First of all, I’d like to set the score straight and make a clear distinction between dystopia and post apocalypse, because apparently a lot of people mistake the two. Dystopia deals with issues that emerge from a society that has gone wrong but carries on. It could deal with social dynamics or other related issues, but society still exists and so does civilisation.
Apocalypse and post apocalypse have the end of the world and the end of civilisation at their core and the difficulties the main characters have to face to survive in those worlds. The difference between the two is that apocalyptic scenarios show the end of the world as it’s happening and how this affects the lives of people. Also, the conflict these people face between what is morally accepted (remember, civilisation is collapsing, but it hasn’t gone completely). On the other hand, post apocalypse deals with the aftermath of the apocalypse. That may include new social dynamics (if any) and often the complete lack of a moral code. One key element is the often bleak and desolate state of the world (meaning the cities) after the end has come. To a certain extent (and depending on how the story evolves and what the focus of the story is) this version of post apocalypse may include dystopian elements in it.
So, now that we are clear about the difference, below is a list of movies and some TV shows that are apocalyptic or post apocalyptic. The list is focused on the movies and shows that stood out for me. By no means does it mean it’s complete.
Be warned, some of the movies include gore and splatter. Where applicable, and depending on how I perceive something as containing extensive gore or not (very subjective), I’ll note it, but understand that this is only personal preference. If you’re sensitive about this, read some of the reviews first or watch the trailer to get an idea of the feel and mood of the movie before you start watching it.
The movies are in no particular order other than the way they came to my mind.
The movie takes place in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event that turned the planet into a wasteland. The main hero carries with him a book that can save what’s left of humanity, and goes west to a supposedly safe location to deliver said book. Watch the movie for its post apocalyptic scenery. Watch it for Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. Watch it for the twist in Eli’s story. Watch it if you love post apocalyptic settings. Hardly any gore involved, if my memory serves me.
The movie (like others in this list) is based on the 1985 novel by David Brin, The Postman. In the movie, the apocalypse happened as a result of various consecutive apocalyptic events (societal breakdown, wars, plagues) which eventually destroyed most of the technology that existed up to that point. The main hero accidentaly stumbles upon the uniform of a postman and his vehicle, and as he drifts across the wasteland, he starts inspiring those he meets with the promise of a Reformed United States of America. Watch it if you enjoy Kevin Costner’s movies. I believe Tom Petty appears in the movie too. Watch it, because wasteland + post apocalypse = awesome. Don’t expect to see the best movie ever, though. Hardly any gore involved.
Set in the distant future, this post apocalyptic movie deals with the issue of the melting polar ice caps. Most of the planet’s land mass is underwater, and our main hero drifts the oceans on his boat. At some point he has to save a girl and her guardian, because the girl has a map tattooed on her back that supposedly leads to dry land. Watch it if you’re a Kevin Costner fan. Watch it because Dennis Hopper is always an awesome actor. Like the postman, don’t expect to see a masterpiece. Personally, I prefer the dry wasteland setting than the wet equivalent. Hardly any gore involved.
The 100 (2014-still on air as of this writing)
This post apocalyptic TV show is based on the novel series, The 100, by Kass Morgan. Set approximately a century after a nuclear holocaust ravaged Earth and destroyed all human civilisation, the remaining humanity has survived on a massive space station that has been in orbit since. But the station is in a bad condition and, given the severity of the rules that have been imposed on the survivors, those in charge send 100 young individuals (with some authority issues) on the planet in an attempt to repopulate the planet and of course get rid of them. What these one hundred youths find down there is something no one has expected.
Watch it because the characters are actually well-fleshed. Watch it because despite what you may think, it’s actually quite gritty and the characters have often a lot of hard choices to make. Lots of people die, but not in the scale of GoT. Despite that, you never know which one of the leading characters will meet a tragic ending at some point. What I don’t like about the show is how they expected 100 individuals to be enough to repopulate Earth. If you’re into biology, please comment and tell us if 100 people are enough as a Minimum Viable Population for the human species to survive. Not much gore involved in this show.
Am I the only one who thinks this movie set the standard for post apocalypse and wastelands? As far as I’m concerned, Mad Max 2 is the best of the entire franchise. Set in the not too distant future, civilisation has pretty much vanished. One lone drifter and hardened survivor, constantly fighting for his life and surviving at any cost, rediscovers (in a way) his lost humanity by helping the residents of a small settlement against a band of rather fearsome and bloodthirsty raiders. Watch it if you like to see how much the post apocalyptic genre has evolved over the years. Watch it because it’s a good movie, and because it’s Mad Max. Expect to see violence, but nothing over the top.
One of the two movies here that show the absolute desolation of an apocalyptic or post apocalyptic world in the best way possible. Based on the post apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarty (2006), The Road explores the strong bonds between a father and his son as they make their way south through a desolate wasteland in search of warmer climate. The reason for the apocalypse is never fully explained, but the situation is bad and hopeless enough for the heroes to have to carry a gun with two bullets; one for each. Together, they have to go through starvation, cannibals, thieves, and other bad characters, but the most important thing about this movie is that it often questions who the bad people are and how blurry the lines between good and evil can be. Watch it because it’s an amazing movie. Watch it because it captures the desolation and human depravity in situations like these. While you’re at it, read the book! It’s just as good (if not better), and one of the books that influenced me while writing The Darkening, my post apocalyptic horror novel. Not much gore in this movie, but don’t be surprised if you cry at some points.
The second best Mad Max movie (in my humble opinion), Mad Max 1 shows the early stages of the fall of human civilisation, so unlike the second instalment where everything has been destroyed, this movie shows that there are still some leftovers (police, houses, moral code etc) of what one could attribute to be the foundations of any civilisation. Vengeance is the prevalent theme of this apocalyptic movie, and if seeing a fictional character going on a killing spree is not your cup of tea, then be advised. Nothing excessively graphic or anything like that, but don’t expect the movie to be all about happy endings and superficial injuries. Also, keep in mind that this was a very low budget Australian film, so don’t expect fancy graphics and special effects.
This apocalyptic movie has gone relatively unnoticed, even though it was nominated for a few awards (not Academy Awards). The setting is the aftermath of a global economic collapse and shares a couple of things with Mad Max. First, it’s also an Australian film, and second it deals a lot with road rage and revenge. The main hero, after having his last possession stolen (his car), pursues the men who took it. He manages to capture of the thieves’ brother and together they progress through a rather dangerous journey, despite the uneasy bond and conflict between them. The movie has plenty of violence.
You can find part 2 here.