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Front Row For The End Of The World: What Makes a Hollywood Apocalypse?

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Simon-Pegg-in-The-Worlds-EndThe apocalypse has been given the Hollywood treatment perhaps more than any other scenario, with literally hundreds of films showing the events leading up to it, or life going on after it.

This year has been a big year for the end of the world. Oblivion showed a sci-fi vision of what life might be like on an all but deserted Earth, as did After Earth. This Is The End showed what the final hours of life on Earth what might be like for celebrities, and out today Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright team up for the final instalment in the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End.

The dictionary definition of ‘Apocalypse’ is 1. The complete final destruction of the world, and 2. An event involving destruction or damage on a catastrophic scale. These are obviously two quite different things, and the existence of the post-apocalyptic genre suggests that Hollywood probably favour the latter description. In movie terms, the apocalypse is most usually an event that changes the way we live significantly.

So what does Hollywood think will be the most likely causes of the end of life as we know it?

Crime

A gentle start to our list. There are obviously many films that involve crime, but some take it to more of an extreme. Mad Max sees the world turned into a barren landscape, as oil shortages have triggered a crime ridden society. In Escape From New York, crime has risen 400% in the United States, leading to the island of Manhattan being converted into a prison colony, followed by the outbreak of World War III. World War III also features in…

Nuclear War

This is possibly the most real threat to our survival as a race. World War III is the backdrop for Southland Tales, after twin nuclear attacks on El Paso and Abilene, Texas. Mankind is its own worst enemy, and the warmongers amongst the governments of our planet with their fingers on the triggers are explored most directly in Fail Safe, and Dr. Strangelove. The Postman, The Book of Eli, and Dredd all show the fate of civilisation after the dust has settled from nuclear war. Watchmen, conversely, shows the lengths to which some will go to prevent nuclear fallout.  Dust settling plays a huge part in the next cause…

Ecological

Roland Emmerich, the king of the apocalypse movie, is leaning more towards ecological causes. In 2012, a solar flare causes the core of the Earth to increase rapidly, leading to all sorts of geological and meteorological disasters, including tidal waves and earthquakes. In Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, it is global warming at fault, this time causing a new ice age. Global warming also takes the blame in Waterworld, wherein we see the aftermath of a flooded planet, and the bands of humans struggling to survive on the seas. Spielberg’s A.I. takes place in a post-global warming world.

This year’s After Earth followed an ‘environmental cataclysm’, The Road an unspecified environmental event, whilst in 1972’s Silent Running, all of the Earths plant life had died. The Core sees a team drilling to the centre of the Earth to restart the rotation of the Earth, with the planets electromagnetic field on the brink of collapse. Some of these causes obviously straddle the line between ecological and…

Astronomical

One of the biggest threats to the future of a planet comes in threats from off-planet. Both Deep Impact and Armageddon, along with the rather different Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, focused on the actually very real threat of an asteroid collision, which would wipe out most of the planets population. Melancholia went one further, with another whole planet colliding with ours, which sent Kirsten Dunst a little loopy… 4:44 Last Day on Earth has the less specific ‘deadly solar and cosmic radiation’, whilst the solar flare rears its head again in Knowing. 2002’s The Time Machine goes a more unique route, with the accidental destruction of the moon leading to disaster. Night of the Comet has the planet passing through the tail of a comet, which ties into…

Zombies

One of the most popular apocalyptic genres, zombie movies will not die. Whilst Night of the Comet uses a cosmic event to explain the zombies, others, like the Evil Dead series, offer a more supernatural explanation. Romero’s Dead series never offers a definitive explanation, but most zombie oubreaks, however, are cause by some form of viral outbreak. Zombieland, 28 Days/Weeks Later, I Am Legend and the Resident Evil series all show the fallout following some kind of outbreak of infection, leading them to also fall into the category of…

Viral

Outbreak shows the threat of a viral outbreak without actually following through, whilst Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion shows the full horror a potent, lethal sickness can wreak on the population of the planet. 12 Monkeys shows the aftermath, as scientists try to use time travel to change the past and put life back to the way it was. Speaking of time travel…

Technology

The Terminator series decided that machines were to blame for the end of civilisation, and revolved around the story of a man being sent back in time to change the course of the future, pursued by deadly robots. Whilst The Terminator had the machines trying to wipe out the human race, The Matrix trilogy had the machines using us as human batteries, after mankind had blocked out the sun to try and stop the rise of the machines. The animated 9 also told the story of giant machines that turned on their masters. Giant machines also have a role to play in the next category…

Alien Invasion

You could probably find over a hundred movies that have covered alien invasion. War of the Worlds featured aliens coming to our planet, and using giant robots to wipe us out. The Day the Earth Stood Still just had one robot arrive, whilst films from Emmerich’s Independence Day, through Battle: Los Angeles  to this year’s Oblivion saw alien forces come down to wipe us out using one method or another. A crashed probe, and the microbes it brought with it were the cause of havoc in…

Monsters

Gareth Edwards Monsters were caused by microbes from space bringing extra-terrestrial life to our planet. In Reign of Fire, fearsome monsters thought to be myth were awoken from beneath the earth, as Dragons began to kill off the human race. Dragons aren’t the only animals thought likely to kill off the human race…

Evolutionary

In the Planet of the Apes series, it is the simian race that eventually surpasses us. Evolutionary effects can take other forms though. Children of Men saw mankind unable to conceive children, whilst Idiocracy saw a different, and much slower form of ‘apocalypse’, as the human race became incredibly stupid. This is probably one of the least likely causes, but not as unlikely as…

Supernatural

End of Days sees the future of the planet at risk from the rise of Satan. In Daybreakers, most of the human population have been turned into vampires, as the result of a plague spread by bats. Kevin Smith’s Dogma wins the prize for one of the most inventive causes of Apocalypse, as two fallen angels seek a route back into heaven, by exploiting a loophole in Catholic dogma. Success, however, would prove that God is not infallible, which the foundations of existence are based on. If this were to happen, it would undo all creation.

So many different ways for our existence to end, then. Which is the most likely? What does the ultimate Hollywood apocalypse look like?

Based on all this, it seems most likely that an alien would crash down on Earth, bringing microbes from space with it. These microbes would infect the population, turning us all into war-hungry zombies, who would proceed to eat each other. When the dust settled, a new species would rise up, controlled by machines. They would travel a desert ridden Earth, desperately seeking oil and water. Eventually they would find it, stockpiled by the last remaining members of the human race. Nuclear war would break out between the humans and the machines. This would kill off the last remaining life on our planet, and begin a chain reaction of cataclysmic ecological events, which would result in the Earth collapsing, and spinning off of its axis into a collision course with the sun.

Roland, it’s yours if you want it…



About Barry Steele

Freelance writer, have been writing about film for four years. Also an aspiring novelist, with three half written first drafts of three entirely different novels.