When it comes to movies, “the end of the world” has a plethora of meanings. It could simply mean the end of civilization, plunging the world into some anarchic, irradiated wasteland (like the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road). It could literally mean the destruction of the planet itself (see Melancholia later in this list). It could mean…. Leonard Bernstein…. we think (seriously, R.E.M., what the hell?). It could also be a story about how we came really, really close to getting wiped out but were saved at the last minute by science or Keanu Reeves.
What follows is a series of nine movies that fit any of those descriptions, and because video stores went through their own apocalypse, we limited it to movies that you can view on one of the many subscription streaming services.
If you were to tell us ten years ago that Brad Pitt would star in a commercially successful zombie movie, we’d probably reply with “well, that is a plausible, albeit oddly random, scenario.” This 2013 survival-action flick may have strayed from the original novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel!), but it’s still a pretty fun movie. It’s directed by Marc Forster, who also did Monster’s Ball and Quantum of Solace.
In Lars Von Trier’s 2011 film, “Melancholia” is both the depressive condition suffered by Kirsten Dunst’s Justine and the name of the rogue planet that may or may not crash into the Earth. Less a disaster epic and more a character study, Von Trier intended to explore the way that chronically depressed individuals react during a crisis.
When a supposed cure for global warming turns the entire planet into a ball of ice, the remnants of humanity live on a train that circles the globe. Dark, stylish and really kind of messed up in parts, it’s from Korean direct Joon-ho Bong (The Host) and stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris.
Beyond the Time Barrier (Netflix)
The end of the world doesn’t always have to be depressing. Sometimes it can be fun! When a test pilot from 1960 (the year this film was released) flies through a wormhole, he ends up in the year 2024. It’s a future where most of humanity has been wiped out (or turned into mutants) by a mysterious virus. Sci-fi B-movie hijinks ensue!
Deep Impact (Netflix)
For whatever reason, 1998 saw not just one but two movies about giant objects hurtling toward Earth. While Michael Bay’s Armageddon focus on the efforts to blow the thing up (which, in reality, is a horrible idea), Deep Impact focused more on how the people on Earth were preparing for the eventual, er… impact (there is an effort to use nuclear weapons on the thing, but mainly to deflect it as opposed to… oh, look, you don’t care).
Here’s a fun fact: often considered the first “real” zombie film, the word “zombie” is never actually uttered once in the movie. The living dead in this instance are referred to as “ghouls.” Anyway, in George Romero’s horror classic, the dead turn into ghouls and try to eat everyone. It’s been remade, inspired knock-offs, and sequels which, in turn, have also been remade.
Last Night (Amazon Prime)
In Don McKellar’s Last Night, it’s never fully explained exactly how the world is supposed to end, just that it’s going to. The film, which stars director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly) and Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh, examines how a variety of characters react to the end of all things. Sort of like a less funny Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
It’s a Disaster (Amazon Prime)
Glen (David Cross) is attending a brunch with his new girlfriend (Julia Stiles) and her dysfunctional, weirdo friends. Things get even more awkward when bombs go off, a pandemic begins, and, yeah, everyone is pretty much gonna die.
The Beginning of the End (MST3K) (Hulu)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one “animals mutate into giant versions of themselves” movies on the list. While The Beginning of the End is a fun enough classic B-movie in its own right (starring Biography‘s Peter Graves, who went to the University of Minnesota, don’tcha know?), it’s also a classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, as well. Laugh until it hurts as giant grasshoppers rise up and attempt to murder everyone!
EDIT: A previous version of this piece accidentally listed Tilda Swinton as “Tilda Swanson”. This has been corrected.