10 Ways The World Has Ended in the Movies


In the movies, the ways in which the world will end are endless. Whether it be with bang or a whimper, directors have been exploring terrifying options for the apocalypse since the beginning of film. If you’ve already watched all the usual suspects, consider the list below as new fuel your nightmares.

1. Big Things (4:44 Last Day on Earth)
This gets explored in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but we’re inherently afraid of things larger than us. Which is why Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth is such a stirring end of the world in the same year as Melancolia. Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh) spend their final hours waiting for the ozone layer to burst. It also features the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it third billed role from Paz de la Huerta.

2. Religious Figurehead (Cabin in the Woods)
The end of the world and religion go hand in hand. But it helps to be deconstructed like in Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, which directly linked common horror film tropes to appeasing an actual ancient evil that the worlds’ governments serve. After unleashing literal hell, the survivors lament that it would’ve been so much better if they got to see a real god at the end of the world. Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon are more than happy to please—with a handy catch.

3. A Self-Aware Siri (Demon Seed)
Machines are one thing, but self-aware artificial intelligences are another. Demon Seed is Donald Cammell’s adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel where a scientist’s evolving computer system asks, “when will you let me out of this box?” From there it becomes a mixture of Rosemary’s Baby and the first “organic” man-machine hybrid that ends on the chilling note: “I am alive.” As if we weren’t already frightened enough by Hal-9000.

4. A Rock From Space (End of the World)
We won’t bore you with easy answers like Armageddonor Deep Impact and how the end of the world can be stopped with an Aerosmith song. Instead, the 1916 Danish film End of the World sparked the fear of us going out like the dinosaurs. Only the people reacted differently: going crazy from fear and justifying their own end with the comet never touching down. The type of lesson that Michael Bay clearly missed in “Blowing Stuff Up 101.”

5. The Year 2012 (Fish Story)
Fish Story is an epic story about the end of the world and how an obscure punk song inspired by a mistranslated fishing book helps defeat pirates, inspires rock and roll and becomes crucial to averting the apocalypse.

6. A Self-Aware Machine (Hardware)
Robots are clearly going to try to remake the world as they see fit. The world of Hardware is already ruined, but when Dylan McDermot reactivates the M.A.R.K. 13 he sentences everyone to death. It’s not enough that the nuclear apocalypse happened, but this was inspired by the British sci-fi anthology A.D. 2000 which was also the home for Judge Dredd, originally portrayed by Sly Stallone in 1995 and Karl Urban in the 2012 reboot.

7. Aliens (Signs)
Foreign invaders are always trouble. Signs is one of the great unsung apocalyptic films not only because it’s M. Night Shyamalan’s best Alfred Hitchcock impersonation, down to the credits, but it deals with a single story in an otherwise global event. How does a family in rural Pennsylvania stay together if the big bad aliens are real and, even if they survive, listen closely to the broadcast about how much of humanity is left behind. It’s a bigger twist than that lame “swing away, Merrill” line.

8. Metal Men (Tetsuo the Iron Man)
Shinya Tsukamoto, the most destructive, artistic force of the ’80s punk movie scene, emblazoned the indie world with the apocalyptic scrap metal werewolf creature Tetsuo the Iron Man. Tsukamoto’s two sequels Body Hammer and The Bullet Man would take his apocalyptic view even further—can you say living tanks?

9. The Almighty Atom (The Man Who Stole the Sun)
If there was ever a way to end the world, why not make it be atomic? The Man Who Stole the Sun is a little-known Japanese film from 1979 written by Paul Schrader’s brother, Leonard. Following a high school teacher that builds an atomic bomb and eventually decides to detonate it at a Rolling Stones concert. Consider it the Japanese Dr. Strangelove, down to the bureaucratic response to an atomic bomb being in the public.

10. Trees (Treevenge)
Jason Eisener’s Treevenge answers the question: “What if The Happening were set in a grindhouse?” Lying in wait for Christmas day, trees across Austin rise up and rip apart the evil humans that’ve slaughtered them for so long. Eisener would go on with his exploitation kick with his first solo feature, Hobo with a Shotgun.

For more stories that’ll scare you, watch THE RETURNED. Season 2 returns Sat. Oct. 31 at 10/9c on SundanceTV. Catch up with THE RETURNED Season 1 now.