The idea of the end of the world is something humanity has grappled with throughout history. Predictions of total annihilation by divine entities have come from a range of different cultures and religions. In more recent times, they have also come from Hollywood – as films about nuclear annihilation, zombie attacks, and dystopian futures have become standard cinematic offerings.
To determine the best movies about the end of the world, 24/7 Tempo developed an index of feature films using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of Dec. 1, 2022, weighting all ratings equally. We considered only movies that are set during the apocalypse or in a post-apocalyptic world, or otherwise deal with apocalyptic themes. Directorial credits are from IMDb.
Many of these movies are based on threats that seem at least plausible like nuclear war, computers becoming sentient, and the existence of hostile extraterrestrial life. Others focus on supernatural threats like divine destruction or attacks by fantastic creatures.
Many of these stories reflect extreme collective anxiety around the threat of nuclear annihilation, especially during the Cold War. Perhaps we have come much closer to the end than many people realize: There have been a number of nuclear mistakes that nearly caused the apocalypse.
The downfall of humanity caused by deadly pathogens is another common theme. In some of these films, pandemics sweep through, leaving millions dead. In others, the viruses transform humans into zombie-like shells of their former selves. (These are the best zombie movies of all time.)
There are also several science fiction thrillers about advanced technology spiraling out of our control. “The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” and “Colossus: The Forbin Project” are about scientific and technological breakthroughs that lead to unforeseen consequences putting humanity in peril.
All these films deal with the apocalypse in very different ways – some are extremely heavy and dark films, others are action thrillers, and a few are even comedies. We all deal with tragedy in different ways and these films help to capture our outlook on threats to our civilization and species as a whole.