The best post-apocalyptic movies of all time

7. Shaun of the Dead

Equal parts parody and homage, Edgar Wright’s first entry in the unofficial cornetto trilogy is the most fun you can have when the apocalypse hits. Our eponymous protagonist is dealing with a break-up when a zombie outbreak takes over the town, and in very British fashion, his solution is to gather his mates, head to the pub, and wait for it to all blow over. With loving references to Night of the Living Dead and the Evil Dead trilogy sprinkled throughout, Shaun of the Dead tackles the aftermath of an apocalyptic-outbreak with an infectious sense of fun. It’s also the film where Wright truly found his visual voice, paving the way for his recognisable whip-cuts and expert comedic timing.

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.

(Kennedy Miller Productions)
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. 

(Warner Bros.)
28. Akira

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.

(Bandai Co.)
27. Contagion

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.

(Warner Bros.)
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.

25. Dredd

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.

23. Delicatessen

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.

(Embassy Pictures)
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...

(Kennedy Miller)
20. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow, or Live Die Repeat, or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (is anyone entirely sure?) is an alien-fighting Groundhog Day. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, a soldier battling in an alien-infested post-apocalyptic wasteland. Cage’s day resets each time he dies and he goes back to training with Special Forces Agent Rita (Emily Blunt) – but he’s desperate for a way out of the cycle. In this mind-bending time adventure, every encounter gets the pair one step closer to defeating the enemy as they attempt to take the fight straight to the aliens. Whilst it might not always make sense, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

(Warner Bros.)
19. 10 Cloverfield Lane

In this loose sequel to Matt Reeves Cloverfield, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with two strangers who claim an alien invasion is happening above ground. With career-standout performances from Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., and John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense roller-coaster ride where you’re never quite sure what is the truth. A tremendous finale will leave this movie in your mind a long time after the credits roll.

17. A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is a perfect example of a simple premise executed to perfection. A world overtaken by blind monsters who will attack at the slightest noise means that one family is living in complete silence. With no spoken dialogue, the tension is kept high and constant through moving performances and subtitled sign language. It is so easy to become invested in the safety of these characters that A Quiet Place will leave you on the edge of your seat, holding your breath for fear of making a noise yourself. 

16. Zombieland

This top-tier zombie comedy envisions a post-apocalyptic future in which Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) lives by a strict set of rules to get by, a list that includes the likes of "Don’t be a hero". After he meets the hilarious stetson-wearing Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) he’s forced to team up and share his rules and he comes to find some family in all the chaos. Zombieland is riotous fun and the ultimate comedy to watch with friends thanks to Bill Murray’s cameo and the epic final act in an abandoned amusement park.

(Sony Pictures)
15. Avengers: Endgame

After Thanos wipes out half of all living things and retreats to his farmhouse sanctuary, humanity is left to pick up the pieces. The MCU made history with a decade-spanning story arc and, in Avengers: Endgame, they tie it all up effortlessly. The movie pulls together a fitting farewell to earth’s mightiest heroes and paves the path for something new. The Russo brothers tackle real human issues with galactic proportions as they delve deep into PTSD, anxiety, and survivor’s guilt making the heroes both fallible and accessible. All great movies use fantasy to examine reality, and the MCU is no different – Endgame is heartbreaking but hopeful, and a worthy entry on this list.

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
14. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The standout movie of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy. Once again, Andy Serkis delivers a masterful motion-capture performance as Caesar. The movie is full of exhilarating battles with emotional weight, as over a decade of devastation has yet to put an end to the war between man and ape. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is both the perfect summer blockbuster and a memorable social commentary.

(20th Century Studios)
13. A Boy and his Dog

This oddball black comedy tells the tale of Vic (Don Johnson), a young teen and Blood, his telepathic dog. Yes, you read that right. The pair traverse a post-nuclear war wasteland in 2021, and illiterate Vic relies on Blood to scout for women whilst Vic scouts for food. A Boy and his Dog is an absurdist comedy where nothing is as it seems, and it’s worth seeing for the provocative comedy and bizarrely entertaining chemistry between our two protagonists.

(LQ/Jaf Productions)
12. Dawn of the Dead

George A. Romero is one of the kings of horror, and his second entry in his enduring zombie saga is arguably his best. In Dawn of the Dead, four survivors of an apocalypse are stranded in a mall surrounded by the undead. Acting as both a thrilling zombie showdown and perceptive social commentary, the movie looks to use the sub-genre to challenge society’s intense and ever-growing consumer culture. Dawn of the Dead was a huge influence on every post-apocalyptic and zombie movie that came after, and its impact on genre cinema as a whole is immeasurable.

(United Artists)
11. Snowpiercer

Following a failed climate-change experiment, the last of earth’s survivors live aboard a train travelling endlessly around the globe. Tackling the climate crisis in his English-language debut, director Bong Joon-ho adapts the french graphic novel chronicling the class divides of second Ice Age survivors. Occupants are neatly compartmentalized with the poor at the back of the train, and the rich at the far more luxurious front. As dictatorship and hierarchy onboard become more and more intense, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) stages a revolt inciting a carriage-by-carriage coup. Snowpiercer is a fierce social commentary that gains momentum as it moves further along the train in a steam-punk style post-apocalyptic parable. 

