Best Post Apocalyptic Movies — How To Live in the End Times - Featured

The post-apocalypse can often be one of the most intense and dynamic settings for a film. There have been many excellent post-apocalyptic films over the years but also plenty of not-so-good ones. Sorting through the deluge of ’80s Mad Max knockoffs and contemporary low-budget, straight-to-DVD apocalyptic films can make finding the gems a little tricky. Today we present you with a list of the best post-apocalyptic movies ever made.

best post-apocalyptic movies

Setting the ground rules

Let’s set a couple of quick ground rules before getting into it. We’ll be ranking these films based on overall quality as an entry into the canon of post-apocalyptic cinema, meaning the degree to which the end-of-the-world scenario factors into plot will make a difference. We will also be scoring each film on the individual strengths of their storytelling, filmmaking, and apocalyptic world-building.

It’s important to draw a distinction between post-apocalyptic films and dystopian films as the two sub-genres do occasionally get mixed up or grouped together. A dystopian movie showcases an undesirable society that, while awful, is still functioning to at least a moderate degree. Post-apocalyptic films have little semblance of what could be called a functioning society. 

Many zombie films double as apocalyptic films. While there are many great visions of the apocalypse showcased in zombie films like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead, we won’t be including them in this list. This is a list made specifically for non-zombie apocalypses. But, if you are looking for a rundown of the best zombie movies ever made, we have you covered.

Post apocalyptic films

20. A Quiet Place (2018)

A behind the scenes look at A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place stands out from other post-apocalyptic movies through it’s unique creature and world rules. This is the only apocalyptic movie where all of the danger is driven by sound. It’s a compelling hook, executed exceptionally well on a technical front but less impressively on the narrative front.

There are some plot holes/inconsistencies and much of the conflict seems like it could be resolved or sidestepped entirely if the protagonists were just a little bit more clever. The PG-13 rating also leaves the film feeling a little bit toothless and overly sanitized. These are issues the sequel may be able to address.

30%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
60%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
55%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Unique apocalypse
  • Interesting creatures
  • Fantastic sound design
  • Plot holes
  • Tame
  • Character choices

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

A Quiet Place holds a lot of merit and originality despite a number of shortcomings in the script department.

Post apocalyptic sci fi movies

19. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2017)

Producer J.J. Abrams offers some insights on 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane is the only post-apocalyptic film on this list to have you questioning throughout your first watch whether or not it is in fact a post-apocalyptic film. The ways in which the film withholds and carefully doles out information keep you guessing all the way until the ending. Is the captor, played brilliantly by John Goodman, telling the truth about the end of the world, or is it all a bunch of sick lies?

75%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
30%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
60%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Performances
  • Tension
  • Tight script
  • Closing minutes
  • N/A
  • N/A

Post apocalyptic sci fi movies

Conclusion

10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut psychological thriller with a dash of post-apocalyptic speculation.

Post apocalyptic movies list

18. Embers (2015)

Best Post Apocalyptic Movies  •  Embers

Embers is a smaller post-apocalyptic film, touring the film-festival circuit but not receiving a full theatrical release. It stands out from other, bigger post-apocalyptic films with a dynamite premise and wholly unique world-ending cause.

In Embers, the cause of the apocalypse is a neurological epidemic that causes frequent, total memory loss. Imagine if everyone in the world tried to live life the way Guy Pierce’s character does in Memento at the same time. Unfortunately, Embers doesn’t fully live up to the incredible premise, and the vignette structure means that parts of the film are far less engrossing than others, but it is still worth a watch regardless.

50%
STORYTELLING
50%
FILMMAKING
85%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
62%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Brilliant concept
  • Opening hook
  • Look of the world
  • Structure
  • Surface level
  • Some weak characters

Post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Embers might not deliver to the standard of quality that its excellent concept deserves but it is still worth a curiosity watch at the very least.

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

17. This is the End (2013)

How This is the End was made

If you prefer comedy in your post-apocalyptic films, then This is the End might be the film for you. It’s a little less “post” apocalyptic than most of the films on this list and a little more “mid” apocalyptic, or “rapturous” you could call it. This comedy gets great mileage out of the apocalyptic conceit and is very funny throughout.

Another hilarious film from the same year and with a very similar title is The World’s End directed by Edgar Wright, which is arguably a much higher quality film but features the apocalypse in only a few quick moments at the very end, so it does not quite qualify as a post-apocalyptic movie and This is the End grabs this spot on the list instead.

