And now for something not completely different … because you’re cooped up in the domicile, Netflix and Prime binge-watching options exhausted, and pissed off at the worst social disaster in a generation.
You may even be busy controlling your guffaws at a centennial or millennial currently at home who’s compared his/her plight to the youngsters who, say, stormed the beaches of Normandy.
But just remember — it could always be worse. A lot worse, as these films prove. Take it from this almost-boomer (as you can tell by the dates below). Make note, as the title indicates, all the following entries are either man-made or born in nature. No alien invasions here.
Planet of the Apes (1968). The original, the best. Charlton Heston leads fellow astronauts unknowingly back to Earth, but 2,000 in the future where apes have gained intelligence and now rule over their human slaves. A worthy statement on human madness with the classic unforgettable climax. Spawned four sequels, only the first two of which are worth your time. Ignore the awful 2001 remake starring Mark Wahlberg, and the still-newer versions beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The Day After (1983). This made-for-TV film from the late Cold War scared millions of Americans silly when it first aired. It was my freshman year in college, and I watched it with my high school sweetheart who was home on Thanksgiving break. The flick encapsulates everyone’s fear of what nuclear Armageddon would look like, but what I most remember was right after the film’s conclusion: The very first thing the ABC news pundit (Ted Koppel?) said was “If you look outside you’ll notice everything is still there.” Which was exactly what the GF and I had done.
The Omega Man (1971). The first remake of the 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, it stars the inimitable Chuck Heston as Robert Neville, supposedly the last human left alive after a biological attack offs everyone else on the planet. That is, except for a few albino vampire-like creatures who, at least in Los Angeles, want Neville dead. Still better than 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith.
Children of Men (2006). Smart, thought-provoking offering starring Clive Owen as the reluctant hero who braves the dangers of a world in which infertility threatens to wipe us out. His mission: Get the first pregnant woman in years to safety so hopefully mankind can begin anew. (Just try to ignore the preaching against the barely veiled Bush-era Iraq War “war crimes.”) If you dig this film, you might enjoy the 1964 novel “Greybeard” by Brian Aldiss.
World War Z (2013). One of the smartest zombie films out there, Brad Pitt must get his family safely out of Philadelphia, and then use his medical talents to figure out how to stop a disease which threatens to turn Earth into the walking dead (pun intended). The opening sequence when the pandemic hits the City of Brotherly Love is a top-notch fist-clencher.
Night of the Living Dead (1968). The first, and the best, of the genre. The black and white classic by George Romero still rocks — and haunts. According to Wikipedia, the film only cost a bit over $100K to make, but ended up making 250 times that ($12 million in the US, $18 million overseas). In what is otherwise a straight-laced zombie horror tale, we encounter one of the best lines in the genre: “Yeah, they’re dead, they’re … all messed up.”
Mad Max (1979). Things seem pretty OK in Australia in this first (and barely second-best) of the “Max” films, despite a significant societal breakdown following an apocalyptic event (it’s not entirely clear what happened). Mel Gibson’s Max is fairly content as one of the remaining cops in the “Halls of Justice” … until the Toecutter and his motorcycle gang kill his wife and kid. Be sure to pay attention to the scene where Johnny the Boy is allowed to go free.
The Road Warrior (1981). The sequel to Mad Max, Mel Gibson’s title character is now a shell of a man, having seen his wife and child slain by a biker gang. Traveling in the “last of the V8 Interceptors,” he encounters a group of folks holed up in desolate refinery, constantly on guard against the barbaric horde led by “The Humungus.” After suffering an almost-life-ending injury, Max decides to help against Humungus and his “Marauders.” The ending features one of the best action sequences in all of film.
Soylent Green (1973). Once again Chuck Heston is at the helm, this time as a New York City cop trying to solve a prominent murder case. The city is ridiculously overpopulated in the early 2020s (one prediction 1970s doomsayers got way wrong), and the climate is warming out of control (a prediction that may yet come to fruition), killing off the ecosystem needed to sustain humanity. Needless to say, what Heston uncovers shatters any notion of humanity NYC’s desperate survivors may have left.
Contagion (2011). Possibly the most realistic killer epidemic offering, a flu-ish virus originates in — surprise! — China (and involves bats!) and Gwyneth Paltrow brings it back to the US where a COVID-19-like response takes effect … times 1,000. In other words, imagine the coronavirus with a 25-30 percent mortality rate. Millions are lives are saved, however, because a scientist bypasses the usual methods of developing a vaccine … and gets lucky.
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