, but ultimately it wasn’t believable because, you know, the likelihood of Satan trying to impregnate Tunney to take over the world is about as likely as Arnie being elected into office - oh, wait…
Published in Volume 66, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 1, 2012)