Post-Apocalypse Now! Ranking Cinematic Post-Apocalypses From Tolerable To Awful

Hollywood loves a good apocalypse. Post-apocalyptic films continue to flourish, and with the way current events seem to be headed, these movies are becoming even more relevant. Be it exciting adventure films or bleak existential reflections, the end of the world is big business for show business. After all, who doesn't want to see the human race meet its demise at this point?

This week, those damn dirty apes are back for War For the Planet of the Apes, the latest film in the surprisingly excellent reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Once again, humanity inches ever-closer to extinction while intelligent apes claim the planet for themselves. Good for them! In the grand scheme of post-apocalyptic films, it's not that bad, especially when compared to some other films in a similar vein. In the spirit of this latest cinematic excursion into the aftermath of the end of the world, let's rank some cinematic post-apocalypses from how tolerable they seem to how devastatingly awful they are. Sounds pleasant! Ever wonder how you might fare in the aftermath of the end of the world? Reading this list is the only way to find out!

walle

Wall-E

What killed the world: Over-crowding and an abundance of garbage, leading to adorable robots created to clean up after our mess.  

Daily Struggles: There actually aren't any. Human beings have abandoned earth to live as boneless blobs who sit in hover-chairs all day, watching TV and living in a sort of oblivious bliss.

How bad would it be?: Not too bad! Being an amorphous blob sounds kind of nice right about now. Plus, you get to watch TV all day. Think of all the Peak TV you can finally catch up on! Missed the recent season of Fargo? Now you're in luck! Sure, the argument could be made – as Wall-E does – that this is a bad thing, but as far as post-apocalypses go, it's not as bad as dealing with cannibals or zombies. Let's call this one tolerable.

matrix

The Matrix

What killed the world: Intelligent machines waged war against humanity, leading humanity to scorch the sky, because humanity is dumb.

Daily Struggles: Most human beings are being used as batteries, spending their days encased in goo pods with a bunch of tubes sticking out of them. Those who are aware of this spend their days and nights battling for survival while wearing the most popular fashion Hot Topic had to offer in the 1990s. Those who are unaware live in a simulation of the real world. 

How bad would it be?: Mostly tolerable. The majority of the people trapped in the Matrix don't actually know they're living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. This is a case of ignorance being bliss – sure, you may be stuck in some terrible dead-end job when you're jacked into the Matrix, but maybe that's not so bad compared to the alternative. I say why not enjoy being a big battery? Everything is fine, unless that jerk Neo wakes us all up and makes us fight robot squids.

TurboKid

Turbo Kid

What killed the world: Undetermined, probably nuclear war.

Daily Struggles: Death; dismemberment; loneliness; Michael Ironside.

How bad would it be?: Not great, but not terrible either. Turbo Kid is set in the futuristic year of 1997, where the world is a wasteland and heroes are in short supply. Yet all you need to survive is a trusty BMX bike and a friendly robot companion. There's a lot of blood flowing here, but it looks kind of fun. If you had to pick an apocalyptic wasteland to fight your way through, it would probably be this one.

bookofeli

The Book of Eli

What killed the world: Nuclear apocalypse.

Daily Struggles: Dust; cannibals; other humans; Gary Oldman.

How bad would it be?: Kind of bad, I guess? Really, it would just be like living in a Western, only with iPods. True, there are some cannibals to deal with from time to time, but who hasn't dealt with cannibals at least once in their life? It seems that as long as you excel at wearing trench coats and sunglasses, you'll be okay in this post-apocalypse.

day of the dead

George Romero’s Dead Franchise

What killed the world: Zombies! (cause unknown/no more room in hell).

Daily Struggles: Zombies! Also people, who are like, the real monsters, maaaaaaan.

How bad would it be?: Unpleasant, but possibly survivable. I won't sugarcoat it: zombies are bad. But even though society breaks down bit by bit as George Romero's Dead series goes on – starting with Night of the Living Dead, moving to Dawn of the Dead, then Day of the Dead, then some other sequels that we'll mostly ignore because they're terrible, conditions don't seem that bad. In fact, greedy entrepreneurs like Dennis Hopper in Land of the Dead are able to milk this post-apocalypse and open a fancy high-rise for the upper class. Of course, if you're in the lower class you're screwed and more likely to become zombie chow. Yet if you're able to stock up on enough ammo you might be able to make it – Romero's zombies are slow, after all, and make easy targets.

28days

28 Days Later Franchise

What killed the world: A rage-inducing virus.

Daily Struggles: Zombies! Okay, not really – they're just "infected," but they sure act like zombies.

How bad would it be?: Bad. The 28 Days Later post-apocalypse is a bit worse than the Romero Dead one because, unlike the walking dead of Romero's world, the infected ghouls here are fast. They're bundles of destructive energy running rampant, ready to tear you apart as they scream and spit blood everywhere. It's not a lot of fun. The characters in Romero's films are survivors who know how to soldier on. The individuals we meet in 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later seem destined to meet a terrible end.

fury road

Mad Max Franchise

What killed the world: Mankind and all their stupid nonsense (like nuclear war and climate change).

Daily Struggles: Warboys; biker gangs; fast cars; Australians; lots and lots of sand. Do not, my friends, become addicted to water.

