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Apoca-lists Now

Scientific American has a special issue on ‘The End‘, with one article – “Death to Humans!” – devoted to listing “visions of the apocalypse in movies and literature”. There are categories for astronomical catastrophes, biological calamities, geophysical disasters, machine-driven takeovers and war. Oddly enough, given we’re talking ‘apocalypse’, there’s no religious category…I guess Sci-Am doesn’t want wander too far from their home territory (but then, if you’re going to put movies like Armageddon in there, are we really talking science?). Here’s the ‘Biological Calamities’ list:

Earth Abides (novel 1949)
After humanity is wiped out by a deadly airborne illness, a small band of survivors set about rebuilding civilization.

A Sound of Thunder (short story 1952, film 2005)
A time-traveling hunter inadvertently crushes a butterfly during an excursion to the Jurassic period. It causes a succession of “time waves” to batter present-day Earth — and its embattled human occupants — and wrenches reality onto a different evolutionary path. Think baboon-dinosaurs besieging your local gas-mart.

I Am Legend (novel 1954, films 1964 (The Last Man on Earth), 1971 (Omega Man), 2007 (I Am Legend))
One lone man is immune to a pandemic virus that ravages humanity. He struggles to develop a treatment to save the infected.

The Andromeda Strain (novel 1969, film 1971, TV miniseries 2008)
A satellite returns to Earth with a deadly microbe that wipes out an entire town except for a baby and an old man.

The Stand (novel 1978)
A deadly virus is accidentally released from a research lab, wiping out humanity. The story chronicles the confrontations that occur among the survivors.

12 Monkeys (film, 1995)
A terrorist release of a virus has devastated civilization, forcing the remainder of humanity underground. Scientists send a convicted felon back in time as part of an effort to stop the release.

28 Days Later (film 2002)
A chimpanzee harboring a deadly virus escapes from a research lab and infects the entire population, resulting in societal collapse. The film focuses on four uninfected people and their struggle to survive.

Reign of Fire (film 2002)
Dragons suddenly populate Earth and wipe out all people in their path. Small bands of survivors across the planet struggle to evade the dragons and fight for their lives.

Apocalyptic fiction (both in literature and movies) is one of my favourite genres, with Day of the Triffids pretty much top of the list (not sure what that says about me psychologically…). Great to peruse this list, but the question I’ve got for you is – have they missed any of your favourites? For more ideas you might like to check out and the Wikipedia entry for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction as well.

  1. 12
    I liked 12 Monkeys, for two reasons. First, it does without annoying special effects and instead has a story. Second, the story is actually internally consistent.

    And actually they don’t send him to stop the release. They send him to keep the cycle complete.

  2. Some of my faves
    Children of Men

    Soylent Green

    Planet of the Apes

    Dr. Strangelove

    Logan’s Run


    7th Seal

    Omen 3

    And, of course, The Matrix —sort of Apocalyptic, you gotta admit 😉

  3. Nothing Beats the 1950’s SciFi
    Day of the Triffids was great…but

    One of my favorites I watched as a kid in the 1970’s was – The Monolith Monsters from 1957 about giant crystals that multiply and destroy a town threatening to destroy the world. I loved that. Black and white beauty.

    Then there was Tarantula from 1955 about radiation enlarged spiders in the desert…

    And another favortie I saw when I was 8 in 1975 – The Giant Spider Invasion, when meteor rocks fall from outer space with diamonds and trantulas inside each one. Greed overwhelms towns people not realizing with each they open they release an alien trantula that grows to enourmous size to eat them.

    Great oldies!

    1. Kingdom Of Spiders
      Speaking of arachnids, I remember one 70’s flick with William Shatner called Kingdom Of Spiders. Haven’t seen it in a long time but it sure was creepy though.

  4. Sound of Thunder
    I’m only one of five people who actually liked the Sound of Thunder movie. Alas, Babylon, Earth Abides, and Triffids round out my favorites. I just watched the entire miniseries, which is pretty great. The video and cheap effects make it more effective.

