The Post-Apocalyptic Earth in Movies

“Post-apocalyptic” means the aftermath of a devastating event such as war, nuclear destruction, alien invasion, or AI takeover that destroys all or most of life in the world. Specifically, in cinema, there have been various versions of the post-apocalpytic Earth. Sometimes, there is no governing authority left creating a power vacuum for others to fill. Other times, people rise up from the ashes and build a new society with new rules. Sometimes, people turn into slaves and fall under the control of animals or aliens, or machines. Endless deserts and darkness cover some post-apocalyptic worlds. In contrast, some are covered with plants and forests due to the lack of human pollution. The specifics depend on the director’s perception and views of society and how the Earth is moving toward the future.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes is one of the harrowing examples of a post-apocalyptic Earth. Three astronauts embark on a journey to find other life forms and planets. They travel at light speed and put themselves in hibernation to stay as young and strong as possible. They land on a planet that is very much like Earth.

destroyed statue of liberty in the post-apocalyptic earth
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However, they see that a race of intelligent apes governs this world and that they use humans as slaves who do not even know how to speak. In the end, the protagonist Taylor realizes that this world is in fact our Earth but a full-scale nuclear war destroyed civilization and allowed apes to take over.

Apes are superior to men in the movie
For Monsters Only

The Terminator (1984)

The year is 2029 (oh no), and an A.I. system called Skynet has taken over the world. Once Skynet became self-aware, it began to see humans as a danger to its own existence. Consequently, it activated a series of nuclear bombings all over the world to eradicate humans. After the war, the survivors wage a war against the deadly machines under the human resistance leader John Connor in this post-apocalyptic Earth.

a machine in the post-apocalyptic earth

As Skynet fails at killing John and stopping the resistance, it finds a different path. Skynet sends a machine back in time to kill John’s mother Sarah Connor with the hopes that he can never be born and lead humanity during the time of the machines. The Terminator is a warning about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence which poses a potential threat to life on Earth.

machines running over human skulls in the post-apocalyptic earth

The Matrix (1999)

Arguably one of the best, if not the best, science fiction movies of all time, The Matrix is a complex story of the battle between humans and machines. The year is 2199 and machines have taken control of the world and plugged every human on Earth into a computer simulation where their consciousness resides. The machines use people as an energy source and only a small fraction of humanity exists on the post-apocalyptic Earth.

neo looking at plugged in people

Humans live below the surface in a place called Zion where they await “The One” who will save them. The only information about the state of the Earth comes from Morpheus. He explains to Neo that the machines and humans fought, nuclear weapons were exchanged, and the humans lost. Now the sky is dark, the machines reign supreme, and humans are used as batteries.

neo in the post-apocalyptic machine city

WALL-E (2008)

Wall-E is about a robot trying to clean the world from an endless wave of trash lying around. The world is literally covered with trash which swallowed entire countries and most likely billions of people. In the movie, humanity realizes that they can’t fight the amount of trash and the world is now inhospitable.

the premise for the post-apocalyptic earth is the amount of trash
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Therefore, a fleet of ships takes some of the survivors to outer space so that humanity can go on and hopefully return to Earth one day. Wall-E is a testament to the dangers of consumerism which demands that people buy things they don’t need and then upgrade them with things they don’t need either creating a mass of uncontrollable garbage.

wall-e in the trash covered post-apocalyptic earth
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Snowpiercer (2013)

The premise of Snowpiercer is actually highly probable considering the amount of global warming in the world. In the movie, nations of the world decide to put a chemical called CW7 into the atmosphere to stop global warming and cool the planet. However, this backfires in the most gruesome way as the chemical actually sends the world into another ice age and kills all life as a result.

The survivors are taken to a train that travels the globe without stopping. The train has many compartments and its own class system. While the poor reside at the end the rich reside at the front of the train. The movie revolves around the rebellion the poor start which results in the train getting derailed.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

A sequel to the original Mad Max (1979), the movie follows the adventures of an ex-cop, Max Rockatansky in the wasteland Australia. In the movie, an economic collapse due to oil and fuel shortages cause a nuclear war that evaporates most of the water in Australia which is now a complete desert. In this desert, several tribes with new religions based on cars and engines claim different territories.

the post-apocalyptic earth covered with desert

The tribes are led by Immortan Joe, who is in control of the biggest water source. Joe tries to rule people through fear and the distribution of water. Mad Max is a perfect example of a world that has no water left; a world which will probably be our future as well.

new tribes in the post-apocalyptic earth

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

A movie that needs no introduction really, Blade Runner is a masterpiece that threads the needle between what is to be human or not. What makes us humans? Is it our looks, internal organs, thoughts, feelings, conscience, memories, or souls? Can we call a being who/which believes to have all these qualities human? Blade Runner pictures a world in which humans have achieved creating androids that look just like regular people called replicants.

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The replicants function and serve humans differently and rogue ones are hunted down by a special unit called the Blade Runners. In the movie, an EMP puts the who world in darkness which is completely dependent on computers. This darkness results in massive data destruction and famine from which the Wallace Company surges and continues creating replicants in the post-apocalyptic earth.