Calling It Quits: Movies to See You Through the Apocalypse
Imagine, if you will, the planet Melancholia is inching ever closer across the night sky. Experts claim it will just bypass the Earth but the closer it gets, the less you trust their opinion. And by your own back-of-the-envelope calculations they could be proved wrong within days.
It’s a terrible thought, but which apocalyptic movies could help you process the prospect of imminent global annihilation – or at least cheer you up some? Here are ten entertainments to ease you on down the road…
DR STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
Made less than 20 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki imprinted the mushroom cloud on the haunted imagination of the world, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece was based (rather loosely) on a serious novel about nuclear brinksmanship, but took off in another direction. The more seriously Kubrick thought about it, the more the subject tipped into satire and black comedy.
Enlisting visiting Esquire journalist Terry Southern to help him, the director added the mad scientist Strangelove (one of three roles played by Peter Sellers) and deftly traced in a lubricious arc of sexual innuendo, which may or may not have flown over the heads of the censors. Mutually Assured Destruction would never be quite the same again.
Survival Tips: None really
PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
US astronauts wake up 2000 years after leaving Earth to find themselves on a strange, barren, desert planet populated by a primitive human race who have been enslaved by far more sophisticated apes.
Scripted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling from a 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote The Bridge over the River Kwai), Planet of the Apes is one of those sci-fi films that never really dates. It’s famous for one of the most memorable denouements in cinema, but this more than a one-shot movie - it’s a tough, gritty and compelling action adventure film. Ironically, for such a downer, it led to four sequels and a TV spinoff.
Survival Tips: Basic Scout Skills could still come in handy. Be nice to fellow primates.
Technically not an apocalypse movie, since the world appears to be more or less put to rights by the end… Yet Peter Jackson’s unhinged splatter comedy certainly seems like perfect end-times viewing. As the title subtly hints, this is not a movie for philosophical rumination, but a no-holds-barred zombie fest, in which timid New Zealander Lionel Cosgrove desperately tries to cover up the multiple homicides committed by his ravenous mum after she’s been bitten by Sumatran Rat Monkey. No easy matter – as her victims don’t stay dead.
Few would have predicted that within a decade Jackson would have pulled off one of the most expensive and profitable film projects ever made, but Braindead is pure midnight movie bliss – gorily excessive to the point of surrealism, and very funny if you’re up for it.
Survival Tips: Your lawnmower is your best friend.
A rubbish compacting unit, WALL-E has been cleaning up the Earth for 700 years when a shiny new space probe – Eve – comes to visit. WALL-E is smitten. He shows her his collection of garbage, including bubble wrap, a lighter, and a VHS of “Hello Dolly”. She gives him the cold shoulder.
Then he presents her with his most prized treasure – a weed – and she shuts down completely, ratting him out to our descendents on a nearby space cruiser. Probably Pixar’s single greatest achievement of the last ten years, WALL-E is replete with moments of grace and beauty: a zero gravity pas-de-deux before the Milky Way (Wall-E propelled by a fire extinguisher); Eve’s maternal glow as she carries out her primary directive; the fleeting moment when first-time space traveler Wall-E turns back and sees the Earth, and tries to share his joy in the discovery.
Survival Tips: Go green. Garden.
Probably the most benign movie of the bunch – yes, even WALL-E is more cynical about humanity, this typically amiable comedy from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost inserts British jokers into a Steven Spielberg scenario. Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost) are on a road trip to Comic-Con via sites of extraordinary extraterrestrial importance who happen to bump into an actual real life alien (the eponymous Paul – voiced by Seth Rogen) on the run from the authorities. Jason Bateman is the special agent on their trail.
Survival Tips: Don’t trust the authorities.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)
Brixton, Guy Fawkes Night: local bad boys are distracted by a meteorite crashing their turf. More than distracted when they realize there is alien life form on board – this smells like money to them. Unfortunately this wasn’t an isolated visitor, and they’re soon looking distinctly out of their depth. The first feature from Joe Cornish is a winner, a cult action comedy anyone can enjoy.
Survival Tips: Fire – it’s worth a try.
A swanky Nordic wedding self-destructs perhaps under the baleful influence of the new moon in the sky, the planet Melancholia. Incoming! Kirsten Dunst is the jilting bride who bears the brunt of the despair Lars von Trier heaps on a dysfunctional world in this grandiloquent allegory, which gives us the end of everything in microcosm, on a country estate in the middle of nowhere. The acting, by the way, is out of this world.
Survival Tips: Denial. It’s the only strategy that works. Morale Boost: 0/5 Seriously, if Armageddon is imminent, don’t watch this movie, it will only depress you.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012)
Essentially Melancholia, the rom-com. Matilda, a giant asteroid, is hurtling towards the planet. A thoroughly average insurance adjuster (Steve Carell) hears the news with a tear, but his day is about to get worse when his wife chooses this moment to walk out on him. While the rest of the world gets down to orgies and rioting, our Steve heads out cross-country with an English stranger (Keira Knightley) who wants to help him track down the gal that got away. It’s, uh, more amusing than it sounds.
Survival Tips: Always abide by the speed limit. And if a close relative is a licensed pilot, mend bridges.
COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES (2012)
There may be aliens in Brixton but there are seventeenth century zombies lurking in the East End, as a gang of bankrobbers are about to find out. (Any similarities to Attack the Block are entirely coincidental.) The zombie film is the genre that just keeps on giving, and this low budget British lark is surprisingly well done, much more inventive than the, uh, hackneyed synopsis suggests. The stand-off at an old folk’s home… Classic!
Survival Tips: Keep your zimmer frame handy!
Survival Tips: Another one for the road.