    I also wrote one (in my signature). Mine’s more of the religious variety (sort of) so it wouldn’t make it on this list. But it…wouldn’t make it on this list anyway.

  5. Amazing what is forgotten
    I actually have a copy of Earth Abides in my bookcase, but haven’t thought about it for years. I liked it – a very believable story.

    Regards, Kathrinn

  6. from the Trendy-Trysts-Trying-Dept.
    Ah yes, the young boi pastime of burning wooden soldiers and kicking over sandcastles 🙂

    5 Million Years to Earth/Quatermass and the Pit(1967) — this one still quite scares me.

    Quiet Earth(1985)

    Last Night (1998) — one of my fav’s, typically Canadian. It is not the disaster that is important at all.

    A lot of Dr. Who episodes deal with potentially globally lethal menaces, in the typical understated British way.

    Of course, SciAM’s article follows a centuries-long social game program of Apocalypse — that of destruction. When it can be massive change in the world, resulting in something positive as well.

    Here, I am thinking of such things as Rudy Rucker’s works. Or Vernor Vinge. Or some of Robert Heinlein.

  7. and then…
    Of course what will really happen is even worse than all these different scenarios.

    The world will become really nice, comfortable, sustainable and peaceful. Explorers will keep exploring, the sedentary will sit at home and be entertained.

    Things will be to everyone’s wishes, individually and communally.

    And so:

    There will be nothing to complain about.

    1. Been there
      Isn’t that the ultimate premise of H.G. Wells on Time Machine? That when humanity (the Eloi) gets all their needs, wishes and needs fulfilled, our minds would wither and die?

  8. Movies
    I Am Legend was okay, but a bit too much like Resident Evil. The video game for Reign of Fire was a piece of crap! You had to play as the human shooting down dragons BEFORE you got to play as a dragon which goes around eating people. Well I wanted to be the dragon damn it! That’s always funner 😉

  9. apoca-lists now
    A book written by Frank Herbert called “The White Plague” is one of the most original (best) pieces of “apocalyptic” literature I’ve ever read. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a movie.

  10. Still thinking
    The animated movie “9” was pretty awesome. The movie “Battlefield Earth” sucked but the book by Elron Hubbard was one of my “favourites”. I know its all scientology but the book was good.

    I should say promoted by scientology.

  11. Zombies
    Any zombie flick out there. But if I had to pick one it would be Zombieland. It’s my favorite!

    The War of the Worlds
    Planet of the Apes
    Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last”
    Half-Life games
    A.I. (this movie is underrated in my opinion)

    1. Half Life

      Oh yes! The Half-Life games are an excellent way to explore first-hand the decay of Earth overrun by xenomorphic transdimensional aliens.

      Or maybe I’m just biased because people often tell me I look just like Gordon Freeman 😉

      1. Portal too
        Portal is a great games as well. It seems Valve is attempting to combine(pun intended) the story lines with each other. With all the lingering story lines waiting to close I’m very excited to see what is really going on. Specially with G-Man…what is up with that guy?

        1. My personal theory

          My personal theory on the G-Man:

          He is actually Gordon Freeman… from the Future.



          In a game like Half-Life, it makes perfect sense! 🙂

          1. Genius
            That’s actually a really really good theory. Now I wonder, why at the end of Half-Life 2 do the aliens seem to try and control G-Man? Could the aliens be the real evil? Maybe trying to stop G-Man from contacting Freeman and continuing the eradication of the evil presence whether it’s the aliens or Wallace Breen. I should say the resistance aliens..not the Combine.

          2. Dunno 😉
            Dunno. The beginning of Half-Lie 2 seems to indicate that the G-Man places Gordon on a train headed to City-17, as a way to disturb the plans of the Combine —“the right man in the wrong place…”


            Regardless of his intentions —nefarious or virtuous— it’s clear that the G-Man operates on his own personal agenda.

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