65%
STORYTELLING
60%
FILMMAKING
55%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
60%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cast
  • Humor
  • Variety
  • Some misses
  • Overstuffed
  • N/A

Best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

A stacked cast makes this a great ensemble comedy within the end of the world framings.

Good post apocalyptic movies

16. The Book of Eli (2010)

Post Apocalyptic Movies  •  The Book of Eli

A cool-as-hell Denzel Washington in the lead role and a fun villain performance from Gary Oldman slightly elevate The Book of Eli from being a run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic movie.

The wasteland world of the film looks great but also feels perhaps a little too familiar or uninspired, as do the plot points and the various threats the protagonist comes across. It’s just one notch above generic, almost like the most palatable version of the stock-standard post-apocalyptic tropes and archetypes.

55%
STORYTELLING
60%
FILMMAKING
65%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
60%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Look of the world
  • Denzel and Oldman
  • Bursts of action
  • Overly familiar
  • Weak ending
  • Goofy story elements

Top 20 post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

It’s unlikely to knock your sock off but will do the trick if you’re looking to exist in a well-realized apocalyptic world for a bit.

Top post apocalyptic movies

15. Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Feature-length documentary chronicling Terry Gilliam’s filmmaking process

Terry Gilliam’s wonderfully imagined films covered the full spectrum of movie genres and settings, and with Twelve Monkeys, he tackled both science fiction and the post-apocalypse. In Twelve Monkeys, the apocalyptic world came about when a man-made pathogen wiped out the vast majority of human life on earth.

We might not get to see too much of the apocalyptic world given the time-travel storyline, but what we do see of the end-times exteriors is a frozen landscape fully slipped from the clutches of mankind.

Find out where Twelve Monkeys ranked on our lists of Terry Gilliam's best movies and the best sci-fi films ever made.
75%
STORYTELLING
75%
FILMMAKING
60%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
70%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Gilliam’s direction
  • Screenplay
  • Brad Pitt
  • Light on apocalyptic future
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Brad Pitt scored a much deserved Oscar nomination for his standout supporting role, and the film also scored a costume design nomination for Julie Weiss as well.

Post apocalyptic movies

14. Planet of the Apes (1968)

Classic Post Apocalyptic Movies  •  Planet of the Apes

When it comes to the Planet of the Apes films, you have a lot of options to choose from. Not many people consider the 2001 remake one of Tim Burton’s best movies, and few will pick from the litany of subpar sequels that came out throughout the '70s, but the contemporary trilogy, which made use of groundbreaking VFX, and the original film are each worthy options. We’ve gone with the 1968 film whose grand scope, strong acting and plotting, and iconic ending all stand the test of time.

75%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
70%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
72%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Grand scale
  • Classy vibe
  • Iconic ending
  • Cheesiness
  • Dated elements
  • N/A

Good post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Planet of the Apes is set much farther into the future than most post-apocalyptic films, long after the fall of man.

Great post apocalyptic movies

13. The Terminator (1984)

Making of mini-doc

The Terminator is an excellent action, sci-fi, slasher film. The post-apocalyptic future of the Terminator franchise is the looming threat of what could happen if our heroes fail in their missions, or what might be inevitable no matter how you slice it if you go by the logic of the sequels.

The Terminator would rank higher on this list if the post-apocalyptic elements were more prominent on screen. The first and second Terminator films can be thought of as sharing this spot as they feature about the same amount of attention paid to the post-apocalyptic future. Some of the sequels focus much more heavily on the post-apocalyptic elements but take a major dive in the film-quality department.

See where T2 ranked on our lists of James Cameron's best movies and the best action films ever made.

80%
STORYTELLING
90%
FILMMAKING
55%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Action
  • Characters
  • Story
  • Low apocalypse 
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

More of the apocalyptic future may have earned The Terminator a higher spot on this list but would have also likely weakened the overall film.

Top 20 post apocalyptic movies

12. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Things you didn’t know about Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is the classic story of society falling away from the control of mankind as human beings are replaced with identical copies. We could have gone with the original 1956 film which draws heavily from the “Red Scare” of the time, but the 1978 update is arguably the more-enjoyable film and the one that leans far heavier into the world-ending implications of a world taken over by an unseen alien force.