How bad would it be?: The world of Mad Max, especially in Mad Max: Fury Road, is often so badass and exciting that sometimes it's easy to forget that the inhabitants are living in an oppressive nightmare. There is a positive, though: there are some fierce resistance fighters ready to fight back. Also: really cool cars doing crazy flips and dudes playing guitars that shoot fire! Let's say this post-apocalypse is a mixed blessing – you get all of the nightmares and oppression balanced out with all of the high-octane action and Charlize Theron kicking ass.

waterworld

Waterworld

What killed the world: Melting of the polar ice caps.

Daily Struggles: Soggy clothes; marauders on jet skis; Dennis Hopper; running over-budget; drinking your own pee.

How bad would it be?: Bad and wet.  If you're a fan of swimming this post-apocalyptic non-landscape may be perfect. Otherwise, it's a bit of a damp mess, plus the whole "urine drinking" thing is a big fat no. Of course, you might always evolve like Kevin Costner's character and grow some gills, which would be pretty neat. But that's probably unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

i am legend

The Omega Man/I Am Legend

What killed the world: Biological warfare between China and Russia (The Omega Man) and genetically re-engineered measles virus (I Am Legend).

Daily Struggles: Loneliness; nightly battles against vampiric-like mutants.

How bad would it be?: Dispiriting. At least in the 1971 Omega Man, there's some really groovy fashion and style to take advantage of. I Am Legend doesn't have the same benefit, and as the film shows, being seemingly the last person on earth can get really lonely really fast and inspire flights of madness. Then again, there is something cool about having all of Manhattan as your personal playground, so it's not that bad. Get over it!

war for the apes

Planet of the Apes Franchise

What killed the world: Nuclear war (original franchise) & the ALZ-113 virus, or Simian Flu (rebooted franchise).

Daily Struggles: Fighting for survival as you're hunted by talking apes (original franchise) or fighting to take back the planet as apes evolve (reboot). Unless you're an ape, then your struggles include dealing with those jerk humans.

How bad would it be?: Not great! Life for humans in the original franchise, at least in the first two films, is pretty terrible. Humans have been reduced to mute, mostly unintelligent outcasts.  Things are slightly better for humans in the reboot, at least at first, but as the franchise soldiers on, things are getting worse and worse and the humans are getting desperate. At the same time, it's really hard to root for the humans in the new franchise, so while quality of life would continue to deteriorate for humankind, we kind of have it coming.  

terminator2

The Terminator Franchise

What killed the world: Skynet, the rise of the machines and nukes.

Daily Struggles: Terminators; fields full of human skulls for some reason; confusing timelines.

How bad would it be?: Terrible. When not dealing with metal skeletal terminators, you'd also have to deal with frequent laser blasts and paradox-inducing time travel and constantly changing John Connor. I mean, first he's Edward Furlong, then he's Nick Stahl, then he's Christian Bale, then he's Jason Clarke? How confusing must that be to deal with? And can you imagine how depressing it must be to send yet another person back in time to stop Judgement Day only to have another sequel be announced? Enough already.

snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

What killed the world: An attempt to combat climate change has backfired, unleashing a new ice age.

Daily Struggles: Eating bugs; motion sickness; overcrowded train cars; Tilda Swinton and her giant teeth; knowing what people taste like and knowing that babies taste best.

How bad would it be?: Horrible. If you thought the New York City subway was bad, try being stuck on that every single hour of every single day while also dealing with class warfare and eating big jelly bricks made out of ground-up bugs. Eventually, you might fight your way to the front of the train, but you'll likely lose all your friends in the process. And once you get there, then what? You'll have an exposition-heavy conversation with Ed Harris. Who the hell needs that?

children of men

Children of Men

What killed the world: 18 years of worldwide human infertility.

Daily Struggles: The threat of extinction has caused the world to descend into anarchy, with most places becoming oppressive police states. 

How bad would it be?: Increasingly bad. The threat of the end of humanity is looming, the government is cracking down on the less fortunate, and Michael Caine is making fart jokes. On top of all that, I have a terrible feeling we're very close to finding out, since, short of the widespread infertility, the society this film presents seems to be the direction we're headed in. But hey, it ends on a hopeful note, so maybe things wouldn't be too bad. Maybe.

12 monkeys

12 Monkeys

What killed the world: A deadly virus unleashed by the dastardly David Morse.

Daily Struggles: Living underground; wearing clear plastic suits; dealing with unhelpful scientists; time travel; visiting Philadelphia.

How bad would it be?: Depressing and hopeless. There's nothing pleasant about the post-apocalypse of 12 Monkeys. It's a dirty, depressing, cold world where human beings have fled underground. Animals have taken back the planet above, so good for them. The rest of us are stuck beneath the earth, waiting on Bruce Willis to save the day. I'm trying to think of a positive here and coming up with zilch.

the road

The Road

What killed the world: Unknown, but it involves a lot of ash and misery.

Daily Struggles: Navigating the burned-out husk of the world; cannibals; endless walking; carrying the fire.

How bad would it be?: Soul-crushingly awful. This is it – this is the worst possible depiction of a post-apocalyptic landscape. There's no cool action here; no silver lining. There's no chance to reverse things, or overcome the bleakness of reality. It's a long, endless journey into night. The best you can hope for is that every now and then you might find yourself a warm can of Coke to sip on – big freakin' deal. If you had to choose between this post-apocalypse and the one where apes can talk and ride horses, I'm 100% sure you'd pick the one with the apes.