10. 12 Monkeys

Former member of the Monty Python troupe, Terry Gilliam, directs this dark time-travel journey. James (Bruce Willis) is sent to the past to find a cure for the disease which has since ravaged mankind. When he arrives in 1990, he has the not-so-easy task of convincing everyone that he isn't crazy, and he’s subsequently put into a psychiatric facility. David Peoples, the film’s screenwriter, also penned Blade Runner, so expect similar impressive landscapes alongside a story that’s both unsettling and moving.

9. 28 Days Later

A staple feature of many "best zombie movies" lists, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later never actually refers to any of it’s infected as zombies. Instead of focussing on the monsters, the director spends a good chunk of the film encompassing the viewer in an eerie, empty London. The atmosphere is heavy as protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to a ghost town following an outbreak of the "rage virus". 28 Days Later and its home-made, gritty look make it a standout of the genre. It’s chilling to watch as Jim wanders an abandoned city unbeknownst to what happened to everyone around him, and it only becomes bleaker and bleaker as he meets the infected and the military on his search for answers.

(Searchlight Pictures)
8. The Terminator

There's a reason Terminator has spawned countless sequels and spin-off shows: there's are simply dozens upon dozens of potential stories to tell in James Cameron's dystopian world. while Terminator takes place, for the most part, in the very regular '80s, Arnold Schwarzenegger's eponymous character is actually a cyborg sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) the mother of future resistance leader, John. Now, the resistance also has their own protective plans in place, and send Sarah a protector in the form of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who will do anything to keep her safe. The Terminator, of course, put James Cameron on the map, proving his skills at world-building, character development, and genre were exceedingly good.

(Orion Pictures)
6. The Matrix

Written and directed by the Wachowski sisters, The Matrix is a hall of fame post-apocalyptic sci-fi. When Neo wakes up to the real world around him, thanks to computer hacker Morpheus, he encounters a ravaged wasteland where it’s man versus machine. The movie features some ground-breaking fight choreography and an instantly recognisable style that still captivates audiences 20 years later. Embedded into pop culture references by countless movies and TV shows, The Matrix more than earns its spot in our top ten.

(Warner Bros)
5. Stalker

This Russian arthouse flick takes place in an industrial landscape known as The Zone. We follow three men, Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), and Professor (Nikolai Grinko) through the devastated land to a hidden room that is said to grant people’s deepest held wishes. The movie is renowned for its striking visuals and layered ideologies. Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky crafts a challenging story that debates philosophy, nihilism, truth, and beauty. As weird as it gets, stick with it till the end for an immensely rewarding experience.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

One of the greatest action movies in recent years, Mad Max: Fury Road is non-stop adrenaline from start to end. Starring Tom Hardy’s Max alongside Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, the famed trilogy’s original creator George Miller brings back his post-apocalyptic nightmare with new technologies and even riskier vehicle stunts. Fury Road takes you racing through a scorched wasteland with amped-up warboys, fire-breathing guitars, and some of the most insane stunts seen on screen. It’s a staggering technical achievement made all the more energetic thanks to Margaret Sixel’s genius editing and Junkie XL’s intense score. Theron’s Imperator Furisoa becomes a fearsome protagonist in her bid to rescue Immortan Joe’s ‘wives’ from captivity. The women grafiti the wall with “We are not things” in a refreshing feminist war cry that finds its place beautifully amidst the frenetic action.

(Warner Bros.)

At this point, the Pixar formula is pretty much untouchable. The film studio is able to elicit tears from the hardest of hearts with their moving tributes to family and adventure, and WALL-E is perhaps a standout in their filmography. The movie tells the story of an adorable garbage-collecting robot on an abandoned Earth far into the future. WALL-E journeys into space after falling in love with another robot named EVE, and yes, of course robots can fall in love.

WALL-E remains simply charming whilst it deals with some harrowing issues around climate change and how we treat the earth and each other. Looking to a future that we’re probably headed for in reality, the film targets greed, excess, and big corporations in the form of fictional conglomerate Buy n Large. However, thanks to our endearing robot protagonist, WALL-E is an ultimately hopeful dystopian tale, that promises humanity will still do the right thing if given the chance.

2. Children of Men

It’s 2027, women are infertile and the youngest person in the world – just 18 – has died. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men puts a reluctant hero in a broken world at its centre in the form of Theo (Clive Owen). When the former activist encounters a pregnant woman for the first time in years, he missions to get her to safety. The film remains memorable for its realistic shaky-cam combat and impressive one-shot scenes, including one inside a packed getaway car. 

The bleak story acts both as a post-apocalyptic thriller and a parable of sorts, as the closed borders, internment camps, and the rich hid away in their ivory towers feel all too familiar as we head further into 2021. Easily one of Cuarón’s best, the masterful Children of Men feels just as impactful upon every rewatch.

(Universal Studios)
1. The Road

Probably the saddest entry on this list, The Road – based on Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel and directed by John Hillcoat – is an equally harrowing and tender experience. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi McPhee play a father and his young son, travelling across a charred America following an extinction-level event. We follow as the pair work to stay alive and avoid roaming gangs as they search the coast for warmth. It’s slow, sombre, and completely absorbing. The chemistry between the two actors and the tiny glimmer of hope at its heart are enough to earn the movie the top spot on our list of best post-apocalyptic movies.

(Dimension Films)

From desert wastelands to far-future dystopias, these are the 30 best post-apocalyptic movies of all time