Who says that we have to write off all Doomsday catastrophes as spelling out the total and eternal doom of humanity? Sure, the “doom” part is in the term, but people are resilient creatures, and if they can survive a cataclysm, they can find some shred of happiness in the aftermath. They might even rebuild comfortable lives. Or they might not survive at all — but that’s something that some people are ready and willing to accept.
Most of the movies on this list are zombie movies because fictional humans just seem to find it easier to find peace among the undead and tangible monsters than in the aftermath of terrifying viruses and nuclear radiation, I guess. In any case, if you’re in search of a silver lining point of view, these films feature at least one character who’s decided that the end of the known world isn’t that bad.
10. The World’s End (2013)
During an ambitious, if incredibly ill-conceived, pub crawl led by Gary (Simon Pegg) an alcoholic who refuses to let go of the mindset of his youth, he and his friends uncover an Invasion of the Body Snatchers -like alien invasion. Technologically advanced aliens have been ushering humanity towards a new era as part of a greater galactic community… while replacing any dissenters (apparently all of Gary‘s small town of Newton Haven) with androids. Gary manages to annoy the aliens into abandoning their invasion, but not without the aliens’ departure triggering a pulse that eradicates electrical power on Earth. The good news? Apocalypse not only helps Gary achieve sobriety, but it seems to improve his life in general.
An honourable mention also goes to Shaun of the Dead (2004), which also sees Nick Frost and Simon Pegg play characters who adapt real well to life in the post-apocalypse, with the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg) living happily among zombies, including his zombified bff Ed (Nick Frost), whom he keeps collared and chained in his shed, where they can play video games.
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9. Starfish (2018)
This one is up for interpretation. We spend most of Starfish (2018) alone with Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) as she navigates grief and guilt in a monster-filled post-apocalypse. Aubrey has the power to save what’s left of the world or end it with a series of signal-encoded mixtapes left behind by her dead friend. The end of Aubrey‘s story sees her passing into a cosmic forcefield with what seems to be acceptance that she’s had a hand in ushering in a new era for her planet. If you’re feeling cynical, you could certainly interpret Aubrey‘s end as one of defeat and succumbing to grief, but I like to think she’s finally managed to forgive herself and move on in the only way she can in a world that’s ending.
8. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Melanie (Sennia Nanua) has only ever known a post-apocalyptic world. She was born a second-generation “hungry”, a zombie-like human-parasitic fungus hybrid who has retained the ability to speak and learn. When we first meet her, she’s being held captive by humans who seek to control and study her (and to find ways to fight against the zombifying fungal spores that have taken over), but Melanie gets to thrive once she gets to exist as part of the new world order that she is built for.
7. Last Night (1998)
This apocalyptic drama is a quiet little movie, free of the horror or sci-fi elements usually tied to end of the world narratives, unless mild existential dread counts. I’m sneaking it onto this list if only because a) it’s an understated and under-watched Canadian film about people making choices about how to spend the last night of their lives; and b) despite knowing that the end is nigh (in exactly six hours, actually) most of the Torontonians that our leads Sandra (Sandra Oh) and Patrick (Don McKellar, also the film’s writer and director) meet while trying to get Sandra home to her husband, are pretty chill with the unexplained cataclysmic event about to befall the entire planet. They are cooking family dinners and throwing parties and counting down together in the streets like it’s the ball drop at New Year’s eve. If you liked the idea of the unstoppable doom of Melancholia (2011), but wished it were a little less bleak, I recommend checking Last Night out.
6. Fido (2006)
In Fido (2006), humans won the zombie wars, even though radiation from space will still turn your loved ones into zombies when they pass away (unless you deal with the body appropriately). 1950s society has rebuilt itself, and an organization known as ZomCon has even sunk its grubby capitalist claws in the remaining undead, turning them into collared servants for sale. Housewife Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) buys one of these zombies as a complement to her idyllic gated community lifestyle. It’s not unusual: a lot of her neighbours also have ZomCon zombies in their homes. Risks of zombification accidents aside, in the town of Willard, life with zombies can be pretty sweet.
5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Most of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake is fast-paced and full of action, but it’s hard to keep the action going when the reality of being trapped safely (at least for a time) in a mall is that safety slows everything down. When the group of survivors accepts life being trapped in a mall during an ongoing zombie outbreak, turning the mall into a personal playground while zombie hordes collect outside. They play rooftop chess with the guy trapped in another building across the street (before graduating to a weird game of Shoot The Anonymous Zombie That I Describe To You Using Only Celebrities). They ride bikes, eat food court rations, and do whatever they please (while, bizarrely, a Jazz cover of “Down With The Sickness” plays).
4. The Invitation (2015)
When Will (Logan Marshall-Green) gets an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband (Michiel Huisman), he accepts, probably expecting some awkward small-talk and good wine. He gets that and more when he learns that his wife has been processing her grief over the loss of their son by joining a death cult called “The Invitation”. We don’t know how far “The Invitation”‘s reach is, but it’s very possible that it has sects worldwide. If every participant is throwing such a cozy dinner party (minus a rightfully suspicious ex-husband), then this is possibly the most pleasant way to meet an end (minus the whole dying without consent part). At least the cultists themselves probably feel pretty fulfilled.
3. Zombieland (2009)
The first Zombieland movie picks up a few months after a zombie apocalypse and we get to experience the aftermath through the eyes of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a weedy and anxious college student who survives by following a strict set of rules of his own devising. Being constantly on the run aside, Columbus has to admit that the zombie apocalypse was probably the best thing to ever happen to him. He has purpose and adventure and he’s making friends with people for the first time. The sequel, Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) takes the idea of living it up in during a zombie apocalypse even further, showing us that the group from the first film are living comfortably in the White House (and later revealing a pacifist commune in another state that probably the most relaxing space I’ve ever scene in a zombie movie, especially given that the commune is stationed in a zone with particularly aggressive zombies).
2. Night of the Comet (1984)
Night of the Comet (1984) opens with the world out in the streets with celebratory posters and silver antennae headbands to watch the skies as the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, unconcerned about mutterings that it they might be witnessing an extinction event. Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) is one of the few people who doesn’t become a zombie or a pile of human dust by the pure happenstance of hanging out in a windowless projection booth all night with her boyfriend. Once she figures out what’s going on, she and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) get over their shock pretty quickly. The sisters show that one absolutely valid way to deal with the apocalypse is to dress up in stolen clothes and dance around an empty mall while “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blasts from a boombox.
1. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011) has one of the best mechanisms for world destruction, which essentially amounts to random monster raffles to ritually appease the Ancient ones, beings with god-like powers (not to mention the fact that the film introduces that premise that these rituals are constantly being contrived all over the world to stave off apocalyptic events). After discovering the truth behind the horror movie-like events that killed off most of her friends, Dana (Kristen Connolly) is poised to be a classic Final Girl, all according to plan. Except that, very much not according to plan, her stoner pal Marty (Fran Kranz) has also survived. Dana is put in a position where she has absolute power to save the world and all of humanity, and she decides that sharing one last joint with Marty is the better way to end things. Their only regret is that the emergence of the Ancient Ones is going to kill them first, and they won’t get to see how the world falls to ruin.
What sort of post-apocalyptic world would you thrive in or even see yourself building a better life in? Share your thoughts with us over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Want horror delivered right to your inbox? Check out the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.