October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up, it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best apocalypse horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Now is the perfect time to be writing about apocalyptic horror movies because at this point we’re all just counting down the days, right? The apocalypse is coming and we all know it. Or maybe it’s already here? The entire west coast of the United States was or is burning. That coupled with 1995’s Cruel Jaws getting a legitimate Blu-ray release is a surefire sign that the end is near. Fortunately, we can turn to movies to help us get through this tricky situation. The following ten titles will serve as an action plan of sorts to help us conquer the impending doomsday. Watch these movies and you’ll be prepared to take on anything. Or at the very least, you’ll have a clear understanding of just how horrible your death is going to be. Either way, it’s sure to be a good time.
Be warned, though: if your apocalypse involves a zombie outbreak, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. This list will not help you. We’re planning for an apocalypse that includes biblical, atomic, and out-of-this-world scenarios. And also ants for some reason. I did not vote for ants. But we’re nothing if not a democracy here at FSR, and so ants made the cut. Stupid ants.
Keep reading for a look at the best apocalyptic horror movies as voted on by Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, Kieran Fisher, Rob Hunter, Valerie Ettenhofer, and myself.
10. Sunshine (2007)
28 Days Later is arguably Danny Boyle’s most acclaimed contribution to apocalypse cinema, but Sunshine deserves as much praise. In the movie, the sun is dying and it’s up to a team of astronauts to travel through space and fix the problem. Unfortunately, a series of unexpected incidents occur that throw their mission — and the future of humankind — into disarray. As scripted by Alex Garland, Boyle’s movie was inspired by topics such as global warming and the heat death of the universe. Those are real issues that experts continue to debate to this day. Sunshine overlooks some of the facts in favor of chills and thrills, but even though the scientific accuracy is iffy, the movie is still an effective warning about the bleak future that lies ahead for our planet. (Kieran Fisher)
9. Phase IV (1974)
Ants. Why did it have to be ants? While Saul Bass is best known for his legendary title sequences, in 1974, the graphic designer directed his only feature-length film. Quiet, haunting, and criminally overlooked, Phase IV burrows snugly among its ’70 sci-fi peers with a vision of the apocalypse that sees humanity outwitted, outmatched, and undone by a formidable foe: ants. Propelled into rapid evolution by an unprecedented cosmic event, an ant colony in the Arizona desert develops a terrifying hive mind and sets about realizing its mysterious objective. Two over-confident scientists are sent to investigate and quickly fall under siege; their gadgets, rationality, and weapons are unable to contend with the mobilized tenacity of their enemy.
Ultimately, all of Phase IV’s genuine macabre moments pale in comparison to the more sinister suggestion at the heart of the film: that our heroes are just the first and easily surmounted obstacle in the ants’ quest to take charge of the planet. That if men of science aware of the enemy’s power are unable to hold their own: all is lost. Without showing us how it all shakes down, Bass sets the stage for a desperate conclusion. It is a chilling prophecy, out of the desert, powdered in a toxic yellow haze, and steeped in a creepy-crawly sense of dread. (Meg Shields)
8. Miracle Mile (1988)
Love is impossible, and the pursuit of it can drive a person to all manner of erratic behavior. When a miracle happens, and love is granted, you will do whatever you can to hold onto it. At the same time, effort does not matter. You are a mortal. You will die. Love found is love lost. Welcome to Miracle Mile. Steve De Jarnatt‘s apocalyptic thriller begins with two dreamers discovering bliss in each other, only to have it ripped from them when armageddon reveals itself on the horizon. Taking place in real-time, Miracle Mile races to a climax where love should reign supreme, but these filmmakers dare not stoop to such Hallmark capitalist blather. Like all forms of love, this movie hurts, friends. Enjoy it while it lasts, but all things are born to die. (Brad Gullickson)
7. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Is the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation in cinema a film that isn’t directly based on Lovecraft’s work? A case can certainly be made for John Carpenter and the final entry in his unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy.” Sam Neill stars as John Trent, an insurance investigator now living out his days in a psychiatric hospital. The film plays out with Trent sharing his story with the visiting Dr. Wrenn (David Warner), explaining how he ended up in the loony bin. What unfolds is a story about the world being overrun by unspeakable dread, and the line between fiction and reality has become heavily blurred. When the final credits roll, the audience is left to question what is real and what isn’t, with the only reasonable solution to laugh hysterically because this world is screwed. (Chris Coffel)
6. Prince of Darkness (1987)
The idea of a film in which the antagonist is green goop that has been stored in a canister hidden in the basement of a church seems pretty silly, right? Why should we fear a green lava lamp? Oh, because it’s allegedly Satan? Who cares, it’s slime! But then that’s the brilliance of John Carpenter. This surface-level silly premise is arguably his most sinister film. There’s an ancient evil lurking, awaiting the opportunity to rise and destroy humanity. And the way Carpenter tells it, there’s no escaping this evil, no matter what you do. (Chris Coffel)