Movies About the End of the World
December 24, 2020 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I have found myself with a sudden taste for movies about the end of the world, particularly in the form of some kind of disaster from space. Can you help me find some?

Some notes on specific elements I'm looking for:
- Space-related or geological disasters preferred as opposed to manmade (e.g., war) or supernatural (e.g., zombies, Biblical end times)
- Bonus points for more plausible disasters, as opposed to "one day, the sun went out for no reason!!"
- Of particular interest are things like rogue planets and other impact events (I already saw Melancholia, Deep Impact, and Armageddon, though), gamma ray bursts, volcanic winter, etc. I really liked the altered tidal pull apocalypse in the Life as We Knew It book series.
- Bonus points if the world actually does end, though it's okay if it gets saved or humanity finds another world to escape to (and I should point out I already saw Interstellar)
- A slight preference for the movie being "about" the psychological anticipation of the impending event, but action/disaster movies where people spend a lot of time grappling with the reality of an apocalypse in progress are also OK

Tropes/elements I'd like to avoid:
- Mystery apocalypses left unclear or not explained for most of the movie
- There's a lot of low-budget artistic movies about people huddling in a house from Scary Things Outside and eventually turning on one another and that's not what I'm looking for.
- Post-apocalyptic movies are out of scope unless the "post" part is an extension of the apocalypse itself (trying to survive while the sun is blocked out is "extended apocalypse" to me while "watch people battle it out for resources in this lawless society that arose after nuclear war" is more post-apocalyptic) the line is blurry but I think the apocalypse being part of the movie and an ongoing uncertainty about even the short to medium term survival of humanity is key

Thank you!
posted by space snail to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention, but please give a brief description of the premise of the movie if you make a recommendation!
posted by space snail at 11:51 AM on December 24, 2020

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. "The film stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as a pair of strangers who meet and form an unexpected bond as they help each other find closure in their lives before an asteroid wipes out all life on Earth."
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2020 [9 favorites]

Depending on your appetite for high camp and your tolerance for hand-waving about science, The Core and The Day After Tomorrow are both fantastically awful geological/atmospheric apocalypse movies.

In The Core, the, uh, core of the earth has stopped rotating and a rag-tag group of scientists has to go to the center of the earth to restart it. Lots of (what I found to be) highly satisfying scenes of destruction of major cities.

In The Day After Tomorrow, the...jetstream...has stopped, I think, causing massive tidal waves and "freezing events". A little more hiding out in a location-centric plot but still lots of fun apocalypse.
posted by EmilyFlew at 12:19 PM on December 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Alex Proyas-directed Nic Cage movie Knowing qualifies, though the action of the movie is about a professor who keeps encountering a cryptic message and spends the whole movie trying to solve it in time for the unexpected disaster. The best thing about this movie, IMO, is the visualization of the space-sourced catastrophe at the end. However, the fact of the disaster is unknown to people for nearly all of the movie, so this may be a bad fit. You can watch the ending on youtube, probably.

On TV (Amazon Prime), the current season (5) of The Expanse features a plotline in which a Belter (that is, outer-planets-born) Terrorist/Revolutionary has stolen high tech Martian stealth and attacked Earth with stealthed asteroids. Yesterday's episode, ep 4, was SPECTACULAR.

The new movie "The Midnight Sky," by the way, will likely not be a good fit. I've read the book, "Good Morning Midnight," and the cause and scope of the apparent global disaster, beyond the parts where it cuts the story's characters off from contact with humanity, is cryptic and unshown in the book. It's evident changes were made for the movie, but it'll still mostly be about characters huddling in a spaceship/arctic station. Not low budget, though, that's for sure.

Geostorm (human-induced weather disaster), The Core (Earth's core stopped spinning, you'll never guess why), someone else just got the Day After Tomorrow...