70%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
65%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
69%
OVERALL SCORE
  • A rare great remake
  • Fantastic ending
  • Sutherland, Nimoy
  • Some cheesiness
  • Could explore deeper
  • N/A

Good post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers should be considered a bonafide horror classic.

Great post apocalyptic movies

11. It Comes at Night (2017)

Post Apocalyptic Films  •  It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night suffered from a severe case of misleading marketing. Audiences went into It Comes at Night expecting a horror film when that is not at all what the film is. Even the title is misleading as it led to many viewers shouting, “nothing came at night!” as the credits rolled. But despite the misleading advertising, the film stands strong on its own merits as a tense and emotional post-apocalyptic thriller with a crushing sense of isolation and a small, capable cast.

70%
STORYTELLING
80%
FILMMAKING
60%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
70%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Raw emotions
  • Strong cast
  • High tension
  • Very small scale
  • Highly ambiguous
  • Minimal world exploration 

Post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

If you haven’t already seen the marketing materials for It Comes at Night, then try jumping right into the film blind.

Post apocalyptic movies list

10. The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Watch a classic post apocalyptic film on YouTube

Many of the post-apocalyptic films to follow owe a debt of gratitude to The Last Man on Earth. This Vincent Price-led film set a standard for abandoned urban environments and isolated apocalyptic survival. The same source material was later adapted as The Omega Man in 1971 and then again as I Am Legend in 2007. You can consider those two sharing this spot on the list as honorable mentions.

70%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
80%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
74%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Vincent Price
  • Abandoned locations
  • Classic story
  • Dated moments
  • Film Deterioration
  • N/A

The best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

The Last Man on Earth is in the public domain so tracking down a copy to watch is extremely easy.

Top post apocalyptic movies

9. Snowpiercer (2013)

A simple technique explained in one of the best post apocalyptic movies

Joon-ho Bong’s sci-fi action flick Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic film not quite like any other. The final survivors on earth outlast the harsh, frozen wasteland by perpetually traveling around the planet in a custom-built train designed to run forever.

Snowpiercer is well-constructed and overflowing with the same social commentary later tackled somewhat more subtly in Bong’s film Parasite.

75%
STORYTELLING
90%
FILMMAKING
65%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
77%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Action set-pieces
  • Social Commentary
  • Performances
  • Lacks subtlety
  • N/A
  • N/A

Best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Snowpiercer is an endlessly entertaining film with great action and strong performances from Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Kang-ho Song.

The best post apocalyptic movies

8. The Rover (2014)

Post Apocalyptic Movies  •  The Rover

The Rover tells an extremely simple story but tells it with wonderful commitment to its violent world and grimy aesthetic. The apocalyptic wasteland of The Rover feels fully realized and familiar but just idiosyncratic enough to feel distinct.

Guy Pearce is excellent in the lead role and Robert Pattinson really impresses with his grungy performance, one of the first as he rebranded himself following the Twilight films.

60%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
90%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
74%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Portrayal of violence
  • Apocalyptic world
  • Grimy visuals
  • Simplistic story
  • N/A
  • N/A

Post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

The violence in The Rover is heavy and sharp, and the world feels like it’s full of danger at every turn.

Top post apocalyptic movies

7. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Those Red Letter Media frauds discuss Roar Warrior

Arriving just two years after the original Mad Max, The Road Warrior feels like a huge step up all around and completely eclipses the preceding film, which didn’t feel particularly post-apocalyptic due to the minimal budget.

The Road Warrior saw George Miller’s full vision for the Australian apocalypse take life. The action is great, the world design is unforgettable and stands tall as the best of the Mad Max trilogy by far… but it didn’t stay a trilogy forever...

70%
STORYTELLING
75%
FILMMAKING
90%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
79%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Australian wasteland
  • Car-centric apocalypse
  • Design elements
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

The best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is a classic of both the action and post-apocalyptic genres and spawned countless low-budget knockoffs throughout the '80s.

Best post apocalyptic movies

6. Delicatessen (1991)

The unique world of Delicatessen

Delicatessen offers a unique vision of the apocalypse, one with off-kilter visuals and heaps of black humor. From directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who would go on to make Amelie 10 years later, Delicatessen offers a grungy yet whimsical look at a post apocalypse where food is an extreme rarity and takes on the role of currency.

