I love apocalypses. Whether it’s a man-made nuclear wasteland or angels and demons raging their supernatural war on Earth, apocalypses speak to a deep part of me. They bring out that frequently unexercised survival instinct that the comforts of modern living allow to lie dormant. They raise the stakes, heighten emotion, and destroy all the rules.
Despite the grandiose and mayhem of the world itself, in apocalyptic tales, the characters get to shine. Everyday people fight to make it another day, another hour, another minute. They ban together or fall apart. They showcase the truth of human nature — from its bitter greed to its unwavering compassion. They reveal what each of us could become, if the playing field were leveled by destruction.
Choosing a favorite apocalypse would be like choosing a favorite food — a question I’ve always found ridiculous. How can you choose just one when each satisfies a wholly unique craving? So here are a handful of apocalypses that I simply adore…
This apocalypse itself feels real. The old world got too greedy — draining the earth dry of oil, fighting for control of precious resources, playing with its nuclear machines (sound familiar?). The original trilogy shows the progression of economic collapse to total anarchy in the background of Max’s story, something that many apocalypse stories skip over. And let’s face it, the survivors of this apocalypse are fabulous. From the hockey mask-wearing Lord Humungus to Tina Turner’s chainmail one-piece to the Milk Boys’ gleaming chrome smiles, the Mad Max world does chaos in style. And don’t even get me started on the vehicles.
2. The Book of Eli
On the whole, this is a pretty cookie-cutter apocalypse. Nuclear war leads to an American wasteland. Vagabonds haunt the roads and hurt innocent people. Small civilizations pop up and try to rebuild something that only the older citizens remember and the younger ones can never understand. What I like about this story is Eli’s journey. He’s one man, trudging on with a purpose, a greater goal that he believes will help society find itself again. And on the way, he learns that it is just as important to stop and help others. Whether you believe in the book he carries or not, the message he carries is faith and being good to one another — something people in the apocalypse always need to relearn.
3. The Silo Trilogy
Major spoilers ahead. Hugh Howey’s apocalypse is masterful, because the characters don’t even realize they are in an apocalypse at first. Humans destroyed the world, literally hitting the reset button on society, with the hope that the civilizations that emerge in the silos will learn to be better. The trilogy touches on themes of political power, climate change, isolation/containment, and the very essence of human nature. And the lesson? At about 150 pages from the end, I’m fairly certain that the whole project was useless, that humanity will adapt no matter what it is given, but in the end, the same traits that destroyed the world will be the ones that defy the well-intentioned plans.
This is where fans of the show roll their eyes and ask which one. For me, the almost apocalypse I most enjoy is the Biblical one, where archangels Lucifer and Michael are meant to battle it out on Earth. Here, humanity doesn’t really matter. The apocalypse is not our fault, and it’s not even about us anymore. We’re caught in between the longest standing family feud in the mythical world, and yet, everything these supernatural beings feel is inextricably human. Betrayal, jealousy, anger, sadness. There’s nothing humanity can do to stop its destruction…and yet, the Winchesters find a way. Because, as weak and feeble as it may be in the eyes of angels, humanity is still a force to be reckoned with.
I felt every labored breath through this entire movie, because it felt too real. Seeing that dusty wasteland on Earth, hearing how it would be the last harvest for okra, it’s freaking terrifying. That is the apocalypse of climate change, and as someone who works in a tangentially agricultural field (wine), it’s a serious concern that I read about on a weekly basis. Again, Interstellar is another triumphant tale, whereby insignificant humans rally together to save their species. As a sucker for underdogs (and a total daddy’s girl), you can bet I teared up several times. I just hope the underlying lesson is not forgotten: as of right now, we as humans have no where to run.
As I said before, this is by no means a definitive list, but I think each apocalypse speaks to the themes I like: a probable cause, dusty isolation, and the undefeatable human spirit. Because I know someone will ask, yes, I love me a good zombie apocalypse, too. But, as I’m sure many science fiction fans will agree, those warrant a whole other discussion…
What are your favorite apocalypse stories? How do you feel about the apocalypse genre? Share your thoughts below!