Danny Boyle's Sunshine is about a plucky crew of very attractive people being sent to re-ignite the sun's core following, essentially a poisoning of its fusion reactions. (In a kind of plausible way.) It's a space-thriller, though-- Earth remains frozen over for the duration of the movie.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:23 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


Which is really just a cheaper version of 2012.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:33 PM on December 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Greenland just watched the other night. formulaic but does what you are asking for.

family on the run from peril, getting separated, trying to find each other as disaster looms. some random bad guys and rioting because of course. also Gerrrrrrrrarrrrrrd Butlerrrrrrrr.
posted by supermedusa at 12:34 PM on December 24, 2020

When World's Collide is the ur-text of the space ark concept. It's been a while, but I remember it being great campy fun.
posted by condour75 at 12:34 PM on December 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I know you are looking for movies but Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is a really good fit too, and I thought it was a really good read.

natural space disaster means immanent destruction of earth so a chosen bunch must flee to space and attempt to survive.
posted by supermedusa at 12:36 PM on December 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Last Night, the 1998 Canadian one. It's not sciencey or actiony, no hiding from monsters, and people mostly don't turn on each other. It's just about how people choose to spend their last hours.
posted by rodlymight at 12:37 PM on December 24, 2020 [24 favorites]

Came here to recommend Last Night as well. It's quite good.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:33 PM on December 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed These Final Hours (2013). It checks all your boxes, more or less in the same way as Melancholia (2011) or the Last Policeman trilogy of novels by Ben Winters.
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:00 PM on December 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Night of the Comet is amazing 1980s end of the world zombie fun.
posted by jeremias at 2:36 PM on December 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Seconding These Final Hours. It's excellent.
posted by roue at 3:06 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Wandering Earth is a Chinese movie where the plot is:
As the sun is dying out, people all around the world build giant planet thrusters to move Earth out of its orbit and sail Earth to a new star system. Yet the 2500-year journey comes with unexpected dangers, and in order to save humanity, a group of young people in this age of a wandering Earth fight hard for the survival of humankind.
posted by foxfirefey at 3:31 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Val Guest's "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" from 1961 is an absolutely stunning piece of British science-fiction film making.

It follows a new reporter at the Daily Express investigating a spate of freak meteorological conditions, which slowly build up to reveal what has happened to the world ... the Earth's 'tilt' has been shifted, and the planet is slowly spiralling into the Sun.

The special effects are sparse but effective, and certainly fits with your 'anticipation' of the end. It actually filmed in the offices of the Daily Express, it's all very British with the new reporter mentored by Leo McKern, and it's a film I saw when I was maybe 8 or 9, and it's stuck with me.

Link to the trailer for the BFI's Blu-Ray remaster.
posted by ewan at 3:33 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

This curious movie turned up in my youtube feed a couple days ago, which I'd never heard of. Being a fan of end-of-the-world movies since I was a kid, looking it up led me to a list of similarly themed movies. Perhaps not complete, it contains quite a few, availability notwithstanding, of end of the world pictures without regard to quality. A few I'm not familiar with that sound worth seeking out.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:26 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Last Night, the 1998 Canadian one.

Also here to suggest this. Very good and it's definitely stayed with me. It has a lot of plausible looks into different people's decisions on how to spend their last days that are poignant and relatable.

2012 is also good because it concerns how we move from "Oh shit the planet is heating up really quickly" to "We have to make a plan" to "Who among the people of the world is going to be able to take advantage of [potential plan solution]" and there's a lot going on there.
posted by jessamyn at 4:51 PM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Quiet Earth is weird as fuck
posted by lalochezia at 7:10 PM on December 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Which is a remake of sorts of The World, the Flesh and the Devil...
posted by y2karl at 8:51 PM on December 24, 2020

Seconding When Worlds Collide. It's quite a good science fiction film for its era, right up there with Forbidden Planet and even The Day The Earth Stood Still.
posted by lhauser at 10:01 PM on December 24, 2020

I am not sure it hits all of your points, but I suggest "The Andromeda Strain", 1971. I saw that as a young boy in the theater. Never forgot it.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:34 AM on December 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Remembering these from afternoons after school in the early 70s, films date from much earlier.

Crack In the World: "A dying scientist pushes forward his project to tap through to the Earth's magma layer, with results that threaten to destroy the Earth as we know it. "

In the US, this was Five Million Years to Earth, but Hammer Films released it as Quatermass and the Pit: "A mysterious artifact is unearthed in London, and famous scientist Bernard Quatermass is called into to divine its origins and explain its strange effects on people."

Seconding When Worlds Collide and The World, The Flesh and the Devi/The Quiet Earth.

I believe you're tending more serious than mid-50s offerings like The Monolith Monsters ("Rocks from a meteor which grow when in contact with water threaten a sleepy Southwestern desert community. ")
posted by a person of few words at 1:36 PM on December 25, 2020

Came here to mention ‘Five Million Years To Earth’ aka ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ also, a person of few words.
The other movie that comes to mind is ‘Day Of The Triffids.’
posted by Gadgetenvy at 2:49 PM on December 25, 2020

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