The 10 Best/Worst Post Apocalyptic Future Scenarios in Film

by Bill Gibron

7 June 2013

It's the end of the world as we know it, and these are the 10 worst ways the planet's population could face its finalé.

How do you see the future? If you were someone living in the salad days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, there were promises of interstellar exploration, flying cars, high tech lifestyles, and meaningful medical breakthroughs. We’d cure all diseases, live like royalty within our own slick scientific reality, and never once worry about modern maladies like hunger, war, or death. This is Utopia, the perfect portrait of a supposed shape of things to come. Yet for every optimist there’s an opposite, a pessimistic perspective that’s part luddite, part ludicrous. It’s not a fear of technology that inspires these people, but where said advances will take us. Eventually, they believe our “U” will turns into a Dystopia, a horrible place where the End Times dictate our destiny.
So within this Judgment Day dynamic, this proposed post-apocalyptic wasteland of warning signs and threats, what would be the worst? Put another way, what would be the best way for a situation set on making humans the last act of a universal staging to work? If movies have taught us anything, it’s that there are lots of likely scenarios, from pissed off plant life to thought police persecuting the masses. In all cases, like the one presented in the recently released Warm Bodies (now on DVD and Blu-ray) the once bright future has turned shockingly sour, bringing about a dispirit finalé to our time on the planet. So here, with appropriate cinematic examples, are the 10 Best (or considering the consequences, worst) Post Apocalyptic Future Shock Scenarios in Film. Some may seem similar, but when viewed through both means and ends, the consequences remain dire. Let’s face it, we’re doomed.

#10 - Population Control: Logan’s Run, Soylent Green

Big in the ‘70s, the thought of one country (let alone two) holding a billion people scared sci-fi writers and political thinkers to the point of picking population control as a major cautionary concern. The resulting scenarios, almost all involving the removal of “unwanted” members of society to serve the needs of the ‘betters,’ has a real resonance today, though few could imagine Soylent Green keeping its secret in our current web-based, under surveillance social network. Someone would either figure it out, or the dystopia would have to be incredibly dictatorial. Not quite sure while killing everyone by age 30 was a valuable approach, however.

#9 - Nature Unbound: Reign of Fire, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

We are also told that, when she’s had enough, Mother Earth would step in and deal with the problem of “those pesky humans.” For many in the field of filmmaking, this means the original indigenous population—animals, insects, plants and even more mythic creatures—would regain a significant survivalist footing and tear mankind a new one. In some instances, we fight back, trying to regain the advantage we once took for granted. In other cases, the odds are stacked too highly against us, and the results rewrite the history of our planet.

#8 - Too Much Law: Dredd, Equilibrium

Whenever we sense that society won’t comply with established norms, we look to our government and its ability to police the population as a means of maintaining law and order. But what happens when said strategy loses perspective, and suddenly the people fear the very thing that’s supposed to serve and protect. That’s the basis for many of these movies, and while the chaos and anarchy implied in these future scenarios demands swift and immediate justice, some approaches are excessive and equally destructive. In fact, there are those who believe we are closer to this concerning reality than any other fictional scenario.

#7 - No Law At All: Mad Max, Waterworld

When society breaks down, either after a natural or manmade disaster, the first rule of life is lawlessness. The strong suppress the weak, using them for their own illicit aims while struggling to maintain their position of power. We have seen this happen time and time again. Films like these follow a similar pattern—lone warrior battling a brigade led by an enigmatic madman, the attempt to restart civilization resting squarely on the shoulders of someone whose agenda may be as selfish as the one of those he or she is fighting. It’s ‘holding out for a hero’ time.

#6 - Medical Despotism: Repo Men, Repo: The Genetic Opera

This is a relatively new wrinkle in the future shock subgenre, an obvious reaction to today’s runaway medical costs and the lack of viable options (insurance, or otherwise) for ordinary people who are suffering, or who are sick. In these often gory films, massive conglomerates offer healing… at a cost. Sometimes, it’s a large outlay of cash. In other instances, it’s instant removal of the manufactured body part keeping you alive. Remember the scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when a pair of door-to-door “doctors” come to collect organs from card-carrying “donors?” Yep, that’s it.

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