80%
STORYTELLING
80%
FILMMAKING
70%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
77%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Surrealism
  • Dark humor
  • Off-beat visuals
  • Not everyone’s cup of tea
  • Over stylized at points
  • N/A

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

The surreal stylings and peculiar visual style of Delicatessen may not be enjoyable to all viewers, but most should at least be able to appreciate the ingenuity and inventiveness on display.

Post apocalyptic films

5. The War of the Worlds (1938)

Orson Welles’ original radio broadcast

Few works of end-of-the-world fiction are able to legitimately convince audiences that the world is truly ending, but that is exactly what the original 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds did for listeners all across the country.

If a radio play sounds too much like cheating on this film list to you, then consider this spot going to the 1953 film adaptation. The story penned by H.G. Wells is a monumental work of fiction and the narration from Orson Welles is positively sublime.

90%
STORYTELLING
70%
FILMMAKING
85%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
82%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Convinced real people
  • Orson Welles Narration
  • Classic story
  • No visual component
  • Less effective today
  • N/A

Best post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

The War of the Worlds is an important piece of work in the evolving history of fiction.

Post apocalyptic movies

4. Stalker (1979)

Lengthy video essay from CinemaTyler

Given that he is one of the master filmmakers of his generation, it should come as no surprise that Andrei Tarkovsky’s foray into the post-apocalyptic genre would wind up being one of the best. This lengthy film blends together elements of science fiction, horror, spirituality, and surrealism to wonderful effect. Stalker feels wholly unique amongst all of the other post-apocalyptic films on this list as far as tone is concerned.

85%
STORYTELLING
95%
FILMMAKING
80%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
87%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Tarkovsky’s direction
  • Screenplay
  • Themes
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Stalker is a heavier watch than many of the films on this list and features a longer running time, so be prepared before diving in.

Best post apocalyptic movies

3. Max Max: Fury Road (2015)

Fury Road VFX breakdown

After 30 years away from the series, George Miller returned to the world of Mad Max and blew all of the previous entries out of the water. Mad Max: Fury Road is a filmmaking masterclass on so many fronts.

The action, stunts, world-building, special effects, and spectacle are all awe inspiring. The simplistic there-and-back-again story structure disguises a surprisingly deep story of allegorical parallels.

Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible piece of action and post-apocalyptic filmmaking.

85%
STORYTELLING
95%
FILMMAKING
100%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
93%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Action and spectacle
  • Stunts and SPFX
  • Furiosa
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

If you’ve already seen Mad Max: Fury Road before, it’s always a good time to revisit, or to check out the B&W cut dubbed the ‘Black and Chrome Edition.’

Best apocalyptic movies

2. Threads (1984)

Charlie Brooker discusses Threads

Threads is infinitely better than it had any right to be given it took life as a made-for-TV docu-drama with a small budget. The docu part of this post-apocalyptic film is what gives Threads its greatest strengths. This is likely the most realistic and intensely terrifying apocalyptic film you will ever see because it is so frighteningly plausible.

The film tackles nuclear annihilation in a matter of fact, play-by-play account of how exactly everything would most likely shake out, and the results may make you feel sick to your stomach.

95%
STORYTELLING
85%
FILMMAKING
100%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
94%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Realism
  • Procedural accounting
  • Unflinchingly brutal
  • Low budget shows
  • N/A
  • N/A

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Threads is heavy and potentially panic attack-inducing given that global powers flirt with nuclear war every single day.

Best post apocalyptic movies

1. The Road (2009)

Ryan Hollinger discusses The Road

The Road is the single best piece of post-apocalyptic fiction ever created. The novel by Cormac McCarthy stands at the top of the heap of post-apocalyptic books, and John Hillcoat’s 2009 film is a perfect adaptation of the source material.

The grimy, shoot-on-sight world of The Road has never been topped and the thematic exploration is thought provoking and timeless, and speaks to the human condition on a deep level.

100%
STORYTELLING
95%
FILMMAKING
100%
APOCALYPTIC WORLD
99%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Performances
  • World-building
  • Themes
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic movies

Conclusion

Even the smallest roles in the supporting cast are given to top-tier actors like Robert Duvall, Michael K. Williams, and Guy Pierce. The Road is truly in a league of its own.

UP NEXT

The Best New Zombie Movies

If you’re looking for even more post-apocalyptic cinema, the zombie genre can often be a great source. Check out our list of the best new zombie films from the last couple of years which also includes a look forward to a few upcoming zombie projects yet to be released.

Up Next: New Zombies →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

3 Shares
3 Shares
Copy link