The Best End of the World Movies of All Time

Updated June 10, 2024 • Staff

When it comes to apocalypse movies, Hollywood likes nothing more than a big 'ol blast. You don't have to look beyond genre staples like Armageddon and 2012 to know that. But there is so much more to the end of the world than just grandstand battles and empty heroic gestures. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with going big (why end things with a fizzle when you can go out with a bang?) but there are also other ways to relay the complexity of humanity's demise.

There's so much room for existential rumination and societal commentary, and you can go about it in a number of ways, be it experimental, comedic, or even romantic. So that's what the films below are: a mixed bag of the greatest and most underrated movies you'll find about the end of the world.

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10.

Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine is a sci-fi thriller that details pretty much exactly what you don't want to happen on your journey into space. It follows the struggles of a crew who know that they are humanity's last hope to rekindle a dying sun and save their loved ones back home. Out of radio contact with Earth, relationships become strained and when things start to go horribly wrong the diverse cast give a fantastic performance as they encapsulate both the terror and humanity that arises from such an alien situation. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later).

Our staff rating: 7.6/10
Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Benedict Wong, Chipo Chung, Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong, Michelle Yeoh, Paloma Baeza, Rose Byrne, Troy Garity
Director: Danny Boyle
Rating: R
9.

The Road (2009)

A Cormac McCarthy novel adaptation (like No Country for Old Men), The Road is an apocalypse movie set in a 'scorched Earth' rendition of the world. It follows a father (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son as they battle to survive everyday life. Throughout the movie, the son's trust in his father grows and shrinks depending on choices the father makes, as he attempts to protect his son from cannibals, bandits, and the threat of starvation. The gritty realism this movie presents sets it apart from many other more theatrical releases, with the setting of a charred world illustrating a rather depressing new reality. A very down to earth and heartfelt story. Definitely worth the watch if you're willing to feel like you've been punched in the gut.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Actor: Agnes Herrmann, Bob Jennings, Buddy Sosthand, Charlize Theron, Garret Dillahunt, Guy Pearce, Jack Erdie, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mark Tierno, Michael Kenneth Williams, Molly Parker, Robert Duvall, Viggo Mortensen, Wilson Moore
Director: John Hillcoat
Rating: R
8.

Snowpiercer (2014)

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction
Actor: Adnan Haskovic, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Clark Middleton, Dana Green, Ed Harris, Emma Levie, Ewen Bremner, Go A-sung, Go Ah-sung, Griffin Seymour, Jamie Bell, Jim High, John Hurt, Joseph Bertót, Kendrick Roger Ong, Kenny Doughty, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen, Magda Weigertová, Marcanthonee Reis, Octavia Spencer, Parry Shen, Paul Lazar, Peter Hallin, Robert Russell, Sean Connor Renwick, Seisuke Tsukahara, Song Kang-ho, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tomáš Dianiška, Tómas Lemarquis, Tyler John Williams, Vlad Ivanov
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Rating: R

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7.

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Perfect for Halloween marathons with friends, The Return of the Living Dead treads the now well-worn template of zombie apocalypse movies with outstanding practical effects and a refreshingly unserious attitude. What the film might lack in terms of character writing or deeper themes, it more than makes up for with a relentless forward momentum. There isn't any grand mission to be accomplished when these morticians collide with a group of young punks, other than understanding what drives the undead creatures outside in order to survive the night. As a result, this is a movie that lives firmly in the moment, with thrills aplenty and its greatest moments found in the freaked-out reactions of its ensemble cast. The late James Karen, with his hilariously exaggerated hollering and whimpering, only nearly steals the show from the film's wonderful animatronics and disgusting prosthetic makeup. It's a great zombie movie for the reluctant horror newbie.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror
Actor: Allan Trautman, Beverly Randolph, Brian Peck, Cathleen Cordell, Cherry Davis, Clu Gulager, David Bond, Don Calfa, Drew Deighan, James Dalesandro, James Karen, Jewel Shepard, John Durbin, John Philbin, Jonathan Terry, JR, Linnea Quigley, Mark Venturini, Michael Crabtree, Miguel A. Núñez, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr., Robert Craighead, Thom Mathews
Director: Dan O'Bannon

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6.

Train to Busan (2016)

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.

The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Ahn So-hee, An So-hee, Baek Seung-hwan, Cha Chung-hwa, Chang-hwan Kim, Choi Gwi-hwa, Choi Woo-shik, Choi Woo-sung, Dong-seok Ma, Eui-sung Kim, Gong Yoo, Han Ji-eun, Han Sung-soo, Jang Hyuk-jin, Jeon Ye-eun, Jeong Seok-yong, Jung Seok-yong, Jung Young-ki, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Chang-hwan, Kim Eui-sung, Kim Jae-rok, Kim Joo-heon, Kim Joo-hun, Kim Ju-hun, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Soo-ahn, Kim Soo-an, Kim Su-an, Kim Won-Jin, Kim Woon, Lee Joo-sil, Lee Joong-ok, Lee Jung-ok, Ma Dong-seok, Ok Joo-ri, Park Myung-shin, Sang-ho Yeon, Seok-yong Jeong, Shim Eun-kyung, Sohee, Soo-an Kim, Soo-jung Ye, Terri Doty, Woo Do-im, Woo-sik Choi, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeon Sang-ho, Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jeong, Yu-mi Jung
Director: Sang-ho Yeon, Yeon Sang-ho
Rating: Not Rated

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5.

