It’s the end of the world for the characters in these 15 films and they either don't know it, don't care, or feel fine. Either way, they can't do anything about it.
Stephen A. Russell

29 Jul 2014 - 3:39 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:28 AM

Poor Perth – the city often cops a bit of flack for being behind the times, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the end of the world. Australian writer/director Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours posits a meteoric apocalypse that unleashes a fiery doom, with WA’s capital city the last place on Earth to face the end of days. Starring Wolf Creek’s Nathan Phillips as party boy James, he ditches the love of his life Zoe, played by rising star Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Dracula, Cut Snake), and hits the road to join the party to end all parties. When he steps in to save a young girl (Angourie Rice) from a pair of psychotic bogans, suddenly it all takes a different turn.

These Final Hours is a top-notch slice of Armageddon, so we thought we’d round up 15 of the best cinematic catastrophes with one rule: no near misses, humanity has to bite the dust.

1. On the Beach (1959)

Rewinding from Australia’s latest final hours to its first and arguably most iconic, the golden era of Hollywood came to Melbourne for Stanley Kramer’s big screen adaptation of Neville Shute’s seminal novel On the Beach, starring Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire. The lucky country thinks it’s escaped unscathed when nuclear war devastates the rest of the world, but it’s only matter of time until the poisonous radiation cloud smothers the sky and snuffs out the last of humanity. Shute was infamously unhappy with John Paxton’s screenplay and the direction of Kramer, as catalogued in the excellent Australian documentary Fallout, but taken in its own context, On the Beach is an eerie, slow-burn disaster movie that picks at the scab of Cold War anxiety and lays bare the fragile heart of mankind.


2. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Stanley Kubrick would explore similarly fertile ground with his darkly comic Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove five years later. Peter Sellers took on the triple role of US President Merkin Muffley, British liaison Group Captain Lionel Mandrake and wheelchair-using former Nazi turned nuclear strategist, the eponymous Strangelove himself. Sterling Hayden is magnificent as the insane cigar-obsessed General Ripper, who takes it upon himself to press the big red button and launch all-out nuclear war on Russia on the sly. Based on Peter George’s novel Red Alert, adapted by Kubrick and Terry Southern, it’s one of the sharpest political critiques ever, and it’s riotously funny as well. What exactly is the point of a nuclear deterrent when it’s unleashing leads, inevitably, to mutually assured destruction? Dr. Strangelove remains a big screen triumph of disastrous proportions.


3. Melancholia (2011)

Love him or loathe him, Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier can never be accused of lacking cinematic vision. His Ophelia-like ode to the end of days is a thing of bleak beauty, with a nightmarish opening sequence set to Wagner that makes it clear from the outset that Earth is locked in an inexorable collision course with the vast, blue, eponymous oncoming planet. Kirsten Dunst puts in a career-best performance as the depressed Justine, lost amidst the madness of her own failed-before-it-begins marriage to Alexander Skarsgård’s Michael. John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling chew the scenery with aplomb as her beastly parents, but it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg’s stoic turn as sister Claire that anchors the film. It’s a very quiet, introspective end of the world as Gainsbourg, Dunst and a young boy wait out the final grand slam in a stick tent that’s rather lacking a bed sheet.


4. When Worlds Collide (1951)

Speaking of collision courses, Rudolph Maté’s When Worlds Collide sees another big bang, this time with rogue star Bellus fast approaching the planet, unleashing tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes as mankind races to build spaceships, like a modern day Noah’s ark, and get the hell outta there. Handily, Bellus has a liveable orbiting planet Zyra. Based on the 1933 sci-fi novel of the same name by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, Paramount scooped the rights immediately with Cecil B. DeMille in mind to direct, but the project sat on the shelf for almost 20 years before the Sydney Boehm-adapted screenplay saw the light of day. While the starship refugees make it to Zyra, this one still counts as Earth itself, and countless millions, bite the stardust.


5. The Dark Hour (2007)

While there are a plethora of outstanding foreign language post-apocalyptic movies – including French trio Delicatessen, Le Dernier Combat and La Jetée – there aren’t all that many that qualify for the wipe out factor. Low-budget Spanish sci-fi chiller The Dark Hour (AKA La Hora Fria) sees the last of humanity hiding out in an underground bunker, post-nuclear holocaust, including a boy called Jesus and a man called Judas. Subtle. They are stalked by mutated monsters and a deathly cold, ghost-like creature that appears for one hour nightly. As the survivors are picked off one by one the final revelation shows that the battle for humanity is already lost. The bunker is revealed to be on the surface of the moon as the shattered remains of the Earth are revealed in the startling Planet of the Apes-like final shot.


6. The Last Wave (1977)

What with the Mad Max trilogy, soon to be quartet, Australia certainly is keen on apocalyptic visions, with Peter Weir following up his cult hit Picnic at Hanging Rock with this surreal take on the end of the world. Starring Richard Chamberlain as Sydney-based lawyer David Burton, he’s drawn into a mysterious case of ritual murder involving five Aboriginal men. David Gulpilil plays the only one of the men who will speak to him. Burton’s investigation slowly unveils the spirit world of the Dreamtime, as the boundaries between dimensions break down amidst increasingly odd, foreboding weather occurrences. Lost at sea in a world of mysticism with which he feels uncomfortable, Burton discovers too late that an enormous tidal wave is about to obliterate mankind.


7. Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (1999)

Japanese director Takashii Mike is not known for his restraint, to put it mildly, with corrupt cops vs. psychotic yakuza riot Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha pushing his love of ultra-violence to literally cataclysmic proportions. In a film that features possibly the world’s longest line of coke, knife-slinging clowns, wall-to-wall sex (including bestiality and more profanity than The Wolf of Wall Street) and a wholesome bit of scat eating, you might be forgiven for thinking that there’s nowhere left to go. And then, as the mayhem is ratcheted up past insane and then some, somehow the cartoonlike clash, where a pulled gun is countered with a flame-thrower, leads to the outright annihilation of Earth.


8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Arguably one of the best remakes of all time, Philip Kaufman ratchets up the doom and gloom in this terrifying reimagining of the original 1956 film of the same name. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright, this masterpiece in paranoia sees the humans of the world replaced one-by-one by pod people from outer space who subsume their prey and produce exact replicas that barely blink and cannot smile. It’s as creepy as hell and the nerve-shattering, ear-piercing scream emitted by the pod people when they encounter surviving humans is used to perfection in the movie’s climax, revealing that there really is no hope for humanity this time. As a side note, 2007’s The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, was the third remake of the same material, and has to rate as one of the worst of all time.


9. Last Night (1998)

Canadians have a reputation for taking things easy, but the quiet calm with which humanity awaits its mysteriously unnamed end – due quite meticulously on the stroke of midnight – is faintly ludicrous. Despite this, writer/director Don McKellar’s debut is quirkily fun. Sandra Oh plays Sandra, who’s stuck in Toronto’s city centre when her car breaks down. All she wants is to get home to face down the end with hubby Duncan – a surreal cameo from body horror maestro David Cronenberg. She’s aided in this mission by the depressed Patrick, played by McKellar himself, who’s mourning the loss of the woman he loved. Last Night is affectingly melancholy, but it’s also loaded with an off-kilter sense of humour perfectly demonstrated by Patrick’s best mate Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), who does the sensible thing when faced with certain doom: he ticks off each of his sexual fantasies.


10. The End (2012)

In the same year of Melancholia’s release, Costa Rican writer/director Miguel Alejandro Gomez delivered a more upbeat guide to doomsday in The End (aka El Fin). After the unexpected death of his parents, things only get worse for Nico (Pablo Masís) when a meteorite wipes out his car. Alas, it’s just the beginning, as the world’s scientists soon figure out we’re headed for an earth-shattering impact with an asteroid dubbed The Destroyer. Though Nico falls into a funk, just like Kirsten’s Justine, best mate Carlos (Kurt Dyer) rocks up on the last day to kick him in the ass and raise some hell on the way to the beach (apparently the last-day destination of choice). What comes next is a hoot, full of cute character moments and kooky humour, even if the end is nigh.


11. Kaboom (2010)

The clue’s in the title of indie filmmaker Greg Araki’s big blow out. Scooping the Queer Palm at Cannes that year, Kaboom stars Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicle) as Smith, a pansexual film student who gets kidnapped by a pig-masked cult. Haley Bennett and Juno Temple are great fun in this highly silly but thoroughly enjoyable diet-Lynchian romp full of witches, soft porn bisexual threeways, and even the second coming of the Messiah before the final extremely surreal splurge of sci-fi ends it all with the press of, you guessed it, a big red button.


12. Threads (1984)

Technically a BBC TV Movie, this one’s too terrifyingly good to omit. There’s nothing cold about this war as the nuclear missiles soar and smash Britain back into the dark ages in a rain of fire. Director Mick Jackson pulls no punches, and nor does writer Barry Hines. A blood and vomit-soaked hospital is one of the most brutal ever committed to screen. It’s a brutal affair, with a documentary realness that’s riveting. The title refers to just how easily the threads of society unravel in the face of unimaginable disaster. As the survivors try desperately to eke out a life in the shattered remains of what’s left of the world, the message is abundantly clear: lucky are the dead, the rest are just waiting slowly and painfully.


13. The Last Man on Earth (1964)

When it comes to the adaptations of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, forget the dreadful 2007 Will Smith vehicle and see the infinitely superior The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, or even better: the classic Vincent Price-led The Last Man on Earth. He’s a magnificent presence as the last true man amongst a rag tag bunch of infected survivors tying to resist their bloodlust. Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and an uncredited Sidney Salkow, it was almost entirely shot in Rome with a largely Italian cast. While it’s true that Matheson was unhappy with the changes made to the screenplay he co-wrote, demanding his name be replaced in the credits with the pseudonym Logan Swanson, it is, ironically, the most faithful of the trio to his novel.


14. This is the End (2013)

Certainly the most upbeat of all the Armageddon’s on offer here, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s comedy pokes knowingly at the cult of celebrity, with a host of Hollywood stars and associated pop singers playing grosser versions of themselves as the biblical Book of Revelation’s prophecy wipes out LA. It’s barmy, with nothing and no one sacred. Michael Cera gets impaled on a lamppost, Rihanna is tossed into the fires of hell and James Franco is outright obnoxious. Throw in an inspired foul-mouthed and baseball bat-wielding Emma Watson, exorcising Hermione, and you can’t help but enjoy it as Satan has his day. While it does all end with a Backstreet Boys gig in heaven (not sure they’re in the right place), it still counts, as everyone shuffles off the mortal coil.


15. Planet of the Apes (1968)

What with Soylent Green and The Omega Man, Hollywood alpha male Charlton Heston was fond of apocalyptic classics, but nothing can beat Planet of the Apes. Quite possibly the biggest final scene whammy since the movies began, even if we all know the twist ending that reveals the already-occurred destruction of mankind, it’s the benchmark of oblivion.  Sure, there are technically a few human stragglers remaining to resist the monkeys, but how could we not leave you with Heston on his knees, bemoaning those damned dirty apes in front of a semi sand-submerged Lady Liberty?