Current events notwithstanding, Hollywood rather adores imagining the apocalypse on the big screen. Many doomsday movies end with total destruction; that rogue planet is just gonna go ahead and vaporize Earth, or those zombies are just gonna take over forever. But sometimes, filmmakers do find little rays of sunshine in the chaos.
Here are 10 apocalypse films that are bringing us something resembling hope, against all the odds.
Zombieland and its recent sequel come to similar conclusions: After putting the characters through all manner of relationship drama, punctuated by the occasional need to slaughter some zombies, everyone realizes that the makeshift family they’ve managed to build as the world crumbles around them is something worth fighting for.
The first film sees Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) finally win the heart of Wichita (Emma Stone); Double Tap doubles down on that by seeing them engaged by the end of the movie, as well as solidifying the non-romantic bonds between characters like Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who finally realize they’re on the same team even if they don’t always agree on everything. Their world is crawling with zombies galore, but love somehow still finds a way.
After malevolent creatures bring the human race to its knees—if you dare look at what they’ve come to show you, you’ll lose your mind and swiftly take your own life—a desperate woman named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her two young charges stumble through a dense forest and paddle down a river, all while blindfolded, seeking a safe haven they’ve been told awaits them.
Since the creatures have the power to influence certain humans, using them to coax or trick others into peeking at the thing, it’s unclear whether Malorie is really heading toward a hidden community filled with good people or the ultimate trap. At the very end, we see they’ve indeed found refuge (and some much-needed peace and hope) at, appropriately enough, a school for the blind—where both sighted and blind people have formed their own community, protected by birds that let them know when intruders are near.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last human on Earth (or so he thinks) in the wake of a devastating plague which has turned infected survivors into cannibal zombie vampire creatures. He spends his days working on a cure, and though his character heroically sacrifices himself in the end to save a pair of human survivors, his miracle serum makes it through and ends up saving the world.
This take on I Am Legend diverges wildly from Richard Matheson’s source-material novel, though there is a Director’s Cut alternate ending that bears slightly more resemblance to it, as Neville realizes the monsters he’s been fighting perceive him to be a monster, too. But if you want an apocalypse where the human race eventually turns out OK, stick with the theatrical version of the movie. Word to the wise, though: Don’t get too attached to Neville’s poor dog.
The fabled “Green Place” that Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and company are seeking might be a myth, and not all the good guys (RIP, War Boy Nux) make it through the final showdown. But villainous Immortan Joe gets what’s coming to him, ensuring he’ll never again be able to set up a creepy breeding factory or hoard every drop of water for his own purposes. And as harsh as post-apocalyptic life can be, a shift to more compassionate leadership will most certainly mean brighter days ahead for everyone struggling to make the dusty desert feel like home.
So, the “rage virus” has transformed most of England’s population into fast-moving zombies. That’s definitely very bad. But somehow even worse is the fact that a group of uninfected, heavily armed military guys are luring survivors to their fortified compound, promising assistance but instead intending to trap any and all women into sexual slavery. Fortunately, our trio of heroes—which includes two women, one of whom is just a teen—who’ve been battling furious ghouls the whole movie manage to escape this most human of threats, find sanctuary, and get a clear signal of hope that world isn’t completely taken over by the living dead. (Plus, all the existing zombies seem to be weakening, having apparently gobbled up the available food supply.) YAY! Just don’t get too excited and watch 28 Weeks Later, which let’s just say has much more of a down ending.
British zombies again! There’s no cure or zombie die-off in this one, and most of the main characters don’t make it until the end. But Edgar Wright’s zom-rom-com manages to preserve its two most important relationships: Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Liz (Kate Ashfield), who were on the verge of breaking up pre-apocalypse but strengthen their bond while fighting off the undead; and Shaun and his best buddy Ed (Nick Frost). Thanks to a flash-forward, we see that after the initial outbreak zombies have been “tamed” into becoming low-functioning members of the community, which has returned to normalcy otherwise. In Ed’s case, he was kind of a stoner-zombie guy from the beginning—and now that he’s a full-on zombie, he’s still capable of playing video games with Shaun, just like old times. “Ooh, you make me live!”
The second Edgar Wright entry on this list also stars Pegg and Frost, as two among a group of mostly estranged friends who reunite for a hometown pub crawl. Despite some long-simmering resentments (and several pints of beer), they discover that an alien invasion is well underway, with lookalike androids slowly replacing actual human beings. Much like Shaun of the Dead, the happy ending in The World’s End comes with just a bit of compromise: Though the aliens abandon their sinister plot, they knock out all of Earth’s power, including the internet and all technology, as a final fuck-you.
But this massive reset actually turns things around for the main characters, even the ones who’re now operating as benevolent robot “blanks.” As we learn in the epilogue, the coming of a new Dark Age means marriages are saved, careers are salvaged, everyone starts eating organic food, and Pegg’s once-depressed drunkard is now totally sober and living the life he’s always wanted—though he’s no less willing to go to the mat for his friends.
The “Reaper virus” (“no cure, no vaccine”) takes over Scotland, and the entire country is forcefully sealed off from the rest of the world—including the adjacent England, which suffers an economic crisis in the aftermath. Three decades later comes the startling news that the virus has made a comeback in London, so the government decides to send an elite team over the wall to see if perhaps a cure lurks within Scotland’s new world order of survivors, most of whom are feral, violent, Mad Max-attired cannibals.
As it turns out, the cure doesn’t exist—some lucky people just aren’t affected by this particular virus—but there is hope a cure can be developed, a pressing concern as the virus continues to spread beyond the containment zone. We’re calling this an upbeat ending because in the final moments, the badass, Snake Plissken-ish main character (Rhona Mitra) manages to ruin England’s crooked Prime Minister and depose the cannibal leader. Though one involves a secret recording and the other involves a disgusting severed head, both triumphs are deeply satisfying.
When climate change whips up monstrous storms across the globe, the Earth rapidly plunges into a sudden new Ice Age. Most of The Day After Tomorrow involves two things: a) CGI-enhanced disaster porn (including an extended sequence of tornadoes ripping L.A. apart), and b) the frantic path of Dennis Quaid’s character, a paleoclimatologist, as he races to rescue his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) from a frozen Manhattan that’s suddenly full of strange perils, like prowling packs of escaped zoo animals.
A hefty chunk of the planet is indeed rendered completely uninhabitable by the end of the movie, but most of the people we’ve been rooting for make it across the border to balmy-by-comparison conditions in Mexico by the end. The U.S. might be toast, but humankind will survive! Even more miraculously, the newly promoted POTUS—a skeptical asshole who comes around when the world begins to implode—admits on TV that he was wrong to wave away warnings about the imminent crisis, and earnestly takes responsibility for his part in making things worse. Can you imagine?
The Rapture, or something very much like it, descends upon the world—and we see the End of Days from the POV of some famous Hollywood friends, including “Seth Rogen” and “Jay Baruchel,” all playing exaggerated, goofy versions of themselves. After an entire movie of apocalyptic shenanigans, the survivors who prove themselves to be selfless finally get to enter a glorious afterlife. Earth might be a fiery pit, and all our characters are definitely dead, but this version of heaven allows all of your wishes to come true—including a full-on dance party led by the Backstreet Boys whenever you want it.
What are your favorite apocalyptic movies that don’t leave you feeling totally bummed when they’re over? Share in the comments!
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