Delicatessen (1991)

From the brilliant minds of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Jano comes a utopian vision for the ages. After having worked together before on the short sci-fi film The Bunker of the Last Gunshots, the duo-turned-longtime-collaborators pick it up a notch in one of the best dark comedies to come out in the 90s. 

In Delicatessen, Jeunet and Jano disguise the wretchedness of modern society in a post-apocalyptic world where food is the global currency, given how scarce it’s become. We follow Louison (Dominique Pinon), an everyday man who falls in love despite all the hubbub and squalor surrounding him. But nothing comes in the way of love, and instead of discovering a salve, he encounters a snag, one that pulls him deeper into society’s most complex ethical dilemmas. 

Many films have already been made about inequality and hierarchies, but none have been quite as darkly funny and unapologetic as Delicatessen.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Actor: Anne-Marie Pisani, Anthony Backman, Chick Ortega, Dominique Pinon, Dominique Zardi, Edith Ker, Eric Averlant, Howard Vernon, Jacques Mathou, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Jean-François Perrier, Jean-Luc Caron, Karin Viard, Marc Caro, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Maurice Lamy, Nikky Smedley, Pascal Benezech, Patrick Paroux, Rufus, Silvie Laguna, Ticky Holgado
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Rating: R
4.

Miracle Mile (1988)

Before anything else, Miracle Mile is a romance. It begins with a meet-cute so adorable, it convinces lovebirds Harry and Julie to stick to each other in the next moments of the film, which couldn’t be more different than the first. Where the opening scene is sweet and lovely, the ones that follow it are fraught and bleak and eerily existential. At this point, the film transforms into its true self: an apocalyptic nightmare. When Harry receives word that a nuclear attack is incoming, the news spreads like wildfire and all hell breaks loose in this film that makes you question reality and humanity. 

It's one of the smoothest shifts in cinematic history, but even with panic swirling and violence erupting, love is still there. Harry and Julie’s quest to save and savor the bond they’ve formed is genuinely moving, and it effectively grounds this out-of-this-world film about the end.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Alan Berger, Alan Rosenberg, Anthony Edwards, Brian Thompson, Claude Earl Jones, Danny De La Paz, Denise Crosby, Diane Delano, Earl Boen, Edward Bunker, Howard Swain, Jenette Goldstein, John Agar, Jordana Capra, Kelly Jo Minter, Kurt Fuller, Lou Hancock, Lucille Bliss, Mare Winningham, Mykelti Williamson, O-Lan Jones, Peter Berg, Raphael Sbarge, Richard Biggs, Robert DoQui, Steve De Jarnatt
Director: Steve De Jarnatt
Rating: R
3.

Leave the World Behind (2023)

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller
Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga
Director: Sam Esmail
Rating: R
2.

Last Night (1998)

Forgoing the typical catastrophic approach to the apocalypse, writer, star, and director Don McKellar opts for a grounded tone in Last Night, a film about the end of the world. In it, various Torontonians figure out how best to celebrate and mourn their final hours on Earth. While McKellar’s character Patrick originally planned to spend the day alone, he finds himself gravitating to Sandra (Sandra Oh), a stranger who he gets to know in a series of conversations.

Last Night is more like Before Sunrise than The Day After Tomorrow in that way, filled as it is with thought-provoking dialogue and interesting insights into everyday characters. Whether it was intentional or due to the obviously limited budget, the decision to leave out details like why the world is ending and how is a clever one since it allows us to hyperfocus on everyone's psyche and inner workings. There is desperation, longing, and anxiety, but also relief, gratitude, and joy. 

If you’re watching it for the first time, you’ll be delighted to find surprise stars populate this lo-fi production—apart from McKellar and Oh, well-regarded auteurs Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell) and David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future) also make welcome appearances. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Arsinée Khanjian, Bob Martin, Bruce McDonald, Bryan Renfro, Callum Keith Rennie, Charmion King, Darren O'Donnell, David Cronenberg, Don McKellar, François Girard, Geneviève Bujold, Jackie Burroughs, Jessica Booker, Karen Glave, Kirsten Johnson, Michael McMurtry, Regan Moore, Roberta Maxwell, Robin Gammell, Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Tom McCamus, Tracy Wright, Trent McMullen
Director: Don McKellar
Rating: R
1.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

With a premise straight out of a cheesy sci-fi B-movie, you wouldn't expect Little Shop of Horrors to be a bona fide spectacle, and yet its tale of a wish-fulfilling yet bloodthirsty plant remains as thrilling and intense as ever. More importantly, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's rock-musical songs remain boisterous and theatrical, gleefully performed by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs. And buried underneath all this is a comedy with a heart of darkness and a legitimately disturbing morality tale.

Musicals and horror movies are genres that typically cater to a more niche audience, but Little Shop of Horrors should be fun enough to draw anybody in, thanks to the film's impressively tactile sets, director Frank Oz's knack for physical comedy, and animatronic special effects that look better than most CGI creations today. As both a horror movie monster and a massive puppet, the vicious plant named Audrey II is entirely worth the price of admission, no matter which version of the film you seek out.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror
Actor: Barbara Rosenblat, Bertice Reading, Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Danny John-Jules, Edward Wiley, Ellen Greene, Heather Henson, Jill Goldston, Jim Belushi, John Candy, John Scott Martin, Kevin Scott, Levi Stubbs, Mak Wilson, Michelle Weeks, Miriam Margolyes, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Vincent Wong
Director: Frank Oz

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